Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random memories from childhood

  • Visiting the pond up the street and exploring the natural pond creatures, like frogs and tadpoles. The pond doesn't exist anymore - it's a residential street now. We had so much biodiversity growing up.
  • Starting a grass fire accidentally while playing hookey from elementary school with a girl. This happened right across the street from the school I was playing hookey from (Mountainview). It was a dumb-ass thing to do. She was impressed though.
  • Rocking out with the Drovers. Yes, those Drovers. They lived next door. Their favourite material? Queen.
  • Walking the tracks to the beach at Pointe Calumet (8km). I must have been a trend-setter because that spur line is a paved biking / walking path now.
  • Cooling off alone on Ile Turcotte, accessible only by a train bridge. It was one of my favourite places to escape to, my fortress of solitude.
  • Hanging out at Olympia Park with 3 girls one summer (whom I did not know previously - they went to another school) who shall remain anonymous.
  • A chance re-acquaintance with two of those girls (sisters) at a dinner party set up by my dad years later.
  • Habs games at the Forum with my uncle Bob and my dad. I liked going with my dad because it was always to see the Red Wings (his favourite team) and they always lost at the Forum when we went. I like going with my uncle because he had status at the Forum. He was a member of the private club and we would eat dinner there in a private restaurant before each game.
  • Walking through the quiet woods at the north end of town by myself.
  • Playing pinball at Jed's. Getting ice cream at Jed's.
  • The perfect fries at Mario's Pool Hall. The jukebox too. We wore those records out! Foreigner - Double Vision.
  • My first solo journey into downtown Montreal on the train. That was exhilarating.
  • Black and white TV. For reals.
  • Piss-ant. Heidi and Bob know what I mean. And only them.
  • Going to Dad's work and almost mixing up the stack of computer punch cards.
  • Being cajoled into eating raw oysters by Claude T's dad. They were awful.
  • Bagels with high school teacher Mr. Gaspar.
  • Handing out bingo cards at the Legion. My dad called the games.
  • Snow so deep that the snow banks on the sides of the road were taller than an adult.
  • Slamming my finger in the door of Uncle Bob's convertible.
  • Operating the lights for dance night (Fridays) at the town community centre while David C DJ'ed.
  • Street hockey games on 23rd avenue. It was always the English kids versus the French kids. Everyone pretended to be a Montreal Canadiens player.
  • Drive-in restaurants.
  • Having a wood stove in the sun parlour. Handy when the power went out. And for keeping warm in the sun parlour in winter.
  • Hearing the church bells. You don't know how much you miss a sound until you hear it again.
  • Dropping the overhead projector on my toe at school.
  • Eating Indian bread (there must have been an Indian on the packaging) with a friend at 5. At the time, it was like eating cake, even though it was just plain fresh bread with nothing on it.
  • Accidentally setting off the fire alarm at high school. It truly was an accident.
  • Playing truth or dare in the cemetery at the top of 22nd avenue.
  • The fantastic view of the river from the bar-lounge of Legion 185.
  • My dad saying 'try this', me eating it only to find out it was pickled pork tongue. I liked it.
  • Going for a flight from Cartierville in a small plane and not liking it very much. I might have been 7 or 8.
  • Enjoying these amazing apples from the garage at a friend's house. I've never been able to identify them ever again. They had bright, deep red skins and very white flesh and an incredible sweet taste. Wish I knew what they were.
  • Having a Montreal Star newspaper depot at our house.
  • Getting in trouble for burning candles on the front steps of our house while parents were out. I bet you're seeing a common thread here. No, I am not a pyromaniac. Technically.
  • The constant power failures.
  • Watching the Army search our neighbourhood during the FLQ crisis. They came to our house!
  • Enjoying dad's wonderful portable Grundig Prima-Boy Luxus multi-band radio.
  • Watching the snowmobile races in the farmer's field behind our house. That field is now (you guessed it) a residential neighbourhood.
  • Working in the library at school. I spent a lot of time in the library.
  • Target practise with pellet guns in Norm's basement.
  • Organizing Dad's stuff in his workshop. He could never find anything afterward. [giggle]
  • Meeting Toe Blake and not even realizing who he was. My dad went to school with him.
  • Watching Star Wars at the Drive-In theatre in St Eustache. My parents didn't like the movie. Star Wars blew my mind. I was 16.
  • Snow storms so bad that the only way around for hours or sometimes days was by snowmobile. Kids with snowmobiles made a tidy sum getting groceries for people that were snowed in.
  • Refusing to eat ketchup on eggs as a kid. [shudder] I still find it gross.
  • Self-paced learning in grade 6 that ruined class-paced learning for me from then on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Big entertainment 3, consumers 0

Late last week, the Librarian of Congress issued the latest set of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It said that smartphones were exempt and that tablets were not.
In other words, if you jailbreak your iPhone you can't be sued for DMCA violations. If you jailbreak your iPad, you can, even though you would be running the same jailbreaking app on the same operating system, just on a larger device. The rationale? While a phone is a phone is a phone, there was no officially accepted definition for 'tablet'. So no exception.

The law also made it illegal to copy DVDs for personal use, although you can still copy a DVD 'clip' for use in a documentary or other standard 'fair use' situations. But no format or space shifting a movie onto your iPad. The space-shifting ruling is an example of how broken the DMCA is. In order to convince the Librarian to allow DVD ripping in order to watch it on an iPad, a court would first need to rule that this falls under copyright's fair use defence. Before that could happen, someone would have to rip a DVD (or sell a DVD-ripping tool), get sued in court, and then convince a judge that DVD ripping is fair use. Which would never happen because, get this, with no exemption from the Librarian of Congress, circumvention is illegal whether or not the underlying use is fair use. Did you understand that? No fair use ruling without an exemption, and no exemption without a fair use ruling. The entertainment industry fat cats are laughing in their sleep.

It gets better. While there are provisions for blind people to break DRM so that they can make use of e-books text-to-speech tools, it is still illegal to make a DRM circumvention tool to break the DRM in the first place, as it falls under the 'trafficking' provisions, which are illegal. So you can crack your DRM as long as you make your own circumvention tool. Not a programmer? Too bad so sad.

As of January 2013, it will be illegal to unlock a smartphone sold after January 2013 in order to switch carriers. It will still be legal to unlock a phone you bought before January 2013 to switch carriers. Why? A 2010 ruling held that when you purchase software, you don't actually own it. You merely license it according to the terms in the End User License Agreement. The Librarian argued that this undermined the claim that unlocking your own phone was fair use. But there's an even stupider excuse. There are more unlocked phones on the market than there were three years ago, and most wireless carriers (now) have liberal policies for unlocking their handsets.

As a result, they decided that it should no longer be legal to unlock your cell phone without the carrier's permission. Is it possible that wireless carriers are more liberal about unlocking 'because' of the jailbreaking exception from 3 years ago? All this will do is signal to carriers "You don't need to do this anymore".

In a logical world, circumventing copy protection schemes shouldn't be against the law. DRM schemes harm legitimate users and they do not deter piracy. As the phone unlocking example illustrates, many uses of DRM have nothing to do with copyright infringement at all. Rather, they're a legal pretext for limiting competition and locking consumers into proprietary products. We shouldn't be using copyright law as a backdoor means to give such anti-competitive practices the force of law.

(Condensed and remixed from an Arstechnica article)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Siri won't read

Laptop history

This Grid Compass sold for over $8000 and was a mainstay of military and NASA missions in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. I used these when I was in the military.

Upgrade paths to Windows 8

Microsoft has reduced the number of Windows 8 editions it's selling. That makes the upgrade process easier than before. But there are still some things to be aware of. What follows applies even if you plan to stick with Windows 7. If your new PC comes with Windows 8, you can spend a little to secure downgrade rights that could save you a lot later.

Some scenarios:

(1) You’re planning to buy a new Windows 8 PC.

Choose your Windows 8 version carefully. Most new PCs are sold with the base Windows 8 edition. If you actually want Pro, this is the time to purchase an upgrade. If you want to use downgrade rights to replace Windows 8 with Windows 7, you need Windows 8 Pro anyway. You also need the Pro version to add Media Centre capabilities and/or to join a Windows domain.

Not all PCs include the option to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, especially branded PCs such as some of the PCs at Dell’s Consumer site. No upgrade option is available. You have to go to the Business site to get that option, which currently costs $70.

(2) You have an existing desktop PC or notebook that came with Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 and was purchased before June 2, 2012.

You have 2 options:

•Wait until October 26 and order the Windows 8 Pro online upgrade from Microsoft for $40. Note that you can order the upgrade on a different PC than the one where you plan to install it. (You’ll need to use the option to create bootable installation media on a DVD or USB flash drive. You can order a backup DVD for another $15.)
•Purchase a boxed upgrade to Windows 8 Pro from a reseller like Newegg, Amazon, or Staples. The current discounted price in the US is $70, with some resellers offering slight discounts, free shipping, and so on.

(3) You have an existing desktop PC or notebook that came with Windows 7 and was purchased between June 2, 2012, and January 31, 2013.

Lucky you. You qualify for an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99. Go to the Windows Upgrade Offer site to register.

(4) You want to install Windows 8 in a virtual machine on a Mac or PC.

A virtual machine is treated as if it were a new PC. See next question.

(5) You want to install Windows 8 on a new PC that you built or bought that did not include a Windows license.

You can preorder an OEM copy of Windows 8 that includes Personal Use Rights. Two weeks before the Windows 8 launch, those prices are around $100 for Windows 8 and $140 for Windows 8 Pro. However, wait until October 26 to see what price Microsoft offers on downloadable full licenses. During the promotional period the discount could be significant.

(6) You have a new Windows 8 PC and you want to add DVD playback capabilities and Media Centre software.

If it’s a new PC that came with the base edition of Windows 8, you need the Windows 8 Pro Pack (currently $70 or less from online retailers). This product uses the same technique as Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade to unlock the Pro features on your installed copy. You use the Add Features option to enter a new product key, which you can buy online or as a key card in retail packaging.

If you upgraded Windows 7 or Vista or XP to Windows 8 Pro, regardless of which method you used (online or boxed software), you qualify to add the Windows 8 Media Centre Pack for free.

(7) You want to downgrade to Windows 7.

If you purchased a new PC with Windows 8 Pro installed by the OEM, you can use your own Windows 7 media to install Windows 7 Professional. You’ll need to activate your copy over the phone using the product key from the sticker on the PC (intended for Windows 8).

If you bought a new PC that included the base edition of Windows 8, your only official downgrade path is to buy a retail copy of Windows 7 and install that.

NOTE: Upgrade copies of Windows 8 Pro do not include downgrade rights.

There - that wasn't so bad, was it?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to eat a cupcake like a gentleman

I'm going to have to try this.

All natural

Artwork and Photography by J. Gutierrez

Things I learned this week 27 Oct

  • The cost of solar energy fell to just $1.13 per watt in 2011.
  • Eating a moderate amount of European chocolate each week may help prevent a stroke.
  • Spirit rover was designed to last 90 days on Mars. It lasted 2269 days until last contact, Succumbing from a bad Martian winter. Opportunity, also designed to last 90 days,  is still going after 3114 days on Mars.
  • An Anti-Gay Activist and Prop 8 (anti-gay marriage) donor confesses to sexually abusing young boys.
  • Most people in Hong Kong pay for stuff with a contact-less card called the Octopus card. The Octopus card was introduced in 1997 to pay for transit, but the card's use quickly expanded to fast food restaurants, supermarkets, vending machines, convenience stores, parking meters, car parks and many other businesses where small payment is needed.
  • Apple employees who work at the Genius Bar are not allowed to use the words bomb, crash, hang, bug or problem.
  • Alberta has taken rat control seriously since the 1950s. It maintains a rat control zone 600km (375 miles) long by 3 km wide along the southern section of its border with Saskatchewan, where the greatest threat is thought to exist. A rat patrol pays special attention to farms and towns in that zone. That barrier broke this year with an outbreak in Medicine Hat, but they seem to have it under control again.
  • It's very possible that lab grown beef will become the basis for the burger of the future.
  • A sewage disposal system has been invented that uses waste engine heat to completely obliterate sewage, turning it into ash and water. Passenger aircraft and ships could use this to eliminate the need to store waste at all.
  • The first ever Internet Cat Video film festival debuted at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Experience the joy of a surprised kitten or keyboard cat together.
  • Thousands of Americans are learning that the intense drought that baked much of the country this summer has been sucking the moisture from underground, causing shifting that can lead to cracked basements and foundations, and damage above ground. Repairs cost up to $100,000 and are rarely covered by insurance.
  • Fred Armisen (of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia) used to be the drummer of a punk band (Trenchmouth). 
  • The US Copyright Office denied another request to allow for the copying of DVDs for personal use. These same people had no trouble re-issuing the right to jailbreak a smartphone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Drama filter

Darlene and I have a new habit that we practise now. Since it's so easy to make drama out of anything, whenever either of us starts to make a big deal out of something that really isn't a big deal at all, it's up to the other person to politely remind the other that it's OK. We don't have to do it often, but I like that we are able to deflate any unnecessary drama for each other.

Also, did you know that researchers have evidence that being exposed to negativity does something bad to your brain? So when you walk away from people being negative, you have a scientific excuse now.

Domestic spying

Here's some scary testimony from a former NSA guy about (illegal) domestic spying on Americans. The creator of this short film (Laura Poitras) is producing a full-length documentary scheduled for release in 2013.

Squirrel! cookie.....

Monday, October 22, 2012

PRT 2.0

I used to go on at length about PRT. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know what I'm talking about. PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) is a transit concept whose time has (had?) come due to advances in technology. Think self-driving electric pod vehicles on their own private elevated road. Last mile transit to get you where bus can't get you fast enough. It's a great idea. But further advances in technology are making the concept redundant far faster than people are warming up to the PRT idea in the first place.

I'm talking about self-driving cars like the kind Google are developing. First, let's talk about what you need for PRT. You need private guideways. They're not cheap, but they are cheaper than track. They use up about as much space as a wide sidewalk and can be elevated. Then you need the pod cars themselves. It's like re-inventing the wheel, because PRT vehicles are still using the boundary technologies that aren't yet perfected and price-normalized from mass production. In other words, electric, rechargeable, battery-operated cars with autonomous driving capability in a brand new chassis is expensive.

Google decided to approach the self-driving vehicle from a different perspective. Let's not re-invent the road, or the wheel. Let's just make the existing wheel smarter. So they are building and testing cars that can drive themselves. This means you could deploy self-driving cars on existing roads (or a few private ones if you wish - or both) and achieve the same end result. A vehicle that takes you from point A to B while you check your Facebook news feed or have a snooze. Because they are focusing their development on the self-driving brain and sensors of an existing car (they're using the Pruis), it is likely that the cost will drop dramatically as soon as these things are mass produced.

I call it PRT 2.0, and this version is even better because anyone could hypothetically buy one. No permits for guideways, no control centre, nothing extra. Just a truly smart car. The writing is on the wall. Because someone I know who used to focus on a particular PRT company is now consulting for Google's self-driving car project.

Nightfall time lapse

Very sharp time lapse of night time in LA by Colin Rich.

He's got some other stuff to look at as well.

Sassy Siri on appointments

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Things I learned this week 21 Oct

  • In the 1970s, tires only lasted about 32,000km (20,000 miles).
  • In vehicles with fuel injected engines, there is a fuel pump in the gas tank, kept cool by the gasoline. That's why you shouldn't let the tank get empty - there's nothing to cool the pump.
  • The current price of gasoline in Germany is $2.19 per litre. That works out to $8.41 per gallon in the US based on current exchange rates. 
  • The Honda S2000 managed to get 247 hp out of a 2.0 litre (non-turbocharged) engine (in the Japanese model).
  • An analyst thwarted a rogue US Navy Vice Admiral from provoking Iran with a planned game of chicken without the consent from Washington.
  • Engineering students used 3D printing to build an electric race car that weighs 617lbs (280kg) and goes 88mph (141km/h).
  • Cannabis is more damaging to teen brains than adult brains.
  • A Nebraska family is fighting for their deaf 3 year old son Hunter Spanjer's right to continue using his own name after school officials told them it was inappropriate and must be changed. Hunter uses a sign language called Signing Exact English to communicate and signs his name by crossing his index finger and middle finger and then wagging his hands. Grand Island Public School board policy forbids "any instrument that looks like a weapon," and officials say that Hunter's name looks too much like a gun gesture to be allowed in school.
  • Highway 401, also known as the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway, is the busiest highway in North America. 420,000 vehicles drive on its 500 miles every day. The highway spans from Windsor Ontario to the Quebec border and passes through Toronto.
  • If it survives the trip, a newly discovered comet will be brighter than the moon when it becomes visible in our night sky in November 2013.
  • Bra companies about 10 years ago changed the sizes without telling anyone. They vanity sized it - what once was a 36D is now a 32G.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The 8 milestones of recorded music

cdza would like to present to you 8 milestones in the history of recorded sound.

They're serious when they say 'wear headphones'. Just do it.

Amazon locker

You know a business is doing well when they design, construct and deploy electronically controlled lockers in various cities (currently only DC, New York, SF, Seattle and London) as receiving points for Amazon purchases.

The idea is when you buy something from Amazon, you can elect to get it shipped to a specific locker near you and when you get notified that your package is ready, you use your private code to unlock the locker containing your package.

How to be a panda

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Paper trained

The Fliz

Some people can't ride traditional bicycles without a great deal of discomfort, particularly in the crotch area. For people like this and others, German designers created the Fliz bike, which doesn't have a seat - or pedals for that matter.

Instead, the frame goes up the back and over the shoulders. You get strapped into a harness where the frame goes up your back. You use your feet to get moving, which is very ergonomic. Once you're ready to coast, you move your feet to pegs on the back wheel. Seems like a great idea.

It's not called 'reading in public'

Ze Frank gives a great collection of tips regarding speaking in public.

He tells it like it is folks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rad cheese

No 3rd Rock from the Sun for you!

Here's something I love about our entertainment industry. Oh right, there's nothing.

Yet another example of how they screw us around is how they hold back on the availability of products that are readily available elsewhere or have been available before. Case in point, the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. I can buy seasons 1 to 4, but not 5 or 6. Why? What is the logic behind this? The show has been off the air for 11 years. Worse, Amazon actually lists an 'entire series' package containing seasons 1 through 6, but it says 'currently unavailable'. Dear greedy entertainment companies: I have money in hand, but you don't seem to want it very much. Poor little companies, it must be so hard to figure out how to survive in the modern world. You should cry to the government for tighter copyright rules. Motherf........

And the entertainment industry wonders why some consumers have given up and gone the illegal route to get their content.

Not chained to technology... ROFL

I was reading a news article this morning about how in the not too distant future we will be able to pay for things with our cell phone.  The article mentioned that Canada still has a long way to go before this becomes a seamless reality, due to the fact that no standards have been established, nor is everyone on the same page in terms of who's Electronic Services will be used.  You can pay for things with your phone now, but the opportunity's are few and far in between.  That should change within the next five years, especially ones near field communication is a feature on all cell phones.

After reading the article, I decided to peruse the comments.  That's when the fun really starts.  You get people asking questions like "Well what if I lose my phone?"  Of course, you would react to that in the same way you would if you lost your wallet, you call the bank.  Then I really had a laugh when I read a comment that said "I love technology, but I refuse to be chained to it".

Seriously?  You refuse to be chained to technology?  Let me ask a few questions.  Do you own a car?  Do you own a cell phone?  Do you own a microwave oven?  Do you own any of the following items: a stove, a refrigerator, a television, a DVD player, a washing machine or drier, electric light bulbs, batteries, a furnace?  If you said yes to any of these, how can you say that you're not chained to technology?  In fact, I challenge most people to name one technology they are not using in their regular life.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My thoughts on bullying

With all this talk about bullying in school as the result of Amanda Todd committing suicide last week, I thought I would wade into the discussion.

I was the victim of bullying in school.  I have a weird last name.  I was skinny, pimply and geeky looking. I was one of the kids who focused on school rather than goofing off and that's a great way to become a target with the jock / hooligan crowd. I managed to survive.  It helped that I was able to fight fire with fire.  I was befriended by one of the biggest guys in school from the hooligan crowd and that pretty much spelled the end of any more bullying against me.  So, I consider myself very lucky.  I don't know how my life would have changed had I not established this form of protection.

Interestingly, once I joined the military, there was no bullying. I believe it's partly due to the fact that everyone who joins is reduced to a cog in a machine as part of basic training. You're made to think like a group and the group only functions when everyone is an equal part. Potential bullying targets are in effect weeded out by the end of basic training, so what you're left with is a cohesive culture of equal members.

As is always the case, that well publicized suicide has created a reactionary discussion on the topic with our Federal government's even going so far as two discuss bullying in parliament.  I believe this to be an absolute waste of time considering the fact that we already have established laws on the books regarding harassment.

Let's face it, bullying is just a form of harassment.  Bullying is something that not only occurs at school, it happens at home and in the workplace.  My personal opinion has always been that bullying and any other type of harassment for that matter will only subside once there is a cultural shift.  In today's culture, bullying and other forms of harassment are still considered by some elements of society as normal behaviour that must be endured as a part of life.  People who believe this will say things like, "we had bullying in school and everybody survived".  Or, "if you can't handle bullying, how are you going to handle all of life's other pressures".

This is just a perpetuation of the ridiculous logic that if something has been a tradition before there is no need to change it, even if some people think it's wrong.  Most of us realize that this way of thinking is outdated and that we are perfectly within our rights to offer changes in the way we do things and to move the bar dividing what's right and what's wrong.  Bullying is wrong, not because we can't handle it, but because of the value it promotes.  Namely, if bullying is to be permitted, it suggests that it is OK to get what you want at all costs.  What the bully wants is power, respect and acknowledgement.  The bully will acquire these things through violence, intimidation, belittling the victim and so on.  Bullying is defeated when the people decide together that this behaviour is completely unacceptable.  The moment it occurs, it is reported.  It is dealt with swiftly, fairly and thoroughly.  The bully is quickly instructed that their behaviour is unacceptable and the consequences are measured out immediately.  In this type of environment, the bully doesn't stand a chance.  This culture applies not only to school, but also in the home and in the workplace.  If everyone does not buy into this culture, bullying will thrive.

There's really not much more to say.  If we want bullying to stop, we have to band together as a society and stop it.  No new laws are needed.  You can't legislate behavioural change.  You have to cultivate it from the inside.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bill Murray super-clip

If you can't get enough Bill Murray, this clip might assuage that. Watch multiple times for maximum effect.

Not safe for work.

Worst Hallowe'en costume

Things I learned this week 14 Oct

  • Sri Lanka produces 90% of the world's cinnamon. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Peter Frampton quote "Music is free now. I mean, you used to tour to promote the record. Now you make the record to promote the tour. The CD is a giveaway."
  • $1 million gets you a 1/16th share of a new Lear jet for 5 years.
  • There are holes in Mars rover Curiosity's wheel treads so that every time the wheels rotate, they leave a unique pattern imprinted on the ground. Orbiters photograph the imprint and scientists can determine how far the rover has moved.
  • In 2007, China had more than 60 cities with populations greater than 1 million people. It is predicted that by 2025 China will have an incredible 221 cities with over 1 million people.
  • The exclamation point didn't have its own key on the keyboard until 1970. Before that you typed a period, then used the backspace to go back and put an apostrophe above it. When people dictated things they would say “bang” to mark the exclamation point.
  • If everyone in the world stood in one place as close to each other as they could and jumped, nothing would happen. The sound of all those feet hitting the ground would create a loud, drawn-out roar lasting many seconds. But that's it. Then billions would starve to death as they tried to leave that spot on the earth to return to their homes. In fact, you technically could never have gotten all those people in one place to do the jump.
  • The speedometer on the Bugatti Veyron goes to 420km/h (it will do 408 km/h (253mph) with the limiter off). It's everyday consumer speed is 350km/h (220mph). In the time most consumer vehicles have reached 100km/h (10 seconds), the Veyron is doing over 240km/h. Cost? Only $1.7 million. 300+ have been sold so far.
  • The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How Apple redefined the retail experience

The people who created the Apple Store are geniuses. I'll explain.

Every (expensive) product that Apple sells is out there on a desk, ready to be tried out. The only things packed away on shelves are (3rd party) accessories and they're packed away for good reason - the employees don't have a clue how good they are or which one is better than the other. Why? Because for the most part Apple doesn't make them. You're on your own, which in the grand scheme of things is just fine. Most customers are more likely to get over a crappy $20 accessory than a crappy $1200 computer.

All those iMacs and Macbooks and iPhones and iPads are there for you to play with and fall in love with and if you have any questions about what the product can do or how it works, there are dozens of qualified workers available to help you. Try and get that kind of service and knowledge of products from Best Buy or Future Shop. It's not going to happen. You'll be lucky to get someone who knows where the power button is.

But the superior service doesn't end during the selection phase either. Are you ready to buy? Out comes the portable debit/credit machine on the spot. No cashier necessary. No line-up either. Sweet. Would you like the receipt emailed to you? Of course you would! You begin to realize that you're in a different world here, a different era even. These folks are making traditional retailers look like amateurs stuck in the dark ages.

But we're not done. Would you like some training with that Macbook? The Apple Store has unpaid and paid training sessions to show you how to use your hardware and software better. I remember watching the faces of friends I told this to - it was pure disbelief. "They train the customers?" They sure do. But there's more. When something breaks, you bring it to the store to get diagnosed. They can often fix stuff right there too.

The Apple Store also has free wi-fi. So everyone who owns an iPhone for example knows as they pass the store that they're passing 'home base' as it were, a friendly place to drop in, connect to the internet and browse to see what's new.

So in case you're wondering why Apple does so well, it's not just the products, it's the whole experience.

Completely wrong

Look what happens when you do a Google image search with the words completely wrong.

What is it? #12

I have this keyboard at work.

Who wants to tell me what those lights next to the happy and unhappy faces are for?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Get Google Maps back on your iPhone

To get Google Maps back after it's removed by Apple:

Open Safari. Go to  Allow it to use your current location. Tap the arrow at the bottom of the screen (for exporting). Choose add to home screen. Call it what you want.

Time to re-examine bicycle helmet laws?

Europe’s bike-sharing systems have inspired a number of North American cities — including New York and Montreal. In Paris, you can partake of something quite neat: Vélib, the most successful bike-sharing program in the world. You can buy a day pass online for $2, enter login information at one of the hundreds of docking stations that are scattered every few blocks around Paris and select one of Vélib’s nearly 20,000 bikes. But the most amazing thing you'll notice as you ride off is this - you'll ride off without a helmet. You'll ride all day feeling exhilarated, not fearful. You'll be surrounded by tons of bareheaded cyclists amid the Parisian traffic. One common denominator of successful bike programs around the world — from Paris to Barcelona to Guangzhou — is that almost no one wears a helmet and there is no pressure to do so.

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as gospel. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion. But European health experts have taken a different view. Yes, some studies show that if you fall off a bike at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. The thing is - such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling centres.

On the other hand, researchers say that if you pressure people to wear helmets, you'll discourage them from riding bicycles. The result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults with helmets is minuscule.

Pushing helmets kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that isn’t justified. Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are more injuries during those activities. The European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists (in Europe) have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile travelled.

Experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to take off, it may have to allow and accept helmet-free riding. A two-year-old bike-sharing program in Melbourne, Australia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme. Mexico City recently repealed a mandatory helmet law to get a bike-sharing scheme off the ground.

Message to people selling vehicles online

If you're going to take 10 pictures of your vehicle, try not to make 9 of them just the exterior. Yeah, we get how shiny the finish is and so forth, but we want to see the interior too. I know you spent a lot of money on your rims, but I don't need to see close-ups of them. What I want to see is the condition of the seats. Show me that the vehicle is clean. That crack on the windshield - I would leave that one out if I were you.

While we're on the subject, could you try to take pictures that are in focus. A bunch of blurry shots are as useful as nothing at all.

Yes, that is an actual picture from an actual car ad.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Venn cakes

Things I learned this week 8 Oct

  • An Australian company (CINTEP) has designed a shower that recycles 70% of the water going down the drain and it also heats the recycled water, making it very efficient.
  • Amazon is giving Google fits because consumers don't need to search for stuff to buy at Google. Amazon is one stop search-shop-pay-ship.
  • The Kingdom Tower, which started contruction in January 2012, will be over 1000m tall once finished, 173m taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
  • Thirty billion dollars worth of mobile phones were lost in the US alone last year.
  • Major American firms pay more in CEO compensation than they do in federal taxes.
  • The RIAA has a lobbying budget (per year) of $2.3 million. 
  • About 31% of US homeowners – 14.9 million – are considered "underwater" on their mortgage. Underwater borrowers today owe an average of $72,235 more than the value of their home. In Las Vegas, 68.5% of mortgage owners had negative equity mortgages.
  • Sometime this week someone will die, buried alive, mining for the tin that goes in a cellphone.
  • The SPF rating on sunscreen means nothing in regards to protection against cancer-causing UVA. It only refers to the UVB sunburn protection.
  • Actual Romney quote: "When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem."
  • New Zealand's spies illegally bugged Kim Dotcom, complicity may go all the way to the prime minister's office.
  • It doesn't say so on their menu (at least not in Canada), but if all you want is chicken, KFC will sell just 2, 3, or 4 pieces to you in a box. No fries, no other sides. Just chicken.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Your phone - much more valuable than you realize

10 years ago, if you lost your cell phone, you'd be out your phone, your contacts and whatever minutes you still had on your phone until you cancelled your account.

Now, the prospect of losing your cell phone is potentially much more expensive. Just think about all of the apps you use on your phone. Now imagine some stranger using them in your name. Your messages, email, chats, photos, videos, Facebook, ebooks. If you VNC into your work computer with your phone, they might have access to your work network.

But soon it will be much, much more. There are several companies that are positioning themselves to offer apps that will alow you to pay for things in the store electronically - with your phone. Soon, losing your phone will be akin to losing your purse or wallet. Things are somewhat safer if you use a passcode.

iPhone 5.... the 6th iPhone

What a hilarious iPhone 5 spoof.

"The panorama feature on iPhone5 is completely revolutionary and unlike any free app you could have downloaded 3 years ago."

Bring on the self-driving cars!

Why I believe that (safe) autonomous vehicles will make driving safer, especially once they become ubiquitous on our roads.

We have a critical mass of factors making roads less safe. More roads are operating at or beyond their designed capacity, which makes it even more important for drivers to conduct themselves with due care and attention. There are more distractions than ever before, especially with mobile devices. Longer commutes and less than ideal driving conditions have made the average driver more prone to impulsive behaviour. I don't consider myself to be a very emotional guy, yet even I find myself experiencing road rage when surrounded by bad drivers. Offensive, not defensive driving styles are dominating and to make matters worse, many offensive styled drivers don't acknowledge that they themselves are also road hazards. Owners of large vehicles feel insulated from harm, increasing the likelihood they will do something dangerous. People who drive all wheel drive vehicles feel immune to bad weather conditions. Traffic enforcement is marginally effective or non-existent (at least in Canada). People who break traffic laws don't suffer much of a penalty. People who have lost their license or have no insurance continue to drive illegally. There are still far too many people who don't see the harm in drinking and driving.

So when you combine these factors, it makes sense that roads would become safer if left to a sophisticated computer to drive. Computers react faster and can communicate with other computers, making it possible for autonomous cars to link up with each other to drive in packs at high speeds, allowing for higher road capacity. Infrared and radar cameras on cars make it possible for the car to 'see' obstacles and hazards that humans cannot and take evasive action.

So when Volvo said 5 years ago that their goal was to make the world's safest car by 2020, I don't think it was all about air bags and chassis improvements. I think the future is the truly 'smart' car.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Attack goose

To all app developers

If you or anyone you know develops apps for phones, I know of a niche that needs filling. People who work alone some or all of the time need a way to check in with someone for safety's sake. There is one app, but it's based in the UK and the time stamps are based in GMT.

So, what's needed? The app should allow for notifications to be sent to any email address with some kind of acknowledgement possible to indicate that the receiver got the check-in. There should be an option for a secondary email address in case the first contact doesn't acknowledge an alert. You should be able to set a time for any time period you want to remind you to check-in. The timer set should send a notice to the contact and when you're within 10 minutes and 5 minutes of the timer period, you get a reminder to either cancel the timer (which tells the contact you're OK and that the work alone is over), or extend the timer another period, which is in essence a check-in. The contact gets notified of all changes / check-ins. The app should have GPS capability to show the contact where you are. It would be beneficial if the messages were sent from a server so that they get sent even if the phone is off or runs out of battery power.

So, get on that please. Thanks. Royalty cheques can be made out to Karl Plesz of Calgary Alberta.

Start me up a non-starter?

I've had a chance to talk to some of my readers about my blog quiz 'Start me up' and it seems that most of you are saying it's too hard. What say you all? Do you agree?

It has been suggested that perhaps the quiz would be easier if the song samples were longer. What do you think? Are you just not into it?

Let me know......

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Cruising down the highway

In case you haven't heard of it, adaptive cruise control (ACC) is standard on most ultra luxury cars now and will eventually become standard on less expensive cars as the technology becomes cheaper and more refined.

The deal with ACC is that unlike regular cruise control, where all it does is maintain your speed, ACC can adapt to vehicles in front of you. You can program it to maintain (for example) a 6 second distance between you and the car in front. If the car in front slows down, so do you, to maintain the time interval. If they speed up, so do you, up to your set speed. If you change lanes and the lane is clear, you get up to your set speed, where you stay until someone blocks your path, then you follow them.

In this video, an Audi A4 is driving on the highway using adaptive cruise control.

Little ruler

Monday, October 01, 2012

Digital boarding pass

I know it's old news for some travellers, but for the first time I chose the 'email my boarding pass' instead of the old school printed version. This made it possible to forget finding a printer and flash the bar code from my iPhone. It works like a charm. The kiosk, luggage check-in counter, security and gate scanners all scanned it without issue.

I love technology.

We do a great job protecting your credit card..... right?

BMO Mastercard wants me to apply for a USB credit card reader. Why? So I can start using a new service of theirs (SecureKey Concierge) in 2013 to log onto Government of Canada web services. Let's review that again, shall we? BMO is suggesting I should use my credit card credentials to log into government web services. My bank and the federal government in bed together?

I think I'll pass.

Things I learned this week 1 Oct

  • It's easiest to catch something in the first instant that it falls, before it has a chance to accelerate. If you wait even a second, it will be 15 feet down and already travelling at 15mph.
  • Today, because a marriage's legality is established prior to the ceremony, the minister's instruction that "if anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace" almost always gets omitted from ceremonies these days.
  • Wind speeds on Saturn can get up to 1800km/h.
  • Beginning in September, eBay banned the sale of advice, spells, curses, hexing, conjuring, magic, prayers, blessing services, magic potions, and healing sessions. Maybe someone needs to start xBay?
  • A Hungarian neo-Nazi leader had to retire from professional antisemitism after discovering he was Jewish. He was outed by a neo-Nazi rival, who revealed that the guy's maternal grandmother was a Jewish Auschwitz survivor.
  • All the minerals and nutrients that fertilize the Amazon rainforest actually originates from a single source - the Bodélé depression, located northeast of Lake Chad in Africa. It starts as dust clouds and travels across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Since January 2009, there's been a big wooden bowl of (not wooden) apples in the Oval Office.
  • The leading cause of death in the US among 5-34 year olds is vehicle crashes.
  • Joel Youngblood drove in two runs with a single for the New York Mets in a game at Shea Stadium against the Chicago Cubs on April 4, 1962. Joel was promptly traded to the Montreal Expos. He immediately flew to Philadelphia in time to get a hit for the Expos in the 7th inning at Veterans Stadium, thereby scoring runs for two different teams in two different stadiums on the same day. 
  • The US military is going to buy 1500 Chevy Volts.