Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 recap

It's that time of year again when we reflect back upon the things that happened during the past year.

2012 was an amazing year for me. My job continues to be great. We went to San Diego again and still want more. I finally got a chance to go home and visit my family for more than a weekend and even had a visit from my sister and her family here in Calgary. Darlene passed a crucial exam on her way to becoming regulated. We enjoy regular visits with Olivia.

I survived Tim Horton's changing their cup sizes, Bill C-11, Windows 8, the introduction of plastic money, a threatening Wild Rose party, getting unfriended on FB, said goodbye to Zellers and continue to endure a hockey lockout without losing my mind. I did a mini-series on this blog called 'texting the alien', which seems to have flopped. It was fun while it lasted. I started reading again, but this time on my iPad. My sister found our dad but it was all for naught. I became a member of car2go and am now waiting for them to come into my neighbourhood. I participated in the 35th anniversary of Loose Moose - fun.

Bring on 2013!

Data flows, data flows, data stops.....

Here's a recap of what's been happening in the UK between the BPI (UK's RIAA) and The Pirate Party UK.

The UK government was convinced by the BPI to block the entire country from accessing The Pirate Bay, a torrent indexing site. The Pirate Party UK established a proxy to allow UK residents to access it anyway.

The BPI then threatened legal action against the executives of The Pirate Party UK, which if successful, would have bankrupted them and their party. They capitulated, but not before telling the country what was going on. No sooner did The Pirate Party UK take their Pirate Bay proxy down, other Pirate Party organizations internationally took up the slack.

Once again, the internet routes around censorship.


This is from Mego's Comic Action Heroes line from 1976.

He, I mean she looks.... ummm.....

Wasting time

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Things I learned this week 30 Dec

  • Qatar is the world's richest country by GDP per capita. People don’t get out of the car to fill up. A pump attendant does it for you, even during the summer, when it can get up to 50C outside. Gas is cheap - a 4.0L 4x4 SUV costs around $16 to fill up the tank. People in Qatar never pack their own shopping bags, wash their own cars, and many have housemaids who take care of the cleaning, laundry, and in a lot of cases, the children. Eating out is a national pastime; Friday brunches pack enough food in to last you a week, and if you sit outside a fast-food restaurant in your car and beep your horn, someone will come to take your order – and bring it to you when it’s ready.
  • BitTorrent makes up 12% of traffic on the internet in North America. Meanwhile, Netflix video traffic accounts for 33% of internet peak traffic. This speaks volumes. Give the consumer what they want - anytime unrestricted access to a large library of content for one low price, and they will take it. Or, they will take it for free.
  • You can place a phone call right from within GMail Chat. To anywhere in Canada and the US.
  • Daniel Craig got paid $17 million for working on the movie Skyfall.
  • Recently, Apple filed a patent to turn an iPhone into a TV remote just by taking a picture of the original physical remote.
  • HSBC bank executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars of drug cartel money will have to partially defer their bonuses for 5 years as punishment. What would you get as punishment for a drug infraction?
  • The Chipmunk Song is the only Christmas song to reach #1 on the Billboard charts.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rubbing my face in it

I opened my GMail inbox last month (14 Nov 2012) to discover the following subject: The 2013 TSX is now on sale. I opened the message to see the following car mentioned in the message: 2013 TSX Sport Wagon.

My heart skipped a beat and I threw my arms in the air in a signal of victory. Let me explain.

When Acura introduced the TSX Sport Wagon to North America in 2010, the geniuses at Acura Canada decided NOT to sell it in Canada because of market conditions. Instead the same geniuses stocked the ugly, overpriced and impractical ZDX SUGodzilla. I freaked. The TSX Wagon was the perfect car for my situation and Acura made sure I couldn't have it. I complained. A lot. I was never sure it made a difference, but this new email raised my pulse rate while I frantically raced to the Acura Canada web site to check it out.

Bastards! Not only had Acura not updated their web site to include the 2013 models, a few minutes of investigation revealed that the message had originated in the US. A long, drawn out month before Acura Canada updated their web site to include the 2013 models revealed..... no sport wagon.

Round and balanced

It's funny how these Nespresso flavour descriptions could also apply quite well to different types of farts.

And if by whiskey you mean Bailey's, I agree.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Suggestions for New Year's resolutions

"That wasn't nearly as bad as I thought..."
Do something new. The most paralyzing fear is fear of the unknown. Nothing ever turns out to be as hard or as scary as you think and it's incredibly exciting to overcome a fear. You'll get that "I can't believe I did that!" rush.

"It's totally my fault."
Take the blame. People make mistakes. So we blame them for our problems. But we usually share some blame, too. Maybe we didn't provide enough training or foresee a potential problem. Maybe we asked too much, too soon. Take responsibility instead, not in a 'woe is me' way, but in an empowering way. Take responsibility and then focus on being smarter or better or faster or more creative next time.

"You're awesome."
No one receives enough praise. No one. Pick someone who did something well and tell them. Go retroactive too. Saying, "I was just thinking about how you handled that project last year" can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. Maybe a little more impact, because you still remember what happened a year later. Surprise praise is a gift that costs the giver nothing but is priceless to the recipient.

"Can you help me?"
Asking someone for help instantly recognizes their skills and values and conveys your respect and admiration. That's reason enough to ask someone to help you. The fact you will get the help you need is icing on the achievement cake.

"Can I help you?"
Then flip it around. Many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness so they hesitate. Yet we can all use help. But don't just say, "Is there anything I can help you with?" Most people will automatically say, "No, I'm all right." Be specific. Say, "I've got a few minutes, can I help you finish that?" Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous. Actually help. You'll make a real difference in someone's life--and you'll take a solid step towards creating a connection with that person.

"I just did something no one else is willing to do."
Pick one thing other people aren't willing to do. Pick something simple. Pick something small. Whatever it is, do it. Instantly you're a little different from the rest of the pack. Then keep going. Every day do one thing no one else is willing to do. After a week you'll be uncommon. After a month, you'll be special. After a year you'll be incredible, and you won't be like anyone else. You'll be you.

"I'm really sorry."
We've all screwed up. We all have things we need to apologize for: Words. Actions. Omissions. Failing to step up, step in, or be supportive. Pick someone you need to apologize to--the more time that's passed between the day it happened and today, the better. But don't follow up your apology with a disclaimer like, "But I was really upset..." or, "I thought you were..." or any statement that in any way places even the tiniest amount of blame back on the other person. Say you're sorry, say why you're sorry, and take all the blame. Then you'll both be in a better place.

"Hi, Mom!"
Your parents love you. They want the best for you. They will always be there for you. They won't be around forever. Call them.

(stolen with major edits from Business Insider)

I see your point

Under the topic of 'anything can be found on the internet', is this hilarious site where you place your pointer somewhere on the screen and it finds a picture of someone pointing at your mouse pointer.

Minutes of fun.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It's Christmas!

Happy holidays to all my readers and friends, no matter what you celebrate.

Be safe, be joyful and may your cheeks hurt from smiling a lot.

...8 puppies pooping...

The 12 awkward days of Christmas.

May offend some.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

3D figurine..... of you!

Folks are going on and on about how cool it would be to have a 3D printer to print, like replacements parts for your Wii or whatever. I think the most exciting thing about having access to 3D printing is the ability to create figurines of yourself.

Just sayin'.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thar she blows!

You wanna see a snowblower?

This is a snowblower, man.

Snowman poop

Antiquated process

Our current mayor of Calgary has made it clear that he is open to any and all suggestions that might eliminate or reduce red tape at City Hall.  Well Mr. Mayor, have I got a jumble of red tape that needs to be fixed.

When residents of a neighbourhood want the city to establish parking restrictions so that only residents and invited guests may park in front of people's homes, they have to apply for a residential parking zone.  This is done in a manner that has existed for decades.  A concerned resident takes a piece of paper and goes door to door collecting signatures for a petition.  They have to hope that your home, they have to hope that you are interested, and regardless of whether you sign or not, you don't get to add your 2¢ to the conversation.

Here's an example from my own neighbourhood.  A resident came to our door back in the summer asking if we would sign a petition applying for residential parking zone.  The issue was that an abandoned public school just up the street was going to reopen as a private charter school.  The resident was concerned that overflow student parking would occupy the streets in front of our homes during the day.

I did sign the petition, but I made it very clear that I really wasn't concerned with people parking in front of my house during the day.  My real concern was with users of the sports field across the street parking in front of our house when there was lots of alternate parking adjacent to the field that was not been used.  This tends to happen all summer after 5:00 PM.  I was really hoping that my concerns would have modified the application to ensure that the parking restriction lasted day and night.

Well, our home is now in an official residential parking zone with restriction between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM.  But here's the funny thing.  The school has been a open for almost four months and we have never had an issue with students parking in front of our house.  Meanwhile, I can guarantee you that come summer we will have an issue parking in front of our own home while sports events are happening across the street.

So what we have here is a process to secure residential parking restrictions that is antiquated beyond belief, depends on a resident passing paper around the neighbourhood, and doesn't do anything to adjust for changing circumstances, add extra concerns and information or anything else.  And as a result the city of Calgary has spent money erecting signs and issuing permits for a problem that doesn't even exist whilst ignoring a problem that persists after years.

The logical solution is to change the application process into an electronic one that is interactive and allows for continual feedback from the people who would be affected.  If this were in effect, the city could have saved a bit of coin.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Base Camp slippers

Darlene suggested that for my overall health and considering that I spend much of my time at home in our basement, which has cold floors, that I get serious about wearing slippers to keep my feet warm and the blood circulating.

I said, "Yeah, sure. But I don't want any of those plaid, old man slippers, I want something neat and comfy."

So Darlene found a slipper made by Baffin called Base Camp Unisex and ordered a pair for both of us. She had already ordered a pair just for herself and had to return them because they were a size too small. The commenters on the site say not to go by the size guide and they aren't kidding.

When I saw the slippers, I said "Hey! I want a set of those!" So now I have them as you can see. They are cozy warm. They kinda remind me of the mukluk inserts I wore in the military to keep warm on long winter exercises.

Darlene's two cents:

I usually wear a size 9.5- 10 shoe and I took the XL Base Camp Unisex
You usually wear a size 11.5 - 10 and you got the size XXXL Base Camp Unisex

Both pairs including shipping came to $99.

1 pair plus shipping comes to approximately $50. Ships from Ontario via Purolator. Read all reviews before buying your size.

There are no retailers in Calgary that sell these particular Baffin styles.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Multiple same birthdays at work

Here is a chart that shows the likelihood of there being two people at work with the same birthday (day and month), depending on the number of total people.

As you can see, statistically, once the workplace reaches 40 people, the chances have risen to 90%.

Boring college class bingo

Click here for full size.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Things I learned this week 15 Dec

  • Windows XP is still running on around 25% of computers currently in use.
  • Looking at all the commercial airline accidents between 1983 and 2000, the NTSB found that 95.7% of the people involved survived.
  • Shirley Jones and Shaun Cassidy are the only mother and son to each have #1 records. Shirley Jones is also one of the few women to have both had a #1 record and won an Oscar.
  • NASA is planning to establish a manned space station outpost about 38,000 miles from the moon in an area known as the Earth-moon libration point 2, or EML-2. This is a gravitationally stable spot, making it possible to "park" a spacecraft there - in other words, the station would stay put without much help. The station would service as a holding pen for crew members so they could eventually do other things, like land on an asteroid (planned for 2025), visit Mars (planned for the mid-2030s), or head back to the moon.
  • Microsoft filed a patent that would allow their Kinect camera (used with a TV) to spy on users of content to determine if too many people were using or interacting with that content and if they were, disable the content or levy a fee against the user.
  • The 4 countries that have more small dogs per capita than the US are the Philippines, Mexico, Portugal and Brazil.
  • 75% of employers require HR to look at people's online presence. 1/3 turn people down because they see a picture of the person with a glass of alcohol in their hand, even though they're adults and just drinking a glass of wine. Women who have a sexy picture on Facebook or MySpace have been denied custody of their children. The IRS is looking at whether you have expensive items on your Facebook page.
  • Neil Young and Rod Stewart were both inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame for their solo work before being inducted (again) as members of their previous bands.

Just air?

I love this photo sequence 'how to make a baby'.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Streetview progress

If you ever wanted to see exactly where Google Streetview coverage exists in the world, check out this map.

What I find truly amazing is that it used to take decades just to map the coasts of a continent. Now we're driving around and photographing every street of a city in weeks.

No more canned food for my students

One of the things I teach at my work is Microsoft Office. I remember at my last job that after taking a few Office courses, I promised that if I ever were to teach it, I would try to make the content more fine-tuned to the user community instead of relying on canned curriculum.

I'm making good on that promise. The first thing I did was give the canned curriculum our company had bought a chance by delivering those courses for a few months. They suck. Like most canned courses, they gloss over features instead of giving them the time and multitude of examples they deserve. They also discuss every feature under the sun, but let's face it, many of these features you'll never use.

Now for the remodel. The first thing I did was scrap the Intermediate and Advanced level courses for Word and Excel. More on that in a minute. I kept the Basic level courses around because they focus mainly on the interface and the Home tab on the ribbon, which is something everyone should learn. I even urge my experienced (but self-taught) users to come and take the Basic courses so they learn the things they've been missing out on.

The most useful components of the Intermediate and Advanced courses I deconstructed into one to two hour sessions focusing on one feature. Named ranged. Conditional formatting. Tables of Contents. Formula auditing. Data validation. Charts. Document protection. The list goes on. This works so much better because it allows us to really work out why each feature is so valuable and it doesn't force my students to abandon their desks for a whole day. I have co-workers that have a rough time getting away from their desks for fifteen minutes. But I don't just teach Office program features, I explain document design as well. What makes a good spreadsheet and things you should avoid doing when making one. What you can do with a document you have created so that it will live on long after you're not around anymore. In other words - built-in instructions. Nobody teaches that stuff. Why? It's important, dammit!

Phase two of my Office remodel was to build a new kind of session called 'putting it all together'. In it, we use many if not all of the features they have learned in separate sessions and actually make something. An invoice form in Excel for example. These new sessions are a hit with my colleagues. And that's why I love my job so much.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Things I learned this week 11 Dec

  • A 20 year old Brazilian female student (Catarina Migliorini) auctioned her virginity off for $780,000 with the help of a filmmaker from Australia. No word on how much the filmmaker takes of this money, who is making a documentary of the story (but not filming the act).
  • In Finland, traffic fines are based not only on the severity of the offense, but also your income. Fines in the tens of thousands are not uncommon.
  • The Dubai cafĂ© chain Cafe2Go has begun to make its lattes and cappuccinos with camel's milk, an old Bedouin staple that's booming in the UAE.
  • The outline or the border of your lips is called the vermillion border and it is a special feature limited to humans.
  • We didn't even know Antarctica existed until the 1820s.
  • Potatoes were first domesticated 7-10,000 years ago in Peru and Bolivia. China now makes more potatoes than any other country.
  • The US EPA estimates there are over 100 million exit signs in use, consuming 30–35 billion kWh of electricity annually, or the output of five or six 1,000 MW power plants.
  • A 2005 study in Histopathology suggests that doctors still misdiagnose fatal diseases about a third of the time.
  • Early in the Star Trek series, both the Klingon and Vulcan languages were initially very crudely developed by James Doohan (Scotty).
  • More than 46 million Americans rely on food stamps.
  • State with the highest percentage of workers who are in the military - Hawaii.
  • Rush is finally being inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Yes still hasn't been nominated.

Karl's Xmas gift ideas - Cookie Monster scarf hat

How cool is that?

Slightly re-imagined

Friday, December 07, 2012

6 pics untagging....

12 days of Christmas - morning after edition.

It's an ad, but it's bloody brilliant.

Does the universe have a purpose?

A nice, short video courtesy of my favourite science guy.

No, not Bill either.


I don't consider it stealing

I help myself to music online. For free. I don't have a problem with doing it either. Yet, I pay for my DVDs. I pay for my iPhone and iPad apps. Some people ask why.

The answer is quite simple. I don't mind paying for stuff that is good value for the money. A $20 DVD usually contains at least 100 minutes of storytelling, with extras like bloopers, how it was made and in many cases, you get more than one format. This is grand, because I can keep the Blu-Ray copy for myself and give the regular DVD to my daughter. Good value for the money.

My apps cost at most $4 but are usually in the ballpark of $1 each and I can share them between my iPhone and my iPad. I get much more than 100 minutes of use out of them too. Great value for the money.

Meanwhile, I own a CD collection that I easily paid $12,000 for never mind the albums and 45s format collection I used to own that I also paid around $15,000 for. But never mind that. An album on CD offers maybe 45 minutes of music, arguably only good for a few great songs. No extras. No bloopers. No multi-format. For $20. Not exactly good value for the money. An album in my mind, as a comparative piece of entertainment is worth maybe $5. So according to my calculations, the music industry owes me about $20,000 worth of music I've already paid for.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The City of London's government

More nuttiness from the old City of London.

It's rules and traditions will boggle your mind.

"I do not want to be last in line"

Early episodes of Sesame Street in 1969-70 were aimed at adult audiences and featured a pipe-smoking cookie monster and a green Grover partaking in civil disobedience with hippies.

They Finnish first

Finnish children don't start school until they are 7 years old. They have no exams or homework until they are well into their teens. There is one mandatory standardized test, taken when children are 16. There are no 'comprehension levels' - all children, clever or not, are in the same classroom. 30% of children get extra help during their first 9 years of school. 66% of students go on to college. The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world. 93% of Finns graduate from high school. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess per day. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom. The rest of the day is spent preparing lessons and interacting with other teachers. Teachers get 2 hours per week of professional development. Finland has as many teachers as NYC, but only around half the students. All teachers must have a Master's degree, which is fully subsidized. Teachers are selected from the top 10% of university graduates. High school teachers with 15 years of experience get 102% of what other graduates make. Finnish teachers have the same status as doctors and lawyers.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Things I learned this week 2 Dec

  • When heating leftovers in a microwave, leave a hole in the middle of the food so that the food is shaped somewhat like a bundt cake. This will heat it more evenly.
  • Use binder clips to fix broken keyboard feet.
  • Columbia House and BMG music clubs didn't pay any royalties on the music they gave away for free and only paid $0.75 on the dollar for music they sold. They also pressed their own CDs and other media. The cost to the club for the free discs was $1.50 each while the discs you bought at full price cost them anywhere from $3.20 to $5.50, a margin far surpassing what a store could make.
  • Windows 7 has a built-in reliability monitor that graphs problems over time. In the start menu search, type 'reliability' and look under the control panel result.
  • Your foot is the same size as the distance between your wrist and your elbow.
  • Research has shown that you can remember about 3-4 things (for about 20 seconds) and then they will disappear from memory unless you repeat them over and over. We used to think it was 5-9 things, but it turns out someone just made that up. Also, people can’t effectively choose between more than 3 to 4 items at a time. Does that mean you can only have 4 items in a menu or 4 tabs on a screen? No, you can have more, as long as you group and chunk.
  • Justin Trudeau believes in legalizing marijuana.
  • PC sales are down 14%. There were more iPads sold last quarter than the top PC maker (Lenovo).
  • Bazooka Joe gum is cancelling its comics.
  • Microsoft Surface Pro: $899; 64GB of storage; no keyboard; 4.5 hours of battery life. This is the future of notebooks? Not likely.

Well, in that case.....

I had no idea the pipeline was for mustard.

My two cents regarding resumes

One of the trickiest things to consider when constructing a resume for a specific job, is whether or not to include an objective.  There are basically two sides to this argument.  On the one hand, including an objective makes it clear to the reader what you are shooting for.  It pays to be specific.  It should sound very much like your 3 second elevator pitch, but tailored to the position you hope to attain.  If you are including an objective paragraph, the worst thing you can do is be generic.

Having said that, there are many people who would suggest eliminating the objective paragraph altogether. There's a few reasons to suggest this.  For one, it frees up more space for other important resume elements.  But even more so, it removes the tendency of an objective paragraph to pigeonhole you.  It would really suck to apply for a specific position in a company you really want to work for when your combination of skills and experience would better suit you for a different position than the one you applied for.  Not having an objective paragraph in your resume makes this a possibility.

I would argue that one of the most important aspects of a resume is its readability.  If you get this wrong, all of the other things you did right on your resume no longer matter.  They no longer matter because the things the reader wants to find in the 6 seconds they are going to spend looking are unlikely to be found, simply due to a hard to read format.  You can test the readability of a resume by handing it to someone who was never seen it before and asking them to locate specific entries within 2 seconds.  Things like your most recent job, or the last thing you went to school for.  Please note that the word readable should not be confused with the word stylish.  Lastly, chronological over functional.

Almost every bullet point describing an accomplishment or responsibility in a job description on your resume should include a number.  This is because every statement made on a resume needs to be quantitative.  There has to be a number that helps build a mental picture of the scope of your involvement.  Because there is a huge difference between saying that you were a manager and saying that you managed 30 mobile technologists supporting in excess of 1000 customers spread over two provinces.

It may be important to list your education on a resume, but your education entries should be as short as possible.  Where, what, when.  If they need more information, they'll get it out of you during the interview.  This adjustment creates even more room for the important stuff, like your work background.

It is extremely a risky to mention hobbies and extracurricular activities on a typical resume.  There are exceptions to this rule, such as when those activities are extremely relevant to the position you are seeking.  If not, leave them out.  Not only do they have nothing to do with what you offer the company, they can create a negative bias against you that you have absolutely no control over.

If it has been a while since you compiled a resume, a list of references and even a mention that references are available upon request is completely obsolete.  Everyone knows that references are available upon request.  If you are asked for references, it's best to give a current, relevant list that has been selected by you for this particular application.  If you were to list references on your resume, those references can be used without any control from you.  Last but not least, never offer a person as a reference that has no idea you are using them as such.  Just because you think someone would make a good reference, doesn't mean they would agree to be used as one.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Your brain on marijuana

A no-BS explanation of what marijuana really does to your brain.

Is Apple Maps really that bad?

I've heard a lot of the feedback regarding the new Apple maps app for the iPhone.  I acknowledge that the app is not perfect, which is somewhat understandable considering it is the first iteration of the app. 

But I have to say, that I've been using this app and it's really not that bad.  I've used it to navigate to a few different places around Calgary without any issues whatsoever.  The routes were logical, the destination address locations were no less accurate than Google maps was, and best of all, I get turn by turn spoken instructions.  The map even reorients itself as you turn just like a normal GPS device.  So as much as people have been flogging Apple for their maps app, based on my own experiences I would say well done - for a first try.  If you been avoiding using this app because of what you've heard, I say give it a go.  The big thing the Apple maps needs to fix as soon as possible is the fact that it does not have transit directions.  Get this done, and I think you'll be well on your way to general acceptance.

Have any of my readers been using the Apple version of Maps and what has your experience been?