Saturday, March 30, 2013

January - the music game

January is a generative music tool. You walk around and lick snowflakes with your tongue, and the tool chooses what the next note (or notes) will be.

'w' sticks out your tongue, 'a' and 'd' moves left and right.

Turn your iPhone into a mouse or touchpad

I love this kickstarter project:
Mauz is a hardware add-on with app for the iPhone that turns the phone into a fully functional mouse, touchpad, 3D controller (similar to a Wii controller) and a touch of Kinect for your computer or laptop.

Zombie hunting permit (Canada)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Snow crows

Check out these silly crows 'playing' in the snow on a couple of parked cars. I've never seen a crow roll or ski down a slope in snow. Play definitely shows a high degree of intelligence. Of course, crows have been showing other signs of intelligence for years.

Sweet crude man camp

Honest short film on what it's like to live in Williston North Dakota in the Bakken fields.

Banksy on advertising

[In case the text is hard to read]
People are taking the piss out of you every day. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are "The advertisers" and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It's yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don't owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put them in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Work interruptions

I originally posted a much shorter version of this on LinkedIn, but I'll be darned if I could find it anymore, so I re-wrote it as a full-fledged article this time.

Most people have a work rhythm. Some folks can go for hours without a break, while others automatically pace themselves for a short pause every 20 or 40 minutes while they work. Interrupting our own work using our own natural cycles is one thing. However, imposed breaks and interruptions disrupt that rhythm and workplaces need to learn to stop doing it. First, we need to identify the various work interruptions and find ways to mitigate them.

Email. Every time an email arrives in your inbox, you're probably hearing an audible alert, seeing a pop-up of some kind, or both. You do not need to answer every email as it arrives. It's better to disable those alerts and get to your email at prescribed times in the day.

Phone calls. Who can resist a ringing phone? I know I can't. It could be important. But it probably isn't. Luckily, we all have voice mail. So if the caller really wants to talk to you, they will either leave a message, revert to email or come and visit you in person. Calls can be ignore. If you're in a work rhythm, don't succumb to the ring. If you can mute the ringer while you're in a work cycle, do it. At the next break, check for voice mail messages.

Walk-ins. Sometimes people just barge into your office with no warning. Sometimes they're just doing it to socialize. While this can be a pleasant experience, it messes up our rhythm. Sometimes the visit is due to inability to get a quick reply via email or a phone call, so the visit is somewhat justified. Sometimes the visit is the result of a conscious decision that a face to face meeting is more appropriate than an email or phone call, which is also quite justified. But it is an interruption and the effects are unavoidable. What we can do when someone walks in is immediately ask, "Is this really important, or can it wait until my next break?" Explain that you're in the middle of important work and that an interruption is going to prevent you from finishing time-sensitive work. Just make sure to go see that person and respect their rhythm if you show up at a bad time for them.

Meetings. Often you don't get to choose which meetings you're asked to attend, but if you could, you would want to skip the ones that are just passing along information that could have been promulgated by email. Meetings that require brainstorming or input from most members are the ones to attend. If you can afford to skip the meetings that are literally wasting your time, do so.

Smoke, coffee and lunch breaks. It's not just work-related interruptions that can cramp your style. Breaks of all kinds are often occurring on someone else's schedule. Do you join the crowd at break or do you keep working? That depends on your rhythm. If you're in the groove, skip the break or postpone it for 30 minutes or so. This applies to lunch as well, assuming your employer allows it.

All of this is fine, but many of us work in a corporate culture where numerous interruptions are par for the course. You can help change that, even if it's just within your own group or team. One way to give employees some of their work rhythm back is to establish an interruption-free day. It can start with a once per week event. You could call it "No-call Thursday", or something similar. The rule of the day is that there are to be no interruptions for the whole day. No meetings. No forced breaks. No phone calls. No office / cubicle visits. Ignore the inbox until day's end. Emergencies excepted.  Watch productivity skyrocket. Then, if it works, consider doing it twice per week. Soon, you'll notice deadlines getting met because people are falling into a natural work rhythm and plowing ahead.

People who are disciplined enough to work unsupervised can benefit from having an interruption-free work area all the time. They can telecommute most days, because at home, there are no meetings, barge-ins, coffee breaks, etc.


Have you seen Jim Carrey's new Funny or Die video parodying gun supporters?

Go do that now.

Unless you're an big gun supporter, in which case you might want to skip it.....

The laboratory of democracy

"I'm a scientist. Alright, a political scientist, which doesn't really count, but my laboratory was the laboratory of democracy that is Michigan and like any good scientist, I was experimenting with policy about what would achieve the greatest good for the greatest number." ~Former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm

What a great quote...

Science Con'ed again

Every Conservative MP voted against a very reasonable science-based motion. All other MPs voted for it, but they lost anyway. The Conservatives were so proud of their win that they cheered. I'm ashamed and embarrassed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Things I learned lately 24 Mar

  • TV manufacturers were no longer hyping 3D TVs at CES this year. Can you say 'dead feature'?
  • McDonald's needs to 're-introduce' the Big Mac to its young core customer base because these people weren't around when The Big Mac was promoted in 1974 with its trademark song, so they don't know why it's so special.
  • Things coming to a TV near you: natural voice commands; trackpads on remotes; motion sensing built-in to play games; bigger screens (110"); 4K resolution; apps and streaming; connectivity with iPads and such; very thin designs.
  • Vienna hosts more international congresses per year than any other world city.
  • Tumblr is by far the most popular social network site among teens, beating Facebook.
  • A flu vaccine is only 59% effective overall. Vaccines also seem less effective on the elderly.
  • "I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road." ~Stephen Hawking
  • The Pennsylvania Dutch people are not Dutch. They're German.
  • Most alcoholic beverages contain all 13 minerals necessary to sustain life.
  • Approximately 1% of the human population is drunk at any one given moment.
  • Only the Rubik's cube has sold more than the iPhone.
  • Before the eraser was invented, bread was used to remove pencil marks.
  • Beijing and Shanghai together have over 500 miles of subway system. China plans to add 800 more miles of subway (in various cities) in the next 2 years. That's a distance similar to Dallas-Chicago. That means that by 2015 there will be over 1900 miles of subway in the country. By comparison, New York has about 230 miles of subway.
  • A teen football player's lawyer is arguing that his client's 16 year old brain is not developed enough to know that raping an unconscious person is a bad idea when you're drunk. Also, apparently, silence due to unconsciousness implies consent.

Your stomach at a restaurant

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Could you fly an electric Cessna on Venus?

"The atmosphere on Venus is over 60 times denser than Earth’s, which is thick enough that a Cessna moving at running speed would rise into the air. Unfortunately, the air it’s rising into is hot enough to melt lead. The paint would start melting off in seconds, the plane’s components would fail rapidly, and the plane would glide gently into the ground as it came apart under the heat stress.

A much better bet would be to fly above the clouds. While Venus’s surface is awful, its upper atmosphere is surprisingly Earth-like. 55 kilometres up, a human could survive with an oxygen mask and a protective wet-suit; the air is room temperature and the pressure is similar to that on Earth mountains. You need the wet-suit, though, to protect you from the sulfuric acid.

The acid's no fun, but it turns out the area right above the clouds is a great environment for an airplane, as long as it has no exposed metal to be corroded away by the sulfuric acid. And is capable of flight in constant Category-5-hurricane-level winds, which are another thing I forgot to mention earlier."

From a what-if article here.

We are so blind

What an amazing article about what we see while we drive.

Thanks Bernie.

So close

Hey! Hands off my sandwiches Google!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thanks, but not very much

The Consumerist mentions a coupon from Sears which, paired with the marketing copy that comes along with it, is a bizarre way to show its customers gratitude. "Thank you for choosing Sears Auto Center today," the coupon proudly exclaims. "Here's a special offer just for you!"

The coupon gives you $5 off on a purchase of $25 or more and it's valid in the clothing, lawn and garden, home fashions, fitness and sporting goods, home appliances, and seasonal and outdoor living sections of Sears. Not bad, right?

Alas, here are the restrictions. Not valid on...

Clearance and closeout; Special Purchases; Everyday great price items; Introductory Offers; Lands' End merchandise; Levi's; Two Hearts maternity; Scrubology; Edwin Watts Golf merchandise; Excelled Leather; Sears Fan Shop; EMC Outerwear; Footwear; Fab Finds; Insane Deals; Price Drop items; Mattresses; Shaw rug gallery; Recliners; Automotive; Electrolux; Dehumidifiers; Air conditioners; Floor care; Jenn-Air; Dacor; Fisher & Paykel; Water softeners; Water heaters; Water filtration; Air cleaners; Home appliance accessories; Sewing machines; Countertop microwaves; Humidifiers; Fitness accessories; Generators; Weber Agio patio furniture; Propane tanks and exchanges; Outlet store purchases; Parts & Repair Centers; Catalog orders; Gift Cards; Protection agreements; Sears licensed business.

OK fine. Coupons need to have some restrictions, but this one's just giving away $5, and if you're trying to thank a customer for coming to your store, this is a fail. In fact, the guy who received this coupon hated it so much that he was convinced to take his business elsewhere. He viewed it as a "con."

Double-double homicide

Tutoring with a view

One of my clients that I tutor for (computer stuff) has an office on the top floor of their house. The office has a huge skylight right over the desk from which you can see half of the sky and all the birds and planes that fly over the neighbourhood. It's a wonderful place to be.

(It's not exactly like the picture, but pretty close)

Monday, March 18, 2013

My SimCity game review

Oh man, was I ever looking forward to this game. They announced it almost a year ago and as soon as it was available for pre-purchase, I went for it. The teaser videos were awesome. They were true to the game play, but little did I know, EA/Maxis was going to implement a form of DRM (digital rights management) that would make the game almost unplayable.

If you've heard the news on SimCity, you've probably heard that there are a lot of very angry players out there. I am one of them. In an act of complete ignorance of the times, EA/Maxis decided to implement a form of DRM that forces you to connect to a server to play SimCity, even if you're just playing solo. FAIL. This type of move is bad enough, because it means no internet - no playing the game, which is stupid beyond the extreme. FAIL. But worse, their servers cannot handle the sheer volume of players they have trying to play at one time. FAIL. People are asking for their money back and all they're getting is a credit for discontinued games. Every time you open the game, it has to download updates, which you cannot abort or skip. Once the updates are done, you can probably connect to a server and play. But (as I learned the hard way), if you connect to a different server, your saved cities might be gone. Forever. FAIL! While you're playing the game, if they decide to take a server down for maintenance, your game will end, with very little warning. FAIL!!

EA/Maxis have insisted that a server connection is necessary for the game to function properly because of processing that is done by the servers. Smart hackers have already proven this to be bull as they have found a way to mod the game that enters a debug mode like the developers used and the game plays just fine with no connection. With slightly more honesty, the upper echelon at EA/Maxis admitted that they could have allowed offline play, but their 'vision' was always to bias toward multi-player in-game purchases. To hell with people who just want to build a city solo like in versions past. If they wanted to be most honest, they should just level with everyone that this incredibly inefficient form of DRM is the best way to make sure that you can't sell your game to someone else, because you can only download and play it through an Origin account with an Origin client running in the background on your PC.

Needless to say, EA/Maxis has earned my unwavering wrath and I will take it out on them the only way I can. With my wallet. EA/Maxis will never see a red cent from me ever again. And if a pirated version of SimCity comes out that allows you to play solo without being connected to a server, colour me pirating that. After all, I have already paid good money to play the game. I mean seriously. Have they completely lost their sense of who's the boss here? It's the customer. And I'm sorry EA, but your customer is now giving you two big middle fingers. Sucks to be you.

Used to be an eagle

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A common sense message for Fido

Dear Fido: When a pay-as-you-go customer refills their account, you automatically update them on how much money their account now contains. But you tell them that they need to dial another number to find out when their money expires. Maybe you should give them that information at the same time you're updating them on how much money is in their account.

Gun sticks

Things I learned lately 16 Mar

  • Some newspapers want their countries to pass a law that would mean anyone who links to their articles would have to pay. They just don't want to stay viable much longer, do they?
  • Hilda Clark was the first musician to endorse Coca Cola.
  • Coke's slogan "It's the real thing" debuted in 1969. Meanwhile, Pepsi's slogan in 1969 was "You've got a lot to live, Pepsi's got a lot to give."
  • Stuff Coca Cola owns: Barq's; vitaminwater; Sprite; Tab; Powerade; Rockstar Energy Drink; Simply Orange; smartwater; Nestea; odwalla; Minute Maid; Pibb; mello yello; Fruitopia; Hi-C; Fresca; Dasani; CapriSun; Bimbo.
  • Stuff Pepsi owns: Tropicana; Sun Chips; Sobe; Tostitos; Sierra Mist; Ruffles; Mountain Dew; Rold Gold; Quaker; Lay's; Gatorade; Lipton; Rice-a-Roni; Cracker Jack; Doritos; Life (cereal); Aunt Jemima; Cap'n Crunch; Fritos; 7Up; Naked Juice; Aquafina.
  • Coca Cola has 34.8 million Facebook fans.
  • One in ten Icelanders will write and publish a book in their lifetime.
  • The colour that stands out for dogs is blue. Everything else looks the same colour.
  • The RMS Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship is to be transformed into a floating hotel by its owners in Dubai.
  • Apple has a profit margin of 26%. That's pretty high.
  • Facebook might start using hashtags (#makefacebookworse)
  • JCPenny is going to start selling Joe Fresh. Yes, the stuff they sell in Superstores in Canada.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wifi peeve

One of the things I find very annoying when using my smartphone is that when I go to use an app that connects to the internet, if I happen to be in a location where wifi is available, the app often freezes and refuses to connect to the internet. This is because when you try to access the internet using certain wifi hotspots, they annoy you for an acknowledgement of their terms of service, even if the hotspot is free. Until you click 'yes' or 'OK' or whatever (in a browser), you're stuck in no-internet limbo. The problem is that you can never see this screen that's waiting for your acknowledgement if you're just using a phone app. You would only see the screen if you were using the web browser.

I'm hoping that wifi hotspots stop doing this soon. I mean, do we really need to agree to terms that are pretty much standard for any hotspot? If the answer is yes, do we have to do this over and over again? In the meantime, a truly smart phone should have the ability to detect when an app is trying to access the internet via wifi but not succeeding because it is being blocked by the terms of service screen and either agree on your behalf, or if that's not legally permissible, bypass wifi and go straight to 3G or 4G or LTE access to the internet so you can use your apps without interruption.

Ann and Nancy do the Zepp for the Zepp

Watch Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, accompanied by Jason Bonham and a lot of other great folks, pay tribute to Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Center Honors with their rendition of Stairway to Heaven.

Canadian standoff

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not the Sharpie-est pen in the bunch

If you're in one of those Dollar Stores, don't get too excited if you see a 6 pack of Sharpie markers. Look closer. They're probably the blatant Chinese knockoff 'Skerple'. Yeah, they look just like Sharpies, in fact the font of the logo looks identical. Also keep your eye out for Shoupie and Sharpei.

Coming soon - (almost) live video from space

"There's something that astronauts have that's described as the overview effect," says Wade Larson, co-founder of Urthecast. "They often get very philosophical, and even emotional, when they describe this effect when they step out of the Earth's gravitational pull, and looking back and seeing what the planet looks like. It's a sense of connectedness and you know, the big picture in the sense of ecological fragility."

A company called Urthecast will send HD video cameras up to the International Space Station soon. The cameras will send streaming "almost-live" video using two cameras.

The first is a medium resolution camera which will just monitor the Earth. The second is an HD video camera that will take short videos as the ISS heads past specific regions, about 150 a day.
The resolution of the images and videos is similar to Google Earth. The videos will be search-able, so you can find them by location, video type or theme. The website will even have a tracking feature where you can check when the cameras will next be visiting your area.

"You come to the website and you will be able to see exactly where the space station is right now, and you will know when it will come over you," Larson said. "You can start doing interesting social stuff, you can get your friends out in a field and spell something out."

The data will take anywhere from a half hour to a few hours to be downloaded, processed and put on the website, where it will be free to view.

Doctor's scribble

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Things I learned lately 10 Mar

  • MegaUpload founder Kim Dotcom has some tips for preventing piracy: 1.Create great content. 2.Make that content super easy to buy. 3.Release the content worldwide on the same day. 4.Give it a fair price. 5.Make sure it works on any device.
  • Australian's refer to McDonald's as Macca's.
  • It turns out that absolute zero is not the coldest you can go after all.
  • The era of netbooks is officially over.
  • Audi, Toyota, Volvo and Nissan are working on self-driving cars of varying types, joining Google, the first self-driving car designers.
  • Budweiser has been accused of watering down their beer, lawsuit pending. Some jokes just write themselves, don't they?
  • The CEO of Yahoo! put an end to telecommuting for her employees. Best Buy as following suit. My feeling is not that telecommuting is bad, it's just that most companies don't know how to do it right. If an employee has to be in the office to satisfy management, then management aren't leaders, they're babysitters. IMHO.
  • When officials in Iceland heard about horsemeat being found in beef products in Europe, they decided to test to see if the same thing was happening in Iceland. Inspectors didn't find any horsemeat, but one brand of locally produced beef pie had no meat at all.
  • Ralph Macchio is now the same age as Pat Morita was when the movie The Karate Kid was released in 1984.

Relay rides

The biggest problem for most car-sharing businesses like Zipcar and car2go, is the cost of maintaining a fleet of cars, including paying for parking and insurance and staff to clean, refill and re-position the cars.

Relay Rides, a start-up that went live in June 2010, sidesteps that problem. Rather than provide cars, they connect car owners and potential renters and set the ground rules. They don't have to buy cars hoping people want them, and the car owners set the rates based on what they think their car is worth. The pitch: Owners can make money off their cars, and city dwellers who need four wheels from time to time can find cars easily.

Relay Rides facilitates short term rentals, provides insurance, and makes its money off a 40% commission. Most of that goes to paying for insurance, which is especially costly because Relay Rides is covering drivers with a wide variety of experience and driving histories (all are screened, and anyone with major violations in the previous 2 years is not approved).

A 2012 Fiat 500 Sport in Manhattan goes for $9.75/hour, $69/day, and $1,200/month.

Owners can expect to earn an average of $250/month, but a sample owner of a BMW 6 Series has cleared about $1,400 a month.

Relay Rides may be just in time for the sharing economy, because it's booming. Airbnb, the online marketplace for spare rooms, is on its way to make $1 billion a year.

What's better than a jackalope?

A dragon jackalope, of course.

Never forget

Friday, March 08, 2013

Can we have more money please?

My insurance company sent me an offer in the mail this week asking if (because I'm such a good driver) I would like to pay an extra $45 per year premium on my car insurance. This premium would afford me the luxury of having my first at-fault accident ignored (in terms of rate increases) and my second at-fault accident treated as if it were my first. This feature rider is known as accident forgiveness. There are exclusions and the forgiveness doesn't travel with you to any other insurance company. so if you have an accident with the forgiveness company and switch providers, your rate will be higher to start with.

I won't be taking them up on their offer. I prefer the option of not causing any accidents. Also, I prefer the kind of reward that involves less money paid, not more.

Dumb ways to die

This is hilarious.


A great message

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Alternate names for the Papal conclave

Vatican Idol
2013 Winter Pope-lympic Games
Who wants to be a Pope?
Papal Apprentice
Last Bishop Standing
Italy's Next Pope
So you think you can Bless?
Faith Factor

Pool with a view

Check out that infinity pool on the top of the hotel in the 'Sky Park'.

This has to be one of the most incredible hotels in the world. This is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.

Kids today

Monday, March 04, 2013

Dear sellers on kijiji

If you want to sell something to us online, you might want to consider the needs of the people you're trying to sell to. If we offer to come over within 30 minutes, you might try saying 'yes'. Otherwise, buyers are going to look elsewhere. My favourite responses to date are:

"You can't come right away because my mother's here and the dog barks when the doorbell rings and this upsets my mother."
"You have to wait until I get home because my wife doesn't speak English."
"I need an hour to get ready."
"My wife is selling this, so I don't know anything about it."

Don't want to pay for Office? Then don't.

You may have heard that the pricing and licensing for Office 2013 and Office 365 is a bit hard to swallow. But nobody is talking about Microsoft's free alternative: Office Web Apps.

Office Web Apps are the least talked about product that Microsoft put out. It includes the exact same programs you'd get in Office Home & Student 2010 or 2013: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. For free. Including 7GB of SkyDrive storage.

From the start, comparing feature lists between the web version and the full version, you're missing the point. People choose a free online productivity suite because it's free and it can be used on any PC or Mac (and some mobile devices) with a modern web browser.

The Office Web Apps include the ribbon interface, so a document in the Word Web App feels like you're running regular Word. You have to look closely to see that some features are missing.

Every Office Web App supports simultaneous editing. If you share a document with someone from a free SkyDrive account, anyone with edit permissions can work on that document simultaneously, with your changes showing up nearly in real time.

If you go to, you won't even see that Office Web Apps are available. But just click My Office and sign in with a Microsoft account (such as email at and there you are.

Normal Al

Sunday, March 03, 2013

How I was introduced to bagels

My life-long requirement to ingest at least one bagel per week was set in motion by a math teacher in high school - Mr Gaspar. He was one of the few teachers that didn't live in the surrounding area (Two Mountains, or Deux Montagnes as it's known now) where I grew up in the outskirts of Montreal. Mr Gaspar actually lived in downtown Montreal. Once a week he brought fresh bagels from a quality source in Montreal and brought cream cheese too, to share with his students. Bagels were a new phenomenon to me back then - we never had them at home, and they were awesome.

I still eat them to this day. Although, I pine for the fresh, authentic Montreal style bagels he brought to us back then. Note that Montreal style bagels are quite different from New York style. They have bigger holes for one thing. They are also sweeter and denser and are always baked in a wood-fired oven.

"I know"

These Star Wars themed rings are awesome.

Chelsea Swank from Portland Oregon has lots more where that came from.

Chopsticks scarf

Friday, March 01, 2013

You've heard of hybrid-electric, now there's hybrid-air

French car company Peugeot Citroen's latest innovation operates on compressed air, gas or a combination of the two.

At speeds above 43 mph (70 km/h), the car uses a standard 3 cylinder gas engine. But below 43 mph, such as in city driving, the car uses compressed air to power a hydraulic motor and the gas engine shuts down. When more power is needed, for hill climbing or accelerating, the two work together. This system gives 117 mpg (2l/100km) in theory. The regenerative braking stores energy as compressed air too. This hybrid is lighter than a hybrid-electric, because there are no heavy batteries. Peugeot's expects to have this car available by 2016.

Enriched star guts!

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is my hero. This beautiful video frames a question he was asked in an interview with TIME magazine, "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?" This was his answer.

Sesame birds