Well, I Guess It’s Over

w1I’ve gone all week without posting.  It would be easy to say I’ve been pouting because the readers who voted on the validity of the controversial W-title post last Thursday have declared the W-streak over.  However, the truth is that I have been incredibly busy at work, including evenings and weekends.  And we’re going to France next week, which requires both domestic and professional preparations.

It doesn’t seem like the level of intensity at work is going to go down any time soon, which is very good from a professional perspective, but it will mean that my blog posts will not be happening daily any more – I just can’t carve out the time to stick to that frequency.

So the end of Ws will also mark a change in tone for this blog.  I anticipate that I will only be posting in the future if I feel very strongly about something.  Or not.  Who knows?

It’s kind of liberating not to have the “deadline” mentality any more.  There were times over the past year that I was actually slightly stressed over not having anything to blog about on some days.  I even apologized for lame posts more than once.  Now I can avoid that shame!  So presumably the increase in quality will make up for the decrease in quantity in the future.

102nd and last



Three significant things happened yesterday on this blog:

1. Clayton called me out on the title of Thursday’s post.  In the comments he said that “Work, Not Safe For” fails to meet the criteria for a “W” title and therefore my streak is over.  Which is ironic, because…

2. That was the 100th consecutive “W” title post, and…

3. I didn’t write a post yesterday!  For the first time since April, a non-holiday weekday went by without me posting.  I plumb forgot.  I don’t really have an explanation other than work was really busy and amidst all the stuff I was doing, I was at the same time instant messaging back and forth with our travel co-ordinator getting some last-minute tickets booked for France.  I’m going for work, but it’s March break, so my wife and daughter are coming too.  So this is my first ever post from home on a weekend.

Anyway, I appeal to you to renounce Clayton’s claim that I failed to live up to the “W” rule.  Leave a comment and tell me my streak is still alive!  Or, if you believe I did fail, say that too, and I’ll slink off and pout.

101!  [Defiantly]

Work, Not Safe For


This video is hilarious, but extremely NSFW or people with children in the vicinity.  Or people who don’t like cussin’.

For those of you who chose not to watch it, it is a satirical news report about the release of an ambiguous TV add-on device that everyone is clamoring to buy, but which is so complicated and bug-ridden that it’s impossible to actually use.  As is the case with most satire, it is so funny because it is so true.  We as consumers have been trained by years of mass marketing that we MUST HAVE whatever everybody else wants/has.  I know that all of us will say, “Pas moi!  I am an individual and make my purchase decisions independently from what everyone else thinks.”  But the evidence of people lining up  to give their money to someone points to the contrary.  (Think iPhone, x-box, Harry Potter books, Cabbage Patch Kids, etc.)

Of course, the fact that nothing breeds success like success is nothing new.  But I think too much emphasis is placed on being a blockbuster or best-seller or smash hit or #1.  In bar terms, I would rather have a place where people don’t have to line up to get service.  A place where not everyone wants to go.  A place that caters to a certain kind of clientele, but really nails their specific preferences.  I’d rather be the best at doing one thing well for a small group of people than the best at doing many things poorly for a large group of people.


Wanna See a Yurt?

home-image1Too busy for real post, so here’s a link from a service I subscribe to that sends me interesting stuff every day:

In the last days of the Russian Empire, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii traveled the land in a specially outfitted railroad car: Czar Nicholas II had commissioned him to photograph the entire length and breadth of his territories.

Unusually for that time, the photos are in colour. By taking three shots in quick succession with red, green, and blue filters, Prokudin-Gorskii was able to capture the peacock robes of a Central Asian emir, the lushness of a Chakva tea farm, and the vibrancy of Russian Orthodox icons in a Smolensk church. Prokudin-Gorskii took his last photographs, of the Murmansk railroad, in 1915; three years later the czar was dead. The photographer ended up in Paris. His glass-slide negatives found their to the Library of Congress.

Oh – here’s the yurt: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/images/p87_6x__00006_.jpg


Woe Canada

oc2I can remain silent on this issue no longer.  Those of you who live in Canada have probably seen this news, for you others, here’s the story.  Basically, about a year ago, the principal of a small school here in New Brunswick was asked by a couple of parents if they could stop playing O Canada  in the classrooms first thing every morning.  It seems that, for religious reasons, their children were uncomfortable with it.  So the principal complied, and reserved the playing of the national anthem to school assemblies and the like.

Then, last month, some other parents found out about this, and all hell broke loose.  The principal started getting hate mail, radio call-in shows were swamped, letters were written to editors, and finally the provincial minister of education stepped in and drafted legislation  that the tune must be played every morning in all NB schools.

I’m not even going to bother sharing my opinion of which side is right, mostly because neither is.  Those who think they are being patriotic are actually betraying the basic principles upon which our country is founded: tolerance and freedom.  And those who think we should bow to the religious beliefs of a tiny minority of the school population should be asking themselves, “What kind of religion says it’s wrong to listen to a song?”

The patriots should chill, and ensure that students are taught  the sacrifices of those who have fought and died to protect us and how fortunate we are to live here – taught in lessons rather than having to endure a scratchy PA version of the same song every day for 12 years.  And the people who think the principal did right have to think about where the line should be drawn: what if a student’s religion requires them to flagellate themselves every day at noon?  Or slaughter a lamb?

All this is actually leading to a marketing lesson:  I have observed that on many hotly debated issues like this one – another perfect example is Québec sovereignty – 90% of the population couldn’t care less.  But it’s the 5% pro and 5% anti that go at it tooth and nail, and it’s THEIR voices that get heard and amplified.  So if you want YOUR message to get spread, you need to engage the zealots, not the masses.


Watering Holes of the Future

It occurred to me today, as Windows behaved in yet another unexpected and inexplicable way, that my generation is probably the first to remember the days when we knew how stuff worked, and are now living with a bunch of everyday items that we don’t understand the workings of at all.

When I was a boy (now that I’m 45 I get to use that phrase from now until I die), I understood how everything worked, at least basically.  For instance, you could look at a car engine (cripes, you could practically climb into a car engine), and know what every part did, and how they all worked together.  You could take apart a telephone and clearly see how it worked.  I built a crystal radio, so I understood the rudimentaries of that, and, by extension, TV – the only difference was the cathode ray tube, which I also understood.  Tape recorders, refrigerators, airplanes, adding machines; even space flight technology was within my grasp.

I consider myself a fan of science, and I like understanding how all things (including living things) work.  For a while there, at McGill, where I took MIS and one of the courses taught us how computers work: from the individual electrons up through bits, bytes, assembler and higher programming languages; I even thought I knew how computers worked.

But now I’m falling way behind.  I have no idea how flash memory works, for example.  The computer I’m using now is so different from the one I “understood” in 1981, they’d be unrecognizable to each other.  My car engine is a solid block of aluminum with several computers in it.  My freakin’ cell phone has more technology in it than NASA did when I was born.

Right now, as we are learning to apply this incomprehensible technology, it’s fun.  Social experiments like Facebook, instant messaging, Twitter, and sending photos and videos from your phone are examples of how people are using these tools to become closer.  But this closeness is contrived.  It’s too easy.  I have “friends” on Facebook that I would never send a Christmas card to, for instance, even if people still did that sort of thing.  I am followed on Twitter and get comments on my blog by people I don’t even know – we just happen to have crossed paths on some topic of mutual interest.

I’m not against these “artificial” relationships – I just think there will come a time, fairly soon, when people will tire of virtual companionship and start to rediscover the pleasure of going down to the pub.  One of the driving forces of this will be the increasing trend towards working from home, and losing the face to face interpersonal relationships that work brings for most of us.  But the more that technology separates us physically, the higher the demand will be for places that bring us together.


Where No Man Has Gone Before…

Trailer for the new Star Trek movie. 

An excellent viral promotion piece for a design shop SputnikAnimation.  Oddly, they use the TLD of “.nu” which belongs to the tiny Polynesian nation of Niue.  Do you think they do that because the work they do is “new”?


When Did My Cell Number Get Published?

As I’ve mentioned before, I hate the telephone.  However, I actually have a cell phone anyway, for emergencies and the like.  As my stated goal is to never actually use the thing, I believe I have the cheapest plan in the galaxy – $10 per month.  That only gets me about 20 minutes of talk time, but I use it so rarely that in the 15 months I’ve owned it, I’ve banked over 7 months worth of minutes.

Anyway, only a very few people know the number to this little phone: my wife, our babysitter, and a few neighbourhood friends who in the past we have had to co-ordinate arriving somewhere with.  And it’s not listed anywhere that I know of.  I’ve never entered it as contact info anywhere.  It rings (or at least used to ring) so infrequently that I have at times not recognized my own ring tone.  It’s only when everyone’s looking at me with a “Why aren’t you answering your phone?” expression that I realize it’s mine.

But suddenly all that has changed.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve received about 20 calls on my cell phone.  One, I answered even though I didn’t recognize the number, because it came from my area code — it was a wrong number.  But all the others are from area codes I don’t even recognize like 310, 510 and 909 (all California).  I’ve answered 3 or 4 of them out of curiosity, and as you’ve already guessed, they are all phone spam.  Recorded messages that I don’t listen to long enough to even learn what they want from me.

So I am intrigued as to why it took the spammers so long to find my number.  If there is some computer somewhere trying every possible phone number and flagging the ones that don’t answer with “this line is not in service,” or a fax or modem signal, and it was  just a matter of churning though all the possibilities?  Let’s do some math: there are about 375 area codes in North America, and let’s say that that the average one uses about half of its available exchanges.  So there are 500 × 375 = 187,500 possible 4-digit extensions.  So we have 187,500 × 10,000 = 1,875,000,000 possible phone numbers on the continent. 

If I set up 10 PCs calling one of these possible numbers each every 10 seconds, it would take me 59½ years to try every one.  If I used 100 computers, 6 years.  1000 computers = 7 months.  Is that what happened?  Is there a phone-spam funded server farm somewhere testing possible phone numbers all the time?


WAIT! Are your stupid?

iqI accidentally clicked on a banner ad today and was taken to one of those ubiquitous “Find out if you’re smarter that George Bush” IQ test sites.  They work by taking you through the typical IQ-test-type questions, then asking for your phone number and saying they’ll text the results to you.  Of course, the fine print mentions that they’ll also charge you $3.99 on your phone bill, but whatever.  Some people buy  ring tones – whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, when I hit the Back button to return to the page I had accidentally left, I got this message.  I thought it ironic that the people hosting an IQ test site would have so many errors and inconsistencies crammed into so few words.  (BTW, the average IQ is, BY DEFINITION, 100.)


Watch Out, Web