Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday fun for March 30, 2007

Sometimes you just need a hug

The weekend's almost here and it's been a tough week in the blogosphere. So I thought it would be nice to see something that makes you feel good about stuff. And I found it.

Le me introduce you to, the official home of the Free Hugs Campaign. You might have heard about this already. It was started by a guy from Australia who just wanted to give people a hug.
Sometimes, a hug is all what we need.

Free hugs is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann, A man whos sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives.

In this age of social disconnectivity and lack of human contact, the effects of the Free Hugs campaign became phenomenal.

As this symbol of human hope spread accross the city, police and officials ordered the Free Hugs campaign BANNED. What we then witness is the true spirit of humanity come together in what can only be described as awe inspiring.

In the Spirit of the free hugs campaign, PASS THIS TO A FRIEND and HUG A STRANGER! After all, If you can reach just one person...
It's turned into quite the movement.

Go ahead and watch the video on the site...then tell me that you're not feeling better about things.

Who ever heard of a funny economist? happens.

I came across this video on YouTube that fits my idea of Friday fun.

It's very, very funny.

I wish my professors at University could deliver lectures like this!

To watch the video click on the image below, or follow this link to YouTube.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Goldfish live in a deep-fat fryer

The Internet is important because it lets you come across posts like this one, from Boing, Boing.

Now we can all think about how information like this can be used in our day-to-day experience.

Goldfish live in a deep-fat fryer: "Cory Doctorow:
A Japanese restaurant has combined a deep-fat fryer with a functional goldfish tank -- the boiling oil floats on the surface of the cool water, and the fish get to eat all the crumbs of batter that dribble down.

Because oil floats on water, despite the massive heat (163 degrees Celsius) the goldfish simply stay away from the surface and all is well. They eat the crumbs of croquettes and other fried foods that fall to the bottom, and can live in there for 5-10 years as they happily clean away, ignorant to the fact that certain death awaits any potential escapees.

Link (via Kottke)

(Via Boing Boing.)

More on the blogger death threats issue

Eric Eggertson over at Common Sense PR has been keeping track of the fallout and controversy in the wake of Kathy Sierra's post earlier this week on the death threats she's received.

Here's the link to his latest post.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This makes sense

From the "You had to expect this" file:

Enough said.

A disturbing day for bloggers

Kathy Sierra, one of the authors of the blog, "Creating Passionate Users," has put up a disturbing story on her blog, which has the entire blogosphere questioning the limits of free speech.

The post is called "Death threats against bloggers are NOT "protected speech" (why I cancelled my ETech presentations)."

In the post she outlines how she has received death threats against her, posted to her blog and others, and that as a result she's cancelled all her public appearances and is loathe to even leave her home.

It's a frightening and disturbing post, which has generated a huge amount of commentary both in the comment to the post itself (which are overwhelmingly sympathetic and positive) and in other posts about the issue.

Since I started blogging three years ago, I've always been aware of the dark side of this genre. But I've never seen anything like this, both in terms of the threats to Kathy directly and the response from the blogging community.

I know that it's probably only a few "wingnuts" that are responsible for this, but I'm not sure that we'll be able to ignore their impact. And if someone as passionate about what she is doing as Kathy Sierra is silenced, we'll all suffer for what's happened.

But I'm also grateful that Sierra had the courage to write this post, as difficult as that may have been. She didn't just hide it under the rug, and now the bad stuff is out there for us all to consider and talk about.

The blogosphere is a community, which we usually think of as a good thing. But every community has a dark side, so we shouldn't be surprised by what's happening. Let's hope that the discussion that comes out of this is positive.

And let's sincerely hope that this is not the last post that Kathy Sierra ever writes.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday fun for Mar 23, 2007

What's the big hairy deal about this?

Ever wanted to send a message to someone, but you didn't want it to get lost in all those other messages that fill up peoples' inboxes?

Well, I can't guarantee that your recipient will read this message, but if they do open it, you'll certainly get their attention.

Welcome to Hairy Mail, the world's first (and - I'm sure - only) web-based, back-hair messaging system.

This is one of the strangest little messaging apps I've seen on the Web.

It's a little bit creepy -- but mostly pretty funny. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

And just in case you're wondering, there is a bigger campaign behind it. You'll see what I mean when you follow the link below.

Here's the link. Just go ahead and look, it won't hurt.

Hat tip to Geoffrey for pointing me here.

Prepare to be impressed

I've always been fascinated by savants, but while I watched Rainman and I've seen the odd documentary on TV, I never delved into the topic further.

Then I saw this post on Boing Boing. It linked to some video from CBS's 60 Minutes featuring a story on Daniel Tammet. He's a UK savant believed to be the first ever who does not suffer any obvious disabilities (such as autism, deafness, blindness, etc.)

The clips from the show are fascinating. Here's the link.

And here's a link to a 50-minute video about Tammet on Google Video.

There were other links to previous Boing Boing articles about savants as well, including:

-- Profile of Tammet in The Guardian Link

-- Gilles Tréhin, a savant and his imaginary city Link

-- Stephen Wiltshire -- The "Human Camera" -- draws Rome after flyover Link

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bum Rush the Charts on Thursday

This Thursday, podcasters, bloggers and independent music lovers from around the world are going to be taking part in a unique experiment designed to prove the strength of the new media movement. I'll be participating, and I hope you will too.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's an excerpt from the Bum Rush the Charts website:

Podcasting gets little respect from traditional media. To them we're little more than a joke, than amateurs. What they don't understand is that podcasting is more than just a delivery mechanism - it's a social movement. People are sick of the watered-down, cookie-cutter content that networks and record companies expect us to enjoy. People are tired of watching friends and loved ones get sued by record labels who only care about profits and nothing else, not even the artists they supposedly represent.

We want and deserve more. On March 22, 2007, we're going to change that with your help.

We can do better. We can match and exceed the reach of big media, corporate media, labels, and the entrenched interests. On March 22nd, we are going to take an indie podsafe music artist to number one on the iTunes singles charts as a demonstration of our reach to Main Street and our purchasing power to Wall Street. The track we've chosen is "Mine Again" by the band Black Lab. A band that was dropped from not just one, but two major record labels (Geffen and Sony/Epic) and in the process forced them to fight to get their own music back. We picked them because making them number one, even for just one day, will remind the RIAA record labels of what they turned their backs on - and who they ignore at their peril.

What's more, we're going to take it a step beyond that. We've signed up as an affiliate of the iTunes Music Store, and every commission made on the sale of "Mine Again" will be donated to college scholarships, partly because it's a worthy cause, but also partly because college students are among the most misunderstood and underestimated groups of people by big media. Black Lab has taken it up another notch - 50% of their earnings are going to be donated to the scholarship fund as well.

If you believe in the power of new media, on March 22nd, 2007, take 99 cents and 2 minutes of your time to join the revolution and make iTunes "Mine Again". If you're a content producer (blogger, podcaster, etc.), we're asking you to join up with us and help spread the word to your audience. Nothing would prove the power of new media more than showing corporate media that not only can we exceed their reach and match their purchasing power, but that we can also do it AND make a positive difference in the world. If we can succeed with this small example, then there's no telling what can do next.

There's more there, which will explain how easy it is to participate. Just follow the suggested links and have your credit card ready.

My colleague, Eric Eggertson, at Common Sense PR has written a good post about the potential impact a campaign like this could have for PR professionals.

And there's lots of other stuff on the web. Just follow this link for the latest from Technorati.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday fun for Mar 16, 2007

I've just got a single video for you this week. But it's a long one and it's worth it.

This car goes really, really fast.

True, there is a lot of talk about global warming and the need to reduce our dependency on oil and run more efficient cars, etc.

But there are times when you see a car that you just sit back and say "Wow!"

This is one of those times.

The car is the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. It's the world's "fastest, most powerful, and most expensive street-legal production car in the world." It goes 407 kmh. It's got 10 radiators. And a stereo. And airbags. And it costs about CDN $1.9 million. Wow.

Here's a story about the Bugatti in Wikipedia. And here's the link to the official Bugatti website (but beware, it's a Flash site that takes a long time to load.) And here's an interesting article about the technology in this amazing piece of machinery.

But words aside, seeing is believing, as they say.

So check out this video to get a sense of just how ridiculously fast this thing is. It's a longish video (about 8 minutes or so) but it's well done. And even if you're not that crazy about fast cars (but seriously, who isn't?) you'll still like it.


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

US ruling could kill Internet Radio - like Pandora

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) issued a ruling that could spell the end of Internet radio, a decision which could spell the end for a lot of stations, including services like Pandora, which I use regularly. (For more about Pandora, see this previous post about the service.)

Here's a brief synopsis of the CRB decision (from the iPod Observer)
A ruling to change how royalties are collected from independent Internet radio stations has the potential to drive many of the sites out of business. The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), a U.S. government agency tasked with overseeing the royalty process, decided to change the way most small Webcast stations are charged from a percentage of revenue to a pay per song and listener model.

The new royalty rates are scheduled to go into effect in about two months. If implemented, the change could increase royalty payments for the smaller stations by ten times what they are currently paying. In some cases, the new rates amount to more than a station's annual income. That translates to a substantially smaller group of available stations in iTunes' radio list.

The ruling has stunned a lot of people and it's taken awhile for its full impact to sink in. But there is a growing backlash building.

What really bites about this is that so-called "terrestrial radio" stations, the large companies that control most of the over-the-air music, are exempt from these same fees, thanks to the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was written back in 2001.

Tim Westergren is the founder of Pandora, and writes the blog for the project. He's been running regular updates on what's been happening, especially how his audience is beginning to mobilize to lobby for changes.

He's posted a link to an online petition (I'm not sure whether Canadians can register, but it can't hurt, right?) as well as links (here, here (may require subscription) and here) to other articles about this issue.

Personally, I don't listen to a lot of Internet radio, but I have in the past. And I really like Pandora. It's introduced me to a lot of music and artists that I would never have known about otherwise.

It's difficult to understand the thinking of groups like the RIAA, which are obsessed with closing down the option of anyone listening to their music unless there has been a direct payment made. It's short-sighted and will spell the end of big music as a business. That's probably not a completely bad thing, but if they take down so many other businesses with them, we all suffer.

The irony is that this copyright ruling only applies to companies that are based in the US. What is likely to happen, according to some commentators, is that the existing companies will declare bankruptcy, then move their server to another country, where they will be able to re-establish themselves.

If that strategy works (although there will be a lot of pressure brought on other countries to impose similar sanctions) things may not be quite as dire for some of these companies as they appear. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, RAIN (Radio and Internet Newsletter) is a free, on-line newsletter that carries regular updates and reports on what's happening.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Speed up your Firefox

If you use the Firefox browser, you owe it to yourself to try this simple tip to speed up your browser. I did it with the one I'm using now, and it really works.

(Note: If you do make these changes and you don't like the way things are working, just go back to the default settings. While these work for most, they might not render properly on everyone's machine.)

And if you've followed a previous tip I posted about switching to OpenDNS for your DNS settings, you'll have a pretty quick system.

These tips have been around for a couple of years now, since Firefox really started getting popular. But they still seem relevant and most people I've heard who have tried it are happy with the changes.

Here's one of the more popular ways to tweak your settings, although there are lots of others out there too. (See the But I used these directions (from the Free Repuplic blog):

1.Type "about:config" into the address bar and hit return. Scroll down and look for the following entries:

network.http.pipelining network.http.proxy.pipelining network.http.pipelining.maxrequests

Normally the browser will make one request to a web page at a time. When you enable pipelining it will make several at once, which really speeds up page loading.

2. Alter the entries as follows: (double click them to change)

Set "network.http.pipelining" to "true"

Set "network.http.proxy.pipelining" to "true"

Set "network.http.pipelining.maxrequests" to some number like 30. This means it will make 30 requests at once.

3. Lastly right-click anywhere and select New-> Integer. Name it "nglayout.initialpaint.delay" and set its value to "0". This value is the amount of time the browser waits before it acts on information it recieves.

If you're using a broadband connection you'll load pages MUCH faster now!

That's all there is to it. Remember to print out these directions before you start, or open a new tab and use that one to make the changes. When you're done, just close the tab or page you're using.

Let me know if this works for you.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This is the way we discover new blogs

I may have discovered a new favourite blog...or at least one that will be in contention for awhile.

It's the Freakonomics blog, and it's written by the authors of the book by the same name (which I recommend), Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

I read the book awhile ago (and recently bought a new copy) but I hadn't realized these guys had a blog, so I was happy to stumble across it recently.

I found the link to one of the posts on their blog through another of my favourite authors, Seth Godin, who's insights into marketing are always a good read. He's someone I've recommended before.

The post I was reading on Seth's site was a look at the "theatre" that goes on in so much everyday business, especially in the airlines business. He cited an Economist article that went into it in more detail, but unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to read it. But you can get a good sense of it from Godin's post.

Here's a sample:

“GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

And another excerpt:

Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn’t sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it..."

This post resonated with me, since I'm about to hop on a plane to fly to Regina for a few days later this week, so I guess I've got air travel on my mind.

Following the links that come up in blog posts is a great way to expand your world-view and discover new writers. Most of them are simply interesting, then you move on, but occassionally you'll come across someone you want to add to your list of must-reads.

Of course, my problem is that my list of must-reads is getting so big I don't get to all of them very often. But that's a subject for another article.

What about you? How many writers (or websites) do you visit regularly? And how do you decide who gets on the list?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Photographer earns TED award

Photographer James Nachtwey (shown at right) was one of three people awarded TED prizes last Thursday, along with former US President Bill Clinton and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson.

Mark Frauenfelder is reporting from the event for Boing Boing and he filed this report:

Three people were awarded TED prizes today: Bill Clinton, sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, and photographer James Nachtwey, who specializes in capturing startling and disturbing, yet moving and beautiful images of people whose lives have been destroyed by the hatred and greed of other people. As Nachtwey spoke, his photographs were displayed on a large screen behind him. No one made a sound as the images of maimed, starved, tortured, and slaughtered people were put on display. The final photo he showed stunned everyone -- a skeletal man, crawling p a dilapidated hut. Here's the image, be warned that it's very powerful.)

When E.O. Wilson accepted his award after Nachtwey left the stage, he remarked, "I am subdued by James Nachtwey's presentation."

Here's a portfolio of Nachtwey's work: Link. And here's a video about the three TED prize winners for 2007.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Friday fun for Mar 9, 2007

This week, I've got a single post for you, which I found via Digg.

It's part of something called the Google Earth Community, which is where people who are using Google Earth have created tours that you can take of interesting locations. If you've never played with Google Earth, I highly recommend downloading it and fooling around. You'll be amazed how much fun flying around the world can be.

Here's where you can go and read about the Google Earth program and download a free copy. Go ahead...we'll wait.

But even if you don't have a copy of the program, you'll enjoy browsing through this file, which features pictures and descriptions of the most extreme places on Earth.

Mind you, if you do use Google Earth, just load it up, then download the file I've linked to, by clicking on the "View in Google Earth" button. When you launch that file, it will take you on a round-the-world tour of some of the most extreme places in the world. At each stop, you'll see little marks that you can click on and view pictures that people have taken themselves, then uploaded to Google Earth. It's a pretty cool little community they're building.

There's lots more to do, I'm sure, although I haven't used the program much. But here's a link to something called the Google Earth User Guide which has a lot of tips for getting started and using the program.

The file I've pointed you to is a series which features snippets and photos of the earth's extremes. For example:

Mt. Baker, Washington : Snowiest Place On The Earth
The highest seasonally cumulative precipitation of snow ever measured was on Mount Baker, Washington during the 1998–1999 season. Mount Baker received a staggering 29 m of snow, thus surpassing the previous record holder, Mount Rainier, Washington which during the 1971–1972 season received 28.5 m of snow.

Karl-Marx-Hof, Vienna, Austria : Longest residential building on the Earth
The Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna, Austria holds the distinction of being the longest single residential building in the world at over one kilometer in length (1100m) and spanning four tram stops.

Jack Hills, Australia : Oldest piece of earth on the Earth
The Jack Hills are located in the Narryer Gneiss Terrane of the Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia, and comprise an 80 km long northeast-trending belt of folded and metamorphosed supracrustal rocks.This is the oldest piece of earth on the earth

Mount Thor, Canada : Greatest Vertical Drop on the Earth
Mount Thor is a mountain in Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, this is the greatest vertical drop on the earth.

Many of the accompanying photos are impressive.


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Monday, March 05, 2007

The search for Autumn

This is a wonderful story. It's about an interest that becomes an obsession, then a mystery, and finally leads to a surprising (to someone who used to live near there) conclusion.

It's a story about a journalist's attempts to track down the photographer who snapped an image used in one of the default Windows XP screensavers. It wasn't what he expected.

Perhaps I'm drawn to it because I also suffer from the occasional obsession while perched here on the edge of my seat in front of this computer monitor. Of course, I don't have the Windows wallpaper, but I still find plenty of things to intrigue me. And there are plenty of days that I devote far too much time to that pursuit.

It's also a damn good read, by a gifted writer. I recommend it.

(Thanks to David Pogue for the pointer.)

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Friday fun for March 2, 2007

Photography -- specifically cool pictures -- is the theme for this week. And I've also thrown in a video that seems particularly apt, since Roxy, our Golden retriever, had surgery this week.

First, the video. Ever wonder what Olivia Newton-John has been doing since she finished the movie version of Grease? you know! Click the video below or use this link to find out.

Now, for the photos...feel free to branch off from any of these sites for lots more interesting stuff.

For a Prairie boy like me, there's nothing like a good storm photo to bring back memories of home. But I've rarely seen storms like these ones!

And here's something that I've often wished I'd done with our family. What a treasured keepsake this website will become. And in the meantime, what an interesting thing for us to look at.

And finally, check out this photo of Toronto. Try to figure out why you're looking at it. (HINT: Move your cursor from one side to the other...)

So what do you think? have you got any cool photo sites to share?

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Number portability is coming to Canada

I've been waiting for wireless number portability to come to Canada. It's something that consumers in the US have had for awhile, but in Canada, the CRTC had to force it on the wireless carriers, like Bell and Rogers and Telus.

Well, I knew it was coming, but it turns out it's going to happen in a couple of weeks! You'd never know it. I haven't seen a news story or any promotion at all - until I saw this post from Mark Evans.

For the record, all this is supposed to happen on March 14. Here's the relevant section from the CRTC posting on their website:

By March 14, 2007 Bell Mobility, Rogers Wireless and the mobility division of TELUS Communications Inc. will be required to provide WNP to their customers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Québec. This means that customers in any of these provinces will be able to switch to any service provider in that province (wireline or wireless) and keep their phone number.

Throughout Canada, all wireless carriers will, by the same date, be required to release a phone number to another carrier (port-out customers) and by no later than September 12, 2007, to accept a phone number from another carrier (port-in customers).

So, I guess it's going to happen. I like that, because it should mean that you will be able to switch companies without having to give up your phone number. For those of us that live in areas poorly served by one company, this should prove a real blessing.

And I'm hoping it means I'll also be able to assign my current phone number to my new IPhone, when it finally appears in Canada later this year. Whoo-hoo!

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