Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fast Company's take on Facebook

"Facebook is the 'It' company of 2007" says FastCompany magazine.

In their November, 2007 issue, now available online, writer Ellen McGirt takes a look at this rising tech company, which is certainly the darling of the moment. If you've been hearing about Facebook but you aren't sure what all the fuss is about, give it a read.

Last week, Microsoft paid $240 million for just 1.6% of the company, which means (according to Microsoft) the value of the company is about $15 billion. Which is crazy, according to some (or maybe all) analysts, notably John Dvorak, who thinks Microsoft is nuts.

FastCompany (and I'm sure plenty of other sites as well) also has an interesting look at the relationship between Microsoft and Facebook and why they might have done this deal.

Whatever the true value of the company, there's no denying how popular the social networking site has become. Heck, even I have an account there and a lot of my colleagues do as well. Although it started out as a place for college kids, its wide open now and being used by people of all ages.

What's interesting is that unlike some other sites, such as MySpace, Facebook seems to have captured the imagination of business types, who are using it as a business tool.

But is Facebook really leading a revolution or is it just the flavour of the month, like Friendster or other social networking sites that have gone before it. They all ruled the roost at one point, but faded as new players came along.

Personally, I think there's something different going on now. What's happening is that these sites are starting to figure out how to work with each other, so that you don't have to recreate yourself each time you join a new one. It's early yet, but I think that the ability to follow the activities of people you know as they go about their daily lives is something that we'll come to expect.

What about you? Are you using Facebook, or Twitter, or some other service that keeps you up to date with what your friends are doing, and let's them know what you're up to? Do you want to participate in something like that?

Whether Facebook or the other sites out there now are the ones that end up sticking is an open question. But what seems clear is that the connected world we're living in today is a reality that isn't going to go away.

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook (membership required) or LinkedIn or Flickr or MyRagan (again, membership required) or...well, you get the idea.

See you online.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

What does Stephen Colbert mean for Canadians?

images.jpgWhat are we to make of Stephen Colbert's campaign for president?

If you're a fan of The Daily Show, you're aware of Colbert (the "t" is silent), who first gained fame for his reporting skills on that esteemed fake news show.

More recently, he's been the star of his own show, and it was there a couple of weeks ago, that he announced he was going to be a candidate in South Carolina on both the Democratic and Republic ballots. He says he's running on the favourite son ticket, since he was born there.

OK, so he's not for real, right? It is a phony campaign, put on by a comedian. And it's not unique. Anyone remember Pat Paulsen, who ran for President six times?

But while Colbert's campaign may be a comedy skit, there's no denying that he's starting to have an effect. Some people think his campaign might even be illegal.

Last weekend, he was a guest on Meet the Press. This week we learned that a Facebook group called 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen J. Colbert has racked up more than 1 million members in less than a week.

This campaign has caught the public's imagination and it's going to be fun to watch it unfold.

Unfortunately, it could all come crashing to a halt in just a few days, since the deadline for getting Colbert's name onto the ballots in South Carolina is looming in early November.

For those of us here in Canada, we can only look at what's happening in the Presidential campaign with envy. While we might be poised for a federal election here, there's no sign of any levity around the battle of wits (?) between between the politicos up here.

What we are in desperate need of is more fun in politics. Remember how much fun the Rhinoceros Party of Canada used to give us with promises like these?
Repealing the law of gravity
Paving Manitoba to create the world's largest parking lot
Providing higher education by building taller schools
Instituting English, French and illiteracy as Canada's three official languages
Tearing down the Rocky Mountains so that Albertans could see the Pacific sunset
Making Montreal the Venice of North America by damming the St. Lawrence River
Abolishing the environment because it's too hard to keep clean and it takes up so much space
Annexing the United States, which would take its place as the third territory, after the Yukon and the Northwest Territories (Nunavut did not yet exist) in Canada's backyard, in order to eliminate foreign control of Canada's natural resources

Those were the good old days, weren't they?

And of course, who could forget the Natural Law party? (Disclaimer - I voted for them, along with about 12 others.)

Hmmm...I wonder what it would be like if Rick Mercer ran for PM?

Darn. Looks like even our comedians get all serious at election time. Scratch that Draft Rick movement.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Even bears just want to have fun

polar3_2.jpgMy sister Janice in Edmonton sent along this link to some extraordinary pictures of a polar bear playing with sled dogs near Churchill, Manitoba.

Another example of just how fascinating the world is when you take the time to watch it, instead of trying to change it.

Thanks to No Impact Man for the blog post and Tuco Rides for the photos.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Our close brush with disaster

2788C401-AF9E-47AA-8A07-B78D2E54E0D2.jpgOK, so I may be hyping things a bit with the headline. But that's sort of the way it felt this afternoon, when my wife and I drove into Vancouver.

We were driving by the Vancouver airport about 4 pm, just at the same time that a small Cessna took off from the airport and promptly crashed into an apartment building near the airport, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the building (shown in the photo on the right.)

Fortunately, the plane didn't catch fire and although the pilot was killed, the two people inside the apartment were only injured, one seriously. It could have been a lot worse. (Link to the Globe and Mail story)

As we continued into Vancouver, we saw a couple of fire trucks race by us on the other side of the road. Then we ran into seven or eight ambulances. We had to keep pulling over because the southbound lanes that the ambulances were travelling in were completely filled with Friday afternoon traffic and it was tough for them to get through.

I suspect that if we had been just a few minutes later, we might not have been able to continue through on that road. Traffic for a long way around the site was shut down for awhile until the police could figure out just how bad things were.

The map below shows where the plane hit the apartment. We were driving north on Hwy 99 at the time.


I caught a bit of the live coverage on the TV here at the hotel later, and I've got to give credit to the supper-hour news folks. They were all valiantly working overtime to get as much information as possible out as quickly as possible. It reminded me of the movie Broadcast News, when William Hurt steps in to anchor the special coverage for some crisis in the middle East. Today's events might not have been as dramatic, but I bet they got the hearts in newsrooms across the city beating pretty good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007 drops the ball on customer service

I've run into a problem with, a company I've used before without any issues.

And if you're planning on booking a trip with these guys, you might want to think twice about that. At least wait until you read the rest of this post.

Yesterday, I received a notice from them about an itinerary change to the tickets I've booked for my daughter's trip from Tampa to Victoria in December.

The email was marked urgent and said:
Dear Customer,

We have received notice from US Airways that they have:
* Updated the arrival time for 1 of your flights
* Updated the departure time for 1 of your flights.

It is important that we speak to you as soon as possible to review changes from the carrier so that we can discuss alternatives. Please contact us at 1-888-EXPEDIA (1-888-397-3342) or from outside North America at +1-613-780-1386 .
That seems pretty clear. So I picked up the phone and spent the next two hours on hold, waiting for a representative. No luck.

While I was waiting, I checked their website and saw this note:

Customer service improvements underway

We're currently receiving a large volume of telephone and e-mail inquiries. As a result, your call wait time or e-mail response time will be longer than usual. We're working hard to improve service capacity as soon as possible; in the meantime, we appreciate your understanding - and your patience.
Oh, Oh. Sounds ominous.

This morning, I called in early. But it made no difference. I left the line open with the music playing...and waited. A couple of hours later, I took the dogs out for a walk. When I returned, I was still on hold. Now, it's a few hours later and still nothing. I've also emailed their support group, without any reply.

Apparently, I'm not the only one having troubles with this company.

I found a website called that was put up by a guy in Ontario. It's a litany of frustration.

And over at the Canadian Forums on, there's more stories from angry and frustrated customers, who are all having the same issues with not being able to get through to anyone at the company.

The problems seem to date from September and are still continuing. Several people say they've complained to the better business bureau and various consumer organizations, but there's no reports of what's come of that.

What's missing in all of this is any response from Expedia. They haven't said anything in any of these forums, nor is there any explanation on their website, beyond the notice above. They obviously are suffering from some serious issues, but without any explanations, their reputation is taking a pounding.

And with the busy holiday season coming up, they're going to be run right out of business if they don't pull their act together.

UPDATE -- Shortly after I wrote the note above, I found a way to get around the line-up and it worked. I saw a posting that recommended NOT pushing any buttons on your phone after you connect to the 1-888 number. Just wait...and sure enough, I was connected within about 10 minutes.

Good news, right? Wrong.

I spoke to a nice young woman who checked the file and said it looked like there were some minor changes to the schedule, but nothing to worry about. (I had already figured that out by checking the flight info with United Airways myself.)

After taking all my information and confirming the changes, she came back on the line and told me that she couldn't actually make the changes -- that needs to be done by the "Change" department. Was I willing to wait on hold while she transferred my call?

"Will I have to wait for hours again just to get through?" I wondered.

"I don't know," she replied.

"You do realize that I've been trying to get through for two days? I don't really want to do that again, you understand. Will I be placed in the main queue or transferred internally?"

"Oh, it will be internal. And I'm sorry about the wait. We are experiencing a heavy call volume and we're trying to rectify the problem."

Well, at least she was sticking to the key messages, even if she couldn't do anything.

Give me a break. She was very apologetic, but unable to offer any alternative. So I went back on hold yet again.

That's where I am right now. On hold again...I'll update this post if I ever do get this resolved...

UPDATE 2: I still haven't got through to anyone. I tried for awhile again this morning but I had to leave for Vancouver. Looks like this ticket may remain unconfirmed...for awhile anyway. Hopefully, someone will respond to email at some point.

UPDATE 3A while after the previous update, I did get an email from someone at Expedia. They asked me to provide them with a phone number, so someone could call me back. I sent them the number, but I never did hear back from them. Strange way of doing business.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The voyage of the Kim Chow

Untitled-Scanned-07.jpgI've always been fascinated by the sea, even though I grew up landlocked in Saskatchewan. Perhaps it was the acres of prairie grass and wheat fields stretching out to the horizon. In many ways, growing up on the Prairies is like being out in the open water.

When I was younger, my fondest dream was sailing around the world, just like Joshua Slocum in Spray. I devoured books about sailors, especially that special breed that went to sea alone. The circumnavigation of the world all alone, with just the fish and occasional bird for company.

120px-Dovebookcover101.jpgThe first sailor I remember encountering (in print) was a 16-year-old kid from California called Robin Lee Graham, who sailed the 24-foot Dove around the world from 1965 to 1970. He wrote a book about his adventure, called Dove, which I read when it came out in the early '70s. I think it was that story that got me interested in the whole circumnavigation genre.

I've never followed through and sailed anything, despite my keen interest. I've always rationalized that by saying that sometimes its better to keep dreaming than get bogged down in reality. Whatever. I did own a small dinghy sailboat briefly, but that's been the extent of my sailing career. Lately, kayaking has become a new passion. However, living on the beautiful west coast of Canada, who knows? Maybe those dreams of heading to the open sea have a better chance of happening here, where I can walk to the ocean.

But I'm still a sucker for sailing stories and these days I'm following another solo voyage around the world. But thanks to the magic of modern communications, I'm able to keep track of this guy in real time.

22_photogallery1_3417269454_thumb_DSC01809.JPG.jpgGlenn Wakefield sailed out of Victoria on Sunday, September 23 aboard Kim Chow, his Phil Rhodes designed Offshore 40' sloop. He's embarked on a solo, non-stop circumnavigation west about from Victoria, making him the first sailor to attempt the voyage from North America. He's hoping to sail back into Victoria next July, 10 months after he left. It's a fascinating story about one man living out his dream and you can follow along at his website.

Although I don't know Glenn, I do know his wife, MaryLou, who is handling the PR side of things from her Victoria home. Each day, Glenn radios a report to a ham radio operator, who then emails MaryLou with an update, which she posts on the website. She's also able to send Glenn email, although he's been having some problems with his on-board computer, so I'm not sure how well that's going.

You can follow along on the daily updates at this page, although there's no RSS feed or email option. But it's going to be a fascinating journey. I'll provide occasional updates as it unfolds.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are you a left-brainer or a right-brainer?

dancer.gifI don't really know what this test shows, but it's kind of fascinating.

According to an article from Australia's The Herald Sun if you see the dancer in the image turning counter-clockwise, you're using more of your left-brain and vice-versa.

They say that most people see the dancer turning counter-clockwise (left-brain). Apparently, some can make her change direction, but I only see her turning clockwise. Here's what they say the two sides of the brain represent:

uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
acknowledges order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking

Which are you?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday fun for October 5, 2007

Watching the photos go by

The folks at Google have come up with a cool little application to help you spend some time doing not-so-much. It's called Blogger Play.

Here's the way it works. You open a browser and watch a slideshow of all the photos that are being uploaded to Blogger, Google's blogging platform, in real-time. The show just goes on and on. It's very addictive.

Here's the link to Blogger Play. I couldn't get the photo below to link you to the actual page.

Image credit:

Things people said in court

You need to read some of these for yourself to realize just how funny they can be. It turns out that not everyone is quite as well-scripted as the folks on Law & Order.

Here's an example:
* Lawyer: "How old is your son, the one living with you?"
* Witness: "Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember which."
* Lawyer: "How long has he lived with you?"
* Witness: "Forty-five years."
Check out the site. There's some pretty funny clips.

Here's the link.


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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Guerrilla Office Tactics

Productivity guru Merlin Mann over at 43 Folders has started a new thread on his blog about ways people are finding to cut down on info overload.

PR people might want to take note of some of these. For example:

Merlin suggests creating a filter for your mail that will automatically collect every piece of mail with the string "For immediate release" anywhere in the text.

Zip! There go all those press releases.

Another tip is one he calls the "Bozo filter."
Filter into a “holding” folder every email message for which you are not the sole “TO:” recipient. This filter includes lists, “CC:”s, “BCC:”s, and any number of other bulk-y messages that were never destined for you alone. Then you check that folder once a day, and create compensating rules as needed.
He's got a whack of good ideas already and he's soliciting more from his readers.

If you've got some ideas, or just want to see some of the other examples, head on over to 43 Folders. There's plenty there to help you clean up your own problems with the daily (down)load.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Stop Blocking site launched

stopblocking.gifI'm late to this story. The ever-ambitious (and incredibly prolific) Shel Holtz has started a campaign to fight back against companies that seek to block access to social media sites like Facebook.

The campaign is called Stop Blocking and features a blog and a Wiki where people can start adding to the storehouse of examples and information he wants to create.

Here's a snip from his campaign intro:
For years, I have opposed the business practice of blocking employee access to online content. Any online content. It’s not that I believe employees should spend worktime perusing Web porn. But I don’t believe that blocking access for any and every employee is the best way to address abuse. Additionally, a lot of the content companies are blocking — Facebook is a good example — can actually produce business value.
Hear, hear, Shel.

Shel's argument is that employees must be treated with trust:
Trust builds commitment, which leads to engagement. It is nearly impossible to build a highly engaged workforce when the message is clear: “We don’t trust any of you as far as we can throw you.”
This seems so much like common sense, it's hard to see how companies get off-track. But boy, do they ever, and I'm sure that Shel's new blog will point out a lot of those examples.

I think this is a terrific idea and Shel deserves a ton of congrats for putting his money where his mouth is. Hats off to him. And I encourage you to visit the site and take part.

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