Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airport security should be debated

While the fuss last week about the full-body scanners and the enhanced pat-downs by the TSA was interesting, it only hinted at the real story. And that's the question of whether we are actually safer from the huge increase in security procedures that have been implemented in airports in the wake of 9/11.

For my part, I don't think we are safer. We are vastly more inconvenienced, but not safer. And definitely not when you consider how much money has been spent on the new measures - and continues to be spent. Someone is making a lot of money, but it's not making us safer.

Recently, the New York Times ran a debate about the issue in their opinion pages as part of their Room For Debate series. In the excerpt I've noted below, security technologist Bruce Schneier is one of the panelists in a debate that asks "Do Body Scanners Make Us Safer?"

Here's the link to Schneier's article.

I've referred to Schneier's work in previous posts. I think he brings a common sense approach to the question, backed up by solid research. And I believe that the push back against what's going on is going to continue - even if some are arguing that Americans are going to just suck it up anyway. We'll see.

Here's my favorite quote from the piece:
Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we're done. Take all the rest of the money and spend it on investigation and intelligence.
That point is taken up by another of the panelists, Rafi Sela, an Israeli airport security consultant, who points out that Israel, arguably the country with the best airport security, does not use scanners. In fact, security line-ups in that country are virtually non-existent.

Here's the link to his article in the debate.

There are other articles, with other points of view. It's a debate worth having in public and I hope that more people start looking at this issue with a critical eye.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes more is better - some long stories you should read

A lot of my time on the web is spent zooming through content. Twitter and Facebook encourage that sort of consumption, especially if you're using a new device, like the iPad or something similar.

But while you can pick up a lot of information that way, nothing really replaces, for me, sitting down with a well-written article about an interesting subject. It's why I still buy magazines, although not that often. And weekend newspapers still feature longer in-depth items in their weekend sections.

This past weekend, in between day-long strategy sessions with one of my volunteer groups, sorting through the mess in my office and watching the Riders lose another Grey Cup (arghhh!) I came across a couple of interesting articles. So I thought I'd share them with you. I recommend both of them as long-form pieces that are worth the time to read them.

The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of George W. Bush’s Memoir
By Dan Froomkin
The Huffington Post
November 23, 2010

WASHINGTON — These days, when we think of George W. Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of the United States of America from global champion of human rights into an outlaw nation.

History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two things in particular: Launching a war against a country that had not attacked us, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.

And that’s why the two most essential lies — among the many — in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate reason to torture detainees.

Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if he keeps making the case for himself — particularly if it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far — then perhaps he can blunt history’s verdict. -- Read the rest of the article
The second article I'll recommend - this one from the Globe and Mail weekend edition:
The Algorithm method: Programming our lives away
By Ira Basen
The Globe and Mail
November 27, 2010

Here are two stories about love in the age of the algorithm.

The first one is from the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which features a cast of science geeks trying to navigate through the non-geek world.

In one episode, the nerdiest of the nerds, Sheldon Cooper, is trying to score a piece of lab equipment from a colleague. He needs to befriend the colleague, but he has no idea how to make a new friend. So he does what he does best: He draws up an elaborate flow chart, which he calls a “friendship algorithm,” to help guide him through the phone call.

“Perhaps we could share a meal together?” Sheldon asks. If the answer is yes, he moves on to negotiate a time and a place. If the answer is no, he defaults to the next question, “How about a hot beverage?” followed by, “Perhaps we share a recreational interest?”

“I believe I've isolated the algorithm for making friends,” Sheldon gushes to his friend Leonard.

“Sheldon,” Leonard replies, “there is no algorithm for making friends.”

Not so fast, Leonard. Fortune magazine recently featured a story about the 10-year-old matchmaking site eHarmony, which has recently embraced the age of the algorithm. It has developed a formula that looks at hundreds of factors to determine whether two people might be compatible, including the way they use eHarmony: For example, it collects data on how long a user takes to respond to an e-mail about a match, presuming that procrastinators will be attracted to other procrastinators and vice-versa.

Algorithms are turning up in the most unlikely places, promising to assert mathematical probability into corners of our lives where intuition, instinct and hunches have long held sway. -- Read the rest of the article
What are your thoughts about either of these pieces? I'd be interested in hearing your opinions in the comments.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Radio fun for a snowy morning

I'm sitting in my kitchen this morning, looking out over a dusting of snow that arrived in Victoria last night. It's a blustery morning and looks like it's going to stay that way. But it's warm in here. Welcome to winter on the West Coast. Like our politics, things are different out here.

But what I wanted to share with you was a little gem I found on the This American Life blog. If you haven't heard of This American Life, or host Ira Glass, then I highly recommend you set aside some time to download the podcast and listen. It's easily one of the best shows on radio and worth setting aside some time this weekend to listen.

What I found this morning was a delightful post featuring several short radio spots recorded by Alec Baldwin, of TV's 30 Rock fame. Alec offered to help out public radio during its pledge drive and worked with some writers to put them together:
This past Summer, Alec Baldwin told producers at WNYC that he'd be willing to do some promos for the upcoming Fall pledge drive, and suggested getting Ira Glass involved. So Ira and David Krasnow and Rex Doane wrote and produced several spots featuring Alec and a bunch of public radio hosts and announcers. Maybe you heard these spots on the radio. And in perhaps the first instance in history of people seeking out the pledge drive, listeners have been asking us if they can hear them again.
So they've put together a nice collection and posted them on their web page. They're funny, and effective. No word on whether they helped with donations but I suspect they might have. They made me send along some money to support public radio. Even though I live in Canada, I benefit a lot from the programming south of the border and I don't mind paying something for it. If you feel the same way, consider a donation. It's that time of year, right?

Here's the link to the radio spots.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web


This page I'm going to send you to is interesting for a lot of reasons. First, it's a nice round-up of stuff about the web and browsers - history, security, how to use, etc. It's a really good read for anyone, but especially if you want to know more about some of those topics.

But what's really cool is the way the information is presented.

I don't read books on my computer much - at least, not for pleasure. I much prefer some of my other ways to read, such as my iPad, or even a real book, which are still around, you know.

But the folks at Google are always coming up with interesting projects and this appears to be one of them. This is a book format that I could see becoming really popular for a lot of things.

I think they're demonstrating some of the benefits of HTML5, an emerging new web standard for handling video on the web, but I could be wrong about that. Note that the URL changes when you flip a page, even though the browser page doesn't actually reload.

There's no doubt that this book is very cool. Just go ahead and click on the photo above or follow the link below to open the page in your browser. Click on "Open Book" and then just use your mouse to explore. It's fun.

20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Proofreading is a good thing

I received an email this morning touting the benefits of yet another webinar that is guaranteed to help me in my business, whatever it is.

But to say the least, the execution doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence.

Here's the headline on the flyer:

How to win (and keep!) readers: Writing riveting headlines, leads and quotes

Friday, December 3, 2010 • 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Central
But here's the first sentence:

You have one sentence to impress you readers.

Well, I'm not impressed. And I'm not going to sign up.

So maybe they're right after all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


094TraynorJC b.jpgIt's coming up on 11 am on Remembrance Day and I find myself thinking about my father, Clair Traynor, and his brothers. They all served in World War II, like so many of their friends. But my Dad never told me much about his time overseas. He arrived in Europe closer to the end of the war. Although he signed up shortly after war was declared, the army told him to finish his Engineering degree, then ship out.

I know that he served in Holland, re-building bridges and roads so that the troops sweeping in could continue liberating that country and continue on to Germany. As he got older, and we became closer, a few stories emerged, but much of what I know I've learned from others over the years.

What I'm remembering now is that Dad didn't have much to do with Remembrance Day. At least, I don't remember it being noted in our household. To be honest, my father was a bit remote from me when I was a kid. He went off to work most days and was home for supper. I remember him reading the paper every night and listening to the news.

But my memories of November 11 are mostly a ceremony at school. We used to gather in the gym for an assembly. I'm sure there were some speeches, and there were poppies, I think. But it was just a ceremony, then we were done. I don't recall my Dad leaving work to attend at the cenotaph. It seems to me that the event was not as celebrated then as it is now. I'm pretty sure my Dad never wanted to celebrate.

I don't think that there's any doubt that Dad's years in the army were some of the best years of his life. For a young man who was orphaned early in life, the army gave a family-like structure that he'd never had as a kid. That's what I suspect anyway. We never really talked about it much.

I know my Dad's experience is not uncommon. Many people say their parents and grandparents never had much to say about their war experiences. That stuff had happened, but it was in the past. And the past was done with. The only thing about the past that was important to my Dad was family. He was passionate about his extended family. He went to all the weddings, most of the reunions and whenever we travelled, we stayed with relatives. Family was important.

Today, as I consider what Remembrance Day means to me, I think I'll keep it quiet. I respect and honour those who served us in the past and those who serve us today. It's an honourable calling and I'm grateful for what we've been given. But I'll respect my Father's wishes too. Let's just leave it at a simple...

Thank you, Dad.