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May 30, 2007

The Police Tour Begins

The Police opened their tour in Vancouver this week. The reviews so far have been great (BBC News roundup, The Vancouver Sun, CBC News). Billboard posted the set list from the dress rehearsal:

"Message in a Bottle"
"Synchronicity II"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me"
"Voices Inside My Head" / "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
"Spirits in the Material World"
"Driven to Tears"
"Walking on the Moon"
"Truth Hits Everybody"
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Wrapped Around Your Finger"
"The Bed's Too Big Without You"
"Murder by Numbers"
"De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"
"Invisible Sun"
"Walking in Your Footsteps"
"Can't Stand Losing You"
"King of Pain"
"So Lonely"
"Every Breath You Take"
"Next to You"
I'll be at the first of the two Seattle concerts next week, and it looks like it's going to be a great show. Plus there's the benefit of crossing off an item from my "100 things to do in life" list.

Ordering a 'Frank'

I wrote earlier about my apparently unique Starbucks drink preference. Earlier today at the drive-through order screen for the Starbucks across the street from my office:

Barista: Good morning, and welcome to Starbucks. May I take your order, please?

Me: Good morning. I'll have a venti decaf iced espresso. That's five shots...

Barista: I've got this one. Sugar-free vanilla syrup and a little bit of cream on top, right?

Me: That's right.

Barista: We've got it. Drive on through.

A moment later, at the drive-through window:

Barista: What's your name? We've decided to name this drink after you.

Me: I'm Frank.

Barista: Okay, this is a 'Frank' from now on. Thanks!

May 29, 2007

Doune Castle

One thing I didn't have the opportunity to do in Scotland was to visit a castle. It was something I wanted to do, but there was so much to do that it just sort of slipped away. A few weeks after my return, I received a message from my host Richard Harris:

We went down this weekend to see our local castle -- Doune Castle.

It's a lovely Roman -> 14th century building but, as we walked up to it, it did seem strangely familiar. I couldn't however place it until we got inside and, at the ticket desk, discovered that they were passing out pairs of coconut shells to any visitor who wanted them.

And many did -- the courtyard echoed to lines of Swedes and Germans all solemnly clip-clopping their way around the walls and towers of the old place. Yep -- it was where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed... Pity I hadn't realised that before you came over!

Doune Castle is in Stirling, which is on the route from Richard's town of Balquhidder down to Edinburgh. I hadn't known the story that when permission to film at various castles was revoked at the last minute, the Holy Grail producers decided to film Doune Castle from a variety of angles, so that it served as most of the castles in the film.

May 25, 2007

Eye to Eye with The Economist

A year and a half ago, I wrote an entry on what I called the "great truths" that the Israelis and Palestinians would have to accept in order to make peace:

I think that the Palestinians and the Israelis each have a great truth that they have to face up to, but can't.

I believe that, for their part, the Palestinians have to realize that Israeli will never give them the right of return. They will never do this. If they did, they would be signing a death warrant for Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians would overwhelm the Jews, probably over time through higher birth rates, and then Israel as a safe haven run by and for Jews would cease to exist. So it won't happen. Not ever.

And I believe that, for their part, the Israelis have to realize that the West Bank is as gone as Gaza -- gone, gone, gone. Not tomorrow, not next year, but a hundred years from now at the outside, probably more like fifty, maybe even twenty, those settlements will be gone. Palestinian control of the West Bank is inevitable and once that happens, no matter what anyone says, the settlements are doomed.

This is from the latest issue of The Economist:

Despite all Israel's settlements, demography and justice still point to a border [with Palestine] based on the pre-1967 lines, with minor adjustments of the sort Bill Clinton suggested in 2000.

As Mr Clinton's failure at Camp David demonstrated, securing agreement for such a deal will be hard. The Clinton solution would require Israel to give up the bulk of its settlements in the West Bank, uproot a great many more settlers than it did in Gaza and share sovereignty over Jerusalem. The Palestinians would have to accept that most refugees would "return" not to their homes of 60 years ago inside Israel but to a new state in the West Bank and Gaza. Such compromises will hurt. But for either side to give less and demand more will merely tip the difficult into the impossible.

Right now both continue to offer too little and demand too much. Israel has at least abandoned the dream of a Greater Israel that bewitched it after the great victory of 1967. The illusion that the Palestinians would fall into silence has been shattered by two intifadas and every rocket Hamas fires from Gaza. Israel's present government says it is committed to a two-state solution. But it is a weak government, and has lacked the courage to spell out honestly the full territorial price Israelis must pay. The Palestinians have meanwhile gone backwards. If Hamas means what it says, it continues to reject the idea that Jews have a right to a national existence in the Middle East.

What self-defeating madness. For peace to come, Israel must give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem; the Palestinians must give up the dream of return and make Israel feel secure as a Jewish state. All the rest is detail.

May 24, 2007

The PB&J Campaign

I can't remember now where I found this, but The PB&J Campaign encourages people to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or other plant-based food) for lunch to help the environment:

A PB&J will slow global warming.

Next time you have one you'll reduce your carbon footprint by saving the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets.

That's about forty percent of what you'd save driving around for the day in a hybrid instead of a standard sedan.

If you were going to have a ham sandwich or a hamburger, you save the equivalent almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

A PB&J will also save water.

That's about 280 gallons of water over the hamburger. To put this in perspective, three PB&Js a month instead of hamburgers will save about as much water as switching to a low-flow showerhead.

A PB&J will save land.

Have a PB&J and save 12 to 50 square feet of land from deforestation, over-grazing, and pesticide and fertilizer pollution.

It's interesting to me that, although I try to go vegetarian one day each week, I've never thought too much about the environmental benefits of doing so. Seeing them made explicit is eye-opening.

One of the suggestions on the site is to start a PB&J club at the office. I'm talking about it with a colleague here -- a day where we all brown-bag vegetarian lunches.

May 23, 2007

The Rise of the Loonie

Last week, the Canadian dollar reached a 30-year high against the US dollar: 91.79 US cents to the Canadian dollar, which it hadn't seen since October 1977. (Since then, it has continued to rise, and is now at 92.41 US cents.)

My first visit to Canada was in March 1998, when I visited MGI Software in Toronto, a developer I was courting in my role as VP Developer Relations at Be. On the day of my arrival, 25 March, a Canadian dollar was worth 70.84 US cents. It continued to fall during the remainder of President Clinton's term in office. On the date of President Bush's inauguration, 20 January 2001, it was worth 66.12 US cents. It reached a low of 61.92 cents on 21 January 2002, and came close again exactly 10 months later, at 63.06 US cents, but it has been on a tear ever since. (Statistics via the FXHistory section of OANDA.com.)

Since Bush took office, the Canadian dollar is up 39.76 percent. When you consider that Canada has a comparable (though much smaller) economy, a comparable standard of living, a border that's essentially open to most trade, and a higher level of government services, this becomes an amazing statistic. It's what happens when one government runs budget surpluses year after year, while its neighbor, after briefly running a budget surplus under one president, begins running unprecedented budget deficits under his successor.

I compared the US and Canadian federal budgets back in 2003 (here and here). The Canadian government has continued its policy of fiscal restraint, while the US government seems to have learned little or nothing. Before long, the Canadian dollar will be at parity with the US dollar, and then surpass it. I hope someone in our elected government sits up and takes notice then.

Where to Start?

Having not written a blog entry in the last 10 days, I now have nine Firefox windows open, each on a different subject, most with multiple tabs displaying various reference sources. The problem is not source material, it's time, which has been in short supply lately. And then there's the issue of where to start...

May 13, 2007

"Je Veux Lancer un Appel..."

Via Andrew Sullivan, via Eugene Volokh, comes this amazing passage from French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy's first address to the nation (text as written here, text as delivered here):

Je veux lancer un appel à tous ceux qui dans le monde croient aux valeurs de la tolérance, de la liberté, de la démocratie, de l'humanisme, à tous ceux qui sont persécutés par les tyrannies et les dictatures. Je veux dire à tous les enfants à travers le monde, à toutes les femmes martyrisées dans le monde, je veux leur dire que la fierté, le devoir de la France sera d'être à leurs côtés.

La France sera aux côtés des infirmières libyennes (bulgares, ndlr) enfermées depuis huit ans, la France n'abandonnera pas Ingrid Betancourt, la France n'abandonnera pas les femmes qu'on condamne à la burqa, la France n'abandonnera pas les femmes qui n'ont pas la liberté. La France sera du côté des opprimés du monde. C'est le message de la France, c'est l'identité de la France, c'est l'histoire de la France.

Volokh's English version is as follows (I've made a few minor changes to his otherwise solid translation):

I want to launch a call to all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, of liberty, of democracy, and of humanism, to all those who are persecuted by tyrannies and by dictators. I want to speak to all the children of the world, and to all the martyrized women in the world, to say to them that the pride, the duty of France will be at their sides.

France will be at the sides of the Libyan (Bulgarian) nurses imprisoned for eight years, France will not abandon Ingrid Betancourt, France will not abandon women who are condemned to the burqa, France will not abandon women who do not have liberty. France will be at the side of the oppressed of the world. This is the message of France, this is the identity of France, this is the history of France.

If Sarkozy is sincere, and if he follows through on his promises, France has, in Volokh's words, "a new era of greatness" ahead of it. Bonne chance, Monsieur le Président.

May 11, 2007

"The Sweet, Buttery Taste of Fear and Waffles"

A couple of years ago, I blogged about a story from The Onion that was the funniest thing I'd ever read. Recently, a colleague asked me if I had read The Onion's "Luftwaffle" story from a while back, which I hadn't. I'm sticking with "Japan Forms Alliance With White Supremacists in Well-Thought-Out Scheme" as the funniest short piece of humor ever, but there's a line in this story that is possibly The Onion's best ever:

German Luftwaffle Chain Offers Waffles, Overwhelming Air Superiority

MUNICH -- An elite force of three dozen 24-hour Luftwaffle restaurants were unveiled across Germany Monday, with free waffles for blond-haired, blue-eyed customers, discounts on Cheese SwasSticks, and the incendiary bombardment of Luftwaffle's largest competitor, the city of London. "Soon, customers will fall under the sway of my lightning-quick, piping-hot Blintzkreig," said Hans Kreuzen, Luftwaffle's founder and oberstmanager-general. "All will know the sweet, buttery taste of fear and waffles from above." Luftwaffle restaurants are expected to face ruthless competition in Germany's already crowded martial-themed eatery business, which is led by such established chains as WehrKnochwurst and Der Marzipanzerkommand.

It has been a few days now, and I still can't say the words "the sweet, buttery taste of fear and waffles" without laughing.

May 03, 2007

Cat Shots

My colleague Rett and I were driving to lunch today when we noticed a bumper sticker on the car ahead of us:

Education Before Vaccination


This led to the following conversation:

Me: Check out that bumper sticker. "Education before vaccination"? Do you think they're against vaccinating cats?

Rett: Could be.

Me: Maybe they're afraid the mercury in the vaccines will make cats autistic. Cats will end up in corners rocking back and forth, or watching tops spin.

Rett: But that's what cats already do. Maybe they think it's a conspiracy. You know, if we didn't vaccinate cats, they'd be intelligent and would rule the world.

Me: Good point.

Rett: On the other hand, "Cat Shots" makes me think it's glamour shots for cats. Hey, there's a business idea right there.

Me: Glamour shots for cats?

Rett: That has 'small business loan' written all over it. I don't even think you'd have to show the bank a business plan. "Glamour shots for cats? Here's your money!"

For the record, Cat Shots isn't against vaccinating cats, but wants feline vaccinations administered according to protocols designed to minimize vaccine-associated sarcomas.

Amazingly enough, a cursory Google search failed to reveal anyone in the business of glamour shots for cats, though a woman from Atlanta has published a book of glamour shots of her pug.

May 01, 2007

Boosman versus Searls on the Future of Blogging, Revisited

In 2002, I wrote an entry on the subject of selective privacy for bloggers (for which I created the term 'privacy rings'). After discussing some of the complexities of selective privacy, I wrote:

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information?
Doc Searls read my entry and wrote:
I never liked the "It's the ______ (economy, war, oil, user, rules, latency, research, sex, games, runtime, comedy), stupid" line. But it's a good working cliché;, so let's add one more log to its fire: writing.

This morning I came to the conclusion, after reading Frank Boosman's pseudorandom blog, that blogging is about nothing more than writing -- and that more of us will be writing to more people, with more effect, because of it.

I replied:

As for Doc's thesis... as much as I respect Doc, I disagree with what he's saying here. To me, it's akin to someone in 1993 saying that the Internet was all about Usenet newsgroups. Like many other early Internet users, I posted regularly to newsgroups back then, but as new types of Web-based services became available, not only did many new Internet users not seek out newsgroups, even some existing newsgroup users like me gravitated away from them.

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

First, was I correct about the growth rate of blogging? According to Technorati, as of March 2007, there were 70 million blogs, with the number of blogs doubling every 320 days. In other words, when the five-year anniversary of my post rolls around this December, there should be something like 110 million blogs. I predicted there would be somewhere between 50 million and 500 million, so I'm comfortable with that.

Now, though, to the central issue: was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? Technorati tracks blogs, which I think generally fit Doc's text-centric definition of blogging. Could it be, though, that the growth of non-text-centric blogs is higher? The New York Times suggests that perhaps it is:

The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut.

New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.

Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations. They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and information overload -- something that even some participants say they feel ambivalent about.

The article uses Kyte, Twitter, and Radar as examples of services that fall into this category. Interestingly, the article doesn't refer to this as blogging, but as social networking. But I doubt the everyday users of these services think of what they're doing as 'social networking', much less 'blogging'. Is there a name for what they're doing? I ask because I've predicted privately (at least I can't find a reference in my blog archives) that blogging might not be called blogging when it becomes about sharing streams of one's life.

So there are 70 million blogs, and for the sake of discussion, let's say that they're all text-centric. But how many Twitter accounts are there? 60,000, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. How many Kyte or Radar accounts? What about a service such as Snapvine? More broadly, how many people use Flickr? According to this graph, as of November 2006, Flickr had 20 million users. That's one photo sharing service alone that is 28 percent as large as the entire blogosphere. How many people have posted a video to YouTube? I don't know, though I do know that as of late last year, YouTube users were posting more than 65,000 new videos per day.

My question was, was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? If you use Doc's definition as blogging being about writing, then no, I wasn't. We have over two orders of magnitude more bloggers than we had four and a half years ago, but those blogs are typically text-centric. But I wasn't using Doc's definition: I was using my own, broader version of the term. So by my definition? I'd say the jury is out. I don't know of an authoritative source for tracking the broad community of people who 'blog' without writing traditional blog entries, whether using pictures, videos, audio, or other rich media. If I had to guess, I'd say that as of today, there are fewer people doing so than people who blog by writing. But I'd also guess that the growth rate of non-text-centric blogging is much higher. It may well be that as of the five-year anniversary of my prediction, there will be more rich media bloggers than text-centric bloggers.

So the answer for my specific prediction is that we don't know yet. What about Doc's more general assertion? He wrote that "blogging is about nothing more than writing". Was he correct? I can't see how this can possibly be true, unless you adopt a narrow definition of blogging, in which case, it's a tautology. (In other words, if one defines blogging as 'writing an online diary', then Doc's statement equates to 'writing an online diary is about nothing more than writing', which says exactly zero.)

I'll see what I can do to track down better statistics and revisit this issue later this year.