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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Google docs, spreadsheets, and folders

Google has updated it's online Docs and Spreadsheets application putting a fresh face on it, and adding new functionality. The updates allow for better search, sorting by collaborator, and notably a change from tabs to folders. The news was announced on Wednesday in this release, two days prior to foldera announcing it's release of the public beta of their version 3.0 offering. I really like these applications and think they are a great way to collaborate on small projects. The big question is how much do you trust your really important stuff to someone else? When you are talking about holiday pictures or video of your kids on the trampoline that's one thing but your financial projections, or business proposal are another (not that family photos are unimportant, I keep all kinds of copies in many different forms but that's another blog post). I don't see big business moving towards these hosted applications anytime soon, but for us little guys, and for volunteer organizations or sports leagues/teams, these apps can save a lot of money and provide a nice way to work remotely on projects.

iRobot and Tazer team up to break laws of robotics

As if I need to remind you, iRobot famous for their Roomba vacuum cleaner robot and Scooba the floor mopping robot, takes its name from an Isaac Asimov's science fiction novel of the same name. In the book Asimov wrote the 3 laws of robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
So the question is, with iRobot's fitting of it's military robot (PackBot) with Taser International Inc.'s electric stun gun technology, does this battlefield marriage contradict the laws of the namesake? The Taser fitted PackBot is said to be remotely controlled by a human operator and therefore will not be enabled to decide who to target and when to fire it's weapon. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against giving the good guys the advantage and keeping police and/or military men and women out of harms way, I just find it a little ironic!

iPhone supply outlasts demand on day one

Both Apple and AT&T stores had ample supply on the first day of iPhone sales. This was good news for those who waited in line, some for days, but not such good news for those hoping to make a quick buck on e-bay or craigslist. Lines dissipated quickly and iPhones hit e-bay nearly as quickly with some seeking more than a $1000 for the device which sells for $499 US for the 4GB model or $599 for the 8GB model. CNet has the story here. Time will tell I guess whether or not this highly anticipated device will live up to the hype, at least there have been no reports of gun toting thugs mugging unlucky iPhone owners on their way out of the Apple Store! Note to Steve Jobs: We are waiting anxiously up here in Canada eh!

Friday, June 29, 2007

High speed update. sent me an e-mail today with the following: "

Dear Friend,

Time's up. Pencils down.

How did you do on the speed test?

Believe it or not, you had one of fastest connection speeds in the country – and you're probably paying a pretty penny for it. The majority of people who took the test didn't come close to scoring as high as you did.

But fact is, even some of the fastest internet connections in the United States pale in comparison to many of our global competitors like Korea, Sweden, and Japan..."

My only comment is, I'm not in the United States! I even entered my Canadian postal code.

Danger Will Robinson!

Hopefully you all know not to trust e-mails asking you to download something, or for that matter not to open e-mails from anyone you don't know, or attachments to e-mails even if they come from someone you do know (unless you are expecting it, and then only after it's been scanned),... The Register has this warning that you should take heed of anyway.

Nerds and Geeks

Wired has posted an interview with comedian Patton Oswalt on the eve of the release of Pixar's Ratatouille, in which he voices one of the main characters. I personally enjoyed the part of the interview in which he confesses to being a geek! Oswalt says "A lot of nerds aren't aware they're nerds. A geek has thrown his hands up to the universe and gone, 'I speak Klingon — who am I fooling? You win! I'm just gonna openly like what I like.' Geeks tend to be a little happier with themselves." In other words you probably won't find a site, we geeks are more open about our geekyness... hmm, must check that URL out! Whadda ya know... it's available!

Whistle blower draws filesharing investigation in Scotland

The BBC is reporting that a Honeywell plant in Motherwell, Scotland has been raided by police and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) after receiving an insider's tip that thousands of illegally copied music files where being housed on company equipment and shared by employees. BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said in a statement that failure to put an anti-piracy policy in place "could expose the company, and the employees concerned, to the risk of civil proceedings or a criminal investigation." Honeywell says it has a policy in place and is cooperating with the investigation. I wonder how many companies have even considered such policies? Universities certainly have addressed this, so are the music associations now turning their sites towards companies rather than individuals? If policies are in place, how many companies are really enforcing them?

Wikipedia entry being investigated in wrestlers murder suicide

CNN's website is reporting that authorities are investigating a Wikipedia entry that mentioned Chris Benoit's wife's passing as the reason he missed a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event on Sunday evening. The entry was made at 12:01 am Monday morning, about 14 hours before the bodies of Benoit, his wife and their 7 year old son were discovered by police. Wikipedia says the Internet protocol (IP) address associated with the entry is registered in Stamford, Connecticut which happens to be the home of WWE headquarters. Though IP addresses don't necessarily have to be broadcasting from where they are registered. An interesting twist to this tragic event. Police also are investigating Benoit's doctor in what many are speculating is a case of so called roid rage, steroids where apparently present in the Benoit home.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Holodeck technology a reality in Edmonton?

Researchers at the University of Alberta's computer science department have partnered with Hewlett-Packard, and Edmonton's TRLabs, and are working on 3-D virtual reality technology that they say resembles the holodeck on the Enterprise or Voyager. The application is meant to be more of a high definition video conference than the virtual holiday's enjoyed by the crew of Voyager, but the researchers say the technology "will be so realistic users will be able to see an eye twitch or a bead of sweat". So much for racking up the air miles on the company's dime... CBC story here.

The Matrix and The Muppets a match made in the machine...

Two of my favourites unite in this student project... what more can I say? You'll have to watch.

CBC - Facebook experiment gone wrong?

It appears as though the CBC may not have anticipated the hacking of social networking when they utilized Facebook to ask Canadians to post their hopes for the future of the country. In this post launching the experiment "The Great Canadian Wish List", the following statement was made "My PERSONAL wish is that people will go a little crazy with this thing, a la John A. MacDonald. They’ll take this opportunity to make wishes that push the limits of our collective comfort zone." As of Wednesday the Globe and Mail reported the top 5 wishes as:
  1. Abolish Abortion in Canada
  2. I wish that Canada would remain pro-choice
  3. For a spiritual revival in our nation
  4. Restore the Traditional Definition of Marriage
  5. I wish tuition fees would be either lowered or eliminated
Definitely some hot topics here that may just push people to the limits of our collective comfort zones, but the problem is Facebook has experienced an issue keeping count of voting. Will we ever truly know the wishes of Canadians? I think that's what elections are all about!

Big Brother - feline edition

Juergen Perthold decided to spy on Mr. Lee, a stray cat that he and his wife adopted. It seems that Mr. Lee liked having regular meals but didn't like the house rules and often fell into his wandering ways. Juergen decided to put his engineering background to work and devised a collar based camera that takes pictures at intervals. Now with a web site to share Mr. Lee's travels and to provide step by step directions to creating your own kittycam, Perthold and Mr. Lee are becoming Internet celebs. As I said in Juergen's guestbook, my cat is an indoor cat but this might be a good way to hunt dust bunnies. Happy travels Mr. Lee!

Thanks to the Globe and Mail for this one. Kittycam™ and Mr. Lee™
- Juergen Perthold.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Windows Live to offer photo and file sharing with new online services

Microsoft V.P. Chris Jones revealed in a blog post yesterday the company's intentions to offer two new online services. Windows Live Folders and Windows Live Photo Gallery will be free services that Microsoft hopes will take on other such offerings by rivals Yahoo! (flickr) and Google who is rumoured to be developing a file storage service. Microsoft's services are to be released in a limited beta later this year, only available in the U.S. The Globe and Mail has the complete story here.

Amazing YouTube video you may have already seen

Chances are you may have already seen this, for as I write this post it has been viewed 6,158,284 times and 27,808 people have added it to their favourites. A lot of things went through my mind as I watched. Firstly, isn't technology wonderful! The fact that someone on another continent can happen upon something as amazing as this, film it, and put it out there for 6 million people to share! Secondly, I fear that we are all becoming far too familiar with this type of thing to truly appreciate how far we've come. Certainly my children have no concept of a world that does not have these technologies/advantages. Lastly, and this has more to do with human nature than with technology but it's funny how the witnesses cheer for the underdog no matter who that might be. One moment they are concerned for the prey, the next for the predator who's obviously now become the one out manned and on the defence. You might not want to watch if you are squeamish, mother nature can be cruel but I won't spoil the ending for you.

US internet speed lagging behind other developed countries - Canada ranked 5th

According to a study conducted by the Communication Workers of America who compared the Internet connection speed of nearly 70,000 members, the U.S. average download speed is 1.97 megabits per second (mbps). The top 5 countries according to the study are Japan (61 mbps), South Korea (45.6 mbps), Finland (21.7 mbps), Sweden (18.2 mbps), and Canada (7.62 mbps). The study participants were asked to check their speeds on, a site developed by the CWA. was set up by the association to lobby the U.S. government to develop a high-speed policy, saying "The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote universal, high-speed Internet access,". I tested my speed on the site and it showed I'm slightly lower than the Canadian average at 6270 kbps (~6.2 mbps) download speed. The site explains that they test the last-mile, "The speed test measures the last-mile speed of your connection – the value promised by your service provider - using a server that is geographically closest to you. It does not measure the actual transfer speed of a file over the Internet. That would introduce a host of variables into the test that are not under the service provider's control, such as the content provider's server load and bandwidth."

I then tested my connection on my ISP's site and got different download results, though their method uses actual test file downloads. My previous tests have produced better results, closer to the Speedmatters results, but as the CWA sites there are many variables to consider when using this method. This site also from my ISP gave me better results, over 7000 kbps (~7 mbps) on a 12 MB file.

Does your social networking sight define your social standing?

A research study performed by PhD student Danah Boyd from the School of Information Sciences at UC Berkeley, suggests that users of two popular social network sites, Facebook and MySpace, tend to come from two different social classes.

In her draft report she states "Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus 'class',". She says that Facebook users tend to be white and put a lot of stock in continuing education. In contrast MySpace users tend to come from homes where the parents did not attend college. The MySpace users also tend to come from immigrant families, she writes, "MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracised at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers,"

I really hat labelling 'classes' of society, to me it makes a lot of sense that one group of like minded people will flock to one site while others with contrary views/beliefs will migrate to the other, it's human nature.

Check out the entire story at the BBC.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dell adding a splash of colour

At an event in New York today, Dell announced the launch of a new line of Inspiron laptops available in 8 new colours: flamingo pink, sunshine yellow, alpine white, ruby red, jet black, midnight blue, and espresso. The company also announced it's first PC to use flash memory rather than a hard-disk drive, a laptop as well, the machine comes with 32 gigabytes of data storage. In addition Dell announced that the Dimension brand will be discontinued in favour of the Inspiron name, both laptops and desktops will now be branded as Inspiron. These moves are meant to pull Dell back on top after slipping below HP as worldwide leader in PC sales.

I'm a good little homescanner

As reported in this post back in April, I am an ACNielsen Consumer Panelist in a program known as homescan. You can go back and read my original post if you like but the idea is that they provided me with a bar code scanner, I scan all of my household purchases and transmit results to them weekly along with the occasional survey. In return they provide me with points that I can redeem for gifts. Yesterday I was informed that my diligence over the past 6 months has paid off and my membership status has been changed to 'Silver'. This means more points! and this handy shopping bag. I love it when a plan comes together!

Day of silence observed in protest of music royalties

A number of online broadcasters have gone silent today to protest new rates for royalties that were awarded by a 3 judge panel earlier this year and are set to come due on July 15th. The new rates fail to take into account the lean years when a company is getting up and running and so MTV, Pandora, Live365, and others have all vowed to be silent. Soundexchange, the music industry group in charge of collecting the royalties appears not to be phased by the action saying they are in negotiations with many smaller players and the protest is a "moot point". I don't subscribe to any of these services so it hasn't affected me, I prefer to ignore the music industry association all together and listen to podsafe music and recordings. The only one of the above that I have listened to on occasion is Pandora, but it shut Canadians out after the new rates came into effect. CBC has the story here.

iPhone guided tour

Apple's website has a prominant message today and it's all about the iPhone. Take the guided tour and prepare to be amazed, this is not suprisingly one user friendly little device that will make you want to shelve the old cell phone and toss out the iPod. The ~20 minute video tour is hosted by a very pleasant Steve Jobs clone and gives a great look at what you can achieve with this hot new device. I love the interface and can't wait to see one up close, that goes for the Microsoft Surface as well. This type of computing is going to open up all sorts of possibilities! Please Mr. Jobs, give us the iPhone in Canada!

Monday, June 25, 2007

New hybrid from Toyota in 2009

According to this CNet article, citing the Nikkei Financial Daily, Toyota has a new hybrid in the works to follow on the success of the Prius and other hybrid models that see Toyota owning 90% of the market share. The new vehicle will posses a snappy 2 to 3 litre engine as compared to the 1.5 litre Prius. The company is aiming for sales of 100,000 units.

Hey buddy, wanna buy a domain name?

If you do, and you have $400 million in the bank '' is for sale. Of course the site does have reported revenues of about $15 million so it's not just the domain that's for sale, but it does bring back memories of the pre-bust days of the late 90's. If you don't have that kind of money hanging around, I could be persuaded to let this domain name go for... say.... a cool$million. In the words of the immortal Dr. Evil..."Gentlemen you have my demands, peace out!"

Globe and Mail story here.

Happy 40th Birthday to the ATM!

The automated teller machine has just turned 40 and it's inventor, 82 year old John Shepherd-Barron anticipates its demise and the end of cash within the next 3 to 5 years. Shepherd-Barron who is still active inventing things says cash will be replaced by transactions made via our cell phones, he's not alone on that prediction. The first instant teller was installed at the London Barclays branch office in Enfield High Street. With the invention necessitated the need for the pin number, the inventor thought 6 digits would be reasonable but he wife convinced him that she would only be able to remember 4, and so it was. The BBC has the tale of John Shepherd-Barron and his ATM here. Note: Wikipedia describes Shepherd-Barron's device as not being the original, however it is indisputably the version upon which our current day machines are based.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Personal scanners coming to grocery stores

Available in Europe for some time now, personal scanners are making their way into North American grocery stores. The devices allow the shopper to scan bar codes as they shop, keeps a running total of how much is in the cart and allowing for a quicker departure from the store, as there is no need to wait in line to be checked out. Depending on the systems manufacturer, the shopper either scans, pays, and is randomly audited upon departure, or in the more sophisticated systems the items are accounted for as they enter the cart. The stores who have employed the systems say that they are not taking the place of human cashiers but rather the systems allow them to put the employees in other areas of the store to provide better customer service. I like the idea of the technology and the time savings that it offers. I'm sure that most people will find the running total idea handy as well, but that little feature will take all the fun out of grocery shopping for my sons and I... we try to guess our total within the nearest dollar. This is a little game that I established with them when they were young in an attempt to keep them busy and, I hope, gives them some appreciation for what food costs the family. CNN has the story here.

Your favourite shows from childhood in 6 minutes or less

Sony has re-purposed some of your favourite old television shows and released the trimmed down versions on the myspace minisode network. Now you can take a trip down memory lane and view the original Charlies Angels, Starsky & Hutch, Diff'rent Strokes, VIP, T.J. Hooker... the list goes on. The videos are all edited down to between 3 and 6 minutes, just long enough to get the plot and keep you from wasting too much time watching really bad TV. Though I'm having difficulty viewing any of these at the moment, seems like a lot of people need their Farrah Facett fix.

What shall I do tomorrow?

This and other such hypothetical questions may be in the future of Google searches according to Eric Schmidt, the company's chief executive officer. Google currently offers an opt-in personalized search facility that collects data from each of your searches over the last 18 months in order to mine this data and return more personalized results. Google says that it will be possible in the future to allow them to use data collected over a longer period of time to narrow your search results even further. Currently, the data collected is anonymized after 18 months but Google is considering allowing it's users to define the length of time that the data is associated to themselves. The more data they have to mine, the more likely they are able to answer your queries with something relevant to you, and the more likely the possibility of answering the hypothetical questions someday down the road. I think this is potentially a great leap forward, especially if it's only at the users request. I've already stated in a previous post that I could care less about data that is collected about my purchases or browsing habits particularly if it's going to make my experience online better, there is a line to be drawn when it comes to financial or other personal information of course. BBC article here.

IT has lost its luster among students - demand still high

CBC news reports that while demand for information technology workers is projected to spike, students are staying away from the training programs that would fill the need. It seems as though large scale layoffs by some of the major players has created the perception among students that there are no jobs in IT. According to the Information and Communications Technology Council, the jobs are there but the focus in the industry has changed from large scale complex systems to the tackling of real world problems. Health-care applications, environmental projects, and supply chain management systems are driving current demand.