Yearly Archives: 2008

Why can't my computer and stereo system talk to one another?

Sorry for the scarcity of posts. I been a little distracted by vacation and, more to the point, I’m in the middle of moving… weirdly time consuming.

Very excited about my new place but have discovered that there is a simple item that I cannot seem to buy that would make it nicer still.

I, like many people, stopped using my CDs about 5 years ago. I scanned my hundreds of CDs into my hard drive and have been an MP3 listener ever since. Probably like many others, my computer (either desktop or laptop) is not located near my TV/stereo equipment (geek that I am, even I don’t keep a computer in the living room) so what I’d really like is an easy way to play music from my laptop through my stereo system. I imagine this mythical computer/stereo interface would be wireless – or maybe it broadcasts via an fm frequency… but however it might work, I’m confident that there is demand.

So when I walked into Best Buy the other day and asked the stereo people if something like this existed they stared at me blankly as though I’d suggested I needed a stereo system that might work on Mars. I find it interesting that there isn’t a solution to this problem that a Best Buy sales guy doesn’t know that answer too. Is it more complicated than I think?

Most likely the stereo companies and computer companies simple don’t talk that much… it’s too bad, because I’m sure there is a good sized market for this.

Okay, more serious posts to come tomorrow.

on snow

From an im message I sent this morning:  my views on snow. I think it encapsulates Vancouverites position on the issue:

Snow should be like grandchildren. Fun, playful and always a car ride away.

I supposed given my age, I should say snow should be like nieces and nephews…

You can ignore today. It is going to be nothing my mindless fun. Not that it matters much, the hit counter is way down, which is as it should be on Christmas Eve.

Sean Yo just sent me a link of Merb and ruby merging. Hoping to blog about it shortly.

Twittering to help the homeless – and why it is bad!

Here is a great story out of Vancouver of a group of strangers using twitter to come together and help the homeless.

Another example of how social media can build new friends and community and help make the world a better place – sadly we all know it won’t have any impact of the powerful narrative of youth as uncaring, self-centred narcsistic and apathetic.

And then there are those who think these tools are really just the hands of the devil. I didn’t know anyone still read Andrew Keen but the other day a reader pointed to his (1000th) column on how the internet will end society as we know it. Check out this excerpt:

The 1930s fascists were expert at using all the most technologically sophisticated communications technologies—the cinema, radio, newspapers, advertising—to spew their destructive, hate-filled message. What they excelled at was removing the the traditional middlemen like religion, media, and politics, and using these modern technologies of mass communications to speak with reassuring familiarity to the disorientated masses.

Imagine if today’s radically unregulated Internet, with its absence of fact checkers and editorial gatekeepers, had existed back then. Imagine that universal broadband had been available to enable the unemployed to read the latest conspiracy theories about the Great Crash on the blogosphere. Imagine the FDR-baiting, Hitler-loving Father Charles Coughlin, equipped with his “personalized” YouTube channel, able, at a click of a button, to distribute his racist message to the suffering masses. Or imagine a marketing genius like the Nazi chief propagandist Josef Goebbels managing a viral social network of anti-Semites which could coordinate local meet-ups to assault Jews and Communists.

You can almost feel the anger and rage ooze off the screen – try reading the whole thing. I can see why Keen is scared – he probably has visions of people like him running around the internet. That said, he’s ultimately right on one level, anyone can use these tools. But the solution is what? To ban them all? Regulate them into ineffectiveness? Ultimately you can’t have the opportunity of self-organizing enlightenment without the possibility of self-organizing hatred. But maybe then, we don’t want kids wandering making friends and helping homeless people. Yes, now that I reflect on it, being a passive hollywood and park avenue fed consumer was always so much better for society, democracy and freedom. Thank you for saving me from myself Andrew Keen!

Concerns from Beyond the West: The dangers one-member, one-vote

800px-Liberal_Party_of_Canada.svgThere is a panel at the Globe and Mail website on Rebuilding the Liberal Party, with small essays on the subject from Navdeep Bains, Martha Hall Findlay and Bob Rae.

All three mention conducting Leadership races with one-member, one-vote as part of the rebuilding process. Below I’ve republished a cleaned up and slightly fleshed out version of the comment I hurriedly wrote in response. The net net is that while I’m not opposed to reform, a pure one-member, one-vote would be a bad for the party, especially in all the places it needs to grow, namely everywhere outside of Ontario.

One aside – I owe Navdeep an apology. His proposal of one-member, one-vote that “provides equal weight for the ridings” is entirely sensible and I inexcusably lumped him in with those who are proposing a straight up one-member, one-vote system.

One-Member, One Vote?

There is a common thread in Liberal Party members – like the two of the three list above – who call for such a reform to how Liberals elect their leader. Rae, Findlay, (and in other fora, Stronarch) are people whose commitment to public service I deeply respect, but it is worth noting that they all hail from the GTA. One-member one vote, would certainly be a boon for leadership candidates, who like them, are based in the GTA. Indeed, is there a major Liberal from outside of the GTA calling for this reform? I have yet to hear of one.

This debate is precisely what is damaging Liberal prosprects, particularly in the regions. Already restricted to large urban centres – and specifically: Toronto. This proposal would further isolate the party.

The simple fact is any leader and prospective PM needs to enjoy support from across the country and in every riding. A one-member one-vote would create conditions where a single region, or even city, could ultimately decide who leads the party. A prospective candidate could dedicate 80% of their campaign to the GTA and might do quite well – even win. What message would this send to Liberals and Canadians elsewhere?

To win a Canadian election you must win across the country. Our democracy doesn’t function as a one-member, one vote on a national basis, but at the riding level. This was done to ensure that regions and communities would always have a voice at the table. The Liberal leadership process should reflect these values as well.

Should we reform how we select leaders? Absolutely. But one-member one vote is not the only alternative. Preferential voting methods, conducted at the riding level, would be one way to do away with delegates and enable people to vote directly for leaders and yet preserve regional balance and representation.

This is an important discussion – but in the rush to solve one problem it would be a mistake to create a system that would hinder the growth of the party in the very places it is most at risk.

The Next Economy – Why the wrong Stimulus today could fail us tomorrow

After reading The Great Crash it is hard to not feel that we are the cusp of another economic depression – the parallels between today and 1929 or almost eeire. Much like the last crash, a whole slew of business models, technologies and ways of thinking are simply going to become obsolete (or at least, not-profitable).

For example, I was talking to an American friend whose partner had been laid off by a bank and they were talking about what expenses they were going to try to eliminate. High on the list? Their land line and cable television. Low on the list? Cell phones and their high speed internet. This may finally be the beginning of the end for the old copper wire – this will accelerate a trend begun about a decade ago in which households have no fixed phone line. Indeed, Reuters is reporting that:

In the first half of 2008, 17.5 percent of households were wireless only, up from 13.6 percent a full year earlier…

…Service providers such as Verizon Communications, AT&T Inc, Qwest Communications International and others have seen a steep increase in customers cutting the cord on their home phones.

Qwest said recently that the trend was exacerbated by the weak economy as some customers were disconnecting home phones to save money.

It makes sense. Why keep a land line when you can just use your cell, or even Skype for free when you are at home?

What this means is that connectivity has never been more important to people – not just for social, but also for professional reasons. Can anyone imagine a professional, creative classer or service sector employee, under the age of 35 looking, for a job without an internet connection? Impossible. The simple fact is that a robust telecommunications network – specifically, access to the internet – is today what an electrical, phone or road network was in the 1930’s. That means, if you want to help invest for the economy of tomorrow, help bring the costs of accessing the internet today – and make sure everyone can get access.

At the moment, one reason why costs are high is because providers have agreed to build their networks out, even to “unprofitable” parts of the country. If the government provided – or helped to provide – such access internet access could be rendered cheaper and service could be improved.

My biggest fear is that here in Canada and the in United States the call for a “new” New Deal with result in a stimulus package that looks a lot like the new deal of the 1930’s – with big infrastructure projects receiving the bulk of the money. The fact is, unlike in the 1930’s new roads aren’t going to generate the same returns over the next 50 years like they did back then – there will be marginal returns at best and negative returns at worst. What we need to identify the infrastructure that is going to guide the next economy, not the last one.

And be afraid, because one thing is almost certain, the next economy almost certainly doesn’t include an auto sector of even remotely the same size or structure. (Think how much ZIP car reduces the need for cars.)

Las Vegas and the end of US

Just returned from Vegas for work. While the place seemed normal (as normal as Vegas can get) it was doubly surreal to be there at the beginning of a depression (yes, I’ve decided that we are now in a depression, over-reaction perhaps, but who knows).

The mood was captured by a skype chat between myself and an (american) friend of mine who was there working with me:

[15/12/2008 5:40:34 PM] David Eaves says: actually last night, I was sitting at the bar waiting for my take out. Between the glamourized homeland security tv ride along show, the gambling, the faux roman-style architecture of the Palazzo, and the hopped up gladiatorial style football coverage I was struck by how facist/starship trooperesque the whole thing was
[15/12/2008 5:40:37 PM] David Eaves says: totally depressing
[15/12/2008 5:41:38 PM] XXXXX says: i know.  now you know why i hate vegas so.  got off the plane to a woman at a slot machine wearing 3 stacked cowboy hats.  if they weren’t paying me, i would have gotten right back on that plane.

It really was depressing. Of course, on the surface the whole place looks unaffected by the economic problems. But then, relying on how things look on the surface is the worst way of taking the termperature in Vegas. Things are clearly not going well, and are only going to get worse. A lot worse.

I was also struck by how Las Vegas related to the earlier post on cultural theories of risk. Las Vegas must be home to the fatalists. I mean, here is a place that literraly is high grid, low group – and where it doesn’t matter what you do, fate – or luck – controls your destiny, and in the end, even she can’t stop the house from winning.

BTW – Sorry for slow posting – I’m completely jet lagged and exhaused. Intense travel, work and catching up with old friends has left me drained.

The Power of Dissent – Linking Colbert and al-Zaidi

I think the story of Mr. al-Zaidi – the journalist who threw his shoe(s) at President Bush during and Iraqi press conference – is fascinating. It reminds of just how infrequently a president – and in particular this president – has actually had to confront dissenting opinions. And how dangerous this is, both for the country and for the office holder. How can one govern if you are not receiving a diversity of opinions, and are not, from time to time, forced to confront those who disagree with you, or whom your decisions have negatively impacted?

The challenge of permitting dissent is inherent to the office itself. Power is itself a deterrent – do people really want to anger the most powerful person in the world? What if they need a favour later? Then, there is always the temptation to soften one’s message in the hopes of influencing, rather than arguing, with its holder. Traditionally protests were one way those on the outside could try to be heard. But today the dubiously legal special “protest zones” that are often set up are rarely in view of the president. Here we aren’t even talking of engaging dissent – just acknowledging it! All of these challenges, either active or passive – protect and insulate the president, ultimately to their detriment.

In the case of al-Zaidi, I’m uncertain of whether his protest is one that should be supported – anything that threatens the independence and freedom of the press corps needs to be considered carefully. But then, given the limitations this president has placed on people, their have been few other outlets and few people willing to stand up.

This is why I Stephen Colbert is so important . His speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner will be remembered as one of the bravest, most important acts of the Bush era. I re-watched the first 20 minutes the other night with a friend who’d never seen it and was reminded by how painful, awkward, brutal and deserving it was. Indeed, it is so awkward I often have to stop watching it (I HATE social awkwardness – I literally want to jump into the TV and mediate it. Maybe it is the curse of my consulting, or maybe it is the curse of being a middle child). It is remarkable how the man just keeps going. But thank god he does. It may be one of the few moments when the president truly had to confront a vicious critique of his administration.

Can anyone think of other moments when the president has had his cocoon penetrated? Would love to hear them.

Of course, in the end, a balance is usually struck. The tighter the lid one puts on dissenting opinions, the more pressure builds for them to eventually erupt out. Colbert and al-Zaidi pail in comparison to what is perhaps the best example of this pressure cooker expoding – the 2008 election.