The Water

When I was 12-years-old, it was the perfect place to go exploring — and get lost.

On a typical foray into Burns Bog, I encountered a hippie-type fellow by a creek. He was shaking uncontrollably, almost in a convulsion — but he seemed all too aware of the creek.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The water,” he replied in a panicked voice, “It’s going to eat me!”

“Why don’t you just walk away from the water?” I inquired further.

He seemed ponderous for a moment. “Because if I do that, it will sense my vibrations and attack!”

I thought that was funny, then walked off. 20 minutes later, I came across a bucket — and had a brilliant idea. Filling up the bucket with water, I walked back to the panicked man.

Walking towards him, he seemed more frightened than before. But that didn’t stop me. I dumped the whole damn bucket of water over his head.

“AHHHHH!” he screamed.

Then he rolled over, and he started violently shaking. He was shaking so hard, his eyes rolled back. Immediately he started gargling as though he was drowning.

Just then, another bearded dude — this one with glasses — popped out of the trees.

“What the hell did you just do?!” he screamed.

“I was just having a little fun with him!”

“FUCK!!! YOU LITTLE SHIT! Jimmy was just coming down from his acid trip!”

I felt something well up inside me — I knew I did something horrible. And I ran the fuck away never to return.

To this day, I don’t know what happened to that guy.

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The Everlasting Plight of the Canucks Fan

 

Vancouver Canucks

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Being a Canucks fan is an act of masochism. For 40 years, the Canucks have been the equivalent of psychic cat of nine tails.

 

Yet, I can’t quit the Canucks. Believe me, I’ve tried. The last straw was in 2003 when the Canucks gave up a 3-1 series lead against the Minnesota wild.

After that series, I said, “Never again” — never again to the personification of failure, a team that cannot understand the concept of winning.

So what happened to me?

Metamorphosis

At 28-years-old, I tipped 200lbs for the first time. With a 5’8″ height, I was fat. Something drastic needed to be done. That something was a drastic exercise regiment.

 

Photographer: Frank C. Müller

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I became a boxer. My goal was to remake myself as an assassin with my fists, an archetype of manliness, a whirlwind of not just physicality — but one who can will himself into being.

 

I ran and skipped; I did push-ups, sit-ups and squats; I learned to put the entire weight of my body in my fist and deliver a ricochet of kinetic energy. My body ached. After months of desperation, I finally gained muscle mass and depleted fat.

An Act of Empathy

When you take up sports, it’s easier to understand achievement. Bernard Hopkins‘ championship win over Jean Pascal was significant. It was all the more significant because he was a 46-year-old man who defeated a respectable title holder 18 years his junior.

Similarly, the Canucks season this year is as significant. We now have a team who is the best  — with more wins than anyone else. We have a goal scorer in Daniel Sedin, with his brother Henrik his equal playmaker.  We have the immense physicality in Ryan Kessler, the lock-in defense of Kevin Bieska, and the elite goaltending of Roberto Luongo.

The Canucks are now a legendary team. It’s a team that’s the opposite of heartbreak. It’s a team that has tasted the edge of elimination in Round 1 of the play-offs, and pulled off wins against all odds. Certainly, the Canucks may not appeal to everyone — but if you cannot respect achievement, you cannot respect the metaphysical nature of sports.

A Time for Reckoning

 

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo du...

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The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals is emotionally tiring. The Canucks won two close initial games, then were destroyed in Games 3 and 4 by scores of 8-1 and 4-0 respectively. Then in Game 5, they managed a 1-0 win.

 

Here in Vancouver, there was hope that they’d do the sane thing and win Game 6. However, the Canucks never do things easy. Within a four minute frame in the first period, the Canucks let in four goals. It seemed like another blowout. Yet, the Canucks continued peppering Boston with 38 shots — managing to scored two goals. The final score of Game 6 was 5-2.

Everything now comes down to Game 7. The hopes and dreams of an entire city rest on their shoulders.

But whoever wins, whatever the results, one can surely appreciate the best Stanley Cups series in recent memory: one in which nothing has come easy, nothing is a foregone conclusion, nothing is ever predictable.

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How Canadian Content is Killing Itself

A maple leaf painted on a sidewalk using a ste...

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If you are unaware of what Canadian culture is, blame CanCon. What is CanCon? A CRTC requirement that a certain percentage of content broadcast in Canada must be at least partly written, produced, presented, or otherwise contributed to by persons in Canada. Apart from the CBC, CanCon is rarely responsible for forging a unique Canadian cultural identity.

Nor is it mean to. CanCon exists for purely political reasons — and is ironically destroying real Canadian content.

CanCon Explained

Theoretically, CanCon is supposed to jump start a renaissance of Canadian cultural activity. This is not the case.

Musicians that receive airplay on Canadian radio usually achieve success in the United States before they are allotted time. For example, Arcade Fire had no commercial radio airplay in Canada until months after the band was widely anointed rising stars in American music media.

With television, the results are more dubious. Canadian networks frequently fulfil Cancon requirements by airing series filmed in Canada but intended primarily for the lucrative United States market. One such production is Stargate SG-1. Few of Stargate’s creative people were Canadian. Canadian involvement was purely financial.

In 1998 Reed Hastings founded Netflix, the lar...

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The Real Problem with CanCon

Most Canadians see CanCon as a quirky-but-benign bureaucratic rule that’s just… there. Unfortunately, CanCon is killing Canadian content. Telcos and broadcasters invoke CanCon requirements to battle back the evil Internet Horde of Progress — in order to protect their revenue streams.

Who is this Internet Horde of Progress I refer to? Netflix.

According to telcos and broadcasters, Netflix should be banned from Canada because it does not fulfil CanCon requirements. Never mind that Netflix catalogue of Canadian content is massive, or that it is easy to procure — a certain percentage of Netflix content is not Canadian!

So here we see that CanCon is not about Canadian content — but about keeping competition out of Canada so the media cartels (as Kemp Edmonds likes to call them) can continue to thrive.

Current CRTC insignia

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CanCon’s Destructive Rampage

If we’re going to apply a rule, it should be consistent. If the media cartels are successful at utilizing CanCon to ban Netflix from Canada, they might as well ban YouTube. Better yet, they might as well ban the Internet since it is doubtful even 5% of its content is Canadian.

Yet now, Canadians already cannot access Hulu or Pandora due to CanCon. What has been the effect so far of the ban? Piracy — not because Canadians refuse to compensate creatives for their work, but because their work is being censored.

You would think  piracy would incentivize Canadian telcos and broadcasters to create innovative Intenet channels to consume content. However, they would rather protect current revenue streams by pretending the Internet doesn’t exist.

Personally, I would rather not pirate — partly because it’s more convenient to pay $7/month for instant streaming than it is to torrent. However, if Netflix is banned and the CanCon status quo is upheld, Canada will become a nation of pirates.

If this happens, Canadian artists will not produce new work — since they will not get paid.

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Chromebook: I Just Don’t “Get” It

The Google I/O conference arrived, and with much fanfare, the Chromebook was announced. Usually, if I dislike something, I give it a few days to consider its use before I assume further judgement. But in the Chromebook’s case, I feel the same way I felt two days ago: confused. Namely, I just don’t get why anyone would buy this thing for $349 – $499.

Compare what you can get for the same price, and the Chromebook seems like a bad deal.

Chromebook vs. Windows Netbooks

For $249, I can get an entry level 10″ netbook with Windows Starter Edition. Two years ago, I bought an HP Mini for that price, and still use it. All this time, I’ve stored honeymoon pictures, creative writing documents, and music. When I go on vacation, I leave my Macbook and Nexus S at home — but my HP Mini comes with me.

Here’s where my HP Mini outshines the Chromebook: forget about taking your Chromebook to Haida Gwaii or Malta. Forget about bringing it on an airplane. Forget about decent computing without an Internet connection. For $100 less, I can get a computer with more features.

Chromebook vs. iPad

The lowest priced iPad costs $499. Like the Chromebook, it has limitations compared to a Windows netbook — namely, it’s lack of real multi-tasking. But seeing how I can install Garageband and Photoshop on the iPad, that’s forgivable. Both these apps does not require Internet access, and more importantly, I can store all my files on my iPad!

Google admits the Chromebook isn’t necessarily built for apps like Photoshop, but at its current price, shouldn’t it? If I’m limited to only using glorified web apps, shouldn’t the price of the Chromebook be significantly less? Docked to a keyboard, an iPad is an adequate machine for daily use — even with its many limitations. I’m not so sure about the Chromebook.

Chromebook versus Android

The most puzzling aspect of the Chromebook seems to be that it competes with it’s other platform. The Motorola Atrix, which costs $199.99 on a two year contract, comes with a webtop application — which converts the smartphone into a traditional desktop interface when plugged into a laptop dock. Here too, I should point out a weakness. Without the handset plugged in, the laptop is useless.

Again, it seems to have more functionality to me than the Chromebook. I can store apps locally on the Atrix as well as files. More ominous for the Chromebook, the Atrix integrates just as well with Google Apps. At a competitive price, I can do everything the Chromebook does with as much Google Apps integration — the additional advantage of not being so dependant on the cloud.

Maybe there’s something about the Chromebook I’m missing, but compared to competitive products, I just don’t see what the big deal is.

Why Microsoft’s Buyout of Skype Changes the Mobile Game

Skype Technologies S.A. logo

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When Microsoft almost bought Yahoo, I yawned. When they signed the exclusivity deal with Nokia for Windows Phone 7, I laughed. But now that they are nearing a deal to buy Skype, they have my full attention!

Google and Facebook must by crying in their pillow. With this purchase, Microsoft has purchased a social network, a telco, and a money-printing machine.

Skype 2.2, running on a Windows Mobile 6 device

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Skype the Social Network

People don’t speak of Skype in the same breath as Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps they should. Skype is not just a social network, it’s a damn lucrative one. As users communicate with each other via instant messaging, conference calls, and video chat, they do while spending real world currency.

There were 663 million Skype accounts in 2009. By contrast, Facebook reached a 500 million in 2010. Skype might not have the hype, but it definitely has the numbers.

Skype the Telco

AT&T recently bought T-Mobile for $49 billion. And while Skype, strictly speaking is nowhere in the same league as either of them, it has one advantage. Namely, it is a telephone provider that can work over any carrier’s data pipes.

Are you almost out of cell phone minutes? Do you have 6GB of bandwidth to spend? Here’s a chance to bypass obscene voice overage rates.

Oh hey, did I mention Skype works on all carriers and smartphone operating systems? What a great way for Microsoft to find a presence everywhere.

Polycom

Image by Duane Storey via Flickr

Skype the Money Printing Machine

Yes, Skype has produced little net profit for the eight years of its existence. Last year, it posted a loss of $7 million on revenue of $860 million. Don’t let that fool you.

Telephony is a multi-trillion dollar business, and Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, has made his fortune on it. VoIP (a.k.a., “Voice Over Internet”) is a microscopic fraction of it, but traditional telephone providers have had over a century to develop their business. Skype, by contrast, has had lass than a decade to go at it.

Once VoIP is further finetuned as a legitimate alternative to traditional telephony, Skype will become the equivalent of a money-printing machine. In fact, since it is the only VoIP firm in mass usage, perhaps this day will come very soon.

And with $8 billion, Microsoft will have made its most lucrative and strategic purchase in its history.

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Beyond Mobile: The “Everywhere” Web

vote symbol: information

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At the movie theater, I noticed something impressive. Despite that sensory overload provided by Fast Five, moviegoers couldn’t help checking their smartphones. My attention found itself competing between the large movie screen and bright phone screens. While this is a sign of the times, it is also indicative of a problem that needs a solution.

The Orthodox Stance

Common wisdom states that computers have now been segmented into four devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Together, they are meant to serve all your computing needs in all possible circumstance. While desktops and laptops are nearing market saturation — if they haven’t already — we haven’t yet scratched the surface for tablets and smartphones.

Indeed, tech pundits are still trying to make sense of the mobile web — especially as it touches the tablet and smartphone experience. How can one communicate information with limited screen real estate? Right now, web developers are building “standard” versions for the desktop and laptop, and “mobile” versions for smartphones.

Because tablets are so new, no one yet knows whether to categorize this as a device for the “standard” or “mobile” web. While iPads are 10 inches in size, the Blackberry Playbook and Samsung Galaxy Tab come in 7 inch dimensions. The Dell Streak is even smaller: it is 5 inches, and struts the line between tablet and smartphone.

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...

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A Symptom of a Problem

The problem with the “four devices” view of the Internet is that it doesn’t deal with another real problem. The screen of my iPod Nano is the size of a wristwatch face. It appears to run a stripped down version of iOS. Pray tell, what would happen if, in an upcoming release, Apple decides to give it Internet connectivity? Somehow, we’ll need to squeeze the web onto dimensions that are less than a square inch.

This does not take into account devices that have screen real estate, but due to the context of their use, require a more streamlined interface. It’s only a matter of time before car dashboards are also equipped with web browsers. In this situation, users will not be able to control the interface through touch, now will they be able to stare at the screen for long periods. Somehow, the web will need to work for car drivers.

Going back to the user scenario involving movie theatres. People clearly need access to the internet. They cannot talk during the movie, and using a smartphone is bad manners. How then can the web meet a user’s needs?

au SmartPhone IS01

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The Web Everywhere

The answer, of course, is that developers will need to create a web that is less homogeously visual. In fact, in cases where the web doesn’t need to be visual, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Developers will need to loosen restrictions on how their content is perceived so as to reach a greater audience.

Of course, blind users of the Internet have been dealing with this problem forever. Developers continue struggling with accessibility issues for this demographic. So while this problem is bound to become more visible (pun intended), it’s always been a problem.

Very soon, most of us will become “blind” to the current web while still requiring access to it. Therefore, developers will soon need to build websites that work in as many specific situations as possible. What we need isn’t separate “desktop” and “mobile” webs. We need an “everywhere” web.

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Has Microsoft made Peace with Open Source? #webnotwar

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“If Microsoft is the Borg, then you are Locutus,” said an audience member to the Microsoft employee on the open source panel, “And just as Locutus boarded the Enterprise to learn about humans so as to assimilate them, you are here to assimilate then extinguish open source.”

At typical open source conferences, such sentiments are predictable. Except, Make Web Not War is Microsoft’s own open source conference. They spent significant time and energy attracting Vancouver’s tech hordes to it.

But Microsoft let themselves be vulnerable to criticism.

Closeup of a stone sign bearing the Microsoft ...

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Why the hostility?

Some attendees of the conference didn’t understand why open source enthusiasts were hostile towards Microsoft. But Microsoft has not been kind to the open source movement. Between the infamous Halloween Documents and their dubious involvement in the SCO-Linux controversies, Microsoft has spent 15 years creating a hostile environment.

Organizers of Make Web Not War admitted this. “We’ve done everything to make the open source community hate us,” said a Microsoftie to me, “But we’re no hivemind. Humans live in Redmond, and we love technology for its own sake.”

Calling a truce

Nick Gargusha, Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy Lead, states their foray into open source “just makes good business sense”. But I don’t buy it (pun intended). The days of “Microsoft only” shops are ending. More corporations run LAMP stacks, and more employees are opt for iPhone and Androids.

Microsoft must evolve or die. Open source is no longer the future, it is “the now” — and “now” has been happening for years now. If Microsoft ignores open source, competitors like Google and Apple will swoop in and steal developer mindshare. In fact, they already have.

Steve Ballmer gaming

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Laying down arms

One irony of Make Web Not War was the plethora of MacBook Pros dotting the landscape. The few Windows users in attendance had Android stickers plastered on their laptop lids. For better or worse, Apple and Google have won the hearts and minds of developers — developers who had exclusively coded for Microsoft platforms 10 years ago.

But is there a need for Microsoft anymore? Certainly. Far more than Apple or Google, Microsoft is the company that balances usability and customizability. Anyone who has used an Xbox 360 or a Zune understands this. But to win back mindshare, Microsoft needs developers.

How did Apple and Google win developer mindshare in the first place? Both used open source to hook them. For this reason, Microsoft has ceased their war against open source, laid down their arms, and embraced the future.

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