Wednesday, May 31, 2006

100 Best Products

Kent Newsome critiques PC World's 100 Best Products of The Year. As usual I agree with Kent's take on most of these things except his assertion that Photoshop Elements is overrated. I've used PSP, Elements, Gimp, Picasa and other programs and while each has it's strengths and weaknesses, I have to say that Adobe's experience with image-editing apps was not lost on Elements. It has many good features to recommend it, not all of them apparent until you use it a while.

An interesting point made near the end of his post:

Where is Digg, Techmeme and Technorati? For that matter, where's MySpace?

No Treos, no blackberry devices?

No Feedburner or Odeo or Audacity? No Skype?
You can either put it down to be being proudly 'ahead of the curve' or more realistically, 'living in the rss-enabled xml-ized wonder-sphere that floats way outside the mainstream'. More and more I feel like I'm reading and listening to a community sadly isolated from the real world. Just listen to the latest Gillmor Daily. I finally figured out that I don't really care who Esther Dyson is or what she does, no matter how much Steve pumps these things as earth-altering issues. Maybe I'm just too stupid to understand it all. But still, I'm happy just tryin'.

What's On Your Plate? And How Do You Deal With It?

Chris Brogan's article Editing Your Life struck at the heart of what I fear is one of my personal dilemmas. Reading it was like someone telling me I'm losing my hair. I know it to be true, but desperately don't want it to be.

It's not simply that there are too many things on my plate, it's that the plate overflowed 4 years ago. In fact I haven't seen the plate itself in quite some time.

At the risk of sounding like I want to start a pissing contest (which I don't), here's a brief overview of what's rattling around upstairs at the moment. They're in no specific order and include both things I have to do, things I enjoy doing, and things I just do:

1.Design engineering and management of 8 active projects at work with 1 or 2 proposals on the go as well. I've been there going on 10 years and the pace has only built-up, never decreased.

2.A part time job as a college instructor teaching structural engineering and construction methods and materials to architectural technologists.

3.A passion for photography, image editing and its red-headed stepchild 'digital workflow'.

4.An active interest in programming - mostly Python, mostly poorly written, and all of it purportedly to help streamline item 1.

5.An interest in weblogs, both writing them and reading them.

6.A penchant for all things web, such as website design, podcasting, rss, technology etc..

7.An appetite for learning, discovering new things and trying things out.

8.A deep-seeded enjoyment in being able to help others explore those same things.

9.A personal mission to be the best father I can be - I've wanted this probably since I was 15.

10. An ongoing interest in self-improvement - always wanting to "Sharpen the Saw" as they say.

11.An ever-present feeling that somehow I can succeed at them all if I just manage to find the right mindset, tools and plan.

One problem is that spending time on No.11 is many times just as interesting (or distracting) to me as pursuing items 1. through 10.

Somehow, some way, I've got to edit things. Maybe not delete them, but push them out into the future.

In Barbara Sher's book I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, I would be classified as a 'Scanner'. Someone who wants to taste everything in life but never get's deep into any of them. A powerful point made in that book is that we've got more time that we think. If you look carefully at how much time pursuing these things really takes, and if you utilize that time wisely, you can accomplish a surprising amount.

I have always wanted to pursue everything 'now'. Historically, planning ahead more than a week is unheard of for me. I tend to assume that if I don't have X amount of time alotted for one of my passions, then I might as well not even try to spend time on it. Such bullshit. Another post by Chris (man this guy is a great source of info and inspiration!) puts it into such non-bullshit terms:

...Ask yourself this question right now: Do I have more excuses or more discipline? ...

If you're having any doubts and need a swift kick in the ass like me, go read it.

The purpose of my post is mostly to get those things out there where everyone including myself can see 'em. Maybe pick off the least important ones to pursue later, maybe push the more important ones to the top. Maybe even get some comments from the 4 people who read this blog ;). The internet has never been short of people willing to give advice. Anybody got some? Leave a comment, email me or post about it and let me know. What's on your plate and how do you deal with it?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Painful Episode

It is so humbling as a parent (and a person) to sit and watch your child endure any sort of pain. Em had a tooth that had to come out today. Jen and I grabbed and held her hands throughout the process trying our best to comfort her and explain however feebly, that we are doing this to make the pain go away (she had an abscessed tooth). Em has made it easy for us as parents, ridiculously easy. I know that many more parents go through much worse every single day. But days like this remind us of how we would do *anything* to prevent our child from hurting - I'd have jumped into that chair in a heartbeat if I could've been a surrogate for her pain. Of course an hour later she's sitting on the couch watching George Shrinks as if nothing had happened and anticipating the arrival of the tooth fairy later tonight. I believe 5 bucks is on offer for the inaugural visit.

This post is nothing more than a placeholder to remind myself in future years of what it really means to be a father and of what it really means to love my daughter. There will be times when I undoubtedly forget.

Friday, May 26, 2006

No Free Lunches Mr. O'Reilly.. tsk tsk

Read in the (remarkably long) comments of the discussion thread on the whole O'Reilly v IT@Cork debacle:

Folks this is getting out of hand. What's the big deal?

If people wanted to use Web 2.0 freely then they should've come up with the name themselves.

There's no free lunch!

Posted by: tim o'reilly at May 26, 2006 06:14 PM

"If people wanted to use Web 2.0 freely then they should've come up with the name themselves."

Quite so!

Posted by: John McCormac at May 26, 2006 06:26 PM

In case you're not interested in following that link, it's an article using the term 'Web 2.0' back in 1999.

While I think it's definitely a mountain out of a molehill situation , I'm beginning to think that Mr.O'Reilly should open-source the term rather quickly and stop the bleeding so to speak. Reputations can be sullied pretty quickly in the blogosphere these days and he's doing nothing to prevent it.

Talk With My Boss

Talk With My Boss
Originally uploaded by Chris Brogan.
After reading his article on, I discovered Chris Brogan's weblog and through that, his sketchbook set on Flickr. Amongst the creative doodles, there are some really enlightening and personal gems. His blog is a good mix of honest personal writing with a healthy dose of creative inspiration. I suggest you give it a read if that's your bag - it's definitely mine.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Brevity and Outright Coolness

I'm all for brevity. Sometimes just sending you there is better than trying to describe the outright coolness of a link. Check this out.

Classically Klass

I listened to the most recent Bitterest Pill podcast on my drive to work this morning. At the risk of sounding 25 years younger than I am, it was "Da Bomb". Dan Klass has a lock on celebrating middle-aged mediocrity, a demographic I wholeheartedly immerse myself in ;). From his fatherly trepidation about his 3 year daughter's magnetism to the opposite sex (something I've been experiencing with my daughter lately) to his cutting remarks about the social retardation of affluent adults, he's nailed it completely.

Dan... you da man. If you're an honest parent who feels at all like a fish out of water these days, you owe yourself a listen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wikipedia is Dead...Long Live Wikipedia

So Nick Carr thinks Wikipedia is dead. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that 'semi-protected articles will no longer be required to announce themselves as such to the general public'. Does this fact alone render Wikipedia dead? Seems Nick Carr thinks so. Then again, if you read the comments (which are much more interesting than his post) I get the feeling that he's trolling the waters for more eyeballs on his blog. It worked - I went there to read it - but I wouldn't draw water from that well too many times. Your ass will undoubtedly get bitten and your reputation will suffer, if indeed he cares about that stuff.

Every time the whole Wikipedia thing flares up, I'm left scratching my head as to why people think an encyclopedia's job is to document modern web history, current political allegiances and other volatile information. Revisiting Dave Winer's various blog posts relating to Wikipedia, I came across this:

That must stop now, surely. Every fact in there must be considered partisan, written by someone with a confict of interest. Further, we need to determine what authority means in the age of Internet scholarship. And we need to take a step back and ask if we really want the participants in history to write and rewrite the history. Isn't there a place in this century for historians, non-participants who observe and report on the events?

Believe it or not, there are people who go to Wikipedia for information on things like dog breeds, reinforced concrete and the latin language. Hell, have you seen the quality of the article on Knitting!? It's frickin' fabulous! It's a quality source for an absolute ton of information. Be glad you have it!

And don't think history should never be re-written. Everybody has a slant on things. Everybody. Do you really think the history written in my grade 6 textbooks back in 1977 was correct and always will be? You're damn right history should be corrected when it's found to be inaccurate. It's our duty to learn from our past, not cover it up.

Will the article on George W. Bush be kept constantly under guard against vandalism? Of course!

Will the article on the founder of the next great web technology be up for dispute? Who cares?

Will Nicholas G. Carr try to pull his bio from what he deems to be a sinking ship? I'd be very surprised. ;)

Quit trying to bury something that is overwhelmingly good and useful because you can't see past the end of your noses!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Elephants Dream - An Open Source Flick

As I've mentioned before, one of my favourite podcasts has to be Lugradio. If you're at all interested in the world of open-source and Linux, you should give it a listen. It's funny, interesting and even sometimes intelligent ;). Anyhow, on the most recent episode, the boys talked about an open source short movie just released called Elephants Dream. It was the product of an open source project called the Orange Open Movie Project, and was produced with open source tools like (Blender, The Gimp, Inkscape and Cinepaint among others). It was released under a Creative Commons license and as with any open-source project, all of the project files used to make the work are available for download as well.

While not a candidate for a best-picture Oscar, it showcases what can be done with open-source tools by an open-source project - very definitely a creative force to be reckoned with. I have seen many many many worse short films. The story line is a bit 'out of sorts' for my tastes, but the music and video production technically was very impressive. Check it out. This might be the first of many more creative productions by a very creative open source community.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sequencing Chromosome 1 and The Big Blue Marble

The sequence of the last chromosome in the human genome was published today. If there is one thing in this world I am not, it is a human genome expert. But I do try to keep up on science as much as possible, especially the important stuff. From what I read, this is really a milestone on a much longer journey. All the chromosomes in the human genome are now sequenced, but we still don't know what most of the genes do. It is apparent though, that figuring that out will only be a matter of time and patience.

What this will enable us to do sounds both wonderful and scary. Will we be better able to fight and prevent diseases? Likely. What about slowing the aging process? Likely. But I think we've got a lot of other things to figure out before that - like how to manage the resulting surge of population growth when people live longer. We've got room on this big blue marble for quite a few more, but not the way we're doing it now.

The world has to catch up socially and politically to the pace of scientific discovery. This stuff isn't slowing down. I relish the thought of mankind accelerating progress, but progress has to occur on many fronts, not just science. The internet as a social and political network now plays a significant part in that process. If we can better educate the world (myself included) we can take better control of our destiny, and better prepare for it.

I know every generation says this, and it may be true for every other generation as well, but we do live in interesting times.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Or Whatever My Name Is....

Imagine by surprise when listening to the latest Gillmor Gang, that I'd hear my name mentioned (and by Steve Gillmor himself no less!):
"...Richard Querin or whatever his name is..." - Steve Gillmor

Of course Steve was describing in passing, (just like my name was passing) the non-linking controversy.

It's truly amazing that a well-timed post by a 'nobody' (me) somehow finds its way all the way up to a 'somebody' (Mr. Gillmor) and even carries enough weight to seemingly piss him off. Although, I could be wrong about that last thing. He seems to relish in being perennially pissed off.

Amazing how that happens. Of course you know the primary method by which that little post found it's way up there: linking.

They didn't really talk about it enough for me to get a good reading on it, but it sounds like he's lumping me (and others) into some sort of aggressive school of piranhas hell bent on attacking Seth Goldstein and himself.

I hate to disappoint, but I simply don't have the time to be hell bent on anything. As you can plainly see from my posting patterns on this blog, I have many interests, only one of which is 'Tech'. I estimate that I have about 3 hours (including my commute time) each day that I spend on my personal interests - and only a small portion of that includes blog/podcast related stuff.

He should be glad he's getting that small bit of attention from me, not complaining about it.

Also of note, Doc Searls again scored very low on the bullshit-o-meter (which is inversely proportional to his reading on my respect-o-meter) when he said of Seth's point about strong bloggers no longer linking: "Seth said that? ...well that's just wrong.".

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spore one for the heart....

Don't tell anyone, but I used to be big into PC gaming. I spent a lot of my gaming time with auto racing sims (I'm a huge F1 fan), and for quite a long spell I even participated in an online league during my Compuserve days (remember that?!). While RPG's, battlefield strategy and first person shooters were not my cup of tea, there was one other game which vacuumed up a whole lot of my spare time back then. That game was SimCity, created by Will Wright. I simply loved it. I even gave a chunk of my life away to it's sequel SimCity 2000 when it came out. But since that time, I've found other more serious pursuits (!?) and haven't really found my way back to PC games since then. However Will Wright's upcoming game Spore may change all that. You can check out a (rather long) demo video here. It looks simply amazing in it's open-endedness. If there is a game that could suck away huge chunks of my productive life, I fear it is this one.

In my heart I want it dearly. But my head tells me noooo.. Let's see who ends up winning. ;)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A rare complaint...

Question: How do you top off a 2 week period of ridiculous workload and a horrendous cold, both of which stop any enjoyable activities (like blog posting or blog reading) in their tracks?

Answer: You top it off with what is likely a fuel pump that gave up the ghost while driving home through the country, 5km from home at 11 o'clock at night.

There's no where to go from here but up.... I hope...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Weird Firefox Spam Prompt

I just noticed after my last post (minutes ago) that when I go to my blog site in Firefox it brings up a dialog box with something about 'spam-uk' in the prompt. If you cancel it, all else appears normal. It does not appear if I go directly to a particular post, but if I go to it brings up this dialog. Also, the same behaviour occurs in IE6 but NOT in Opera.

Anyone else had this problem when logging onto my site directly?? Please let me know.

(Followup - the source site for a clip art image in a previous post started requiring users to log on. So when the blog tried to load that image, it brought up the dialog box. - the image is now gone, and so is the dialog box apparently... )

Ahh, it's linked to Attention ©

Some follow-on discussion about the linking question by Justin Peterson who makes a very good point in that while I want the viewpoint of the writer on a given subject, it's likely not the only view I want. Moreover, I prefer to own my own judgements on things. So linking me to supporting material is valuable to me (maybe not to the blogger) but to me.

Seth Goldstein writes:

Strong web bloggers no longer link.

Somebody better tell Seth Godin, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel, Mike Arrington and many others about this so that they can catch up.

Seth also writes:

They recognize their power to shape thought and would rather take the risk of losing attention than the certainty of letting it flow onto others.

So that's it... It's attention driving all this. Reputation, attention, influence, all of them are built and earned - much like respect. The question is whether or not linking makes earning those things easier or more difficult. To be honest I really don't want you to shape my thoughts. I'd rather you provide me the material to shape my own. The quality of the material you provide and the way you provide it will define your reputation in my mind and hence will define the attention you will get from me. Remember, attention is something that you get from me, but you don't get it for nothing, you have to earn it. In my mind, linking helps you earn it, not linking doesn't.

There is something about the interconnectedness of blogging and the web in general that makes information silos seem unnatural. You're feeding off the web for information but not necessarily feeding back into it. You are utilizing only a portion of the power of the medium by not linking in order to forward your own goal (being a thought shaper I guess..), which is fine - to each his own. I guess the gist of it is that information silos are a bad thing, unless the silo is me. Bah.

[Follow up: I should have (and forgot to) pointed to the post about the Gillmor Gang podcast that started all this.]

ZBrush Demo - Wacky GUI

A while back I saw a post about ZBrush, which is a 3D modeling application. I've dabbled a little bit with 3D Studio in the past and use AutoCAD quite extensively for work (although exclusively in 2D). So I thought I'd check out their demo (10 day runnable demo I believe). The things it can create are just amazing. Taking a brief look, it's completely obvious that I would need a ton of spare time (something I don't have) to even begin to fiddle with this thing properly. But what really blew me away was the GUI. It's completely non-standard as compared to any other Windows (or Mac) app I've seen and appears to be almost laughably complex (to a newbie anyway). It took me a good 30 seconds of scanning the screen to figure out how to even open a file! It almost harkens back to old versions of 3DStudio. I'm sure the interface gets the job done properly, but if you're the type of person who thinks that standardized/simplified interfaces are the way of the future, then definitely DON'T check out ZBrush. The zoom menu alone almost gave me motion sickness! :) Here's a screenshot.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Link O Rama

Listening to Steve Gillmor's latest diatribe against linking during the recent Gillmor Gang podcasts (part 1, part 2, part 3), I'm left just scratching my head about exactly what it is he's trying to get across. What I hear back from the other side of the argument is a list of practical, logical reasons why linking is a good thing. As always, I side for practical and logical - such is the nature of an engineer I guess. It appears that Steve thinks that by linking out to someone else (or 'sending them away' as he put it) in fact hurts more than helps your reputation. Here's my take:

1. By linking out to referenced work by others, you can back up the statements you are making. It tells me that you've done at least some homework. It tells me that you may have considered more than one side of the issue. To me, it builds your reputation (provided the links are useful to me).

2. By linking out to other sites with other views on the topic (either competing views or shared views or both) it tells me that you're not afraid to let your argument stand out there to be tested. Again, to me, you're building not diminishing, your reputation.

3. By providing links (good, useful ones) you are providing a practical service to me. You are making it easy for me to follow up on issues that interest me. You could be generating other ideas for me to explore. You're expanding my horizons.

4. If you honestly think that forcing a link to open up a new browser window is good thing you are sorrily mistaken. You should give the readers of your blog a choice. If you don't, you become a pain in the ass and everyone knows a pain in the ass is something users will not (and should not) put up with.

5. Your readers aren't idiots. If they want to explore the links placed in a blog post they'll middle-click the link in Firefox or Opera so it opens up in a new tab. I'm sure IE7 will support similar functionality (I don't use IE6 so I don't know what those users would do). When I read a blog post (in an aggregator or on their site) I routinely middle-click the links that interest me and go read those posts while keeping your site open. This is what you're trying to accomplish Steve, but by not giving me the choice to do it your being a pain in the ass.

6. I could be wrong and maybe you're stating this whole thing just to be a pain in the ass and generate traffic for yourself. But of course the 'page view model is dead' - sharing a grave alongside Office no less... ;)

7. Steve, it actually doesn't really matter what you do on your blog. Your reputation is being carried and built by, and on the podcasting medium anyway.

8. Doc Searls provides a very valuable service to me by providing such good links. Providing good links is key of course. By the way, providing shitty links is probably a faster way of degrading your reputation than not linking at all.

9. On a slightly unrelated note, I'm begging for mercy here. Please someone stop it with the 'o-sphere' references. Blogosphere, podosphere and now linkosphere. Gimme a fucking break-osphere. After a while, the terminology becomes not only annoying but actually starts to diminish the significance of your discussions.

10. And finally, just to piss you off, I'll link to you directly: Steve Gillmor

Monday, May 01, 2006

The little Windows Notepad that Could....

Window's venerable Notepad application is normally the subject of derogatory comments whenever someone critiques Microsoft's OS. But one thing I do like about Notepad is a little known feature that I use quite often for creating log files that track conversations or lists of tasks relating to a specific project: The Log File Trick (there is probably some other more proper name for it, but thats what I call it).

The trick is this:

Step 1: Create a blank text file by right-clicking inside an open folder and selecting New...Text Document.

Step 2: Open that text file and enter the following in the first line of that file: ".LOG"

Step 3: Save the text file.

So where's the magic? Well, if you open up that text file again in Window's Notepad it will automatically add the current date and time to the text file. So each time you save and open the file, it will add another current date and time stamp automatically. This makes it very useful for things like logging phone conversations regarding projects.

There you go, a quick hack for Notepad for those of you who prefer to have many sharp well-defined tools under their belts.