Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dell's Hoilday Frenzy Spell

My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. --- A. A. Milne
I've heard of a "holiday" but a "hoilday"? There must really be a frenzy at dell.ca :)
When our spelling is perfect, it's invisible. But when it's flawed, it prompts strong negative associations. --- Marilyn vos Savant
Nobody's perfect, you say? True, that's why there's spell checking and proof reading.
I don't see any use in having a uniform and arbitrary way of spelling words. We might as well make all clothes alike and cook all dishes alike. Sameness is tiresome; variety is pleasing. --- Mark Twain

Friday, June 22, 2007

Facebook Without Friends

If I don't see a ribbon round the old oak tree
I'll stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me.
--- Tony Orlando, Tie A Yellow Ribbon
(Yeah, I know. I can't believe I quoted Tony Orlando either.)
Social networking is becoming increasingly popular. According to Fortune (June 11, 2007), Facebook has 24 million members and is adding 150,000 a day. Microsoft is guaranteeing to pay them a minimum of $100 million a year until 2011 in advertising revenue.

With all this going on, I joined last week. Facebook checked my address book (with my permission) and found all my contacts who were already members. All one of them.

This morning, my network doubled to two as a friend contacted me.

This afternoon, my first contact left Facebook, saying the experience is overwhelming. I'll ask him why. I'm guessing it's because he knows so many people on it. I've had a 50% drop in contacts.

Ten faces melt away until there's only one
And someone murmurs now, you must decide
--- Rupert Hine, Eleven Faces
So is Facebook of much use? It's hard to say without more contacts. I've looked up classmates from university and high school. None. I checked my contacts again and send out messages to a few friends who may be on Facebook or who may be willing to join. Out of 24 million users, there's got to be more than one who'll connect to me. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Weird Dreams

You asked me what's my pleasure
A movie or a measure?
I'll have a cup of tea
and tell you of my dreaming
--- Blondie, Dreaming

I don't usually dream. Or to be more precise, I don't usually remember my dreams. This time I did and took notes before I forgot.

Sink Colour
We were changing the colour of our kitchen sink. We had a choice of 16 colours but had to decide today. There's no one home and I'm not good at picking. I choose yellow.

U2 Live
U2 is playing a free concert after a hockey game just a 10 minute walk from home. My son and I want to see them but not the game. Do we go for the game to get better seats? Since the concert is secret, we don't need to worry about crowds ... or do we? We go early but there are so few people there. We could go home and come back. So many questions.

That's when I woke up.

Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
--- Edgar Allan Poe

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Chest at World's End

Pirates was easy because Disney wanted me to do it because it's a theme, it's a park ride, so they wanted to capitalize on the synergy of a big movie being out there and promoting their parks.
--- Jerry Bruckheimer, producer

A movie based on a lame Disney ride? You're kidding, right? That's what I thought back in 2003 about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Sure it had Johnny Depp (though without Director Tim Burton), Keira Knightley and Legolas from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But the title was too long. How could the movie be any good?

I was wrong. The movie was great entertainment. Others thought so too. Sadly, a franchise was born.

Last year, came the sequel Dead Man's Chest. Now, At World's End. Each of these movies is less entertaining than the one before it. A downward spiral. And there be even more. Since the film's are making lots of money, at least Disney shareholders can rejoice.

My consolation is that Disney's theory if-it's-an-attraction-it-must-make-a-good-film flopped with The Haunted Mansion, starring Eddie Murphy and also released in 2003.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Aerial Helicopter Attack Over our Home

She a laughing giggly whirlybird
She got to be obscene to be obheard

I really think its about time that she came down
--- XTC, Helicopter

At 6:09 a.m., a helicopter flew 15-30 metres above our trees spraying noxious chemicals. We're in a war. We stayed inside with our windows closed. The enemy is the Gypsy Moth, which invaded Toronto 20 years ago. Our neighbourhood is a battleground.

Once the Gypsy Moth is widespread and established in an area, they are impossible to remove. So drastic action is needed. Luckily, the City of Toronto has been following the advances of this predator and retaliating with aerial sprays, ground sprays and manual removal of eggs.

The Prize
We have a Linden tree, which is a favourite of the Gyspy Moth. We haven't seen caterpillars crawling over it, but they might be there.

The Helicopter
The aerial spraying is surprisingly sophisticated. The twin-engine helicopter uses an ultra low volume spraying system. Spray boundaries have been set in the helicopter's GPS. So the flight path follows the areas to be sprayed.

Another spray day is planned, as the chemicals used lose potency within a few days and with exposure to UV.

The Planning
Considerable planning has taken place. Hats off to the city. It's good to know that the
city has been attentive to the Gypsy Moth problems. They provided a nice detailed glossy booklet which answers more questions than we had. There are phone numbers for additional information and a website www.toronto.ca/trees.

Noxious Chemicals
The chemical used (Btk) is made from a bacterium that occurs naturally on dead/decaying matter in the soil. It should be safe for us, the water supply and our garden. Even so, we're not planting our vegetables just yet.

The thought of hordes of caterpillars crawling hither and tither is not pleasant. Let's hope the battle is over.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Spider-Man 3 and Making Money From Your Blog

(Minor spoiler alert: references to some minor events in Spider-Man 3)
Watching Spider-Man 3 today got me thinking. Yes, there's more story than needed, but not too much to cause confusion. It's worth watching.

Peter Parker has such appeal because he's so real. You can relate to his problems. He faces many hurdles in class, such as being bothered in class by spit balls and having light reflected into his face. He wants to buy Mary-Jane Watson an engagement ring but doesn't have the money. He rides an old scooter. He lives in a dumpy apartment. He can't even afford a telephone. Luckily there's a payphone in the hall.

The Money
But he's Spider-Man too --- or should that be "3" ;). New Yorkers love him. He's not unsung, but he's unpaid. He could certainly use money but he doesn't ask. If he were offered money, would he take it?

Is money fairly distributed? According to Business 2.0, the first two Spider-Man movies grossed $1.6 billion US. Marvel comics received about $75 million in licensing fees. Their cut of DVD sales is less than 1%. Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-Man, earned $4 million for #1, $16 million for #2 and #3. The studio, Sony, makes most of the money. But they take most of the risk too.

Connection With Blogs
Recently, I've read several blogs whose owners are looking for ways to make money. That's fine, but that's not what Spider-Man would do. He'd do what's right regardless of the payoff. Even when wearing the black suit.

So maybe bloggers need to write about what they know and like, measure results and then finetune. This way they're true to themselves, like Spider-Man. Maybe Peter Parker should start blogging and selling his photos online. That's using spidey-sense.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tired of Waking Up Tired

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep
--- Edgar Allan Poe,
A Dream within a Dream


Time keeps slipping away. We could do so much more if we could discipline ourselves better. We could improve our well-being physically, emotionally, financially. Where to start?

I don't get enough sleep. Put another way, I'm great at staying up late. Or rather my brain is and it drags my body along. There are so many things to do. Blogging is one. A few more minutes, a few more minutes, a few more minutes. Pretty soon the minutes turn into hours.

The morning alarm clock makes no adjustments for the shorter sleep time. The body tries, but soon starts rebelling. Yesterday was such a day. After dinner, I had to snooze. I woke up refreshed and wasn't feeling tired at at 11 p.m. or midnight or even later.

Guess what happened? The cycle repeats.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hurray for Spelling Errs Onlyne


And now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know faults with in my cite.
Of none eye am a wear.
--- author unknown

Do you spell as well as you think?

Sadly, I don't. I just didn't know. I was getting help from Microsoft Office, which works very well. Some errors are corrected automatically. Suspicious words are underlined with a red squiggly line.

Recently, I've started doing more work online through my browser (e.g., blogging). Without my invisible net, I'm amazed at how many mistakes I make. It's much like me thinking I can brave the elements when it's really because I'm driving. Aren't we great at fooling ourselves?

Lean On FireFox
Thankfully, using FireFox 2 as your web browser will solve most of your problems. There is a fairly good spelling checker included. Errors are underlined with a discreet red dotted line. Unfortunately, there's no grammar checking. I'm finding I'm not as good with that as I thought :(

So Why Are There Errors At All?
Errors on websites of websites of major companies are hard to explain. Look at "Businees" on Dell Canada's website. That's rather obvious, but obviously not.

If multibillion dollar (or even multimillion dollar) companies make blatant mistakes despite all their resources, think of what that means. We can do better than them. That's empowering.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stale Choices and Lousy Service

They don't do no good
They never be workin'
When they oughta should
They waste your time
They're wastin' mine
California's got the most of them
Boy, they got a host of them
--- Frank Zappa (Flakes from Sheik Yerbouti, 1979)
Shopping isn't easy. I'm looking for a new computer and am having trouble deciding. Last time, I opted for portability with a 4 pound notebook with a 12" screen. This time, I'm looking for a desktop replacement. That means a larger screen and a powerful video card. There's only so much you can research online. So I visited retailers.

Office Depot
There were several choices. I quickly saw that HP has notebooks that look sleek and slim in black. I couldn't figure out the prices, though. The tags above and below didn't match the machines. Also, the equipment was months old and relatively slow. There was no one there to answer questions, which was fine because I didn't have any.

Dell Kiosk
This is where I got my last notebook. While waiting for one of the two sales reps to become free, I looked at the machines. I was surprised. The 17" unit looked bulky and had been discontinued months ago. Only one notebook had the new Windows Vista, which Dell recommends. I got tired of waiting and left.

Best Buy
There were so many choices here. Maybe two dozen. Two reps were standing around but couldn't be bothered to help. So I went to one and said I was interested in a 15"-17" notebook with a discrete video card. He said there were only two, showed me --- both were off --- and left! Just as well. He was clueless. Most notebooks costing $1,500 or more have the video performance I wanted. I saw several computers there that fit my criteria. Again, these machines were relatively expensive for what they offered. I left.

Future Shop
There weren't many choices, which made looking easier. No one was available to help either. The white Sony notebook looked cheap and had a soft scratch prone cover. Toshiba was decent, but they took shortcuts by making their keyboards bilingual. Having red French lettering added clutter. Manufacturers usually make language-specific computers. So does Toshiba with their pricey Qosimo and business lines.

Onward to the last stop.

Staples
The reps at Staples are usually responsive but the three I saw were more interested in talking to one another than helping customers. It didn't matter. The selection was limited and stale.

Conclusions
I've had good service at most of these stores before. But not this time. There are challenges in providing a consistent high quality experience

As far as a notebook, HP looks nicest and Dell offer the most performance. I couldn't decide on style vs substance. Intel is launching the new Centrino Pro, possibly in early May. Maybe that's why most of the computers on display look old. I guess I'll wait and make another round of visits :(

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Comparing Factory Tours for GM, Ford and Toyota

The machine of a dream
Such a clean machine
With the pistons a pumpin'
And the hub caps all gleam
--- Queen (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
Vehicle factory tours make an interesting outing. We've visited:
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky: Chevrolet Corvette
  • Dearborn, Michigan: Ford F-Series trucks
  • Cambridge, Ontario: Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350
The Corvette Tour [July 2003]
Isn't the Corvette America's sports car? They are made exclusively here. The Corvette tour is the most interactive, emotional and personal. Aficionados connect with a Corvette in a way that a Corolla can't inspire. Some visitors arrived in Corvettes and most probably wanted one.

Corvette uses the fewest robots, which means you get to see humans at work. One car takes 35-40 hours to make. That's about 35,000 cars per year.

Unfortunately, quality suffers. About 5% of the vehicles have defects. We saw a car into which water leaked during the "car wash". Since each vehicle is made for a specific customer, this is especially disappointing. At Toyota, there are virtually no defects.

The tour guides were volunteers. The highlight is when the fiberglass body is attached to the rest of the vehicle. Workers smile and wave. Two lucky children were able to sit in a nearly finished Corvette. We were given key rings as souvenirs.

Our trip ended up in a hospital getting treated for food poisoning by a doctor wearing sandals. That's a tale for another time.

The F-150 Tour [Mar 2006]
In the US, trucks rules. The F-Series has been the best selling vehicle in the US for the last 24 years. In 2006, sales were 796,039 compared 448, 445 for the best selling car, the Camry. Dearborn is where the F-Series is made. This is Ford's largest, employing 100,000 in the 1930s, down to 6,000 now.

This tour is at your own pace. You watch from a floor above the factory floor. You're limited in what you see. Only 30% of the visitors parked near us drove Fords, and very few had pickup trucks.

The Toyota Tour [Mar 2007]
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) makes the Corolla, Matrix and Lexus RX350 in Cambridge, an hour west of Toronto. The Woodstock plant opening in 2008 will be called TMMC West and make the RAV4.

Previously, the Toyota tour was restricted to groups. Now families can attend. Only 30% of visitors arrived in Toyotas.

What can you say about Toyota?
  • the pioneers in Just In Time manufacturing
  • believers in continuous improvement ("kaizen")? Last year, factory workers (called "Team Members") made 10,000 suggestions and 95% were implemented.
  • workers can --- and are expected to --- stop the line is any defects are found
The plant covers 3 million square feet and cost $3 billion. There's considerable automation. Robots make about 83% of a Corolla (best selling car of all time) or Matrix, and about 94% of a RX350. There's still plenty for humans to do. There are usually 4,200 - 4,400 workers but there are currently 5,000 because of training for the upcoming Woodstock plant. Over 300,000 vehicles are made here each year --- 1,100 - 1,400 per day (including 300 Lexuses). One vehicle takes 18-21 hours to make. That's about twice as fast as a Corvette. One vehicle comes off the assembly line each minute.

In comparison, this factory showed the best teamwork and won the most awards. Maybe that's why this is the only Lexus plant outside of Japan.

See For Yourself
If you take a factory tour, please share your experiences.

Links

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Fall of the Internet

Passing through a computer section at a big box retailer, I overheard a startling conversation. Apparently there's a closely guarded secret about the Internet. There are only 8 web servers in the world and that hackers are close to bringing them down. The result would be world chaos!

I'm glad if a sales associate knows the difference between WXGA screen resolution and WXGA+. Here, the fellow knew secrets that could affect the whole world and was taking company time to warn customers.

Thought you should know, constant readers :)
Conspiracy Theories
Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
How do you prove a misguided belief wrong? Any facts you present will be derided as false. I walked away.

There probably are some vulnerabilities. For example, it takes 24 hours for a new domain name to start working. If that process were disrupted, then there could be problems. But there must be backups. Right?

Maybe the information came from the most credible source like a blog. Maybe it's true.

Regardless, I thought it best to post. While I still can :)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Fighting Lame Cover Letters

Peter McGarvey blogs about the lameness of his cover letters. And he's a communication expert. Here's my perspective...

Do resumes and cover letters stand out anymore? Perhaps there is a way to create something different. How about a website with examples of your work? More detail would be a click away. You could show the URL in your emails etc.

To start, you can register your name as a domain name. I'm working along these lines. I just registered promodsharma.com for $4.95 US at netfirms.com. For .ca, consider domainsatcost.ca ($12.95). I've used both. While it's easy to get a .ca (if you're Canadian), you'll spend more and lose out on the cachet of a .com.

For a twist, you could link an attribute to your name (eg, peterserves.com). I was considering promodcares.com but decided to follow the FirstnameLastname.com convention.

The next step is to create a website. Because of my interest in "open source communication", I'm using a free wiki at wikidot.com. I'll have links to my blogs, relevant websites, samples of my work, and even a photo or two. I can add more over time. The site could become a book length biography, over the years. That could be interesting (at least to me)

While I'm not looking for a job, I do want to give the people I meet (consumers, financial advisors) an option to find out more about me. Like you, I don't like tooting my horn, but if you don't promote yourself, who will? So why not offer one place in the world that's all about you?

You could even sell t-shirts!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blogging Without An Audience

Why bother blogging unless you've got oodles of readers? Seth Godin raises this interesting point in If no one reads your post, does it exist? but he doesn't have this problem.

Write and readers will eventually come later. Maybe years later. Won't it be interesting to see your history? Won't you find your history interesting too?

Writing is a form of thinking. Editing is a form of refining your thinking. So you benefit when you write even if no one reads. I've mentioned my Spark Insight blog to several people but even my family doesn't read regularly. Maybe that's good because they think I'm working when I'm actually posting :)

The beauty of blogging is the simplicity. It's not like writing a book where the task looks so daunting that you don't start. That's why I haven't written The Great Novel yet :)

I just started blogging a few weeks ago. I felt quite vulnerable after the first posts. I was afraid to invite readers, especially business colleagues. What if they don't like me? I got over that quickly by setting up two other blogs. I've now got
  • Spark Insight for personal topics
  • Riscario to help consumers reduce their financial risks (public service)
  • Insellia to help insurance specialists sell (work-related)
I'm experimenting with techniques to boost readership (eg email updates through Zookoda). Even 10 readers would be an improvement. Then 25, 50, 100, ...

When the readers show up, there will be stuff to read. So right now, I'm honing my skills and creating content. Maybe I'll write a book like Big Is The New Small consisting solely of old blog posts :)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Unsecret

If everyone knows a secret, is it still a secret?

Have you seen or read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne? She discovered a secret in late 2004 and wants to share it with the world. And make a few dollars.
We already know the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42 from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe. However, that answer isn't very useful (especially when you learn the underlying question).

This secret which has been kept from us is The Law of Attraction, which says we get what we ask for. You may have heard it in different forms:
  • ask and you shall receive
  • be careful what you ask for; you may get it
  • your wish is my command (Aladdin)
  • whether you think you can or can't, you're right
  • positive mental attitude
  • what you conceive and believe you can achieve

I first heard of The Law of Attraction in 1993 from Brian Tracy in his course Achieving Personal Excellence. Prior to that, I knew of it subconsciously. My life has been filled with things that turned out to be good --- even if they felt bad at the time.

It takes time to accept The Law of Attraction and the related Law of Abundance (opposite to the scarcity mentality). What's the harm in believing that expecting good creates good? We focus on the outcome we want and leave the process of getting there to our subconscious mind. Even a placebo works.

Marketing The Secret

So The Secret isn't really telling us anything new. Except about the power of marketing. Here's what's available

  • extended edition DVD ($30 US), option to view online ($5 US)
  • book
  • online store with "some of the greatest teaching tools and materials on the planet today"
  • newsletter

So you get a chance to keep shelling out money. The teachers in the video each have their own businesses. They were kind enough to "handpick one or two of their best learning materials tools that will guide you in living life to the absolute fullest." So you can buy from them too.

The title is on the lame side. Try a googling "the secret" and see what you find. Visit the website http://www.thesecret.tv/ and you'll soon be nauseated. You can create your own Secret Membership to become a Secret Member with your own Top Secret Password. There's also a fee-based Abundant membership but you can't easily find the pricing.

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill writes that his book contains a secret which we must discover for ourselves. By thinking. Not by buying.

Summary

The Secret video is worth watching, even if you're familiar with The Law of Attraction. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

AIDA And The Economist

Was AIDA AIDS deceptive? That post described the Attention - Interest - Desire - Action sequence. Look at what The Economist did in their Feb 8, 2007 issue. The heading looks like this:

Pensions for musicians
When they're 64
What do musicians do when they rock towards retirement?

There was photo of Keith Richards above the fold in his wrinkly splendour singing and playing guitar.
Watch for Richards as Johnny Depp's dad in
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End, sailing May 25th. What excellent casting.


So what's the article about? The Stones receiving government pensions? Not close. The topic is poor musicians in Texas lacking health care and pensions. Tell me something I couldn't have guessed. There are lots of Americans in that situation. Don't worry because "... there are always benefit concerts for the truly destitute". Be happy.

Listen class. This article did capture Attention but then fell flat and caused resentment because of the
  • misleading photo
  • lack of meaningful content

The burning question remains unanswered. Will The Stones have enough to retire? Or will they be forced to tour again?

Monday, February 12, 2007

AIDA AIDS

AIDA aids by making your communications stronger. It's an acronym for
  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

I learned of AIDA years ago from Brian Tracy and thought he was the originator (perhaps in 21 Ways To Become A Sales Superstar). I promptly forgot. Maybe AIDA influenced me subconsciously. I stumbled upon AIDA earlier today. The intended use seems to be writing advertising copy but AIDA is also useful for emails, blogging, selling, and conversations. Here's how it works.

Attention

Attract the reader with your headline. For example, I used AIDA AIDS to intrigue you. There's an element of deceit. Both words look similar but AIDS is the one that probably caught your attention because of the disease. Which this post isn't about. A more honest title is AIDA Aids, but that's less captivating. To keep from crying "bait & switch", I explain the title in the first sentence. Do you forgive me?

Interest

Once the headline grabs you, it's time for the content to keep your interest. Showing benefits (not features, right?) is probably the best technique. How about describing the success others have had using AIDA?

Desire

Now it's time to encourage you to want to do something. For example, using AIDA increases your success by encouraging clients/prospects/readers/teacher to rebuy/buy/read/grade.

Action

Finally, it's time to encourage you to act. Create a sense of urgency and make it easy to back out. For example, try AIDA for the next week. If it doesn't help you, then stop using it. And risk losing out to others who master the techniques.

Reality Check: Chances are that you implicitly use techniques like AIDA. Maybe you can use them better. I focus on tuning in to your favourite radio station, WII FM (What's In It For Me?)

What techniques work for you?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Free Diamonds

I accompanied my son to our branch of the Toronto Public Library so he could do research on conflict diamonds. His interest was spurred by the movie Blood Diamond. Library visits are rare because Jeevan does most of his research online, despite our attempts to get him to use actual books.

Blood Diamond (2006) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly is well worth watching. Both the story and acting are compelling. This may be DiCaprio's finest role --- and his accent is convincing

A librarian took us to the only book in the branch on the topic. So much for multiple sources of information :( We were in for a surprise, though. We learned of free diamonds waiting for the taking.

Back in my school days, research meant going to the library and thumbing through the card catalog. In invariably, the book you wanted would be out and not available until after the due date of your project. That made encyclopedias invaluable because as reference items they could not be removed from the library.

It hadn't occurred to me that the Toronto Public Library provides access to vast online resources such as

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, Grolier, the Canadian Encyclopedia
  • full text articles from the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and numerous other newspapers nationally and internationally
  • transcripts of CBC and CTV national newscasts
  • hundreds of full text magazines

You can email the articles to yourself for future use. Much of this material is also available through http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/. Naturally, access is limited to those with library cards. Other cities may have similar online resources.

While waiting for Jeevan, I did my own searching on an area of particular interest: is life insurance is an excellent vehicle for personal and corporate tax planning? The answer is yes. More on that later.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Windshield Washer Fluid at an Unbelievable Price!

You save money at Costco by buying in bulk. Here's an example.
Costco.ca has Laurentide Windshield Washer Fluid good to -40C for $12,449.99. Correct ---- less than $12,500. Naturally, delivery is included. You don't see prices like this every day.

That's only $2.30 per 4-litre jug and you get 5,408 jugs.

Windshield Wash Fuid has so many uses
  • cleaning windows: a low cost alternative to Windex
  • gifts: 4 jugs in a box makes gift wrapping a breeze
  • exercise: a jug weighs about 4 kg
  • traction: put jugs in the trunk of your real-wheel drive car
  • de-icing: BMW recommends de-icer instead of a scraper to clean ice and snow off car windows, but have you seen their prices?
  • hiding yellow snow: add blue and see a nice colour that'll make your pet the envy of the neighbourhood

What other uses come to your mind? Add them as comments to this post. But first place your order. Here's the link.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

2007 Science Fair

What are grade 6-8 science students researching these days? I visited the annual Science Fair at my son Jeevan's school to find out. I was quite impressed. There were several themes
  • effect of soft drinks on teeth and with caffeine
  • batteries powered by lemons
  • strength of bridges
  • effect of video games
  • safety and taste of food
  • the environment

There was evidence of parental help. One honest soul thanked mom for typing, dad for graphing and grandma for the computer. As you might have guessed, there were many photos and most of the words were computer-generated. Remember when printing meant putting a pencil/pen/marker in your hand and touching the paper?

Here are some unexpected findings

  • larger parachutes work better
  • bleach cleans better than water
  • more expensive popcorn pops better

So if you manufacture popcorn, don't worry about moisture content. Instead, increase your prices to improve your product and profits :)

Presentation Quality

Most presentations were hard to read. Too many words in tiny fonts. What works well in a written report doesn't capture the imagination on bristol board. Far-too-often, adults use PowerPoint to create presentations that are complex, lengthy and unmemorable.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." --- Albert Einstein

But simplification takes more time and more thinking.

Flashback to Grade 3

I entered my first science fair in Grade 3 with a car I made out of Meccano. That's all I had. No display. Not a single written word. Just a car. Most visitors walked by me bemused. One adult asked me how the car moved. You push it, I said. I let him try. I got a certificate for attending.

The next year, I collaborated with my friend Jeff. Our topic was Mars. The highlight was a model of the planet and its moons, Phobos and Deimos: several not-to-scale balls hanging in cardboard box painted black. We got got Honourable Mentions. And a complaint from cute classmate Christine because we made her sister cry. Not intentionally, mind you. Her sister also did a project on Mars but it wasn't as good because she worked alone and was in grade 2.

My last science fair was in Grade 13. I still have the Fourier Series Synthesizer I built, but no oscilliscope to test that it still works. Computers have made it obsolete. Fourier's theory was that any wave was composed of sine waves at different frequencies and amplitudes. To learn more, visit the Wikipedia and shudder.

It's great to see young minds at work.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Shovelling in the Dark

My neighours are retired, healthy and active. That's great. They shovel their driveways. That's not so great. I got a snowblower last year but am embarassed to use it. So why did I get it? To save time. I need to get to places on time. Overnight snow can hinder those plans. Hence the machine.

Last winter, I used the snow blower three times. I only really needed it twice. Don't embarass me by asking the cost per use. I didn't heed the end-of-season warning to use up all the fuel in the tank. The fuel got stale and the machine didn't start. Naturally, I didn't bother to check if it worked at the beginning of winter. Why prepare?

It's quite embarassing to have a broken snowblower. Neighbours snicker as you use a shovel just like them. They smirk as you take your machine for repairs. They watch from their living rooms as you bring it back. At least that's how it feels. (Blogging is another form of exposing yourself to scrutiny.)

By the time I got home yesterday, several centimeters of snow covered our driveway and there was some drifting. Enough to use the snow blower without embarassment. Even so, I waited for the after-dinner dark. No neighbours were outside. Perfect.

I primed the engine, opened the choke (or closed it?), turned the ignition key and pressed the button for the electric starter. Presto. The snow blower started, spewing smelly, grey fumes. I plowed a quarter of the driveway when the engine stalled. Out of fuel? Yep. If anyone was chuckling, I couldn't hear them through my hat. I added more fuel, which I had the foresight to buy two weeks earlier. I used the manual starter for the first time and continued clearing the snow.

The wind chill made the temperature feel like -25C. When I finished, my fingers were tingling and my nose dripping. I now realized why my neighbours were inside enjoying free entertainment and stirring their steaming apple cider with a stick of cinnamon.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

What rhymes with 'Promod'?

Weird names may be easier to remember because they're unusual (Moon Unit Zappa), but they can be easily mispronounced. For example, I thought 'Shania' was "SHAN-ee-ah", not "Sha-NI-ya".

How would you pronounce 'Promod'? The usual guesses are "PRO-mod" or "pro-MOD" or "PROME-odd". The right way is "pro-MODE". You might have guessed that if there were an 'e' at the end, but there isn't.

So what can I do? I've said, "It's Promod, like promote". That gives positive connotations but I'd rather have something that rhymes. I couldn't think of anything until yesterday: commode. Unfortunately that's a synonym for toilet :(

I couldn't think of other rhymes ... so I googled and found RhymeZone.com, which gave many suggestions, including:
  • decode
  • encode
  • explode
  • implode
  • reload
  • source code
  • unload
  • zip code
These rhymes are "obvious" now, that I've seen them. The complete list includes the 8 syllable South American poison toad. No thanks!

Measure twice

Measure twice and cut once. That's sage advice when working with physical material. The same adage need not apply online.

I'm looking for a site which allows all of the following:
  • blogging (like here :)
  • file posting
  • wiki (so others can contribute)
  • option to turn off advertising for a fee (like wikispaces.com)
  • option for password access (like PBwiki.com or netcipia.net)
  • "unlimited" space (more than the measly 10 MB available at PBwiki.com)
  • ease of use (like insight.wetpaint.com)
These capabilities are certainly available. But not in one spot. I thought the solution was Netcipia and started up insight.netcipia.net, but they aren't reliable at this time. They don't even have an option to backup your site right now. That's scary. I can't build a blog on a site that may not last.

So I'm relegated to using different services until I find what I'm looking for. I'd rather not host my own site, because of the hassles on maintenance.

I'm a big fan of Google. So I figure that by blogging here, I'll at least have some assurance that this service will remain in service :)