Life at warp speed

June 23, 2007

Whooeee…. It’s been a week (maybe two) this, um, week.

First, the new job. In short, it’s been a great week — busy, lots to learn, meeting new people, some fun (the Summer Pot-luck lunch out in the park) and initial confirmation about the quality of the organization.

And at the end of the week, K and I drove to Kingston for Podcasters Across Borders 2007 — which is where I’m writing this from. It’s great meeting people we’ve listened to and communicated with over the ‘net to share our experiences in podcasting.

More on both Real Soon Now.


Women are from Venus; Men are from Duh.

May 13, 2007

Oops. Mea gobble, mea gobble, mea maxima gobble (to paraphrase from the Latin “mea culpa).

We went to the weekly Saturday morning farmers’ market in town and picked up a bunch of the first “local” asparagus — it was from a farm in South Western Ontario somewhere down near Lake Erie, which isn’t strictly local to where we live, but does fall within (or at least within a country mile or so… :) ) the 100 mile (~160 km) criteria (as in “The Hundred Mile Diet) we’ve been trying to stick to as often as possible when shopping these days.

We also bought some organic shiitake mushrooms from Greenfields Farm, which has a stall at the farmers’ market. For dinner, K combined them into this:

Sauté of local asparagus with organic shiitake mushrooms.

A lovely sauté of the local asparagus, first of the season, with the organic shiitake mushrooms. It was delicious…

Now to the oops part (yes, I know it’s hard for you to believe that I’m not perfect… ;) ) — I was cleaning up in the kitchen (which is my usual role in the process of doing dinner, well, apart from eating it that is) afterwards and eventually got to the pot that K had blanched (or parboiled or something like that…) the asparagus in prior to adding it to the sauté. The water that the asparagus had been cooked in was still in the pot; nothing unusual about that, I thought.

So I emptied the pot down the drain before loading it into the dishwasher.

And a little while later, when K comes into the kitchen after I’m pretty much done cleaning up, she looks at the pot-less stove top and cries out “Where’s my asparagus broth?!?!?“.

She explained that she had planned on using the broth as an ingredient for other dinners later in the week. But she had forgotten to mention this to me, and I didn’t even think about asking whether she wanted to keep the cooking water before I pitched it out.

Well, I really felt bad about it — I’m sure that the broth would have been put to good use in livening up the taste of another dish.

You can be sure, though, that from now on, I’ll be asking before I dispose of just about anything when I’m cleaning up in the kitchen.

And that’s why I’ve concluded that women are from Venus and men are from Duh… :)


The Good, The Bad and The Miscellaneous

May 10, 2007

The Good

Yesterday evening, we (me and my wife, K, that is) were in The Big Smoke for a book launch party that K had been invited to. She’s known Amy, the book’s author (she’s also Editor/Publisher of the on-line knitting magazine knitty.com), for some time so to show support we schlepped into town to help her celebrate.

Book Launch party for “No Sheep For You”

The book’s title, No Sheep For You, alludes to Amy’s allergy to wool and fabrics made from it — as a knitter, this has a somewhat limiting effect… The book is filled with information about substituting alternative fibres in hand knit garments — the characteristics of each type of fibre and the yarns made from them mean that it’s not always a straightforward substitution as adjustments need to be made to accommodate the differences in order to make a satisfactory finished garment.

The book has actually been out for a while now, but Amy wanted to have the launch party outside of Lettuce Knit, a local yarn shop that she frequents and which holds weekly “stitch ‘n bitch” knitting get-togethers. Weather was therefore a determining factor, and it’s finally becoming seasonable enough in these parts that she was able to schedule the party with reasonable confidence that there wouldn’t be snow…

It was a great party, and Amy deserves lots of congratulations (and success) for all her hard work in putting together the book and knitty.com — here’s a picture of the get-together, with arrows to point out K and Amy:

K and Amy at the book launch party

During the party, I did wander off while everyone knitted and chatted, exploring old familiar stomping grounds: Kensington Market, Spadina Ave (including walking by the El Mo, where I had seen George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers perform an amazing set many moons ago), up through the campus of the ol’ Alma Mater and on into Yorkville.

Which leads to…

The Bad

Walking back to Amy’s book launch party from Yorkville, I passed along Cumberland St, where there are a number of chi-chi re$taurant$ and boutique$. Now Cumberland is a no parking zone, but I came across a Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55 AMG folding-roof convertible (I can tell you exactly what kind of car it was because it had the “V8 Kompressor” logo on the side of the front fender — I am an admitted, life-long gear-head, and didn’t need to look at the trunk lid for the model badge to identify it) parked at the curb in front of one of those aforementioned restos. It had a handicapped-parking permit on the dashboard.

Now, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the owner/driver, or perhaps their passenger, were legitimately entitled to be issued the permit by the authorities — but it certainly made me go “hmmm…” and wonder if there had been some monetary influence involved in getting the necessary medical certificate required to obtain said permit.

Then, a short distance down the street: another fancy-schmancy car parked in the no parking zone, also with a handicapped permit. If memory serves me correctly, this one was a Bimmer, a 6-series if I’m not mistaken — I wasn’t paying as much attention at this point (being distracted by my thinking about the possibility that fraudulently obtained permits were being used to abuse a privilege that should be reserved for those who truly need it), so I can’t say with authority whether it was the vanilla version or the M6 überwagen with the V10, or even whether it was a coupé or cabriolet.

So, while it’s possible that both of these were legitimate applications of the handicapped parking privilege, the circumstances — two very expen$ive cars parked in front of expen$ive restos on an up-scale street in a trendy neighbourhood…. well, let’s say that I’m leaning heavily towards believing that everything was not exactly on the up-and-up.

The Miscellaneous

There were a couple of other items from yesterday’s foray into T.O. that were interesting (well, at least to me — Your Mileage May Vary) that I will mention here:

While driving in to the city, we came across a pixelboard displaying the following news item:

Toronto the good?  Guess it depends on what you like…

Which was immediately followed by:

What to do while in town…

An unfortuitous (or perhaps intentional ;) ) — but amusing — juxtaposition…

The other miscellany: while walking along Yorkville Ave, I noted on the hoarding in front of a construction project a sign reading something like “Funding provided by BNP Paribas (Canada)“.

Why did this seemingly mundane sign catch my eye? Well, BNP Paribas is a French bank that I am familiar with from my time living/working in France — but I had no idea that they had a presence in Canada.

Certainly not an earth-shattering observation, just one of those connectedness things that strikes you at odd occasions and in odd places.


Bien élevé

May 8, 2007

For those of you who don’t speak French, this post’s title literally means “well raised” — that you’ve been brought up properly and know how to behave in the company of others; you have social graces and good manners and so on. It’s not a phrase you’re likely to run across in a guide-book, but it gets used all the time in France — as well as the pejorative negative form, “pas bien élevé“. You really don’t want to hear the latter being said in reference to you…

And what does that have to do with what’s on my mind today? Well, if you’ve read one of my responses in the comments, a couple of posts back, where I described my experience with going to a job fair, you’ll have seen me mention that I was contacted by a recruiter about a position she was trying to fill for a client after she had found my résumé on one of the on-line job search sites.

As it turned out, I had already been interviewed for the position (but didn’t get the job), so the effort on her part ended up being in vain. With most recruiters I have been in contact with, things would have ended there — time is money, as they say, and the recruiting business tends to be particularly cut-throat and competitive.

So, with most recruiters, unless they feel you’re an exact fit with a position they are trying to fill they don’t want to bother presenting you to a client — they’re looking for a quick, low-effort slam-dunk placement so they can get on to the next one.

What impressed me about this woman was that she told me to e-mail her a copy of my résumé to have on file in case she came across another suitable position. Well, that’s not the part that impressed me, as I’ve had other recruiters ask me to e-mail a copy of my résumé — and then there’s been absolute radio-silence from them…

For example, another recruiter that I spoke to on the phone told me to e-mail it to her and asked me to follow up by calling her back the next day, which I did. When I called back several times over a few days, she was always either in a meeting or out of the office. I left voicemail, but never heard anything back.  Zip, zilch, nada, bugger all, not a sausage…

What did impress me about this latest recruiter was that I actually got an e-mail back from her — several in fact as we conversed about the circumstances that had transpired when I had been interviewed for the position she was trying to fill. I had explained that after the second face-to-face interview I had not heard anything back from either the company (possibly because they had not been provided with my contact information — this is a fairly common practice with recruiters to prevent them from being cut out of the deal and losing their contingency fee) or the recruiter who had presented me to them.

In response she said that too many agencies seem to “have lost the basic principles of courtesy and mutual respect” and she added that “I hope I never fall prey to this negative trend”. She also said she would be happy to keep me in mind for any suitable position that comes her way and asked me to let her know if I land a position on my own.

That’s when the phrase “bien élevé” popped into my head, and when I wrote back to her I told her that based on our phone conversation I thought it unlikely that she would lose the basics of courtesy and respect; that some things are bred in the bone, and I felt she was “bien élevé“.  I also noted it seems that this is becoming all too common behaviour in just about every facet of life, not just the recruiting business.  Sigh.

Once more, she took time to respond, and thanked me for my kind words, asking me again to keep in touch. I certainly will, as I don’t want to be “pas bien élevé;) .

Now, if you’re either an employer looking to fill a position or a jobseeker and are looking for a recruiter with a difference, if you’re in The GTA you should check out the website of the agency she’s with: Career View Inc.

Their website has contact info (general e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, snail-mail address) for the company, but if you’d like to deal with her specifically let me know by leaving your request in the comments (you’ll be able to provide your e-mail in the comment form, but it won’t be displayed in the blog) and I’ll pass it on to her (as I’m not about to put her e-mail address in this post, opening her up to spammers and other assorted internet trolls and vermin).

Hey, do you think someone “bien élevé” would just give out another person’s e-mail address on-line?


Coal-fired, Steam-powered Social Networking

April 22, 2007

If you read my earlier post Unconventional Nexus, you’ll have seen me mention the old-style BBS run by my friend Don, which I described as “coal-fired, steam-powered social networking” (think of it as “Web 0.0001″).

In that post, I held off revealing the “secret handshake” needed to gain entrance to Sibyl, as the BBS is named (after the oracle Sibyl — as in the prophetess/soothsayer, not the RDBMS software).  Don read the post and left a comment, in which he gave out the “decoder ring” to access Sibyl: telnet://vatic.com:51641 (you’ll find a link under the Friends & Family rubric in the sidebar).

Now, for those of you accustomed to GUI interfaces, be warned: the link above will probably attempt to start up whatever “terminal” program your browser is configured to use by default (on a Windows PC, likely the Hyperterm program; on a Mac, it should run the aptly named Terminal program; Linux and similar OSes, um, well if you’re using these you probably know what I’m talking about…).  As an alternative to clicking the link in a browser, you can just fire up (there’s the coal-fired, steam-powered analogy again) your favourite terminal program and connect to vatic.com on port 51641.

Once connected, you’ll be asked for your name (User ID); this will be where you can register as a user.  Follow the prompts and you should be good to go.

Just don’t expect any fancy graphics, or other amenities — this is a purely character-based system, running on an old but adequate-for-the-task PC from the days when you could actually run things on 640K of memory.

There are lots of old posts in the various sections (each labelled with the name from the Pantheon of Greek gods/goddesses) that you can read; sort of a time capsule from the end of the last millennium.  There are some recent posts too, but truthfully there hasn’t been a lot of traffic since Don resurrected Sibyl; perhaps this post will change that as new members flood in…

So, if you’re interested in seeing How Real Men And Women Computed on one of the few remaining coal-fired, steam-powered social networks still in captivity, just drop by Sibyl and consult with the oracles.


Unconventional Nexus

April 19, 2007

I had a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” sort of moment tonight.

It started with K and I looking at the Canadian Podcast Buffet website, where we saw a couple of new posts: “We’ve been served” and “Cease and desist letter published“.

Now Mark Blevis and Bob Goyetche, the hosts of the Canadian Podcast Buffet podcast, are a couple of pretty decent guys and it would be hard to imagine them doing anything — intentionally, at least — to attract someone’s legal wrath.

So you could have scraped us off the floor, we were so shocked… then, we clicked through the link to Tod Maffin’s “cease and desist letter” that was given in the second post above.

And that’s when I started rolling on the floor laughing my… well, you get the picture, right? As soon as I saw that the “letter” was from the law firm of “Dewey Cheatem and Howe“, well, I knew that it was all a gag — just a little late for April Fool’s Day.

Oh, and the unconventional nexus? That’s what happened when I clicked on the comments for the first post above and discovered one had been left by a certain Sonia Brock.

And I said “Holy crap!”(or something vaguely like that… ;) ) and continued on to say to K, “I wonder if that’s the same Sonia Brock that I know from Don’s Sibyl BBS and EMCC ‘New Years’ get-togethers (the explanation of which I will defer to ynoT, er, I mean Tony B.)?”

Sure enough, it’s her. And she’s podcasting. And she’s listed on the CanadaPodcasts.ca podcast directory, where K has her Purl Diving podcast listed too. Cue up the spooky theme music from The Twilight Zone

Now, I haven’t seen Sonia in quite some time — I haven’t attended any of the EMCC get-togethers for a while, due to a variety of circumstances. I wonder, though, if she might decide to attend Podcasters Across Borders in June, which K and I will be attending.

PAB 2007 Logo

Anyway, it was definitely an unconventional nexus.

BTW the Sibyl BBS is again operating (having been recently resurrected by Don, my old friend and classmate from our days at U of T in Engineering Science), although I won’t divulge the details of how to find it unless Don is interested in opening it up to new members… let’s just say that it’s the coal-fired, steam-powered version of Social Networking circa late last millennium.


WhySpace?

April 15, 2007

So, K, my wife says she doesn’t understand how these on-line social networking sites, like MySpace or FaceBook, could possibly build communities via the web.  She thinks that they’re too large for that to happen effectively; that you can’t get to know anyone well enough because there are too many members.

Now, this all arose because she’s experienced community building on the ‘net through things like discussion groups, forums and mailing lists (the ones she’s been most involved in have been knitting related, but there have been other interest groups where she’s experienced it as well).

Next, she tells me that I know more about all the on-line social networking sites that are a) so popular with a certain set (generally young and middle-to-upper-class suburban types, at least that’s the impression I get); b) talked about seemingly incessantly by the mainstream media and much of the blogging community; and c) vilified by many.

And she says “you should post about it — I would but you know more about these things than I do” (or something to that effect).

Maybe. I’ve posted before about LinkedIn, which is a form of networking but targeted at a different audience — those seeking mainly business or career connections, as opposed to primarily social connections. It does share with places like MySpace a number of characteristics, from what I can see — at least from a purely functional point of view.

From a purely abstract point of view, these are pretty much classical networks or graphs in the mathematical sense: Bunches of nodes with rules about the connections between them. Once you create your own node (profile) in one of these networks, you create a personal network by inviting other nodes to allow you to access their profile and create a two way connection.

This allows you to expand your network by adding their personal network to your graph — and vice versa, as your connections expand their network.

They also allow you to search the whole network for other nodes (profiles) that match specified criteria — perhaps a business opportunity in the case of LinkedIn, or those with the same musical or entertainment interests, for example, in MySpace.

There are inter-node communications methods that preserve the privacy of members, while still allowing you to contact someone that you don’t know personally.

Come to think of it, these share a lot in common with Object Oriented Programming (OOP) principles… not that I’m an expert on OOP, but I’ve been trying to learn Java lately so OOP concepts are very much in the centre of my attention. Maybe I’ll write a Java-based social networking program :D

I suppose that most of the controversy about these networks comes from the one thing that enabling-technologies can’t do much about: human nature.

If history is any indication, there have always been and likely always will be people who are manipulative and predatory — for financial or psychological gain. Before on-line networking, social or otherwise, their sphere of influence would be relatively limited; now, technology allows them to prey on a vastly larger network of people.

OK, I’ve digressed a little bit from the original thought…  which was how can you get to know people well enough to really form a community when the network grows to the size of something like MySpace?

And I suspect the answer is: you don’t.  What you get isn’t really community, but that’s a reflection on the overall loss of community in society.  Well, at least in much of North American society.

For example, sound-bites and pre-digested thoughts seem to have become the preferred way of taking in the news, rather than having to take the time to absorb information and reflect on it before forming your own opinion.

Which makes it easy to talk about the latest events, or the new hit TV show, or sporting event, over the watercooler at work.  It’s safe: opinions become homogenized and no one needs to get very involved in discussion.  The community equivalent of fast-food, I guess.

So what do I make of all this? She’s probably right.  On-line social networking doesn’t lend itself to building real community; but it does produce what passes for community these days, and that’s perhaps the bigger issue.


LinkedIn: (Non)Social Networking for Grownups

April 10, 2007

You may be aware of LinkedIn, or perhaps not.  It’s an on-line networking site, but not of the MySpace or YouTube “social networking” variety.  It’s for professional networking, and you need to receive an invitation to join from someone who’s already registered with LinkedIn (thinks: so, just who did they seed the network with in the first place?).

I’m on LinkedIn, having received an invitation to join from my brother-in-law (thanks, Larry!) to help me network for my job search.

Now, I’m still debating how useful or effective LinkedIn is; some days I’m not sure that networking is as effective as the outplacement consultants say it is.  But that’s a piece of conventional wisdom to be dealt with another day, I think…

Perhaps one of the biggest problems I find with LinkedIn in particular is that it is not, for me at least, at all obvious what to do once you get past the initial registration setup in order to become 100% networked:

LinkedIn network progress bar

Now, I’ve been told by enough different people over the years what a clever lad I am for it to not be just good manners on their part, so I really ought to be able to suss out how one is supposed to set things up and what to do in order to complete my network.  But I find working with LinkedIn’s user interface to be less than intuitive — oh, the overall design is fine, visually, and things pretty much function, as in when you fill in a field and click a button it goes away and it updates things properly.

What I find missing is some kind of “executive summary” of the whole process.  I expect that the people who came up with the idea and designed the site probably understand it all very clearly.

But as I’ve often encountered in my career, knowing a subject extremely well often does not correlate to being able to make others understand it — the ability to do so is a gift, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some gifted teachers along the way.

On the flip side, I’ve also spent plenty of time in “brilliant person who can’t understand why everyone else just doesn’t get it the way they do” purgatory…  I’m sure some of my classmates (who, if I’m to believe LinkedIn, are just waiting for me to connect with them) from engineering school will recognize a professor or two in this description.

So, where’s this all going?  Ah, well, I have managed to finally figure LinkedIn out a bit; they have some FAQs and so on that have been of some help (though I still can’t seem to find a nice, tight summary of The Grand Scheme of Things LinkedIn), but mainly I’ve just started inviting a bunch of people who may have enough connections of their own to fill out my network.

Despite my occasional doubts about the power of networking in job searching, I’m also not going to ignore the possibility that it might just give me the one connection that clicks.

To that end, I’ve included a link to my Public Profile on LinkedIn over in the blog’s sidebar.  Note that to see more than the basics of my profile, you’ll need to sign-in to LinkedIn — you are already registered with them, aren’t you?


Docudrama or Everyday Heroes Redux

April 7, 2007

Shoot.

Turns out the YouTube video I mentioned a couple of days ago, that I found via Bob Goyetche’s blog and The CatFish Show, was a hoax according to a CBC report on it.

However, according to the CBC item, the two men (Claude Landry and Martin Thibaudeau) responsible for the video:

…admitted Thursday they planned the whole thing to recreate an experience Landry had 15 years ago…

OK, so that means it’s not a hoax, it’s a docudrama!

And look at it in the perspective of technology: fifteen years ago, there were no cell phones with video cameras to record everyday moments and there was nothing like YouTube for sharing those videos; now, it hardly takes longer than 15 minutes for something to happen, hit the net, create a media storm and then become like, so yesterday already.

So, if the everyday hero originally acted at a time when only the people within arm’s length knew about it, does recreating and distributing it with today’s technology diminish the relevancy of the act?

I don’t really think it’s up to me to judge… but maybe if it inspires someone to be a little more socially responsible (or deters someone from being socially irresponsible), well, is that such a bad thing?


Everyday heroes

April 5, 2007

Now, I’m still undecided on whether or not some of the current Social Networking schemes are A Good Thing or not (I’m not even sure yet that I’m all that comfortable blogging…), but sometimes the power and immediacy of the technology that empowers these networks is undeniable.

What’s got me on to this tangent is a video on YouTube, one of those aforementioned social networking thingies, that shows off an everyday hero: someone who, quite literally, takes matters into hand to… well, watch the video — I’ve linked to the post on Bob Goyetche’s blog where I watched the video (I had, in turn, found the link to Bob’s post from the CatFish Show podcast’s blog — see over in the sidebar for a link; it’s well worth a listen).

The events unrolled in Montréal, in Québec where Bob lives, so the people in the video are speaking French — not a problem for me (après 4 ans de séjour en France, je suis bilingue, ou presque…) but even if you don’t understand French, the actions speak for themselves…

So, whatever you feel about the Social Networking trend — YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, Second Life and so on — maybe if it helps, even in a small way, to encourage Everyday Heroes to set a few small things right, they’re Not Such A Bad Thing After All.


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