Headlines that make you wince…

September 19, 2007

… and cross your legs.

Well, if you’re a guy, anyway.  Saw this headline on the BBC News website’s RSS feed today: “Testicle stem cell harvest plan”.

Apparently they’ve found in research on mice (very, very, very unhappy mice I’ll wager…) that they can get stem cells from testicles, which then ‘do not need to be genetically “tweaked” to behave more like embryonic stem cells, unlike other “adult stem cells” found elsewhere in the body‘.

The article ends with a quote from stem cell researcher Professor Colin McGuckin:

At present, there is an awful lot of interest in this from veterinary circles as a source of stem cells for animal use.

I can see more problems getting humans to agree to have this done, as it would be a very painful procedure to have them extracted.

And the Nobel Prize for understatement goes to…


Oops! She did it again…

September 18, 2007

Launched a podcast, that is.

K, my wife, has created another podcast to add to the first two (Cinéfolle, her movie-ish podcast, and Purl Diving, her “knitter’s pillow-book” podcast). The new one is a music podcast, essentially playlists assembled from the podsafe music she’s not found a place for in the other podcasts.

For Cinéfolle and Purl Diving, she takes great pains to select pieces of music that go with the theme of each episode, and in the process listens to and rejects a lot of music before finding Just Exactly The Right Piece Of Music to match. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the ones that don’t get used, but she usually only uses one or two per episode which means they don’t get used up very quickly.

Hence the new podcast. She’s aiming for about 30 minutes of music (mainly, with a little bit of chat as well as the attributions required to comply with the terms of the podsafe music’s license) which will help use up the excess inventory of podsafe music piling up in our iTunes warehouse.

As well, K is doing a lot more of the techie type stuff on this one — for the first episode I largely just guided her through the editing and mixing process in Audacity, rather than doing the post-production myself. I still do most of the gnarly under-the-hood stuff such as getting the ID3 tags all set up on the MP3 file, uploading it to the Internet Archive where the files are hosted and so on.

So, you say, what’s it called? Well, K was struggling to come up with a suitable name for it — everything she even remotely liked was either already being used for a blog or podcast, or the domain name had already been registered. Stumped, she asked me to describe her musical taste in two words, to which I replied “Funky and eclectic!” — so, without further ado I would like to introduce you to the Funky Eclectic podcast.

Funky Eclectic banner

You’ll find an “About” page on the shownotes site which gives a little more background.

There are a few sites worthy of being LinkedOut here in reference to the podcast’s genesis: Bob Goyetche, who produces the Mostly Tunes music podcast (see the podcast’s About page for more about his part in getting this off the ground); Chris Sherry who produces the most excellent, awesomely funny Kaflooey podcast which also features some amazing music; the Podcasters Across Borders 2007 event that we attended — it was an amazing experience and we’re looking forward to attending PAB2008 next June. Another excellent music podcast is Marvin Suicide, which is temporarily on hiatus (although earlier episodes remain available, thankfully) — hurry back, Marvin. Some non-music podcasters deserve kudos as well: Bruce Murray (the nicest guy in podcasting) of The Zedcast and Mark Blevis of Electric Sky (and along with the previously mentioned Bob Goyetche, co-host of The Canadian Podcast Buffet).

Oh, and the title of this post? A musical play on words, as it were, from the Britney Spears song Oops! I Did It Again…

And speaking of Britney: I heard about her latest gaffe the other day from my favourite morning radio personality, Maureen Holloway, who described Britney’s most recent (N0. 5 or so in an apparently unlimited series, no rush to collect these…) panty-less photo taken while exiting from a limo while out on the town after the recent MTV Video Music Awards as “being photographed in full Hello Kitty mode!”

OK, so that was Really Just A Shameless Attempt at getting lots of hits from Google searches to help get Funky Eclectic launched. My bad

Ouch… That’s *gotta* hurt.

September 7, 2007

I was listening to The Last Word today, Maureen Holloway‘s choice little island of wit and gossip in The Wasteland That Is Morning Talk Radio, when I heard about this, er, hot item.

Thank heavens I wasn’t drinking a cuppa’ joe in the car (driving is a serious occupation, IMNSHO, so I don’t often try to do other things at the same time) or I’d have had to stop to clean a gynormous spit-take off the inside of the windshield (er, make that windscreen, in honour of Mr. Ramsay‘s nationality).

And here I thought only race car drivers needed Nomex(TM) underwear…

People like that make me cranky

September 4, 2007

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to turn up a link to the piece that aired this evening on the CBC news (not The National; it was CBC News: Our World, I think — we were watching on Newsworld, in any case) which would have provided some of the details, so bear with me as I recall things as best I can.

This piece dealt with a Canadian who had travelled to the US, where he’d made some purchases using his credit card including software for the GPS in his car — an Audi, you could tell clearly from the 4-ring emblem on the trunk. The point of the piece?

He’d been charged an extra fee on the foreign exchange purchases he’d made — extra, as in above the exchange rate for the date. And he had called the bank to complain about this; they informed him that the fees were clearly explained in the small print (his words) on his statement. He said, showing the statement to the camera, that it was printed “faintly” and said that the person he’d spoken to claimed that “they had been having some problems with the quality of their printing” (or words to that effect — again, _his_words_, as they didn’t have anyone on from the bank IIRC), the smug implication being that the bank was being (or at the very least, approaching) deliberately deceitful.

Well, let me say that both K and I could quite easily read the fine print on the screen — on our not-HD, not large screen (20″) TV. We could see that it said foreign exchange transactions were subject to a fee of 2.5% on top of the current exchange rate. Sure didn’t look deceitful to me…

They also trotted out some dude from a consumer organization — can’t remember its name — who went on about how this “hidden” fee added up to millions, if not billions, of pure windfall for the banks, on the backs of beleaguered consumers.

Now, I’m not an apologist for banks or other for-profit businesses — those who know me, know I’m fairly left leaning, socially conscious, yadda, yadda. But I also understand quite well that profit is not an inherently evil thing. How some people or corporations go about achieving their profits is another thing, and I know there are plenty which pursue profit at all cost to the detriment of society (well, *some* parts of society  — usually the parts that can least afford to be screwed over to the benefit of someone who probably already has more than enough, several times over… did I mention my socialist leanings?), the environment and so on.

The report went on to show the Canadian government’s web site where the foreign exchange fees charged by the major banks on their credit cards are listed. They all charge 2.5% — perhaps there are others, not shown, that have lower or higher fees.  Given the competition between credit card providers (seems like I get Yet Another “You have been pre-approved for a <fill in name of a credit card brand here> card!” mailing at least a couple of times a week… I start worrying something has happened to the letter carrier if there isn’t one waiting for me when I get home), you’d think one of them would shave a fraction of a percentage point off their foreign exchange fee in order to lure customers over from The Other Brand.  And then they’d all have to drop the fee to stay competitive… which leads me to think that there’s not that much room for them to move on this, or it would happen.

Now, as someone who has done a fair bit of travelling and living abroad, I have a lot of practical experience with foreign exchange. And the exchange rate that’s quoted in the newspaper, on the TV and the internet is not the rate the banks use in processing transactions — whether you’re buying (or selling to them, for that matter) actual currency or they are converting a credit card transaction.

Like any business, they buy for less than they sell — this rule works for a company selling widgets as well as for a bank buying and selling foreign currencies; it’s called making a profit, which is what a business is, well, in business for. The margin between what they pay to buy a currency and what they sell it to you for — less the costs they incur in making the transactions — is their profit. The quoted exchange rate is usually halfway between the two.

So what really gets me cranky about people like the one in the new items is this: their sense of entitlement. This person was obviously reasonably well off — the Audi, the trip to the US to buy things (hey, why’n’cha shop in Canada and support Canadian businesses?) — and yet he’s outraged at being charged 2.5% for a service, for the convenience of not having to go to the bank and get foreign cash (which, I can assure you, would not be sold to him at the rate reported in the news either… there’s still that pesky profit thing happening) to carry around.

That’s not the only reason I get cranky at this kind of whiny behaviour: you can bet your sweet assets that these people have investments (as do I, for retirement — hey, leaning left does not mean you stop looking out for yourself; you just take the needs of others into account while doing it…). And what do they expect from their investments? Why, they expect them to grow, pay dividends or interest — which come from profits. And the expectation is always that the company turn the biggest profit possible; often without regard for the impact to others.

This is called “wanting to have your cake and eat it too”. People like this want to buy everything cheap but have their investments turn big profits. Do the math, people — it won’t work, at least not in the long run. That mutual fund you have? Dollars to doughnuts it’s invested in a financial institution or two; you want the fund to grow? Pay for it, like everyone else, in the service charges the banks make their profits from.

Myself, I prefer to deal with companies that charge a fair price for their products or services, are socially responsible (to their employees and to society as a whole) and derive justifiable, sustainable profits from their enterprise in order to deliver a reasonable return on investment to shareholders.

OK, enough ranting for now — the story on the CBC was really just a trigger for the “having your cake and eating it too” issue that’s been bugging me for a long time.


September 3, 2007

I’ve been reading a thought provoking book, the cult of the amateur (subtitle: how today’s internet is killing our culture) by Andrew Keen, which touches on the socio-cultural consequences of the supposed democratization of new media brought about by “Web 2.0”.  As I’ve not yet finished the book, I won’t say a lot about it at this point; it is, as I said above, thought provoking — but in reading it, I do find that I swing between agreeing with Keen on a point and then strongly disagreeing on another.   Often within the space of a page or two, even within a single passage.

At that, I’d still recommend reading it, even before having finished it — whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the points he raises are ones we should all be considering, as they concern more than just new media and “Web 2.0”.

What really prompted me to write was a recent post on Mr. Angry’s blog in which he speaks (in his inimitably candid and refreshing manner) about the hypocritical behaviour of big business toward copyright infringement.  His rant, er, post was prompted in turn by the situation Christopher Knight found himself in, as described on his blog The Knight Shift.

Christopher Knight is an independent filmaker, according to his blog, who created a video for his campaign for election to the local board of education.  In addition to airing the piece on local TV, he posted it to YouTube.  Nothing too unusual in that, in these Web 2.0 days (q.v. Keen’s book).

Where it gets interesting is that VH1, a Viacom show, used his YouTube video in an episode of their show Web Junk 2.0 — without obtaining permission, a clear infringement on Knight’s copyright.

Turns out this was not a problem for him — he was pleased at the exposure, even though Viacom was making a profit off his work.

Where it gets interesting is when he posted a clip, featuring his work, from the Web Junk 2.0 show on YouTube in order to reference it on his blog.  And Viacom slaps him down for… copyright infringement!  Talk about cajones

Evidently, democratization of new media a.k.a. Web 2.0 and money mix about as well as political democracy, old media and just about every other facet of life where big business thinks they can suck another dollar out of you.

When I’m done reading Keen’s book, I may have some more to say about it; even if I don’t, I suggest that it’s certainly worth your while to read it yourself.