Monday, June 27, 2005

la vida robot

Back in April Wired ran a story about four kids from Arizona who kicked some serious butt at a national robotics competition. The article, "La Vida Robot" told the story of four kids living in one of the less picturesque parts of the country. Two teachers at their school decided to start a robotics club and when they actually got some members entered them in a national competition.

As on of the teachers explained, they skipped the high school division and competed against college teams because "they figured their students would lose anyway, and there was more honor in losing to the college kids." Except that they didn't lose. They won the whole thing.

I sat there reading the article which explains how brilliant these kids are and how none of them qualify for financial aid for college because they are all illegal immigrants. One went back to hanging drywall. Another had a future of subsistence farming to look forward to. I sat there reading thinking, "Someone, please send these boys to college."

Well the world is a little brighter today. Someone did.

I saw a little update in the June issue of Wired tonight. So far $57 000 in scholarship money has come in for these guys and the producer of ER and The West Wing wants to make a movie. If everything goes well, if the statistics manage to hold off just for a little while Lorenzo Santillan, Cristian Arcega, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez are going to college.

I wonder if their parents ever really thought it would happen as they drove through the night in the trunk of a station wagon? America has not always lived up to its potential, but tonight I have to say, nice work. For more information about the college fund see La Vida Robot Scholarship Fund.

Here's to the dreamers. . .

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!
~Shel Silverstein

Thursday, June 23, 2005

the world gets a little cooler

Whoo hoo! As of today I have speakers (thanks A!). Of course like any good techie I figured I better take them for a test run, so I headed over to Homestar Runner for some good times (I mean serious testing) with StrongBad and the Teen Girl Squad. I was not disappointed.

After initial testing was complete I headed back over to Odeo to see what this site really had in store. I have to say, I'm impressed. My knowledge of podcasting up to now was purely theoretical. (And in all honestly, largely informed by a single article in Wired -- which I can't link to tonight as their site is not responding.) Within about a minute on Odeo I was listening to my very first podcast. I easily navigated the various casts available and soon stumbled upon the "coming soon" section where the Odeo Studio will let paid subscribers create and upload podcasts. Very cool.

In a perfect example of the itty bitty world in which we live, I randomly selected a cast to listen to -- one on how to chop an onion without crying -- and the people behind it are from Vancouver. Apparently podcasters are already getting together in groups and one of these groups meets in our fair city. Too funny.

For now they are not allowing people to pass Odeo invites out, but if that changes, I'll let you know. Do I see myself becoming a serious podcaster? Well on the one hand it would let speak without having to get up in front of people, but in all honesty, I don't feel an addiction coming on any time soon. Still, it's nice to be asked.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

so very nearly cool

I received an invite today to be a beta tester for Evan William's latest project. Odeo is podcasting meets audioblogger meets bloglines. It's a collaboration between Evan (one of the creators of Blogger) and Noah Glass (the guy behind AudBlog and ListenLab). For a minute there I was feeling so urban and connected. I went onto the site and signed-up and enjoyed the buzz of feeling "in" for about a minute and a half. One of the really cool things about Odeo is that it works on any mP3 player. I don't have an mP3 player.

But for a minute there I was so very nearly cool.

Update to post. Went back to Odeo and turns out that you don't even have to have an mP3 player you can listen in on your computer. Which would be great except that this computer doesn't have speakers. It used to, but it turns out that speaker power supplies aren't universal. Seemed like such a good idea until I saw the smoke. So very, nearly, almost and yet not quite cool.

robin in the rain

It was my turn to cook yesterday. When I went shopping on Monday it was a classic summer day so when I saw steak on special at Safeway a barbecue sounded perfect. By Tuesday it was raining. By the time I was ready to start barbecuing it was REALLY raining. But that's what Gortex is for.

I was only outside a few minutes when the words to a song my Mom used to sing to me came back to me. I could hear her voice singing, accented still after all these years:

Robin in the rain, what a saucy fellow
robin in the rain, in your socks of yellow

I had to laugh. A little later on I noticed that I'd planted a whole bunch of flowers in areas where the rain didn't reach them so I got out the hose. I figured I was already out there anyway. How strange it must have looked -- a girl out watering flowers in the rain singing a little song about a bird. I had to laugh at myself.

Towards the end of the song it says, "robin in the rain, you don't mind the weather." I guess that makes two of us.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

grafedia and the technorati

Last Friday Wired ran an article on a new phenomenon called grafedia and several days later I am still intrigued. Grafedia is simple in practice, but the concept is further proof that the line between the real world and the digital world continues to blur.

According to the article it works like this: you take a picture of anything you like and choose a word. Then email the picture to Once grafedia has your image it gets loaded onto their servers and you run around town painting anywhere you like (at your own risk of course). Anyone who sees your email link can send a text message to the address and they will receive your image by email. Crazy huh?

Where it gets even crazier is that some people are just underlining a word in an ad in blue and turning that into grafedia (ie just email the underlined word @ Suddenly ads can become art. I can create a public work of art with nothing but a blue pen. I can make a statement about your statement literally, without saying a word. Now granted, this isn't exactly a wide-spread phenomenon yet. I haven't seen any grafedia in White Rock, but I wonder if I'd be able to find some in Vancouver? Can't you just picture it run amok at Google HQ, or Microsoft? You know what nerds are like ;)

I'm intrigued by the idea of stealth street art, of associating something with something completely different -- ie creating a link on an ad that maybe goes to another product altogether, or a BBB report or. . . They talk about the technorati as its own privileged little group. Did we just find the secret handshake?

Friday, June 10, 2005

can I quote you on that?

There's been a lot of discussion in my life lately about words. Granted, I edit for a living so that shouldn't come as a particularly great surprise. I've been intrigued by an ongoing discussion of language and the internet in particular. What is boils down to basically is this: what you say online lives forever and there's really no telling just how far it will go.

I remember a few years ago when I first started working online I was doing copyright research. I found a complete copy of the text of a book posted online. I think it was one of A. W Tozer's though I couldn't quite be sure. I saw a name and a little information at the bottom of all that text and with a little more online sleuthing had a current email address for the original author of the page. I sent him an email asking him if he knew how I could contact the publisher. I was trying to get reprint permission for an excerpt from the same book and he seemed to have secured just such permission. I was astonished to get an email back from this man almost instantly.

He wrote that he had put the book online almost 20 years ago, back in the days of Usenet when only the nerdiest of Com. Sci. profs and NASA guys had ever heard of the internet. He begged me to give him the URL where I found the text saying that he had spent the last 20 years scouring the internet and trying to remove it. He was convinced that one day there would be a knock on his door from a copyright lawyer ready to take him for everything he had.

It reminded me of the old proverb about gossip where a person who has committed slander goes to the one he talked about and asks forgiveness. He is told to take a feather pillow out into the village square, rip it open and send the feathers out into the wind. When he returns, task accomplished he is told to go back and gather up the feathers and realizes that it is not possible.

All of this ties into a current discussion a friend of mine told me is happening online. The debate concerns author Orson Scott Card and whether or not a certain work of his is an apology for Hitler. As you might imagine, discussion is getting pretty heated. I've followed some of it on the Kuro5hin site. I am not nearly connected enough to be a K5 regular, but my friend is and he let me tag along. So far the original article has generated over 600 comments, some from people who claim to know Card personally. What I found most interesting though was one of the early comments from one of the editors of K5 who uses the name cribcage. Speaking of the original commentary that appeared on K5 he writes:

Shortly after posting, this article appeared among the top results on a Google search for "Orson Scott Card." It will likely remain there for some time. I'm reminded of Internet 101: If you write it, be prepared to answer for it.

That has really stuck with me over the past day or two "if you write it, be prepared to answer for it" -- seems I've heard something like that somewhere before. What I've really been thinking about though is this -- many us, whether through our own mistakes or the example of others are learning to be pretty careful about what we put online. It's very easy for someone to quote us, and as we know, almost impossible to make it go away. (Wired ran a story today talking about the original BBS of the late 70s and how you can still find them in Google today.) But do I think about that in what I say? If someone followed me around with a tape recorder all day, even in traffic, would I like what it sounded like? I think it probably depends on the day. But it's a good reminder to be careful.

One of my roommates is a teacher and she has often said that she constantly reminds herself to be gentle with her words when she speaks to her students. Those words, once out there, can be written in flesh for years. I was reading an article the other day and in it someone was describing a home they had frequented as a child. They summed it up by saying "there was so much love in that house you could almost reach out and grab a handful." I love that. Someday I want someone to say that about my home. I'm starting to build that someday today.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

in the shadow of a migraine

I spent today in the shadow of a migraine. Not exactly my favourite way to spend a day. I managed to sleep through the worst of the brain-splitting part but even the leftovers aren't much fun. Today was a gorgeously sunny day and the part of it I was awake for I spent trying diligently not to move my head. A sad waste of sunshine. I was gearing-up for a really good "poor, sad me" and I got thinking about the fact that I had spent one day unwell - just one sun-shiney day - and I realized once again that I have a lot to be thankful for.

A friend of mine is setting off for a year of travel with her family starting in September. We were talking the other day about how she's looking forward to showing her daughters that life doesn't often look like North America. We're living in Disneyland year-round by comparison to a lot of places. She was telling me a story from years ago when she and her husband were in Maputo. She was invited to a wedding at one point and one of the local women was explaining to my friend what it took to get married in Mozambique. A bride needed five things to be ready to marry - a pot to cook in and a brazier to cook over, a water bucket, a cloth ring to carry it on her head and a fifth thing that I can't quite remember. All these years later my friend remembers thinking about all the bridal registries she had seen filled with crystal and whatnot and how silly it seemed by comparison.

I'm not suggesting that we start buying water buckets as wedding gifts but I think that I need to remember how often my own perspective is so limited. I was sick today, for one day. It has happened before and it will happen again. But I know several people personally who have been sick a lot longer than a single day. I am so grateful that God often reminds us gently of who we are, and who He is. He doesn't often take everything away to remind us of what we had. He points out the little things and says "See, I love you, I've said so right here in that soft pillow, in the cupboards full of food in your kitchen."

As I climb into bed at night I try to remember to include in my prayers thanks for a place to sleep -- a place that is warm, and dry and clean and safe. There is so much to be thankful for, even on days when my world is mostly restricted to the space of a mattress.

Friday, June 03, 2005

until your brain catches up

I have had lot of meetings at work this week. A LOT. My brain starts to revolt after a certain point. I was talking to Andrew today and told him that I was pretty sure my brain had left the building and he suggested an excellent course of action. "Why don't you go home" he said. "Drop by your house long enough to pick up a book. Head to the beach and stay there until your mind finds you and your brain catches up." Excellent advice. I modified it a little to include a trip to the grocery store for picnic supplies and was on my way.

There's a bit of a wind tonight. Probably not enough to sail on but enough to amplify the sound of the tide coming in. There was no one at my favourite spot so I claimed it for myself once again. Off came the shoes. I couldn't say exactly why, but every time I'm down there it just seems appropriate to ditch the footwear. Maybe it's a sacred soul spot, a business free zone, a place where the world is a little closer to the way it should be. I picnicked and read and listened and waited and you know, Andrew was right. My mind did find me and my brain did catch up. I feel like I've had a good, long sleep.

My roommate Ceone shared a quote with me the other day that goes like this: Don't just do something, stand there. So often we're told that doing something, even the wrong thing, is preferable to waiting. I know that there are times when that's true, times when we have to take a step in any direction or risk being stuck forever. But I think that there are times when the quote holds true as well. If I'm just doing something, anything, without any thought at all then maybe it's time to just stand there. Or just sit on my favourite piece of driftwood. Just for a little while, until my brain catches up.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

bunnies and polka dots

I was talking to a friend today and he suggested that yesterday's posts were a tad depressing. I can see his point so I said that today I better write about bunnies and polka dots so no one gets concerned about my mental state. But I don't really know that much about bunnies and polka dots so I'll post a happy thought of a different sort.

I found out today that Tango Paradiso, one of my all time favourite bands is playing the Vancouver International Jazz Festival again this summer. Whoo hoo! The concert is set for July 02, 2005 in David Lam Park (Pacific Blvd. & Drake St. Concord Pacific Place) at 4:30 PM . If you've never heard Tango Paradiso, I highly recommend them. They are an incredibly talented group of local musicians.

The first time I heard them was a few years ago at the Jazz festival. A bunch of us were downtown for the Canada Day celebrations and were walking around Grandville Island when the music started up. It ended up being one of those perfect Vancouver moments. Beautiful music playing on a summer's evening with the sun setting over the bay . . . hard to beat that.