Happy Thanksgiving to the US

While here in Cana­da we cel­e­brat­ed our Thanks­giv­ing back on Octo­ber 12th, this one is ‘the big one’ that we hear about from the South. With that in mind, I thought I’d send a lit­tle bit of Beethoven­ian Good Will (by way of the Mup­pets) your way, my Amer­i­can friends and fam­i­ly:

(Thanks to Bren­da Cad­man of Octo­ber 17 Media for find­ing this. )

I haven’t been blog­ging much this month (maybe it’s the rain — 22 days of it this month!, maybe it’s the time of year — very busy). I will make a seri­ous effort to get some­thing more sub­stan­tial here this com­ing week. In the mean­time…

Seid umschlun­gen, Mil­lio­nen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Be embraced, you mil­lions!
This kiss for the whole world!

My Brother Hits the Big 10K (Patent, that is)

I got an email from my broth­er, that a patent that he was one of the four researchers work­ing on (and now, award­ed) turned out to be the 10,000th patent by his com­pa­ny, Microsoft.

I had visions of stream­ers, par­ty hats and the like, but his boss at the time, one of the oth­er peo­ple on the team, end­ed up get­ting most of the atten­tion. I guess that’s how the media cov­ers things. There was some CNET cov­er­age which only referred to my broth­er as a ‘col­league’ (Boo, Hiss!) and this press release from Microsoft itself which men­tions him in a cap­sule area, but only because he was also the co-recip­i­ent (with the same boss again) of the 5,000th patent. (How crazy a coin­ci­dence is that?)

This patent (10,000) was for a User Inter­face idea for Microsoft’s ‘Sur­face’ com­put­er, which I’ve actu­al­ly writ­ten about in my oth­er blog. Accord­ing to the Microsoft press release, the patent:

…applies to sur­face com­put­ing tech­nol­o­gy and out­lines how users can place real objects — any­thing from cell phones to their own fin­gers — on the computer’s table­like dis­play and the com­put­er will auto­mat­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy the objects and track their posi­tion, ori­en­ta­tion and motion. This allows the objects to be asso­ci­at­ed with data or media, like a spe­cif­ic col­lec­tion of music or pho­tos.

The real­ly big coin­ci­dence is that this past week, at the Inter­ac­tion Design Association’s IXD09 Con­fer­ence that I attend­ed this past week in here in Van­cou­ver, there was indeed a Sur­face Com­put­er from Microsoft (along with the Project Man­ag­er for that prod­uct, Joe Fletch­er), and we placed our badges on the com­put­er, which rec­og­nized us by our 3D Bar­code or QR Code on the back of the badge (which I’ve scanned here):

Here's the badge, with a 3D barcode

Here’s the back of the badge, with a 3D bar­code, These codes are pret­ty com­mon in Japan where cell phone users use them to direct them to web pages on their phones.

When the badge was ‘rec­og­nized’ by the Sur­face, we could con­nect to anoth­er user who placed their badge on the com­put­er by drag­ging from one badge to the oth­er with our fin­gers, prompt­ing the com­put­er to send an ‘I want to con­nect to you’ mes­sage on the IXD09 web site. Kind of sil­ly, when you think of it, since you were usu­al­ly right in front of the per­son you sup­pos­ed­ly want­ed to con­nect with, but it was a fun demo, all the same. The strange sen­sa­tion of see­ing my badge sprout extra graph­ics under it when placed on the glass cof­fee table com­put­er was like a real world ver­sion of Who Framed Roger Rab­bit, with car­toon or 2D ele­ments seem­ing to exist seam­less­ly and inter­act with the real things around them. Now, know­ing that it was my brother’s patent that was behind this piece of tech­no-mag­ic makes it even cool­er.

So, I hope he at least gets a T-Shirt or some­thing ( Maybe it could say, “I Got Microsoft its 5,000 and 10,000th Patents and All I Got Was This T-Shirt”). Maybe his own Sur­face Com­put­er?  C’mon Microsoft, the guy(s) who hit the 5 and 10K mark for you in the Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty race deserve more than a press release!

Update: Hap­py to see that ZDNet did a bet­ter job rec­og­niz­ing his con­tri­bu­tion!

Snowbound with George on Christmas Eve

Our Patio with the most Snow we’ve ever seen on it

Our patio with the most snow we’ve ever seen on it

You always assume that things will turn out as planned, but some­times they don’t. Pam and I had all but packed our suit­cas­es ear­li­er in the week for a trip to vis­it with my broth­er and his fam­i­ly in Seat­tle, as well as my par­ents, who were going to be vis­it­ing from Bal­ti­more. Moth­er Nature had oth­er ideas.

The fact that Cana­da is enjoy­ing the first coast-to-coast ‘White Christ­mas’ in 40 years is not lost on me, and it is pret­ty out there. Pam and I had a nice time walk­ing in the first of the snow­storms, and it looks like storm num­ber three, which start­ed last night, will dump near­ly as much on us.

The car is not ready to dri­ve on these kinds of roads. We don’t have any snow tires, as we don’t dri­ve that much to begin with and nei­ther of us use it to get to a work­place (unlike the days when I was work­ing in Burn­a­by for IBM). Snow tires are not usu­al­ly need­ed here.

So, here we are, like hiber­nat­ing bears in our cave, look­ing out at the snow. Well, not exact­ly like bears in one key respect: Hiber­nat­ing bears don’t eat, and I’ve been cook­ing like crazy. I roast­ed a chick­en stuffed with herbs and lemon (an old Jamie Oliv­er recipe that I’ve com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry), and yes­ter­day did a large pot roast with car­rots, parsnips, turnips and pota­toes.  This after­noon I baked a tray of oat­meal muffins (after also bak­ing a bunch of cook­ies ear­li­er in the week). We’ve also got some steaks in the freez­er, and since Granville Mar­ket is closed for the next 2 days, we’ll prob­a­bly eat those as well, along with some of oth­er food in our larder, which we stuffed full just in case the weath­er did get worse.

The oth­er thing I did, which I do near­ly every year, was watch Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life”.  For me, it tran­scends movie mak­ing to become a piece of art, the same way that some Nor­man Rock­well illus­tra­tions do. I keep find­ing new details in it, the way you do with any great piece of sto­ry­telling or music. There’s always some lit­tle motif or pas­sage here or there that after the 10th hearing/viewing you sud­den­ly real­ize is referred to or echoed in some oth­er place. Capra’s film also has a lot more res­o­nance now, when the news reports from the States ear­li­er in the evening eeri­ly echoed (or pre­saged?) the talk in the movie of peo­ple being fore­closed on their homes because of not being able to pay mort­gages, runs on banks and acts of char­i­ty. How many peo­ple might be, this evening, need­ing to draw upon char­i­ty for the first time in their lives, the way that George Bai­ley had to?

I noticed that a week or so again, Wen­dell Jamieson of The New York Times wrote a fas­ci­nat­ing reassess­ment of the film, and actu­al­ly found it to be essen­tial­ly a big fat lie, some­thing that he first sus­pect­ed when he was shown the film at school when he was 15 year’s old:

It’s a Won­der­ful Life” is a ter­ri­fy­ing, asphyx­i­at­ing sto­ry about grow­ing up and relin­quish­ing your dreams, of see­ing your father dri­ven to the grave before his time, of liv­ing among bit­ter, small-mind­ed peo­ple. It is a sto­ry of being trapped, of com­pro­mis­ing, of watch­ing oth­ers move ahead and away, of becom­ing so filled with rage that you ver­bal­ly abuse your chil­dren, their teacher and your oppres­sive­ly per­fect wife. It is also a night­mare account of an end­less home ren­o­va­tion.

Holy Cow!  Believe it or not, his opin­ion of the film’s mes­sages actu­al­ly gets harsh­er still:

Many are pulling the movie out of the archives late­ly because of its pre­science on the per­ils of trust­ing bankers. I’ve found, after repeat­ed view­ings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glar­ing — and often fun­ny — flaws become appar­ent. These flaws have some­how deep­ened my affec­tion for it over the years. Take the extend­ed sequence in which George Bai­ley (James Stew­art), hav­ing repeat­ed­ly tried and failed to escape Bed­ford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he nev­er been born. The bucol­ic small town is replaced by a smoky, night­club-filled, boo­gie-woo­gie-dri­ven haven for show­girls and gam­blers, who spill rau­cous­ly out into the crowd­ed side­walks on Christ­mas Eve. It’s been renamed Pot­tersville, after the vil­lain­ous Mr. Pot­ter, Lionel Barrymore’s schem­ing financier.

Here’s the thing about Pot­tersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stul­ti­fy­ing Bed­ford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If any­thing, Pot­tersville cap­tures just the type of excite­ment George had long been seek­ing.

Not only is Pot­tersville cool­er and more fun than Bed­ford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring man­u­fac­tur­ing to Bed­ford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” man­u­fac­tur­ing in upstate New York has suf­fered ter­ri­bly.

On the oth­er hand, Pot­tersville, with its night­clubs and gam­bling halls, would almost cer­tain­ly be in much bet­ter finan­cial shape today. It might well be thriv­ing.

I checked my the­o­ry with the oft-quot­ed Mitchell L. Moss, a pro­fes­sor of urban pol­i­cy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, and he agreed, point­ing out that, of all the upstate coun­ties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Sarato­ga.

The rea­son is that it is a resort, and it has built an econ­o­my around that,” he said. “Mean­while the great indus­tri­al cities have declined ter­rif­i­cal­ly. Look at Con­necti­cut: where is the growth? It’s in casi­nos; they are con­stant­ly expand­ing.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Pater­son “is under enor­mous pres­sure to allow gam­bling upstate because of the eco­nom­ic prob­lems.”

We ease up on our lot of cul­tur­al behav­iors in a depres­sion,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bai­ley nev­er been born, the peo­ple in his town might very well be bet­ter off today.

Well, I’m not sure that the raunchy Vegas-like Pot­tersville is any bet­ter than the Biff Tannen’s alter­nate Uni­verse town of Hill Val­ley (which doesn’t get a rename, despite the sim­i­lar biz­zaro treat­ment) in Back to the Future II.  I’ll bet that a few choice grotesque zooms on the land­scape of Pot­tersville would have hor­ri­fied the rest of us as much as it did George Bai­ley rather than thrill him that that his town was less bor­ing with him not in it. Capra per­haps didn’t want to hit us over the head with the mes­sage, so it didn’t escape the 15-year old Mr. Jamieson’s cyn­i­cism.

Any­way, apt or not, I still find it a great piece of sto­ry­telling, even if it teach­es us all the wrong things. Jamieson is not alone in his dis­dain for the film. Besides the fact that the movie was con­sid­ered a finan­cial flop (too expen­sive to make, didn’t make back what it cost), Charles Affron on filmreference.com says:

The impe­tus and struc­ture of It’s a Won­der­ful Life recall the famil­iar mod­el of Capra’s pre-war suc­cess­es. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton and Meet John Doe. In each of these films, the hero rep­re­sents a civic ide­al and is opposed by the forces of cor­rup­tion. His iden­ti­ty, at some point mis­per­ceived, is final­ly acclaimed by the com­mu­ni­ty at large. The pat­tern receives per­haps its dark­est treat­ment in It’s a Won­der­ful Life. The film’s con­ven­tions and dra­mat­ic con­ceits are mis­lead­ing. An idyl­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of small-town Amer­i­ca, a guardian angel named Clarence and a Christ­mas Eve apoth­e­o­sis seem to jus­ti­fy the film’s peren­ni­al screen­ings dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. These are the signs of the ingen­u­ous opti­mism for which Capra is so often reproached. Yet they func­tion in the same way “hap­py end­ings” do in Moliere, where the arti­fice of per­fect res­o­lu­tion is in iron­ic dis­pro­por­tion to the real­i­ties of human nature at the core of the plays.

Maybe I should have just watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Rein­deer instead.

Dr Atomic in Vancouver

A cou­ple of week­ends ago, Pam and I, as part of an ear­ly hol­i­day gift from my par­ents, went to a per­for­mance with them at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera in New York.  Well, not exact­ly. What we did do, was see a pro­duc­tion, by the Met live, in down­town Van­cou­ver, just as they were view­ing the same pro­duc­tion in Bal­ti­more. This is actu­al­ly a bit of tech­no­log­i­cal mag­ic that I nev­er expect­ed to see work so well, and cer­tain­ly not so close to home.

Believe it or not, once a month or so, the New York Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera broad­casts live per­for­mances, via High Def­i­n­i­tion video and CD-qual­i­ty mul­ti­chan­nel sound, to a satel­lite, which then beams them down to movie the­atres all across North Amer­i­ca, includ­ing a cou­ple here in Van­cou­ver (the Sco­tia­bank Para­mount the­atre on Bur­rard, as well as one in North Van­cou­ver). I’ve since learned that the Toron­to Bal­let is doing much the same with some of their per­for­mances of the Nut­crack­er.

So on that Sat­ur­day morn­ing, at 10:00 AM (because it’s live, and in New York City it’s 1PM in the after­noon, the per­fect time for a mat­inée), we saw Doc­tor Atom­ic, the new opera about Robert Oppen­heimer and the Man­hat­tan Project by Amer­i­can com­pos­er John Adams.

Bear in mind that although it is pret­ty amaz­ing that you can do this sort of thing at all, the fact that it’s easy is even more impres­sive. Of course, I could buy tick­ets online and have them charged direct­ly to my Bank Account via Inter­ac (they were a lit­tle less than $25 apiece). There were no lines that morn­ing at the Sco­tia­Bank The­atre. The broad­cast was being shown in two the­atres, and one was near­ly full, so Pam and I opt­ed for the sec­ond, small­er the­atre, and got very, very good seats, the kind you could nev­er get in New York.  If you were going to actu­al­ly attend the same per­for­mance in New York, $25 would prob­a­bly not cov­er the park­ing, much less your actu­al the­atre tick­ets for even stand­ing room, not even count­ing the plane fare, hotel and meals…etc.

Before the pro­duc­tion start­ed, the movie screen showed the inside of the Met in Lin­coln Cen­ter. I’ve been there a cou­ple of times, so it was fas­ci­nat­ing to see it again, live, with audi­ence mem­bers either in their seats or arriv­ing, the famous chan­de­liers all in the down posi­tion (they get pulled up just before the show is about to start),  from the oth­er end of the con­ti­nent.

After a moment’s intro­duc­tion from back­stage by Susan Gra­ham, the host of the broad­cast, the cam­era cuts to the main tech­ni­cal direc­tor telling the con­duc­tor that it’s time for the per­for­mance to start.

The opera?  The first act was a lit­tle slow, dra­mat­i­cal­ly, but the music was superb. I think it’s one of the composer’s best scores. The aria on words of John Donne (his Holy Son­net XIV) at the end of the first act is bril­liant:

Bat­ter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Rea­son yhour viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your ene­mie:
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, nev­er shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you rav­ish mee.

I also was struck by the beau­ty of Adams’ orches­tra­tion and his ear for bril­liant sonori­ties, which I’d come to know from his ear­li­er work (and one of my favourite orches­tral pieces) Har­monielehrer, a sort of three-move­ment sym­phon­ic salute to to roman­tic music of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The end­ing of the opera is dra­mat­i­cal­ly shat­ter­ing, with an extreme­ly intense count­down to the bril­liant flash of the first atom­ic bomb test, the moment when Oppen­heimer and his cowork­ers saw that the human race now, for the first time in his­to­ry, had the pow­er to destroy them­selves and the plan­et, a bur­den that we all bear to this day.

As we lis­tened to the music and saw the singers on stage, we also saw sub­ti­tles, so we didn’t have to won­der what they were singing. There was also an excel­lent bit of doc­u­men­tary and inter­view with the com­pos­er and some of the per­form­ers (and I kept feel­ing like they should be left alone to relax a bit after a half hour of straight singing rather than be bad­gered in their stage make­up by Ms. Gra­ham!)

After the per­for­mance, I talked to my par­ents by phone. After all, we had all just been to the same per­for­mance togeth­er, and I want­ed to see how they liked it. They told me that my cousin in Detroit had actu­al­ly also been to the same per­for­mance in her town, and talked to them by cell phone dur­ing inter­mis­sion. Score anoth­er one for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gy. I guess the next step will be to recre­ate the Met holo­graph­i­cal­ly for us in Van­cou­ver, and after that, it’s ‘beam me to Lin­coln Cen­ter, Scot­ty’.

A Life In Motion

One of the rea­sons that I haven’t been post­ing as often this month as last month, is that it seems that I’m always in town, busy attending/watching/participating in some­thing. You’d think that being on the job hunt and not tied down with a 9-to-5 com­mit­ment would mean that I have tons of free time to spend on blog­ging, clean­ing up my office, and doing all of those oth­er ‘things I’d do if I had time’. No such luck.  It seems my calendar’s clut­ter increas­es to fill the allot­ted time. I do want to at least men­tion, and pro­vide a snap­shot or per­haps a snip­pet of video (because I can) of some of what’s been going on for the past 2 1/2 weeks or so:

Sep­tem­ber 13th: To cel­e­brate my (and my brother’s) birth­day, we took a week­end trip down to vis­it him and the rest of the fam­i­ly down in Belle­vue, Wash­ing­ton. This includ­ed a trip to the Sculp­ture Park:

At the Seattle Sculpture Park

At the Seat­tle Sculp­ture Park

and a cel­e­bra­to­ry Din­ner out at Wild Gin­ger, a favourite Seat­tle restau­rant of theirs:

OK, so I got a little silly, but a birthday candle is just asking to be played with.

OK, I got a lit­tle sil­ly, but a Birth­day Can­dle is just ask­ing to be played with.

Sep­tem­ber 16th: I had lunch with a friend and attend­ed the Mol­son Brew 2.0 event, which I had writ­ten about a lit­tle ear­li­er.

Sep­tem­ber 17th: Met with sev­er­al peo­ple dur­ing the day and attend­ed Launch Par­ty 5 at UnWined.

Imbibing and meeting Startups at Launch Party 5

Imbib­ing and meet­ing Star­tups at Launch Par­ty

Sep­tem­ber 20th: Attend­ed Bar­Camp­BankBC, a real eye-open­er about the con­cerns of the peo­ple in the Bank­ing and Cred­it Union busi­ness (Ques­tions includ­ed: “If increas­ing­ly, every­body does most of their bank­ing online or at ATMs, what’s the new design/experience of a Bank branch sup­posed to be?” ):

A session at BarCampBankBC

A ses­sion at Bar­Camp­BankBC

Sep­tem­ber 21: Made it to the first Annu­al Canary Der­by in Gas­town, a fundrais­ing race of soap­box-style rac­ers, main­ly to cheer on the team of Web­names, who regard­less if they won or not (they didn’t), still had the classi­est look­ing race car of the day. Here’s one of the ear­li­er tri­als that they won:

Since that was mov­ing pret­ty fast, here’s what the car looked like stand­ing still:

The Webnames.ca entry in the 2008 Canary Soapbox Derby in Gastown

The Webnames.ca entry in the 2008 Canary Soap­box Der­by in Gas­town

(Note: The child at the wheel in this shot is not the dri­ver in the race)
Sep­tem­ber 23: Thanks to the gen­eros­i­ty of a dear friend, Pam and I were able to get to one of the Pre-Sea­son games of the Can­nucks. They were play­ing Edmunton, and despite that team’s (appar­ent­ly well-known) speed, the Can­nucks won! Here’s a snip­pet:

Sep­tem­ber 26: The Par­ty for Bar­Cam­p­Van­cou­ver 2008, the year­ly uncon­fer­ence, took place at Work­space. This year I helped out in the plan­ning as well as the food prep (and even played bar­tender a bit).

Sep­tem­ber 27:We lucked out, and the weath­er was gor­geous, which helped since Bar­Camp was held on Granville Island, at 3 sep­a­rate loca­tions includ­ing the Revue Stage, Emi­ly Carr Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Playwright’s The­atre. I had pre­pared a talk on Ubiq­ui­ty, the fas­ci­nat­ing Fire­fox plu­g­in that extends some of the ideas about inter­act­ing with infor­ma­tion on the Inter­net. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I was bumped because the con­tract for the room had us there until 5PM, not 5:30 as we had been led to believe. Moral of the sto­ry: Nev­er resched­ule your ses­sion to what you think is a bet­ter time (orig­i­nal­ly I was ear­ly in the morn­ing and oppo­site sev­er­al oth­er ses­sions that I want­ed to attend myself!) I am work­ing on refor­mat­ting the pre­sen­ta­tion and slides so that I can put them online on my oth­er blog and will try and let folks know when it’s done. Here’s me pitch­ing my ill-fat­ed pre­sen­ta­tion:

Making my pitch for a presentation on Ubiquity at BarCamp Vancouver 2008

Mak­ing my pitch for a pre­sen­ta­tion on Ubiq­ui­ty at Bar­Camp Van­cou­ver 2008

Sep­tem­ber 28: Word on the Street, the Annu­al fes­ti­val of books, writ­ers and oth­er things lit­er­ary took place down­town, around the library. Pam and I man­aged to make a talk by the enter­tain­ing and inspir­ing Col­in Moor­house, a free­lance speech­writer that Pam had man­aged to hear at a BC Edi­tors Meet­ing last year.

That brings me to today. I near­ly feel out of breath just recount­ing this. And it doesn’t include a cou­ple of job inter­views, meet­ings with friends and col­leagues, and the usu­al day-to-day stuff. It has been a busy month, to say the least.

I think that what’s been going on is a grad­ual accru­al of year­ly events. We noticed a cou­ple of years ago that there seems to be a tac­it agree­ment that in Van­cou­ver, any­thing worth doing is worth doing annu­al­ly. Our year is get­ting busier, which is prob­a­bly OK, but soon we’ll have to pick and choose what we can or can­not make and say instead that we’ll catch what­ev­er we miss ‘next year’.