Monday, November 30, 2009

Canada's Game, Canada's Team

After an amazing Grey Cup game, what else could I blog about but the Game. It's not going to be long, since you've been reading and watching the news stories about how the game went. No doubt if I read the papers in Saskatchewan, there would be the weeping and gnashing of teeth and questions on the strategy of putting 13 players onto the field, when only 12 are required at any one time. While a nice thought, it is clearly against the rules of football. Perhaps with the longer and wider field someone on the Saskatchewan side line thought it may be a good rule and good experiment. May I suggeset that it be brought up at the next rules committee meeting and not tried near the very last play of the game.

I discovered in the study that this game ranks as one of the most popular games ever played on television. It appears the Grey Cup was viewed by more Canadians then any game. Not bad for a league that was supposedly dead and all about buried. Those who can remember may recall the great expansion experiment of the CFL. While many thought it was a horrible idea, and I write this recalling that I do know where my Shreveport Pirates' hat is, it did give some benefits to the League. By the way, if you can remember the Shreveport Pirates, you are a true fan of the game. Quickly two of the best results of the expansion were at the Grey Cup game this year, one is the Montreal Alouettes, again history lesson, Montreal did not have a team for about ten years, not until 1996 when the Baltimore Stallions relocated north to the City of Montreal. Ten years before that, the Concordes collasped and Montreal was without a team.

The second benefit was the Montreal Quarterback, Anthony Calvillo, winner of now two Grey Cups was a member of the Las Vegas Posse. Although likely, as I read the history, I doubt he is mentioning that fact to a lot of people. When he makes it into the Hall of Fame, I think we shall see a lot more about his record with Montreal then with Las Vegas.

So the League has enjoyed some results from the American expansion. But this is not a history lesson, but to simply say, it was an enjoyable game albeit weird, but then again what do we expect from the CFL?

Some are saying Montreal did not so much win, as Saskatchewan lost. After all they complain, how does a team hold the lead for 59 minutes, 59 seconds and then lose on a defensive penalty. To all of them let me say this, the Montreal Alouettes are the champions because they managed to overcome their sloppy play in the first half. After the first half, there was no way Montreal should have been anywhere near winning the game on anything. They were down by 14 points and looked bad in all departments of the game, offense, defence and even special teams, they looked horrid. I mean how do you punt the football 7 yards? Saskatchewan on the other hand, had the game under control, they were shutting down the high power Alouettes, they made AC look human, in other words, it was all working.

Then Saskatchewan forgot the first rule of professional sports, when you have the opponents down on the ground, you never let them get back up. Montreal went into the half looking bad but they must have looked inside themselves and remembered all those feeling from last year, how bad it felt to lose like they did, even though they were the best team in the League. They got themselves back into a game that by the standards of the first half they had no right to be back.

Then the moment forever seared into the collective memory of a Province; Damon Duval attempted the game winning field goal. His attempted sailed far right and it was game over, let the celebration begin with RiderNation going nuts, but hold it, what are all those orange cloths on the field? A few of the on field officials did a quick count and discovered one more person in Green then the rules require, thus the penalty. The result, ten yards closer and the field goal. Cue the proper celebration, cue the Red, White and Blue confetti, cue a whole province now on suicide watch.

Quirky? Of course, what can you expect from a Grey Cup game? Just one more reason why the CFL is loved in this household.

Hopefully next year it will be a Hamilton Tiger-Cat, BC Lions Grey Cup Final.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

South of South Colbourne Street

The Big News for Brantford is the south side of Colbourne Street is to be razed and a new development is slated. It is to included buildings for the University, both Laurier Brantford and Nipissing, a new and expanded Y, plus perhaps, Mohawk College. The latter is something, since the college just bought the Expositor Building and they are developing an urban studies program. Apparently the hope is this faculty will study the development of the core of Brantford, so the re development will form a very living laboratory.

Today I was driving past the area and noticed some interesting things on the back of the buildings.

It appears someone decided to grow a garden and wanted all who drove or walked past to realize this fact. For an area devoid of life, it has something interesting that should be preserved, perhaps not structurally, because some of the buildings are quite bad, but through photographs and writings.

One can also make out the ghost of businesses of the past, the building to the right was the "Grand River Canoes". Sadly the business only exists as ghost writing and when this building comes down, it will cease to be, not even in memory.

What is amazing, is the drop between the front of the buildings on Colbourne and the back, it's amazing these were built but they were, and the builders took full advantage of the difference:

It will be something to discover if they will fill the height and make it viable, especially in this section of the road.

Still, the back is worth recording and keeps it record alive.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Internet? A Human Right?

The Times of London had an interesting article early this month, it was entitled "Is Internet Access now a human right?". The reason for the article is the fact that England is attempting to deal with internet piracy by threatening to cut off access to the Internet over those who are chronic abusers of piracy. Again, it's all about piracy, the government over there wants to ensure that people who download the latest whatever, music, movie, ebook, application, will never be allowed on the Internet ever again.

It's nothing the average ISP ( Internet Service Provider) want to be put in over there, it means they are effectively snitches for the music and movie industry. They are the spy on what each and every one of their consumers are doing at any one time. This was tried in France. The government attempted to enact a "three strikes and out" law in which scofflaws who abuse internet piracy would lose the right to access for the rest of their lives. The High Court struck it down, by the way. The Court ruled such a restriction is a violation of human rights, which is good for them. The rest of the EU however does not share this same view, an article Business Week declared that Europe was giving up on declaring Internet access a human right.

Much of this is being spurred on by the negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, a new treaty to deal with international counterfeiting. Now when you think of counterfeiting, you may think of a group printing phony money, or a sweatshop some place knocking off a bunch of purses or shirts all bearing some brand name, or even Rolex watches. Certainly we can understand the need for rules to watch and control that, much of what is conterfeit is cheap, awful and potentially dangerous. However many have pointed out this treaty has more to do with intellectual property, rather then classic counterfeiting. In fact some have wondered if this is an anti-counterfeiting treaty, or a copyright treaty.

One of the problems with this treaty and there are a lot, is the fact it is being negotiated in secrecy. A document from the European Commission for Trade has this comment at the end:
As agreed among ACTA participatns, the negotiating papers are not public documents and therefore should be treated with reserve.

This is the Internet however, and nothing can remain a secret very long, can it? One of the leading proponents for Internet freedom, Dr. Michael Geist has almost been single-handed in his exposure of this travesty. His one article examines the chapters dealing with the Internet and it's not pretty. Many believe that acceptance of this treaty will lead to the establishment of a global 'three strikes and you're out' policy. The treaty contains information on protecting ISP from lawsuits when they act as agents of the State. As well, it will mean border guards will have the right to seize things such as mp3 players and laptops they believe contain pirated material. Now how these people will be able to discern downloaded from ripped is beyond me, I wonder if you ever have to cross an international border and have your ipod, you better bring all the cd's that have the music on it, otherwise you may be saying bye-bye to your player. I suspect this may happen the closer we come to a major holiday. What better way to get gifts for your loved one then seizing them at the border.

Truly the more you read about this treaty, the nastier it comes. Boing Boing has this article.

I've got more to say about this in an upcoming blog.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Smile for the Pikchur

Okay, you like social networks, I like social networks. You have signed up for a bunch of them, I've signed up for a bunch of them. You like to take and post photographs from your camera, cellphone, (some) mp3 players, I like to take and post photographs from my camera and cellphone. Especially of Isabelle, she is so cute.

You got your twitter, brightkite, facebook, plurk and whatever else is out there, accounts and you want to post pictures. I suppose you could go to everyone of them and post the photographs individually. That's one idea, oh I forgot, there's also posterous. Yes it's possible to simply post each photograph to each site individually- I'm sure that will take a great deal of time.


you can use a site such as Pikchur. Pikchur is a place where you can post your photographs and videos to all those sites. It happens in an instance too, upload the picture to pikchur and all the sites you've set up with get them as well. It happens quite fast as well. It is very simple to use, simply sign up for an account, add other accounts and start uploading. I've been using pikchur since March 2009 and it is a great site. As I said, uploading is easy and the fact it posts over a variety of sites and platforms adds to the experience. As with all social networks, you can follow and have others follow you. The great part about being able to post is that you allow more people to view your artwork.

Like a number of sites, it offers an upgrade to a pro package. For a reasonable sum and I paid $11.95 US for the pro upgrade you can read all about it here. It's great to have the statistics and gain an idea where people are coming from to view your photographs. As well, the phtograph is kept at its original size, while scaled for viewing on the main page, you can click and get the full size when you want. On top of it, you get to have 'pro' on your avatar. I mean how can you beat that, I don't think you can.

Other features I like is that you can decide which photograph to make public or private and you can include information as to where the photo was taken, so there is a bit of geocaching when it comes to pictures. You can upload on the computer, cellphone, iphone, practically anywhere you want. So while simple and straightforward, it does have a number of useful features for you to use and enjoy.

For the money, it is a great service. I do recommend it to you if you enjoy taking and sharing you pictures. It's one of the nice features of social networking isn't it, not only do I get to know what beanbag chair you're sitting in, I can see it because you've probably taken a picture of it on your cellphone.

I should also point out that the founders are pretty friendly guys.

so Pikchur, simple, straightforward and a boon to all us photographers who are also social network junkies.

You can follow me at I can use the followers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dead Aid: A Review

A good book is not necessarily one you agree with, but one that makes you think and presents idea which, although perhaps contradicts your personal views causes you to evaluate, re-evaluate and generally consider the ideas brought forth by the author. If the author seems to be writing against convention, so much the better.

The book "Dead Aid: Why Aid is not working and How there is a better way for Africa" considers the subject of the abject poverty of the African continent and asks the question that doesn't seemed to be ask, why hasn't things improved? The author Dr. Dambisa Moyo has written what has to be a scathing review of the "Aid Business" and points out the flaws of funneling over 1 Trillion Dollars in aid over the past 50 years.

She is not an armchair quarterback, she was born in Zambia and although a great deal of her education has taken place off the continent, she does not forget where she has come from, she is an African who desires to bring her continent out of the mire of poverty and into prosperity. I should point out that she has garnered as much criticism as she has praise. Some have gone so far to point out the irony of her criticism when in fact, they say, her education has put her in the catagory of enjoying aid. To be fair, this is rather unfair, in that she has only enjoyed what many others from other nations have been able to take hold of, and that is scholarships. It has opened her eyes to a broader way of looking at life and with her degrees in economics, she has been able to bring this teaching to the question of aid.

So what is wrong with aid? That is the start of the book. There are three points to her thesis
1) it leads to a dependency of aid
2) it stifles growth of industry, business and entrepreneurship
3) it leads to corruption.

The last point is one that has gripped the continent of Africa, we are all aware of the stories of dictators pocketing huge sums of money that were supposed to be used to feed the people. Or the stories of only the people belonging to the leaders tribe being able to enjoy the aid, while the rest of the nation starves. She lists the main culprits and how they enjoyed the spoils of aid.

Perhaps the middle point is one that gets forgetting, Dr. Moyo tells the story of a man who developed a business of making mosquito nettings. For nations that deal with the scrourge of malaria, this is vital. His business employed some 15 others and Dr. Moyo reckoned 150 people were dependent upon this business for their livelihood. While it was a challenge to keep up to the demand, it was still a thriving business. It was going well, until some celebrity decided to make mosquito netting a major cause and began to fund raise for the netting. The appeal was a success and the nation benefitted from thousands of mosquito nets being brought into the country. However, with all these free nets, the business quickly went under. The owner had to lay off his entire staff and close shop. The result was, in the short run, netting for all, but they began to tear and quickly became ineffective. The long term was an rather successful business was closed. While this is one example, it could be repeated over and over in Africa. Just one has to consider the effect of sending our used clothes to Africa has dismantled the local garment industry, again, how does the local business compete against free.

To Dr. Moyo the aid has not helped, she points out that at one points there were nations in Africa that had better GNP then China or India, but that is no more, as those nations expanded, African nations either stagnated or retreated. The problem with aid is that it does stifle development, why develop she suggests, when all you have to do is bank the cheques.

There is an interesting video of her on youtube:

The title of her book, no doubt is a direct criticism of the famous Live Aid concerts of the mid 80s which started the golden age of aid giving to Africa. Although to be fair, Live Aid was about getting people food, not an unending supply of aid.

So she opposes aid, the question then needs to be asked, what can replace aid. She gives three major suggestions.

1) establishment of a bonds market
2) China
3) the concept of microbanking and microloans.

A brief word on all three. Instead of aid, African nations need to raise funds for development by floating bonds. That is, borrow money at rates of return and interest that would be establish by the bond markets. To her way of thinking, this would put the nations on the road of development because they would use such funds for infrastructure renewal and growth as well as modernizing industry and the economies of the nation. She points out that such a market would ensure no corruption, since if the money is squandered then the next time the nation tries to float a bond, it would be severerly punished by the bonds market by its rating and the fact no one will invest. So investment is part of the key. She points out the natural wealth of resources possessed by many African nations.

The second point has to do with the huge investment China has given to Africa over the years. There has been some criticism, especially Chinese development in Sudan, which some has said has led to the disaster of Darfur. To prove the size of the investment China is making into the infrastructure and industry, she tells a story of a man who rode a motorcycle to South Africa. What impressed the man was the fact he was able to ride on paved roads, not the dirt ones only that he had thought. Often he saw signs speaking of the assistance given by China for the building of the road. If you google Chinese Aid to Africa, you will have many hits and a lot of them ask the question is Chinese aid good or bad for Africa. One article from the BBC discusses the growth of aid from China and how there are drawbacks, in that Chinese aid some times have no strings to it, so it too can be used for corruption, although with the Chinese acumen for business and investment it is unlikely they would tolerate abuse of their aid for very long.

The third is one that excites many people, microbanking is growing. Since its inception in Bangladesh and the development of the Grameen Bank has brought dignity and lifted many from the grip of poverty. These loans are small ones that encourage people to invest in industry, buying a sewing machine, farming, buying a few goats and making money. It has been a boon to many, receiving loans when conventional banks would not even consider.

These to Dr. Moyo are the tools to a growing Africa, one in which people are no longer imprisoned by poverty but are building a brighter future for themselves and their nation.

The question of course, is she right. I noticed in the interview above she talked about the aid industry and the fact that the problem is not all aid, but the wrong type of aid. I suspect aid that has built schools and established health clinics would be considered the right aid to her, since they have been helpful in helping lives and educating the youth of Africa. She also encourages the nations of Africa to begin to ween themselves off aid, but lowering it, not taking as much and not making it such an important part of the economy. So not all aid is bad, it just too much of it, can be very bad.

Does that mean we stop writing cheques to charities that support aid and relief efforts to African nations. Probably not, but perhaps a more careful consideration as to the type of aid is what is needed.

I suggest looking for this book and reading it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Getting Funky with befunky

If you go to my facebook page, or twitter, or pikchur, you will notice I enjoy taking photographs. When I got a new cellphone, I wanted something that could take photographs and videos, like people want to know how their cellphone is to make and receive phone calls, my that is so 1990's. When the family camera died, I wanted to make sure the next camera was an improvement.

I enjoy taking pictures.

One aspect that has been a major plus for all of us who take photographs is the availability of places to store our photos and also to edit our photographs. In fact last year, PCMag had an article on the various free online editing sites there are out there for the budding photographs. I encourage you to read it and use some of the sites listed, there's a number of very good ones. I prefer Picnik myself and have used it a number of times. You may go over the article and find a different one, and so be it, more power to you.

All the sites have a basic, read free, site and then they offer the premium sites, usually with more services, no ads and better resolution of the end results. Also if you get the premium service, you get tools that are not offered in the basic. Flickr offers such a thing, Picnik and Pikchur all make it possible to enhance your experience at a relatively reasonable yearly cost. I understand, for example, Flickr allows you to upload and store more photographs for $24.95 a year.

One site that I've used a few times is BeFunky. It's different in that it allows you to take your photograph and do some very interesting things with it. The header in the homepage states you can turn your digital photographs into 'works of art'. It is actually very good and you can do some fascinating things with regular pictures:

So quite impressive when it comes to the effects. I noted they even have an app on Facebook. You've perhaps seen the notices for 'cartoonizer'. That's BeFunky in action. If it's an app on Facebook, it is probably bringing in the dough.

It's a fairly recent company but it sounds like it has a good workplan for growth and expansion.

The site is clean and fairly user friendly. To make the necessary changes is also straightforward, although you might find the choices a bit overwhelming. The claim is 125 different special effects, so there is truly accounting for all sorts of taste. The work can be saved to a gallery, saved to the hard drive, emailed, shared and printed. You can also take your work and turn it into mugs, t shirts, stickers, magnets, post cards and postage stamps, USA only.

The company wants you to take out a befunky plus membership. It is a premium that offers first and foremost, the removal of the watermark, plus things such as better resolution and the ability to upload more photographs. It sounds like a great deal, but I've got to admit I do have one slight problem and I think if they change this, it would be an even better site.

The problem is the amount, befunky wants $50.00. It does mean no more of those annoying announcements and the slowing down of the work, but I wonder if the price is a bit much. As I pointed out, most other services offer premium grade for $25.00. I think this is probably the sweet spot for most of us. Fifty seems a bit much, but for half that I suspect they would get a lot more people. If they halved their costs I think I would look at it as an option.

It's something for them to think about.

Still, it worth considering as a service to enjoy.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Re-Discovering Star Trek

It is interesting to have watched a show and then stop for a few years only to pick up watching again. This has happened to me with Star Trek:The Next Generation. You may wonder if a geek such as myself could have ever stopped watching Star Trek, after all I did watch the JJ Abrams movie, and found simply the greatest. I don't know if I would say it's the greatest Star Trek movie, but certainly it is one of the best ones and did an incredible job re-starting the franchise. Let's face it, Star Trek Nemesis was basically a bust and besides it was all dark and dingy. The new movie had that new starship smell to it, it was bright, shiny and totally new.

By the way, the movie is coming to DVD on the 17th of November, start saving those pennies.

So, what about the Next Gen? It was an amazing series when you get right down to it. I've watched two episodes, the first being: "I, Borg" and the second "Inner Light". Both are amazing in they look at themes and ideas, which was one of the hallmarks of the franchise, Gene Roddenberry believed in concepts and ideas, and he expressed some very controversial topics through the Starship Enterprise.

The first episode considered the idea of individuality and how that may be the greatest weapon against the hive mentality. The crewmembers, just in case you don't know, come to the scene of a wrecked Borg vessel, most of the crew is dead but they rescue one, a rather younger Borg. They at first want to use him as a weapon by introducing a virus into his central processing unit. The hope is to infect the entire collective and thus destroy the Borg. Since the Federation is at war with the Borg, it makes for a good tactical plan. However, through encountering the crew, the Borg begins to develop a personality and an individuality, apart from the Collective. He learns that resistence is not always useless and there is something more.

Another Borg vessel is spotted and Hugh, as he is now called, is returned to the crash site, he is assimilated back to the crew, but just before, he looks at Geordi. The result of his encounter is played out in another episode.

The second episode is "The Inner Light". To be honest there are not enough superlatives for this episode. It is considered one of the highest rated of all the episodes of all the series. It won a Hugo Award, the highest award in science fiction. the Enterprise comes across a probe which sends a signal to Picard, he ends up fainting into a coma. In the coma he lives the life of a citizen of a planet that launched the probe. He becomes part of the society, raises a family and realizes the planet is dying. The members of the planet wanted to live, not by leaving their world, but becmoing part of Picard's memory. In the probe there is a flute, which Picard plays. To many the theme is remarkable and strikes a chord with many viewers.

As I said, it's amazing how great the writing and acting was in the series. Was every episode good? No of course not, there were some serious clunkers, but so what you take the good with the bad.

I'm planning to continue to watch and enjoy.

Live Long and Prosper