The Tyranny of Email

Critical Section – The Tyranny of Email

bq. Email is one of the greatest things the computer revolution has done for personal productivity. Used improperly, it can also hurt your productivity. This article discusses ways to use email effectively. Then it goes beyond that and talks about how to be productive, period.

A good read. When I’m concentrating, I often ignore my e-mail, and I’ve encountered incedulity from some of my coworkers.

His comments on “warping-off” are good too :-)

posted at 4:44 pm on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on The Tyranny of Email

The Start Button

Why do you have to click the Start button to shut down?

bq. That’s when we decided to label the System button “Start”.

bq. It says, “You dummy. Click here.” And it sent our usability numbers through the roof, because all of a sudden, people knew what to click when they wanted to do something.

The real science of usability… (laughter)

posted at 10:09 am on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 in Humour, Links, Programming | Comments Off on The Start Button

Top 10 Inventions in Money Technology

In an article for the upcoming “DaVinci Institute Future of Money Summit”:, Thomas Frey lists “The Top 10 Inventions in Money Technology”:, which are:

# The Electronic Cash Register (1906)
# Electronic Money (1918)
# The First Armored Car (1920)
# Credit Bureaus (1937)
# The Automatic Teller Machine (1939)
# The Credit Card (1950)
# Barcodes (1952)
# The Smart Card (1974)
# The Spreadsheet (1978)
# RSA Encryption (1983)

I was amused to note how long it took some of these technologies to become “mainstream” after their invention. Then I got to the conclusion of the article:

bq. Probably the most revealing part of doing this research was seeing the lag time between the technology first being developed and general market acceptance. In the case of the ATM machine, the lag time was over 50 years. We often wonder about the technologies that didn’t make it onto the radar screen – the big things that simply faded from existence before they were able to get any real market feedback.

bq. Several new technologies are making significant inroads into the money world. Micropayment technologies, prepaid credit cards, mobile payment systems, and biometrics are industries on the verge of success. Public policy decisions, general economic conditions, financial backing, and the sheer determination and resolve of the startup team are the primary factors that will separate the winners from the losers as we move forward.

posted at 11:04 am on Monday, August 11, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Top 10 Inventions in Money Technology

Yuri Malenchenko got married!

Despite disapproval from the Russians, “Yuri Malenchenko married Ekaterina Dmitriev”: while he was on ISS and she was in a meeting room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

bq. Texas law allows one — or even both — of a couple to be absent from the ceremony as long as the proper affidavits are filed.


bq. Malenchenko and Lu wore their standard fare blue-gray flight suits, augmented with bow ties and cumber bunds.

The wedding almost didn’t happen. Yuri’s Russian superiors initially denied his request to marry an American; Russian law doesn’t allow marriages where one partner is absent; and ” the nuptials were definitely not part of the official flight plan of the space station”.

bq. In the end, Dmitriev said, Russian officials allowed the marriage, but said it won’t be official in Russia.

bq. The couple plan a religious wedding in Russia next June. “I want it to be when people can get there and it’s not so cold,” Dmitriev said.

posted at 10:57 am on Monday, August 11, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Yuri Malenchenko got married!

WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers

“WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers”: asks the question:

bq. Name three games you might use to get someone who has never roleplayed before into roleplaying.

My experience with dragging non players into games so far has been consistent. It doesn’t matter what game system you use; what matters is insulating the new player from all of the complicated stuff. We have always done this by having the GM manage all of the game mechanics for the new player, giving the person only a high-level description of the character. The player describes to the GM what they _want_ to accomplish, and the GM handles the details of die rolls, spell casting, etc.

It has worked very well for us in the past. It is a lot of extra work for the GM, but it makes the player’s early exposure to roleplaying fun and positive. As they come back for more, you can then introduce more game mechanics.

Since we’re supposed to mention games, I’ll say that we’ve done this in the past with original Traveller, AD&D, and 2300AD. What makes this work is having an imaginative player and a creative GM, not the specific rules or genre of the game.

posted at 8:25 pm on Saturday, August 09, 2003 in WISH | Comments Off on WISH 59: Games for Non-Gamers

Turn Down the Lights

Turn Down the Lights

Apparently too much light is bad for all of Nature’s creatures, including us humans.

I live in a (relatively) dark part of the city, but it’s still pretty bright at night. From memory, downtown Toronto was much worse. I vaguely remember what it’s like to be out in the _dark_ at night, but it has been a long time…

posted at 1:04 pm on Friday, August 08, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Turn Down the Lights

Giving Good Reports

Why do they keep yelling at me?

bq. Silence is bad. Management cannot differentiate between someone who’s gone off the deep end and is over their head, someone who is malingering, someone who’s trying to solve an intractable problem, and someone who is making progress on a hard design issue.

posted at 10:32 am on Friday, August 08, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Giving Good Reports


Seen on the elevator today:

bq. Widespread caffeine use explains a lot about the twentieth century.
— Greg Egan

How true…

posted at 12:16 pm on Thursday, August 07, 2003 in Humour | Comments Off on Caffeine

The Oracle at Delphi revisited

Scientific American: Questioning the Delphic Oracle

Prior to 1900, the behaviour of the Oracle was attributed to a vapour that produced divine posession. In about 1900, an Englishman visited excavations at the site, found no chasm or gases, and published an article debunking the claim. In the late 1990s, a couple of geologists tripped over evidence of tectonic fault lines, and started a new investigation, determining that all of the original documented Oracular behaviour could be explained by gases released by tectonic movement. Fascinating!

I particularly liked the ending:

bq. The primary lesson we took away from our Delphic oracle project is not the well-worn message that modern science can elucidate ancient curiosities. Perhaps more important is how much we have to gain if we approach problems with the same broad-minded and interdisciplinary attitude that the Greeks themselves displayed.

There were quite a few New Scientists running around in the 19th and 20th centuries dismissing established knowledge in the name of the great God Science. It’s nice to see that science changing from a hammer to a magnifying glass…

posted at 10:45 am on Thursday, August 07, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments (2)
  1. Me says:

    The oracle is a really fascinating thing, and I dont think the whole of it will ever be totally found out.

  2. dont care says:

    I dont have any!!!!!

Canal Days

As part of the Canal days celebration in Port Colbourne, the Niagara Windriders host a kite festival. This is our third year attending; we usually make a weekend of it, spending Saturday in Niagara Falls (or at the water park in Hamilton), and then spending the night in St. Catharines or Welland. The Colleges there rent out student residences cheap during the summer :-)

Anyway, I joined the Toronto Kite Fliers over 5 years ago, and this the first kiting event I’ve been to that has had to deal with _rain_; a pretty good track record!

The event was supposed to run from 10:00 to 16:30. It rained until about 13:30. Several intrepid fliers ignored the rain and flew anyway; the winds were actually pretty good! Strong (but not too strong!) and steady, enough to lift even wet kites. Gareth got into the action, ignoring the rain completely to fly his dinosaur diamond and our new mini-delta for about 30 minutes. 7-year-olds can ignore wet more easily than we old-timers, I guess :-).

Unfortunately, when the rain cleared, the wind died almost completely. It was alot of effort to keep even light-wind kites in the air. We managed one Rok battle by all thinking uplifting thoughts, and a couple of teddy bear drops. The stunt-kite guys were doing better, partly because they have more light-wind kites to play with…

We finally packed everything up around 4PM. Still, it was a fun day! Everyone was quite cheerful despite the rain, and we all got to fly _some_ kites, and meet up with old friends…

posted at 1:30 am on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Canal Days

A New Car!

Via a friend of Michelle’s, we found a cheap Daewoo Lanos.

Well, actually we found two; a 1999 SE with A/C, a slightly larger engine, mag wheels, etc.; and a 2000 entry-level model. I decided on the 2000; this is our second car, so A/C isn’t as much of an issue (we only really need it for about 3 weeks out of the year in this climate anyway). The A/C (and other stuff on the larger engine) will only lead to more maintenance issues (and higher bills!) down the road, and the smaller engine still has more than enough power for day-to-day use.

Further, the car was slightly out of my original price-range for a beater. On the other hand, it’s also 5 years newer than all of the beaters we looked at. Heck, it’s not really a beater; I even get the 2 years remaining on the power-train warranty! I decided that since I was already spending more than I wanted to, I didn’t really _need_ to drop an extral $1000 for the A/C…

We pick up the new car on Thursday. It is red… :-)

posted at 1:19 am on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. jok says:

    Beaters don’t pay. Take my cars, I had a nice new van on a lease at $365 a month which required no maintenance for 3 years. Now I’m driving a 95 Intrepid and it’s cost $3000 in 3 months in repairs. I’m still clinging to the hope that $3000+x < $365*12 but it’s not looking so good with 9 months to go.

  2. Harald says:

    On the other hand, my 1990 Eagle Vista has required only minor maintenance (a couple of distributor caps, new tires, oil changes, etc.) in the 5 years I owned it. Even now, putting it back on the road would cost $700 to $1000; it’s only not worth fixing because the body is starting to go.

    I highly recommend CAA’s autopinion ( They survey their members on maintenance costs, which components require maintenance, and general satisfaction, and then publish the statistics. It’s a good way to project the maintenance costs of older cars before you buy. Of course, there is the odd lemon out there; buy from someone you trust!

A Technology Jump

Things are jumping around here!

In the last couple of months, we have joined the 21st century and acquired:

* a DVD player (for the TV)
* a CD burner
* a DVD burner (with DVD-RAM support, to replace the dead DAT drive for backups)

This is quite a technology jump, considering that our newest desktop PC is a P200-MMX, is about 5 years old, and was acquired second-hand from Secure Computing’s office closing sale! We’ve got another one of those and a 486 (gasp!) for the kids to play on; a P-133 firewall/server, a Mac Quadra 840AV, and two aging laptops (a PIII-450 and a PII-650).

Next on the list is a new, more powerful desktop to replace our P200; that machine will then replace the 486, so the kids will both have computers good enough to play all of their games. After that, I’ll acquire a new “server” (probably one of those disgustingly cheap celeron machines like, and split off the server from the existing firewall. I’ll keep the P-133 as a dedicated firewall/router. I’ve thought about getting one of the Linksys firewalls, but I like to run IPv6 and bizarre UDP-based VPNs, both of which are easier with my own Linux firewall.

We’ve also rearranged all of the furniture in our office to make more space for computers, and to add a bunch of storage for books, media, parts, etc.; Gareth calls it our computer lab now :-)

We currently own a scanner, but also on the toys list are:

* a colour printer
* a digital camera
* a USB hub for connecting it all together
* a network upgrade (10Mb/s to 100Mb/s)
* a kitchen machine (an old laptop, maybe)

I smell progress :-)

[ This entry scribbled while waiting for the DVD writer to simulate then inscribe our first DVD >:]

posted at 12:57 am on Wednesday, August 06, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on A Technology Jump
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