March 29, 2009



 It is easy to understand those that dedicate a great deal of their time growing these lovely plants… yet I’m grateful I can get mine at Wal-Mart for $8.99.

Oh Deer

March 26, 2009

Backyard Deer - Humber River, Toronto

Click through for a larger image.

This is a view from my mother’s kitchen last Sunday. Her home, in Toronto, backs onto the Humber River ravine. I counted nine deer though I can only count eight in the shot. The deer are common visitors though not usually in numbers this large.

Ahhhhhh, urban life :-)

Tom Slee over at Whimsley writes about Online Monoculture and the End of the Niche:

Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.

I am going to talk about a song called Waters of March. The first version of this song I heard was by a band named Smoke City. The Portuguese title of the original song  by Antonio Carlos Jobim is “Águas de Março” and the Smoke City version is partially in Portuguese and partially in English. 

This song is simply wonderful, which many if not most Brazilians already know, and the Smoke City rendition is unique and opens the song up to an English speaking audience. OK, too much talk about a song…. 

Go Listen to the Smoke City rendition of Águas de Março (Waters of March) at YouTube.

If you want a bit more, try the SeaLab version or the banjo version. 

So the point of my post is this, internet search and recommendation engines are not about being democratic or equitable they are about discovering greatness. In the case of the Waters of March song or the band Smoke City the recommendation engines fail miserably. The Wikipedia entry for Waters of March does not mention the Smoke City album Flying Away. The Flying Away album entry on Amazon in no way helps you find out about the original  Antonio Carlos Jobim song. Flying Away gained a cult following mostly because a the song Underwater Love appeared in a Levi Jeans commercial. iTunes is the worst with their we-know-what-best-for-you walled garden.

But people find this music despite the lack of links, recommendations, and availability of music to download. In fact, I think the truth is that people will go out of their way to share things that are truly great. The Internet with its links gives us a way to share. The recommendation engines and other tools are in their infancy but they will get better. People are ultimately the best recommendation engines and they will find ways to overcome the barriers of language and countries and bad software.

UnicornCam: Samsung NX

March 3, 2009

Samsung has announced their UnicornCam entry called the NX.

Samsung’s new NX Series bridges the gap between a DSLR and compact point-and-shoot digital camera by combining the benefits of both in one new model. Like conventional DSLRs, the NX Series utilizes an APS-C sized image sensor providing a much larger surface area to gather light and produce higher-quality images than comparable digital camera systems. Unlike a DSLR, the NX Series does not feature a mirror box and employs an ultra-precise Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The use of an EVF has allowed Samsung engineers to significantly reduce the size and weight of the new camera system by decreasing the distance between the lens and image sensor (flange back) by approximately 60% compared to traditional DSLRs. In addition to utilizing the EVF, consumers can also take advantage of the camera’s Live View functionality to frame their shots on the NX Series’ high-resolution screen.



It certainly looks small like the Panasonic Lumix G1 but it is unclear what the lens mount will be (it does look like there is a lens release so the glass must be interchangeable). The G1 uses the new Micro Fourth Thirds mount/sensor (2.0x crop factor) while the new Samsung will use a APS-C sized sensor (~1.5 crop factor?). Can Samsung be successful with a whole new line of lenses? Is it possible that they will use an existing line of lenses?

It certainly seems like quite a few vendors have thrown their hat into the UnicornCam ring.

Disgusting Ultimatums

March 2, 2009

CBC radio’s Quirks and Quarks show had a segment on the disgust response. One of the experiments demonstrates that people playing the ultimatum game show the facial disgust response when they receive a low offer that they ultimately reject. From a press release:

“Morality is often pointed to as the pinnacle of human evolution and development,” says lead author Hanah Chapman, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology.  “However, disgust is an ancient and rather primitive emotion which played a key evolutionary role in survival.  Our research shows the involvement of disgust in morality, suggesting that moral judgment may depend as much on simple emotional processes as on complex thought.” The research is being published in Science on February 27, 2009. 

This is why I found the research on chimps playing the ultimatum game with raisins so fascinating. Chimps play the way rational economists play (they accept any amount) while humans reject unfair offers on moral grounds. 

This adds to the work of Dan Kelly who believes the human moral system has co-opted the disgust system.

In my proposed Gift Card Stimulus thought experiment, I already suggested that tax payers, both individuals and businesses, receive gift cards worth 1/3 of income taxes paid in 2007. This works more like a tax break except that the twelve month spend-it-or-lose-it rule ensures that the money is spent rather than stashed away. This helps address the one big advantage governments have over individuals/businesses, governments can spend like nobody’s business (no pun intended). The disadvantage  is that governments do not have the money to spend on long term infrastructure (e.g. transportation, health, communication, energy). 

So why not allow government organizations to submit project proposals, with costs attached, and allow the Gift Card Stimulus to be allocated to the project of the Gift Card holder’s choice. Would you choose to give to bridge maintenance rather than purchase a new 50 inch TV?

So what else can you spend it on? I think you need to start off with “everything”, that is, any product or service that you can normally purchase. You might want to disallow some but I’m not exactly sure if its worth the effort. Food, gasoline, and utilities are things people will spend money on anyway so you may want to exclude them though it does seem kind of mean to do so. So lets say anything that you normally pay sales tax on is allowed plus government projects.

Remember, you will have to pay back the stimulus in tax eventually (say over 5 years). Those that don’t spend their Gift Cards don’t have to pay anything back.

It makes it feel more real though doesn’t it? Your money that you will have to pay back. Your choice that you will want to make a difference. Your skin in the game and not someone else making all the decisions on your behalf. 

Actually it is a bit depressing. Maybe that is another advantage of government spending. President Obama is far more optimistic about spending your money in a way that helps the economy than I think you or I would be spending our share ourselves. Maybe ignorance is bliss.