More Money Than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They’re Right by Laura Penny | LibraryThing

More Money Than Brains: Why Schools Suck, College is Crap, and Idiots Think They’re Right by Laura Penny | LibraryThing is the most recent book I finished, and a thus a good time to get myself back into the habit of blogging all the books I read, if they’re worth it.

Within the first page or two I came across the phrase “North Americans,” which told me immediately (and correctly) that it was written by a Canadian. After all, North America is the least-inaccurate way to refer to the US and Canada together, and while people often could refer to the two of them together, virtually all Americans would have written “Americans,” not bothering to even assume that their statement would remain true if expanded slightly.

Anyhow, the entire book is essentially a single rant, almost a stream-of-consciousness, but somewhat better organized. The theme is around the large and growing trend of anti-intellectualism. Unfortunately, it basically sounds like what I would say, other than the much better style of writing. She has a talent for a certain sort of wordplay and wit. But beyond that, it said things I already thought and also proposed no solutions, so I ended the book feeling that my societal worries are correct and that’s that.

Is there a point in writing a book about certain problems and proposing no solutions? I’d never read one before, but then again there’s nothing wrong with stating a problem if the hope is that someone listening will themselves come up with solutions.

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Whew – I’m back

It obviously took me a lot longer to get around to fixing this blog up than I intended, but I’ve finally done it. Now running the latest version of WordPress, without all the hacks of my really old version. I did manage to convert the ‘keywords’ from an ancient plugin to using WordPress’ native tags, although I did suffer some pretty obvious encoding conversion issues. I’m just glad things work at all and probably too lazy to figure out how to deal with that.

I’ve composed dozens of blog posts in my head during the blog’s absence and hopefully I remember some of them enough to post them eventually.

It’s good to be back.

If anybody notices anything broken please let me know.

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Upgrading WordPress

I’m upgrading WordPress, and as my blog runs a heavily-customized version there may be some downtime and probably at least a temporary loss of (the display of) some data, including tags. Hopefully I’ll have things back up and running in a few days, but I may end up dumping the current blog design and some other things.

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Maybe I can Help You?

I’m going to make myself available over the next little while for consulting and contract work. I should probably write up a good list of the sort of thing I’m interested in, but until then, if you have any ideas or think I may be able to help you, send me a note. We’ll see where it goes. mfagan @ gmail.

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Contact Management getting more exciting

I started writing this post some (six?) months ago, and then forgot about it.

I got the email that etacts was shutting down and then saw that it was being purchased by Salesforce so figured I might as well just publish this post with the brief notes I already had.

What I’d been trying to say was that after some period of stagnation, I was seeing general improvements as well as some real innovation in address book / contact management.

  • Google Contacts, which is built into Gmail finally added merging of duplicates. Not a huge innovation, but quite important to me. Also Google Contacts integration with Google Voice works very nicely
  • Gist builds on you address books elsewhere and is quite neat, and now has browser plugins
  • Silentale was great in letting you search across your various inboxes, and since I last looked at it appears to have added a lot of new contact management features, so I’ll have to play with it some more again.
  • etacts, as mentioned above, had some neat features. Letting you know how long since you had spoken with various people, and prompting you if desired. Also keeping track of whether you got replies to particular emails. Integrated nicely into Gmail.
  • Rapportive, similar to etacts and Gist can integrate good information right into Gmail. One thing that was especially neat was their plugin-within-a-plugin model, so for example you can also get details about individuals from TransparencyData and Crunchbase, among others.
  • I’m not sure about now, but when I first went to write this post, both etacts and Rapportive were being powered by Rapleaf which now looks to be more of an advertising venture
  • Some other products that look good but have limited functionality for free users is Scrubly (address book cleanup and backup) and Flowtown which is intended largely for markets but allows you to match up contacts with their Facebook (and other?) IDs. Unfortunately Flowtown’s website indicates that basically all of this functionality is going away, and I’m not quite sure what they’ll be doing instead.
  • Find by Email, a great (and open source) service that aggregates the find-user-by-email feature of many websites, as explained by Pete Warden. I’ve been meaning to write about some of Pete’s work for months, and this is just one little example.
  • Digsby, the instant messaging program has been around for a while, but I finally tried it, hoping it would have a certain feature. I didn’t stick with it, but to use it and get my IM logs in I found Chat Log Converter which seems quite useful and supports quite a few formats.
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Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil by Richard Gilbert | LibraryThing

Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil by Richard Gilbert | LibraryThing – overall, this is an excellent book, and one can’t but help be persuaded by the core thesis: that oil is peaking about right now, that transportation is going to have to change drastically as a result, that a move to electricity for power is the only realistic solution, and that to prevent massive turmoil, we need to begin making major changes now.

I don’t agree with everything in the book (I’m not sold on PRT or Personal Rapid Transit) but just about everything else is extremely well justified. I was already thinking along the same lines as the authors, and so the most enjoyable part of the book for me was the first chapter. It is a look back at five prior major transport revolutions, about which I knew almost nothing and is very fascinating. If you aren’t interested in reading the whole book I recommend reading the first chapter and then flipping through to find interesting graphs and reading as much of those parts as you wish.

The striking part of the end of the book is the realization of how much needs to change, right now. All that needs to be done can be done with existing technology, but government needs to make some huge moves in terms of cancelling many existing projects, increasing some taxes, and shifting huge sums of money to new projects. While change is happening today, it is not remotely on the scale suggested by the book as being necessary, and it is hard to imagine the public in the United States accepting of the need to increase the pace of change much more.

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Bloom laptop designed with e-recycling in mind – Core77

Bloom laptop designed with e-recycling in mind – Core77 – this seems fantastic, from the perspective of assembly time (and thus cost), repair, and recycling, not to mention flexibility and ergonomics.

I wonder if there’s any chance of the concepts getting adopted by any existing hardware manufacturers.

I looked briefly for a link to the official website but didn’t find one.

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Updating an Old Site

As many of you know, back in high school school I created Fagan Finder. Having not updated most of the website since 2004 or earlier, I’ve found it quite strange as I updated a bunch of pages over the last month or so. I haven’t changed any of the technology or anything, but I’ve updated all the page content, which was actually a tremendous amount of work. Anyhow, details on the Fagan Finder Blog.

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Joint Declaration by Canada and France

Back in 2008 I wrote about Hossein Derakhshan’s arrest in Iran. It’s been about six years since I met him in person. He sat in prison for about two years without charges and a few months ago was sentenced to another twenty years. I don’t need to go into how ridiculous that is, you can see that blog post and search the web for more info.

What I should have been writing more about is Canada’s deplorable non-response to the arrest of a Canadian citizen. The Joint Declaration by Canada and France announced today looks to be by far the largest acknowledgement and complaint from the Canadian government. Sadly, this is how it goes in my head, and I suspect, in reality:

France
A lot of people have been pushing us to say something about this tragedy, so we’re going to make a public statement asking for Hossein’s release.
I just realize Canada’s hardly said anything about this. Better talk to them.
To Canada: What’s the deal? You’re not supporting your own citizen?
Canada
We have no power in the world and we’re wusses that would rather not offend Iran. Because, um…. terrorism! We’ll open ourselves more to attacks that way.
To themselves: even if they don’t buy that, the’ll probably pretend that they did.
So anyway, don’t say anything ‘cause people will know we’re wusses.
France
Um, well we’re gonna make the statement anyway. Either us by ourselves or you could make the statement with us. We have this thing called principals.
Canada
F***. I guess we’ll make a joint statement.
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YouTube – TEDxCalgary – Naheed Nenshi – Calgary 3.0

YouTube – TEDxCalgary – Naheed Nenshi – Calgary 3.0 is a video (via Reddit) of the newly-elected mayor of Calgary. It’s an election that I was unaware of until today when (like most other non-Calgarians) when the news seems to be full of Canada’s first big-city Muslim mayor.

To me, that’s not the story at all. That’s the sort of thing I expect from the increasingly diverse society that exists in the large Canadian cities. The real story that strikes me upon seeing this video, is that the citizens of Calgary have elected someone who actually does have what is probably the most important attribute for somebody in this role (among other roles). I’m talking about the ability to understand that decisions should be based on data. Decision-making is the major role of such a mayorship and in virtually all of them data must be the most important factor. This of course assumes some general common values (equality, freedom, etc. are desirable).

We now live in a world where there is far more information and knowledge than any one person can deal with. Intuition, anecdotes, and a small number of hopefully-experts are no longer the best we can do. In this short video, Nenshi demonstrates that he can go out and get data, analyse it, and make recommendations based on that. I’m not suggesting that all politicians should be excellent data miners and analysts; they merely need to have people that are and be willing to take the results. Of course, being about to graph some basic data in a spreadsheet is something I’d hope they could manage.

Here’s to a future where decision-makers know how to make decisions 🙂

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