Monday, March 08, 2010

CBC Radio: Vinyl Cafe and Age of Persuasion

Maybe I'm starting to show my age, but I'm starting to find music uninspiring and unremarkable, at least the stuff on the radio anyway. I haven't really bothered to explore new music, but turned to CBC radio instead. I've been exploring some of the shows on there. Quirks and Quarks caught my attention initially, along with Ideas. I listened to some episodes on some of my long drives and found them interesting, but not really gripping.

Then I discovered Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean and Age of Persuasion with Terry O'Reilly. I'll write more about Vinyl Cafe in a later post, but two episodes from both shows stood out to me given the current federal political climate. Both have to do with political ads and using media in political campaigns.

The first episode is from Mr. McLean commenting on the tastefulness, or lack thereof, of negative advertising. I share his opinion that negative ads are disgraceful and do not contribute to any intelligent debate about the kind of policies that are good for our country. They break down issues into simplistic black and white points of view and are rife with disinformation. Say what you want about Stephane Dion, but his Green Shift plan was a progressive attempt to factor in environmental factors into economic accounting of businesses. It was worth a serious debate by our political leaders and media. Unfortunately, as Mr. McLean illustrates, the negative ads by the Conservative Party pretty much stifled any debate and Mr. Dion eventually lost the election and was summarily deposed by the Liberal Party. Here's an excerpt of the Vinyl Cafe episode (the rest of it involves a song and a letter correspondence).

The second episode is from Mr. O'Reilly explaining how negative political advertising came about and why they work. He breaks down the history of negative advertising and the effect of new media technologies on political campaigns. He also explains why these ads work. You can listen to the episode here.

I think it's safe to say that we'll have another federal election sometime within the next two years. Unfortunately, with that will come the slew of negative ads and over-the-top political spin. Until the general public lashes back against this type of advertising and rewards politicians who take an enlightened approach to campaigning, political parties will continue to take big issues that need enlightened debate and dumb them down with cheap spin tricks and simplistic black and white points of view. We will all continue to be worse off for it.

Clipper Round the World Yacht Race

I have to see a financial planner about this. I found out about the Clipper Round the World Race from talking to someone about sailing: "My friend's of a friend of a friend is on this crazy race around the world...clipper something...or was it something clipper...hmm."

I did some digging around and found the site. 10 months of open ocean sailing and no experience needed. Crazy!

I already sent for an info package. I'll have to figure out how to save up for it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

My horoscope didn't say anything about this...

Thursday Feb 4, 2010 is going to be etched in my memory as one of the toughest days of my life so far. If ever there was a day where it didn't pay to get out of bed, this was it.

I needed to do laundry because I needed some decent business clothes for some meetings in Toronto so I got up early and went to the 24hr laundromat. I brought my laptop with me to do work while I was waiting. After laundry was done, I went home and decided to stay there and work until lunchtime before going into the office. I had a hard time concentrating so at around 10:30am I decided to pack up the car, drive into work, and then head to Toronto straight after I was done work.

At around 11am, I was driving south along Bagot St. through the intersection when a guy ran his red light coming east down Princess St. and t-boned me. My car spun around, stalled, and then rolled backwards into the building of the Shoppers Drugmart.

Here's what my car looked like after it was all said and done:







I even made the evening news in Kingston.
video
If the resolution was a little better you could see me talking to the cops and firemen. The guy who hit me got a ticket for running a red light.

I got a little sentimental when I saw my car get taken away on a flatbed tow truck. I felt incredibly lucky not to be hurt physically, and that no-one else got hurt. That was my first car and I had it for 10 years. I have a lot of good memories associated with it. I knew it was time for a new car, but I didn't want it to happen like this.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

DIY Jet Engine

There are some days that I wish I had a garage with all sorts of tools in it to build projects like...umm...my own home made jet engine!!! I could use it to do all sorts of neat things like...uhh...cool beer! or...uhh...cook a hot dog!

Seriously now though, I know about jet engines because I worked in aerospace for a while as a mechanical engineer and thought they were really neat. I wanted to go work for Pratt & Whitney for a while.

A jet engine is a type of turbine engine. Essentially, it's two fans on a common shaft rotating inside a tube. The first fan compresses the air into the combustion chamber where fuel is added and ignited. The air then suddenly expands rushing out of the compression chamber to drive the second fan, which in turn drives the front fan which compresses more air and so on. The engine reaches a constant speed when the ignited hot air mixture rushing out the back of the engine provides enough power to compress the incoming air and the system reaches an equilibrium state. The air rushing out the back of the engine has lots of power left in it though and provides the thrust force that can enable a plane to take off from the ground. They're complex machines to set up and run and aircraft mechanics get paid a lot of money to keep these engines running without any problems.

I've keep thinking that it is plausible to design a turbine engine that uses concentrate sunlight heat the compressed air rather than fuel. After all, some power generators can concentrate enough sunlight to melt salt. So why not use sunlight to directly power a turbine engine on a smaller scale. Something like this stirling engine.

I started digging around and found a whole wealth of information about using automotive turbochargers. Some good sites are here and here.

I'll keep this project in the back of my mind. Maybe one day when I'm settled in a house I'll give it a whirl.

Best Recipes Ever: Paprika Chicken

I've been watching the new cooking show on CBC Video called "Best Recipes Ever" hosted by Kary Osmond. It's simple everyday food based on recipes from Canadian Living magazine. Osmond demeanour adds a lot to the show, although she seems rushed and a little stressed with the recipes that she tries to deliver. Still, it's a much better show than the Food Network's 30-minute Meals with Rachael Ray.

I tried out the paprika chicken recipe from Episode 7. I like a little heat in my meals so I added a chopped fresh chilli pepper. I also used chicken thighs instead of breasts. Overall it was pretty tasty! A nice smoked pepper flavour from the generous amounts of paprika. I made too much though and I'll probably be eating it for a few meals over the next few days.

Here's what my plate looked like:

Urban Farming

A couple of interesting applications could come together in the relatively new future to bring farming to urban centres. The first is the concept of vertical farming talked about here. This globe and mail article also talks about a BC entrepreneur developing urban barns for growing crops.

The second application is the technology that may enable these concepts to take off already exists. From my experience working at a fibre-optics devices company, I thought it might be a good to develop a device that would capture sunlight and divert it indoors using fibre optic cables. Bring outdoor lighting indoors. I did some research and someone's already ahead of the game in this area as described in this article from ecogeek.org.

Indoor growing operations aren't a new idea. Drug dealers have recognized the profit potential for them and it's a big problem as far as Canada's law enforcement is concerned.

The major drawback is electricity consumption. Plants need a lot of light and heat to grow properly. Urban indoor farms will have to consume a lot of energy to grow crops. A technology that allows these farmers to bring sunlight indoors and allow them to grow common vegetables year-round will work towards reducing the energy costs of an operation, especially here in Canada. The initial capital cost for the building, equipment, and lighting technology will be high and I'm not sure that the price point of the vegetables produced in these farms will be palatable for consumers. It would be an interesting pilot study project to examine the profitability of these urban farms. Maybe a single-level warehouse in a suburban industrial zone might be a good spot to start. If you let your mind wander a little bit, the possibility of growing bananas in Canada at some point in the future doesn't seem too implausible.

Book Review: Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

There was a lot of hype around Malcolm Gladwell last year when I was in the MBA program. People were talking about how insightful his writing was. I never really bought into the hype then, but with all the driving I was doing over the Christmas break, I decided to listen to audio books instead of music. I loaded "Outliers" in my mp3 player and started listening.

The premise the book is to examine the reasons behind the seemingly anomalous success behind the likes of Bill Gates, the Korean Air safety record turnaround, and the success of some Jewish New York lawyers. His argument is that these success are not simply the result of the tenacity, determination, and talent of the individual, but rather the result of environmental, cultural, and time factors that put the individual in the perfect place at the perfect time.

The book's been out for a while and I think anyone can find plenty of reviews about it with a simple internet search so I won't go into great detail here.

I found two parts of the book really interesting. The first was the reason why most top level hockey players have birthdays in January through April. It turns out that the cut off date for kids hockey is January 1st. Kids born earlier in the year tend to be more physically developed than their later-born peers, especially at the age when they start to jump to higher level hockey programs. The most physically developed and talented then go on to receive better coaching, more ice time, play with higher skilled players, and thus get a better chance for elite level success. It's an interesting observation, but Gladwell doesn't offer any suggestion to even out the odds a little more to group hockey players according to physical maturity rather than strictly age.

Another interesting point was in his discussion of the Korean Air disasters. There was a time when Korean Air had the worst airline safety record in the world and airports were starting to refuse landing for Korean Air flights. Gladwell argues that the major reason behind these crashes was cultural. He talked about the Korean culture being very hierarchical leading to a great reliance on the captains. Junior pilots were afraid to challenge both their captains and the air traffic controllers that they were talking to. Gladwell introduces Hofstede's Power Distance Index study to explain the effect of cultural differences on the airline's safety record.

The discussion about the airline itself didn't interest me very much, but Hofstede's study did. I'm a mix of two high power distance cultures: filipino and arab. Over the past 20 years now, I've been living in a very low power distance North American culture. I started thinking about previous interviews, jobs, negotiations, relationships, and friendships and how that cultural difference affected me in terms of how I behaved and what I expected out of the behaviour of my superiors and peers. It was eye opening and explained a few things about my past. I now notice it in my behaviour, how I talk, and how I think. I don't feel the need to change my viewpoint or values, but at least now I can understand the communication modes better. I recommend that any new immigrant or foreign student to have a look at Hofstede's study and to try to be conscious of it when coming to North America. It will help a lot in interviews.

I found the rest of Gladwell's book unremarkable. He talks about the minimum 10,000 hours required to be an expert in anything. This idea isn't new. There are a few documentaries that talk about the brain and how it grows with repeated practice at a given skill. Susan Polger's father was a psychologist in Hungary and had the idea that any child can be trained to be a master in anything as long as the child had an affinity for the skilled practice. There's a whole documentary about it called "My Brilliant Brain", you can watch it here. The CBC also had a documentary along the same lines as part of David Suzuki's show "The Nature of Things" called The Brain that Changes Itself. It's based on a book by Toronto psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Norman Doidge.

Gladwell also spends a great deal of time developing the idea of environmental factors that contribute to the success or demise of the individuals that he talks about. This is nothing new to anyone who has an avid interest in entrepreneurship. Almost every success story has an element of fortuitous random convergence of outside factors that place the entrepreneur at the right place at the right time. In most cases, it's a type of lucky meeting between people that leads to success.

Gladwell's writing style is very wordy for my taste. I got the impression that he over belays some points and gets repetitive at times. Maybe it's because I prefer a direct approach to communication and don't need to hear a lot of verbiage to understand a given argument. Overall, I think "Outliers" is a worthy read. Maybe his other books are a little better and more insightful. I've got another audio book and hardback book of his to get to this year.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New look again

Trying out a new look...the default templates in blogger aren't all that appealing to me now. Might look at downloading some free templates.

I've been neglecting this blog...I'll have to get back to posting more frequently.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Online CRM stuff

In doing research for solutions for the alumni database project that I`m working on, I came across some interesting web solutions.

HighriseHQ and Network Hippo are some really interesting CRM applications. I tried out HighriseHQ and really liked it. I haven`t tried network hippo yet, but that`s on my list of things to do this week.

Stuff like this inspires me to learn more about web technologies. I wish I knew enough to setup up concepts like these quickly to make a pitch to potential partners and investors for new web technology ideas.

Some interesting ideas

I keep having these great ideas and get excited about implementing them, but I keep finding that other people had those same ideas earlier and already put a solution in place.

While I was interviewing with Torstar Digital, I came up with some ideas for improving Workopolis.com, one of their web properties. I thought that there must be a way to have enhanced resumes couple with some sort of generic online system for employee reviews. That way the system could rate people based on their performance as rated by their bosses. It would give additional information on top of the simple resume to help recruiters choose candidates to interview. I figured the same system could be used abroad in other countries so that skilled immigrants to Canada would have a rating to point to that would be familiar to employers here in Canada.

I also had that in mind when I was putting together my online resume. These days, recruiters get hundreds of resumes when they post a job. Sifting through them to find good candidates to interview is a time consuming and expensive job. The one-page resume formated isn`t enough anymore...you need something else to show recruiters. My online resume shows more detail in a way that`s easy for people to access and review. It also helps in trying to arrange info meetings.

I was looking into trying to develop a site where people could make similar online resumes easily and open the system up for recruiters to search through. A kind of giant resume book. I also thought of adding a performance review feature based on the U of Waterloo co-op evaluation form.

I started talking to people about these ideas and found out about two sites: whyhire.me and rypple.com. Apparently, these people had similar ideas put them into motion. What I had in mind was a little different (and in my mind better...for obvious reasons) from their solutions, but they already have something built.

I`m thinking about putting together a proposal for the Queen`s business career centre about implementing the solution for their grads with some other added features.

Back in Kingston

About a month ago, I was on my way to Ottawa for an info meeting with an engineering company. I made plans to stop in Kingston along the way and arranged another meeting with a company in town. The traffic on the drive was a lot lighter than I expected and I got into Kingston a couple of hours early, so I decided to stop by the business school and say hi to the MBA staff.

I ran into my old team facilitator from the MBA program and we decided to go out for lunch. I turned out that there were some changes that happened in the career centre and he became the director there over the summer. He was telling me about some of the challenges that he was facing. One of them was that the Queen's alumni weren't being utilized well enough in placing graduating business students in jobs. He wanted a database developed that would help in engaging alumni and help his department prospect jobs for students. He asked me how my job search was going and then asked me if I was interested in running with the project since he didn't have anyone available to make it happen. So we ended lunch with a verbal agreement on a 3-month consulting arrangement to get this database off the ground and I agreed to start 4 days later on Nov 23.

The info meeting in Ottawa fell through and nothing came of the other info meeting I had set up in Kingston so I left town earlier than expected to head home to pack a bag with some work clothes.

I've been working on defining the requirements of the project over the last 4 weeks...interviewing staff and asking them how they use alumni data and how they store it. It's a similar type of information flow and data problem to the one that I was tackling with my big business idea. People use data in a business process but keep track of data differently. You can gain efficiencies and better performance through a combination of behavioural changes and application of some technology. In the case of the business career centre, the goal is to place a higher percentage of students in jobs in a shorter time period. The final product will either be an adoption of an existing CRM database or a custom built system specific to the needs of the career centre. I'm leaning towards recommending a custom solution but there are other financial and time factors to consider. The new system should be up and running by mid-feb barring any issues.

It's an interesting place to be...My previous interaction with the career centre staff was as a student. Now I'm working with them in their office. The first week was a little surreal but I'm starting to get used to it now. I have to say that I like this type of consulting gig. I set my own hours and don't really have a boss. I just invoice my time and show results. I just have to find some longer term arrangements so I can finally stop living like a student and get to feel like a pro again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Places I've been

Played with google maps a while ago and included a map of places I've been to in my life so far on my online resume. I figured it'd be a good thing to include here. There's a link in the side bar on the right too.


View Places I've been in a larger map

Political ads

Some Liberal minds are starting to get it. The person who came up with this idea should be promoted to the federal party level. I'm not really attached to any political party but I do think the current conservative federal government needs to be called out on some of their fiscal decisions and the myth of them being fiscally responsible needs to be debunked.

I originally found it on this blog through progressivbloggers.ca, but here's the video in any case:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Toronto Zoo

I was in Toronto for a weekend for a get-together. Decided to go to the zoo with a couple of friends on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon. It was really busy! We walked around for about 3 hours...also managed to roll down a hill for a bit of fun.





Cormorants?

With the fall season setting in, a lot of water birds have been flying through the area catching fish along the river. I go for walks sometimes along the waterfront and see lots of them. I was driving by one day and saw a whole bunch of cormorants (I think) sitting in a single tree. I happened to have my camera with me and stopped to take some pictures. As soon as I got close though, most of them got skittish and flew away. I took these pictures of the ones cool enough to stay on the tree:





Work

Well...I'm finally working again. An old employer contacted me about helping them with a large order of machined parts that they received. The needed help programming their cnc machines and designing the work-holding fixtures. We figured out a short-term contract arrangement.

It's nice to be working, but it's a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. I started this blog after I quit working there because I got tired of the atmosphere and knew that I could do better than working there. There was limited opportunity for growth and learning and the place is rife with complainers. I left there because I had a chat with the owner about growing into larger role, but he told me he was happy with my productivity where I was and there wasn't much of a possibility of me growing into a management position or playing a larger role in developing the business. I quit a month after that discussion and decided to go to India and the Philippines to figure out what to do next. That journey eventually led me to the MBA at Queen's. I never thought that I'd be back in the same chair doing the same work again. I'm trying to make the best of the situation, but this turn of events isn't helping my morale. Hopefully, something will develop soon.

Reading articles like these doesn't help either.