Return to 2016

On the personal front, 2016 for me was a year I learned a few things:

  1. Learned to pick padlocks, and then subsequently went out and replaced all my padlocks
  2. Taught my little one how to ride a bike in less than 4 hours
  3. Had my phone stolen, and realizing it was just a phone and replaceable
  4. Tried to be more handy – fixed the fireplace, installed the new washer (and fixed the subsequent leak), helped build a shed, fixed security sensors, replaced a headlight, and installed some shelves.
  5. Learned where my tire jack was after running over a piece of concrete at 70 kph
  6. Learned that buying things for life is a sound investment. So hello duvet, kettle and decent appliances.
  7. Got my orange belt in martial arts
  8. Learned a lot about website security and performance when troubleshooting massive server physical memory usage during the Christmas holidays

McDonald’s bares all in new social media ads

Let’s be honest, Mickey D’s is everyone’s favourite whipping boy for everything from bad nutrition to mass consumerism – perhaps unfairly, perhaps fairly sometimes. What is true that the anonymous, detached nature of the Internet makes them an easy target for ridicule. It’s hard to run a positive social media campaign for such a polarizing company, but I think McDonald’s Canada is hitting the ball out of the park with these defiantly blunt and frank YouTube videos.

Here they show you how to make your own Big Mac:


It’s clever, if you consider McDonald’s value proposition is convenience – not wunderkind cuisine. And here they show you exactly how they make their food look so good in the advertising. In the end, it all sounds quite reasonable:


McD’s videos opens the kimono in such a way that would be considered suicidal by most, and yet they work. McDonald’s first foray into social media didn’t go so well; witness the #McDStories Twitter promotion earlier this year. They did learn an important defensive tactic against the hate parade, however – they disabled comments on their videos.

Viddler Brackets plugin for WordPress 3.0

Have you ever envied how users could embed YouTube videos into their blog posts by simply putting the URL of the video into their blog post with square brackets around them? Wanted to do this with Viddler videos for some reason? Envy no more!

Here’s the Viddler Brackets plugin for standalone WordPress 3.0.x installations as developed by Gregory Lam. The code is heavily based on the Quicktime Posting plugin by Shawn Van Every and YouTube Brackets by Robert Buzink.

This mimics’s functionality with YouTube shortcodes but with It’s really no frills. There are no GUI settings to configure; you open up viddler-brackets.php into a text editor and adjust $width and $height variables on Line 40 to taste.

There will most likely be no upgrades or enhancements, however I can vouch that it works in WordPress 2.9 and 3.0 perfectly fine.

Download Viddler Brackets 1.1.1


Baby Man loves cars. He drives them around in the bathtub. He drives them around in his bed. He points them out on the Auto Trader when we walk past a news box in his breathless and inexplicably Boston accent (“Itsa cahh!”). He’s even learned to play Need for Speed and its ilk on our computers. And probably the only person in the world that has been forced to watch the film Cars more than my wife is Pixar director Andrew Stanton.

Still, I suppose it beats loving bugs. That is, those not made by Volkswagen.

Could you eat 450 hot dogs in a month?

Before you answer, consider this – that’s an average of 15 wieners a day. That’s a lot of nitrates.

A student from my alma mater attempted to do just that for the month of April on a bet with his roommate. There was $1,500 on the line. It’s McMaster University so I’m compelled to root for it, regardless if it is for academic or gastrointestinal fame.

At least he has a good attitude about it. Easy come, easy go:

We do make crazy and stupid bets all the time. I guess we just like to bet on things because gambling on every day things makes them way more interesting and unless you run really well most of the money is just going to get passed back and forth. Well until you make a huge month long eating bet anyway. I hope I don’t lose this money back to him in May.

Yes, he won. Fans are already urging him to put the proceeds toward a $1,000 buy-in for an online poker tournament.

What money gets you

Here’s a fascinating thread on Reddit where a $20 million lottery winner was casually fielding questions, as long as no one probes for his identity.

Unlike most lottery stories I hear which tend to follow a tragic rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle, he seems to have a proper noggin on his shoulders.

He hired a lawyer, set up a blind trust, took the lump sum and paid off all his debts. Now his self-described pastime is travelling the world and buying drinks to people he’s met. He still keeps fiscally conservative – he flies coach, uses a rewards credit card, and keeps modest mutual fund investments.

My favourite question:

Question: How did you invest [your winnings]?

Answer: a full time financial advisor who is in turn monitored by a full time accountant… who is then audited in secret by a team of auditors.

He also got a vasectomy, to avoid any costly “accidents”.

Sony Pictures: We’re against the Internet, common business sense

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton recently had this to say in a meeting in Syracuse, NY:

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…(The Internet) created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

In other news, Sony has just announced a $1.1 billion loss, and expect to lose a further $1.2 billion by the end of fiscal 2009 . Sony’s Entertainment division, responsible for pushing proprietary disc-based formats such as music CDs, Blu-Ray and the PSP’s UMD discs, have seen decreased sales.

Is Sony focusing on selling entertainment, or little circular bits of plastic?

Playing a god: can religion and videogames mix?

Recently, a PlayStation 2 game has come under criticism – not for gratuitous violence or sex, but for religious reasons. Called Hanuman: Boy Warrior, the India-made and released game allows players to roleplay the adventures of Hanuman, a Hindu deity famous for defeating the villainous King Ravana.  At least one Hindu leader has taken offence:

“In a video game format, the player would control the destiny of Lord Hanuman while in reality, believers put their destinies in the hands of their deities, [Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism] wrote.

“Controlling and manipulating Lord Hanuman with a joystick, button, keyboard, or mouse is ‘denigration'”, he added.

It should be noted that the game follows the ancient Hindu scriptures; one cannot make Hanuman steal cars or shoot bazookas. remarks that the real offence being perpetrated is that the game is pants.

I find this interesting. We’re going to see increased dialogue about these kind of topics as today’s interactive media is becoming more and more used as narrative devices. Is this truly different than tribal elders in ancient times, reenacting the great achievements of their gods in front of a raging bonfire?

Mind you, I’m sure Americans would be up in arms if you could roleplay Jesus in a video game – although no one raised an eyebrow when George Burns played you-know-who in the film Oh God!

Would the ancient Greeks have taken a dim view of God of War?

It will be a long road until videogaming is perceived from “callous pastime enjoyed by lazy youths” to a recognized genre of art. Until then, remember this – even the Gutenburg press was accused of the same, since people were busy using it to make pictures of naked people with it.

GeoCities: Pioneer town to ghost town

Before Facebook or blogs or cheap web hosting, netizens had GeoCities – the guiding light for those who wanted a website but couldn’t afford their own.

It quickly became the self-publishing printing press of the online world – there were personal pages, and sites on people’s favourite TV shows. Animated GIF backgrounds, blink tags and crackpot ramblings were par for the course. Let’s just say people often referred to it as “GeoShitties”, and it wasn’t an unfair moniker.

Perhaps PC World sums up most peoples’ reaction with the title of their article, “So Long, GeoCities: We Forgot You Still Existed“.

But, as a kid in the proto-WWW of 1996, I cut my teeth on HTML with the help of Geocities. Back then, GeoCities didn’t even have FTP access – you uploaded files via online form, one at a time. They only supported JavaScript – no SQL databases or widgets. We started out with a formidable 1 MB of webspace. And it was good.

That was 13 years ago. I hear Yahoo! has decided to put GeoCities to pasture later this year. I can’t say I blame them. I do have to thank them, for introducing me to the online publishing world.

Microsoft’s electric dreams, circa 1999 and 2009

The Internet is currently abuzz with Microsoft Office Lab’s video detailing their vision of how computing (and Microsoft) would look like in 2019.

It got me thinking on a different track, however. Microsoft is showing us what they think the world will look like in ten years, but what if they had made a video with the same idea ten years ago?

Then I remembered, they did. I went digging through my collection of CD-ROMs, and found this video on a promo disc a Microsoft college recruiter handed me in 1999.

Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I present you “Meet the Family” – a Microsoft video created ten years ago showcasing how a future family would partake in a trip to the zoo, high-tech Microsoft style.

Before you watch this video, you have to think back to what 1999 was like. The latest Windows was Windows ME; corporate types used Windows 2000. Microsoft Internet Explorer was fresh from its victory in the browser wars with Netscape. The dot-com boom was in full swing. Microsoft was about to launch a new video game console called the Xbox. Instant messaging was only a couple years old, and ICQ was top dog. There was no such thing as a smartphone; but if you were really hot stuff, you might have carried around an expensive email pager known as a Blackberry.

Oh, and kids listened to a band known as Fatboy Slim:

As you may have noticed, the 21st century has not been kind to Microsoft’s 1999 vision. Many things have come to pass in a limited fashion, such as the Tablet PC and Windows Mobile smartphones with location-based services. There are other things that seem embarrassing in hindsight, like the UI concept that resembled the quickly-forgotten MSN Explorer. Probably the only totally whiz-bang idea that actually made it to fruition was the face sculpting video game feature – and that took seven years.

Here’s Microsoft’s 2009 prediction of 2019, courtesy of Long Zheng @ istartedsomething:

In 1999, it was all about the PC. Microsoft’s vision of 2019 is a future of portable devices wrapped in e-ink and flexible OLEDs. Time will tell if Microsoft’s latest crystal ball readings will pan out. Maybe it’s not the accuracy of predictions that count, but whether they are dreamt of at all.