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Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Who says Americans don’t save more? (A daylight saving time post)

So now most Americans have successfully transitioned to Daylight Saving Time.

What does this mean?

It means that I’ve going to have a lot of fun dealing with my corporate parent for the next few weeks.

You see, I work for an American subsidiary of a French company. Which means that when I get to work at 8:00 in the morning, I need to get cracking immediately if I need to contact the head office, where it is nine hours later, or 5:00 pm.


That was certainly the case on Friday, March 9, when both the United States and France were on Standard Time. But on Monday, March 13, when the U.S. switched to Daylight Saving Time and France didn’t, then it’s a…wait a minute…sorry, my brain hurts. It’s either eight or ten hours, or something.

According to Time and Date, this discrepancy won’t be resolved until March 25, when France joins the United States in Daylight Saving Time. It turns out that much of the Northern Hemisphere goes to Daylight Saving Time on that day. However, Israel waits until March 30, the Gaza Strip until March 31, and Cuba until April 1.

The net effect is that North American countries such as the United States and Canada have a longer Daylight Saving Time period than European countries.

Who says Americans don’t save more than the citizens of other countries?

Oh well…I guess it could be worse. I could be working for my company’s Australian subsidiary. April 1 happens to be the date that Australia LEAVES Daylight Saving Time. In this Southern Hemisphere country, Daylight Saving Time doesn’t begin until October 7.

My respect for the Ffundercats’ mathematical skills has just increased dramatically.


Tours in Iraq and Afghanistan vs. tours in Vietnam (including the Hanoi Hilton)

While looking at the headlines regarding the Army sergeant who is accused of killing at least 16 Afghan civilians, something caught my eye:

The emerging picture of the Army sergeant was of a man worn by the chaos of service in two wars that lack clear front lines and alliances. The sergeant was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after three tours in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman George Little said yesterday.

After such multiple deployments, military personnel struggle “with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression — and still don’t do what this man did,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of Give an Hour, a Bethesda, Maryland-based non-profit group that provides mental-health services to military personnel.

While acknowledging that most military personnel serve multiple tours in war zones and don’t go out and kill people, I began wondering – has there been a change between the number of tours that military personnel serve today versus the number of tours served by personnel in the Vietnam era?

But when I attempted to find out about Vietnam tours, I ran across something else entirely:

Recommended Vietnam Tours

North & South One Month In Vietnam!

There’s a lot to see in Vietnam, and a full month will give you time to not only see the major cities, but also one or two areas further afield:

•4 Nights in Saigon: Three and a half days in Ho Chi Minh City will give you time to adjust to your jet lag, explore the city, and see the major sites. Car or bus to Can Tho on the fifth day.

•2 Nights in Can Tho: With two nights in Can Tho you’ve got one full day to see the floating markets and smaller canals. Car or bus back to Saigon for one night, or all the way to Dalat if you like driving for 12 hours or more!

•3 Nights in Dalat: Three nights in Dalat will give you two full days to explore the city and relax by the lake. Fly or drive (two full days with a stop in Quy Nhon) to Hoi An.

•3 Nights in Hoi An: You’ve got 2 and a half days in Hoi An. These can eaily be spent exploring the old town, with an optional trip to the coast. Travel by bus, car, or train to Hue on the fourth day.

•2 Nights in Hue: Leave Hoi An early to spend a day in Hue exploring the Citadel, then spend your next full day with a trip down the Perfume River to see the spectacular tombs and river life. Fly or take the overnight train to Hanoi on day 3.

•4 Nights in Hanoi: With three and a half days in Hanoi you can liesurly explore the old town and sites, and optionally take a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda or Halong Bay.

•5 Nights in Sapa and Bac Ha: 5 nights on this trip will give you time to see the hill tribes and markets of Sapa, Bac Ha, and Can Cau. One night on the train to Lao Cai, 2 nights in Sapa (leaving very early on Saturday for the Can Cau market), 1 night in Bac Ha to see the Sunday morning market, and another overnight train ride back to Hanoi.

Those weren’t the types of tours that I was looking for.

And if you really want a culture shock, there is now a real Hanoi Hilton. Granted it’s called the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, but I’m sure that someone in the Hilton organization probably paused a moment before announcing this hotel. After all, there was a “Hanoi Hilton” that was much more famous – and it wasn’t a wonderful place.

Perhaps COMDEX Virtual wasn’t a game-changer

While reading about this week’s absolutely-must-do trade show, SXSW, I wondered about the trade show that was a big deal 20 years ago – namely, COMDEX.

That’s when I belatedly discovered that COMDEX was relaunched in 2010. At the time, It’s All Virtual discussed the implications.

Today’s news is nothing short of a game changer and turning point for our industry. Virtual events have enjoyed growing adoption – initially from B2B publishers and recently from corporations. Adoption rates have been particularly strong from the same technology vendors who used to exhibit at COMDEX. Now, however, one of the most widely known event brands has made the move to embrace virtual.

So I figured I’d go to the COMDEX website to get the full story. And when I got to the page, I was greeted by this:

Which is all right and fine…except for the fact that the invitation to register for the November 2011 COMDEX was still displaying in March 2012. Not a good sign.

However, as a recent (December 7) tweet reminds us, COMDEX Virtual is still going on. I COULD register today if I wanted to, and would still have access to the show until May (the show is available for six months after the actual date).

Is it worthwhile to register? According to sponsor UBM, yes:

FRAMINGHAM, Mass., Dec. 16, 2011 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — UBM Channel, in partnership with UBM Studios, today announced the success of the second annual COMDEXvirtual event, the largest independent virtual gathering of the IT Channel. With more than 4,300 attendees over the course of two days, the impressive virtual event featured more than 40 speakers, a dozen keynotes, and nine on demand conference sessions.

OK, but what about independent coverage of the event? CRN had an impressive collection of stories about COMDEXVirtual 2011…oh wait, they’re a UBM subsidiary.

I ended up searching Google News for all mentions of “Comdex” between November 10 and 23, 2011. Within the English language results, I found references to COMDEX 2001 and COMDEX 2003, but the only reference to COMDEX 2011 was from UBM.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare COMDEX to its glory days – kind of like comparing Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show to a future Tonight Show with Willow Smith or whoever replaces Jay Leno. And perhaps COMDEX was meaningful for the 4,300+ who did attend, even if the rest of the world didn’t care.

But it just goes to show that something can be extremely popular in one decade, and…um…virtually forgotten in the next.

iSlate – never born, died 2011

The difference between a history book and a current account – whether that current account is a newspaper article, a blog post, or whatever – is that the historian has the advantage of time, and the ability to process what has been learned. The current writer is dealing with the moment, and things that might be proven inaccurate.

I recently referred to a blog post that I wrote on January 26, 2010. The post, entitled “Has the i- prefix jumped the shark?” I spent most of the post talking about the i-Dog, the iDrug, and the iGasm. But I started by discussing a product that was about to be released – a revolutionary product from Apple that would change the way that we live, just like every other Apple product has been revolutionary and has changed the way that we live.

The product that Apple was about to release? According to my post, it was…the iSlate.

If you’re looking at this post with a quizzical look, don’t worry. Apple never did release an iSlate; they ended up calling their new product the iPad. (See this post for a listing of the many rumors floating around before the January 27 announcement.)

But at that time, a lot of people thought that the new product would be called the iSlate. A month before I wrote my shark-jumping post, MacRumors posted this:

With rumors of the Apple tablet reaching new highs, MacRumors has found evidence that Apple acquired the domain name iSlate.com presumably in preparation for the new device.

The iSlate.com domain was originally registered in October 2004 by a company called Eurobox Ltd. It later changed hands to Data Docket, Inc. in 2006. In 2007, however, the domain was transferred to registrar MarkMonitor.com. MarkMonitor handles domain name registrations and trademark protections for many companies, including Apple. As is typical, however, the name of the actual registrant was initially hidden to obscure the identify of the actual owner.

Well, except for a few weeks in which Apple’s ownership of the domain was temporarily exposed. And once something becomes public on the Internet, it’s public forever. See the MacRumors post.

At the end of the day, Apple decided upon a different name for its new product. And as of March 2012, records show that the domain is registered to…MarkMonitor.

Domain Name: ISLATE.COM
Whois Server: whois.markmonitor.com
Referral URL: http://www.markmonitor.com
Status: clientDeleteProhibited
Status: clientTransferProhibited
Status: clientUpdateProhibited
Updated Date: 28-sep-2011
Creation Date: 30-oct-2004
Expiration Date: 30-oct-2013

And now no one talks about iSlate any more. Including Apple – as Mike Cane notes, Apple abandoned the iSlate trademark on October 3, 2011.

The problem with ancient (and modern) calendars

Continuing on the calendars theme, let’s devote some time to the biggest problem with calendars.

The problem with calendars is that they try to explain two things which are not identical – the phases of the moon, and the seasons of the year.

The moon circles around the earth in a 28-day orbit, and when observed from the earth, the sun hits the moon in particular ways during that 28-day cycle – for example, the full moon, when the entire moon is illuminated by the sun, and the new moon, when the moon cannot be seen from the earth.

But at the same time that the moon circles around the earth, the earth itself is circling around the sun. This dictates certain things, such as the longest day of the year and the shortest day of the year.

And the two rotations do not agree. Consider the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. When this is contrasted with the Gregorian calendar, which is (primarily) a solar calendar, you find that the Islamic calendar is much shorter. In Islamic countries that use both calendars, this means that specific Islamic holy days occur earlier and earlier on the solar calendar. Presently, the month of Ramadan occurs in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. But as time passes, the month will be observed in the spring, then in the winter, then in the autumn, and eventually in the summer again.

The earlier calendars were lunar calendars, presumably because the phases of the moon are much easier to observe. But this caused problems for the ancient people of Egypt:

The earliest Egyptian calendar was based on the moon’s cycles, but the lunar calendar failed to predict a critical event in their lives: the annual flooding of the Nile river.

And if you’re an Egyptian and you don’t know when the Nile is going to flood, you will have serious problems. The solution?

The Egyptians were probably the first to adopt a mainly solar calendar….[T]hey devised a 365-day calendar that seems to have begun in 4236 B.C.E., the earliest recorded year in history.

But what of the calendar that we use today? It is derived from the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar to solve a problem with politicians.

Before the Julian calendar was introduced, priests in the Roman Empire exploited the calendar for political ends, inserting days and even months into the calendar to keep the politicians they favored in office. Tired of the chaos that this undependable system eventually gave rise to, Julius Caesar finally set out to put the long-abused calendar back on track.

Recovering from the loss of a loved one

Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), certain emotions come into play when someone dies.

On one extreme, you have the people who go to the funeral just to make sure that the jerk is dead. This was addressed by noted philosopher Marilyn Manson in his song “Four Rusted Horses.” A real-life situation was described by Sweetpea, author of The Good Funeral Guide:

I went to visit a family a while ago, and the son’s opening words to me were ‘well, you might as well know the only reason we’re going to the funeral is to make sure that the old bastard’s dead.’ As I worked with the family over the next week or so, I could see he might have a point. Their stated aim when I first met them was to pour their father’s ashes down the nearest drain. I’m no magician. We talked. They were given a safe space to express themselves. We fashioned a ceremony which even managed to acknowledge the one or two kinder moments that any of them could remember. I hope that in 10, 20 years time, when they re-read the ceremony, they at least won’t be ashamed of what was enacted. And possibly could even be proud of what they did.

One the other extreme, there are cases where people never recover from the loss of a loved one. Take the story of twins Joan and Patricia Miller; as I write this, investigators are theorizing that one of the twins died, and the other twin couldn’t cope with the death and died also.

For most of us, however, we eventually recover from the loss of a loved one. But there’s no magic formula that says “you will recover from the loss of a loved one in x days/months/years.” A thread in the (so-called) HealthExpertAdvice.org contains some thoughts on the topic. Firespider:

The method of death can sometimes make the event even more tragic or traumatizing. If you lose a baby, it is much more tragic for you than if you lose your grandmother that is 95. You grandmother’s death would be seen as a sad but natural event, while the baby’s death would be considered unnatural and inconsolably tragic.


I lost some very special people(3)in a short space of time and found that the old adage that time does heal ,plus lots of TLC from friends and a good grief [counselor].

Holly M:

It really depends on factors of emotions before [death], emotions soon after death and even farther after the death….

It also depends on how much [their] life [affected] your every day [routine], seeing that without them you will have to [completely] chnage your [routine], which can bring even stronger emotions.

At the end of the day, each person has a different reaction to the death of a loved one. Time may not necessarily heal all wounds, but you have to allow time for the grieving to occur.

Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time joke is taken seriously

I have written about Daylight Saving Time in the past, and since we’re about to start Daylight Saving Time here in (portions of) the United States, it’s fitting to look at the practice.

The idea behind Daylight Saving Time, of course, is to provide more light in the evening, allowing people to save energy.

However, the idea of shifting clocks to save energy isn’t a 20th century invention. The idea was originally raised by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Franklin’s essay begins by describing an evening with friends in Paris. After he returned home:

I went home, and to bed, three or four hours after midnight…. An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows. I got up and looked out to see what might be the occasion of it, when I saw the sun just rising above the horizon, from whence he poured his rays plentifully into my chamber, my domestic having negligently omitted, the preceding evening, to close the shutters.

Despite Franklin’s vast learning, he professed surprise at this:

Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this. I am certain of my fact. One cannot be more certain of any fact. I saw it with my own eyes. And, having repeated this observation the three following mornings, I found always precisely the same result.

Franklin then observed that if Parisians were to conduct their affairs by sunlight rather than candlelight, immense amounts of energy could be saved. Sound familiar?

But how do you get people to change their hours of waking and sleeping? Those who worship the Founding Fathers as guardians of our freedom will be disappointed by Franklin’s proposal:

First. Let a tax be laid of a louis per window, on every window that is provided with shutters to keep out the light of the sun.

Second. Let the same salutary operation of police be made use of, to prevent our burning candles, that inclined us last winter to be more economical in burning wood; that is, let guards be placed in the shops of the wax and tallow chandlers, and no family be permitted to be supplied with more than one pound of candles per week.

Third. Let guards also be posted to stop all the coaches, &c. that would pass the streets after sunset, except those of physicians, surgeons, and midwives.

Fourth. Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient?, let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.

This is certainly a strong program to enforce reductions in energy use, and one wonders how freedom champion Benjamin Franklin could advocate such a draconian program.


He was joking.

The complete essay was published in the Journal of Paris in 1784, and I’m certain that all of Franklin’s friends enjoyed a good le chuckle over it.

Little did Franklin know that a hundred years later, people would take the proposal seriously.


Electoral College – offering four-year programs since 1789

Here in the United States of America, voters are starting to think about the choice that they will be making in November of this year, when voters will elect a new President and Vice President.

Except that voters will do nothing of the kind.

As any student of U.S. government knows, the President and Vice President are not directly elected by the people. Because 18th century politicians were fearful of entrusting the election of a President directly to the people, the U.S. Constitution specified that the President would be selected by a group of electors, in a body known as the Electoral College.

So in reality, U.S. voters are voting for electors, who will then gather together a month later to truly select the President and Vice President. However, in certain years, including 1800 and 1876, other parties selected the President and Vice President. (Technically, the 2000 election was determined by the Electoral College, since the state electoral votes were determined BEFORE submission to the Electoral College.)

Just to illustrate how unimportant the popular vote was in early years, the Electoral College website doesn’t even record popular votes cast before 1824. In that year, Andrew Jackson received 151,271 popular votes and 99 electoral votes, and John Quincy Adams received 113,122 popular votes and 83 electoral votes. Since Jackson did not receive a majority of the electoral vote, this was one of those cases in which the election wasn’t decided by the Electoral College. Jackson ended up losing, but by 1828, over a million popular votes were tabulated, partly because of the revulsion of the people at having the President selected by a limited few – in the 1824 case, the members of the House of Representatives.

Yet even in 2000, George W. Bush received fewer popular votes than Al Gore. However, due to the nature of electoral voting, which often proceeds in a “winner take all” method, Bush got the electoral votes where it counted.

But this does not necessarily mean that candidates will campaign in the states with the largest electoral votes. Take my home state of California – the last Republican to receive California’s electoral votes was George H.W. Bush, and that was only in 1998 – by 1992 the state went for Bill Clinton, and it has been solidly Democratic ever since. So I don’t expect President Obama or the eventual Republican nominee to spend a lot of time in California – other than for fund-raising.

It’s interesting to note that California’s presidential voting has been cyclical. As mentioned above, the state has gone for Democrats since 1992. But from 1952 to 1988, the state only voted for a Democrat once, and that was in the 1964 election in which Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater. Between 1932 and 1948, California consistently voted Democratic, paralleling the country as a whole. Before that, California’s votes were relatively inconsequential – in 1928, California only cast 13 electoral votes, as opposed to the 55 votes it cast in 2008.

I cannot predict whether or when the Electoral College will be abolished. However, the fact that the people who usually object to the Electoral College are the people who lost the last election – in other words, the people who do NOT have executive power at the time – it’s difficult to envision a case in which the politicians in power will actively work to design an alternative Presidential election method.

What was that song on the radio?

Radio stations have played music for nearly 100 years. While the radio stations themselves hope that you will listen to the music and then listen to the commercials aired by the radio station, the music publishing companies hope that you will listen to the music and then go out and buy it.

But what if you don’t know what song you just heard?

Back in the day, if your favorite deejay neglected to mention that he just played “Love Child” by the Supremes, then you’d have to continue to listen to the radio station to hear the song again. Or you might go to your friends and ask them what that “love wild” song was that you heard on the radio.

Nowadays, if the deejay neglects to mention the name of a song, there are other ways you can figure it out.

Perhaps you have one of those newer car radios that allows the display of textual information about the broadcast. In many (not all) cases, the radio station displays the name of the song and the artist on the radio itself.

If the radio station displays some other text instead (“Your Hit Leader!!!”), or if you don’t have such a fancy-dancy radio, perhaps you can go to your favorite search engine and type in some of the lyrics.

But if you can’t make out the lyrics, there’s one other avenue – the radio station’s website itself. Radio stations didn’t have websites back in the 1970s or in the 1920s, so you couldn’t really go online and view all of the songs that they just played. Perhaps you could write a letter to the radio station and ask, “What was that song that you played at 12:32 pm on November 5, 1962?” But I don’t know if you would get a response.

Last week I spent the day in San Diego, and occupied part of my afternoon by driving around in the warm southern California weather and listening to the radio station 91X. Now a couple of words about 91X – people who lived in Los Angeles about 10-15 years ago would probably compare 91X to the Los Angeles radio station KROQ. Both play “alternative” music. Both have hired deejays with accents.

However, it should be noted that 91X is technically not a San Diego radio station, since its transmitter is located across the border in Mexico. Because of this, it has to comply with Mexican broadcasting laws. During the afternoon that I was listening to 91X, at least half of the commercials were public service announcements from Mexican government entities informing people that the government could not compel you to vote for any particular political party. Oddly enough, these commercials were all in the English language. Either Tijuana is losing its Spanish-language heritage, or the Mexican government is hoping that most Mexicans won’t hear these commercials.

But back to my drive. So I was driving around, listening to 91X, and I heard this song that I hadn’t ever heard before. If the deejay announced the name of the song/artist, I didn’t hear it. I was driving a 20th century car, so I didn’t have the fancy-dancy radio. The only lyric that I caught was the word “paradise,” which could be Green Day or Meat Loaf or just about anyone.

So what did I do? Several hours later, when I was back home in Ontario, I fired up my computer and found 91X’s on air playlist. I scrolled back a few hours and found a song from Coldplay called “Paradise.” The song had been #1 in the UK several months ago, and had charted elsewhere (including the United States) several months ago, but I seem to have missed all of that brouhaha. I am not trendy.

Here’s the official video of the song, if you’re interested. (If you read the Empoprise-MU page on Google+, you know that I’ve already said that the video is kind of a mix of Bob Dylan and the Banana Splits, but in retrospect I guess I should have been able to identify it as a Coldplay song.)

Changes at Lotus, 1982 – 2012

One of the things that I want to examine at tymshft is the way that individual companies have evolved over the years. When someone starts a company, the business environment has certain characteristics, and the technological environment has certain characteristics. But 15 years later, or 30 years later, or 100 years later, things could change dramatically.

Take Lotus. When Lotus Development Corporation was founded in 1982, the key word was “integration.” When Byte Magazine reviewed the not-yet-released Lotus 1-2-3 in its December 1982 edition, the word was prominent:

Lotus’s 1-2-3 is modestly revolutionary because it synergetically combines three packages….

Integration is a very important characteristic of 1-2-3. Because the spreadsheet, database, and graphing programs are in the computer simultaneously (1-2-3 does not use overlays to bring in sections of code when called), you are more likely to use them. I for one am always annoyed when I have to wait for UCSD Pascal to load another part of the language system whenever I go, say, from the Filer to the Editor. I would be less apt to experiment with graphing different sets of data with Visicorp’s Visicalc and Visiplot, which would involve saving my data to disk, exchanging disks, starting up the Visiplot program, exchanging disks again, reading in the data, and, finally, plotting the data. I would do a similar sequence of disk and program switching to get back to Visicalc and adjust my data. How much experimentation does that rigamarole encourage?

Even when hard disks became more common (eliminating the floppy-switching), the very idea of not having to start up separate programs was, at the time, mind-boggling. A couple of years after Lotus 1-2-3 was released, I was working for a company that offered a word processor, spreadsheet, and other packages for the THEOS operating system. At a trade show I ran into a guy who was specifically looking for “integrated” software. Lotus 1-2-3 had made an impact.

Thirty years have passed, and a lot has happened on the technology front – people eventually forgot about Lotus 1-2-3 (although Windows users can still purchase it today) and concentrated on Lotus Notes. And of course, a lot happened on the business front also – today, if you want Lotus products, you’re paying money to IBM. And if you go to the Lotus section on IBM’s website today, you won’t run across integration – you’ll run across collaboration.

IBM Lotus Software delivers robust collaboration software that empowers people to connect, collaborate, and innovate while optimizing the way they work. With Lotus you can drive better business outcomes through smarter collaboration.

Collaboration wasn’t all that important in 1982-1983. At that time, the pendulum had swung from centralized computing to distributed computing, and people were all creating individual spreadsheets and storing them on their own floppy disks.

But collaboration is clearly important today, and Lotus – I mean IBM – has shifted its focus.

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