dave's blog

Obama has been elected! Too bad the US is still screwed.

What we've all been waiting for has finally happened (at least all the rest of the world, the US has been split on the issue since 2000), Bush is out.  Obama is in, and I'm confident that he'll make a lot of great changes. 

Old news, I know.  

Now I'm sure that Obama is going to work hard to try and turn things around.  He'll probably discover that he can't deliver on some election promises, but that's just the nature of life, by the time he gets six months in things will look much different then when he began campaigning 6 months ago.  

Obama has a tough road ahead of him.  He knows that, but the real challenge is that most Americans don't realize just how f*cked  America is.  

Take for starters America's 4 deficits: budget, savings, trade and leadership.  The election of Obama is the first step to balance that final one, but the other three are going to be very hard to turn around, if it's even possible.  A new film I.O.U.S.A describes just how much trouble the U.S. financial system is really in.  I.O.U.S.A. is:

To the U.S. economy what 'An Inconvenient Truth' was to the environment.

 Oh and don't forget the other looming challenges of a carbon deficit, a dying environment, peak oil, and a moral deficit (though this is arguably constant throughout history). We are looking at a very tough few decades ahead.  


FAIL (the browser should render some flash content, not this).
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I went to an unconference the other day entitled Openeverything.  The basic premise was to encourage discussion around bringing the concepts of Open Source software to other structures (business, government, travel, hardware, academics, healthcare...).  It was really interesting to have group discussions with such a diverse array of professionals.  There was lots of cross-discipline cross-pollination.  

For those of you who don't know what an "un"conference is, it's basically just like a conference, except that the schedule is created organically on the day of.  Other than the keynote presentations, no one knows what the conference is going to be like.  It's expected that if you come to the conference you will participate;  Participate more than just taking notes and listening quietly.  If you're really passionate about something you might even prepare some slides ahead of time.  Then at the start of the day there's a board with open slots for each session.  If you've prepared something, or if you're just interested in having a focused discussion about some topic, put it up on the board.  The most famous unconference is barcamp.

Here's what my day looked like:

Keynote #1 - Haggen So, Creative Commons Hong Kong: Open Everything - Ideal or Reality.  He spoke about the inherent differences between open and closed structures.  He suggested that closed structures are akin to  communism, while open structures are akin to free market economies.  He also suggested that the two are incompatible within the same system.  I'm not sure I agree with that point.  At Advomatic we're building an internal project management tool out of Open Source components, but it's a closed tool.  It will be so specific to our needs that no one else would see benefit from using it.  By nature it will need to remain closed.  

Openness in Mental Health - This was a discussion around the topics of connectedness and loneliness facilitated by Jeffrey W. Rybak (I think.  I'm having trouble matching business cards to faces).  Jeffrey is a clinical psychologist with a background in using the web to help people with rare disabilities find community with other people with the same challenges.  We talked about how connectedness is not the opposite of loneliness.  Instead it might be quality relationships.  Connectedness may help you build those relationships.  But in the end, facebook is simply a tool.  It is neither good, not bad.  How it's used is up to the individual.  

Guilt In Open Organizations - Lead by John Britton (John also did most of the organizing for the event).  John talked about how he participated in Google Summer of Code for the Gallery project.  He hasn't participated much in the project since and feels a bit like he just took the money and ran.  I've been feeling similar things about the Drupal modules that I maintain.  There's some bugs in the queue that are over 6 months old and I haven't had opportunity to deal with them.  Those poor souls that downloaded my modules and now I can't support them.  We talked about the idea of guilt vs. gratitude vs. obligation and gift economies vs. commerce economies.  John and I are going to co-lead a session on the same topic at DrupalCon DC 2009.

How to Encourage Open Organizations & Societies.  Another group discussion facilitated by Mark J. Pixley of Leadership Inc.  Mark gave a few ideas about how to encourage openness and then the conversation just flowed all over the place.  We ended up debating the differences between leaders and managers.

Hong Kong Drupal Users Group - SohoLife redesign.   The story behind getting the venue for this event is rather interesting.  One of the Hong Kong drupallers, Nick Wang, has a family friend that runs an after-school English school.  Their current website is utterly terrible.  They can't edit the content without paying someone an arm and a leg, and the site is completely invisible to Google (due to the fact that it's all Flash).  Nick negotiated an agreement with the school that HKDUG will remake their site in exchange for the use of their conference room once a month for our meetups, and use three of their rooms for OpenEverything.  The venue is really nice.  We described how we, an ad-hoc group, came together to remake their site in only ~20 person hours.  The new soholife site is almost ready to go.

Peer 2 Peer University.  Also presented by John Britton.  There's a whole lot of really smart people in the world that are experts in things that you want to know.  However the traditional university model excludes anything other than a rigid professor/class/student model.  You could simply go try and learn things on your own, but most people don't have the focus or discipline to accomplish this.  You could try distance learning, but due to the lack of face-to-face interaction a lot of the potential learning is lost.  P2P uni is the idea of combining the strengths of these three models.  Experts run courses via the Internet, and individuals or groups can decide to join a course, participants are grouped with others locally to engage in face-to-face learning.  People are already getting accredited university self-directed study credit for this.

Open Public Information.  This was lead by a woman named Val (that's all I got for ya) with ties to the OECD.  Hong Kong is the only developed nation (or shall we say pseudo nation) that doesn't have a freedom of information act.  So if the government does a study on a contaminated area, they don't have to release that information to the public, and often they don't.  Val has started an NGO to study why HK is so far behind in not having freedom of information laws, and how to make it happen.  Even China has a FOIP law.  Not that you could trust any data released by the Chinese government as being accurate.  

Keynote #2 - John Bacon-Shone, Hong Kong University: Open Access to Research Data & Publications.  Similar to the previous session.  Hong Kong has no repository of university research data.  So if a research foundation or government  agency funds a study on a particular topic, there is no way for subsequent studies funded by the same agency/foundation to build upon or refute that work (beyond personal contact).  John described the history of his work in trying to get such structures setup.  A repository for academic use is of course only the first step.  It would be much more valuable to have this data available to the general public.  The worldwide academic community is moving in this direction which of course is causing major waves in the publishing industry (libraries would no longer need to maintain subscriptions to thousands of very expensive research journals).  

And when the day was done we went for dinner and drinks in Lan Kwai Fung.  It's amazing what you can get for free if you just ask.  John talked to this pub owner a few weeks in advance and said "I'm bringing a group of 20-30 people on this day, can you give us a deal?".  We got happy-hour prices on beer + two-for-one drinks + free fries and onion rings.  Great deal.  

This was a really fun unconference.  Lots of really interesting sessions happening at the sime time as the ones I went to.  Can't wait until next time.   

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Someone is wrong on the internet

I just realized that my rant yesteday about SEO was an exact recreation of this old XKCD comic

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There's been so much FUD about SEO in the blogosphere lately that I felt that I needed to speak up and set things right.

When it comes down to it SEO is 99% about three things:

  • Write good quality copy. If you want to show up in searches about recycled paper products. Than have lots of clear, well-written copy about recycled paper products.
  • Well structured content.  Google needs to be able to understand your content and how it's structured. Structure your URLs in a way that is simple and makes sense.   Semantic markup is key: use header, list, paragraph etc. tags appropriately. A page needs to make sense when Javascript, CSS and images are turned off. Progressive Enhancement is key. Also separation of content, style, and behaviour (via (X/XH/H)TML, CSS & Images, Javascript respectively) is important.  
  • Backlinks. Google determines the value of your content based on how many sites link to your site, crowdsourcing of sorts.  Backlinks from highly ranked sites are more valuable than low ranked sites. Generally more backlinks means higher rankings, unless you're trying to do something shady via a link-farm; In which case Google will find you out sooner or later and drop your ranking.   If your site is about recycled paper products, then links from pages about recycled paper products are more valuable then links from a page about something unrelated.  

If you want to increase your SEO, better to work on improving the three things that make up that 99% instead of tweaking the hundred other things that make up that last 1%.  Oh and if you use Drupal, #2 is pretty much taken care of.  

Here's a quote I saw on another site:

“The key here is to remember that Googlebots are stupid, so don’t make them think.”

Actually the contrary. Googlebot is very smart. Don’t try and out-think it.

As you can see this site breaks some of these rules (Especially the one about good quality copy).  But I don't really care if the world can find this stuff.  It's a blog.  Which brings up another point.  Many sites aren't really going to benefit from a lot of work in improving SEO anyway.  

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Glorious High Fidelity

About a month ago I bought a pair of speakers (epos ELS3) and stands second hand via the ubber-useful asiaxpat.com .  I got them for HKD 1200 and new they would've been HKD 3000 plus.  

I really liked them when I first got them, they're really my style: neutral. Don't try and "enhance" the music, chances are what you think is an "enhancement" isn't going to work for me.  If you mr. speaker can't produce bass at 60Hz don't try and make up for it by giving me more 120Hz, you're just making everything mushy.  Just give it to me straight up please.  

But recently I've been having this impression that they have been less than what they were when I first got them.  It seemed like an overall degradation that I couldn't quite pin down.  Was it that I was just becoming used to them?  Perhaps all those months of listening to 1" iPod speakers while in India made anything bigger seem wonderful.  Perhaps I was loosing my golden ear?  Perhaps was Debbi having solo dance sessions while I was out of the house and cranked the tunes till something got a bit worn?  

Alas no, it was simply an impedance problem.  I've got a line running from the audio output on the rear of my computer to a small amplifier to the speakers.  On the front of my computer I also plug in a headset for using Skype.  The problem being that there's only one line amp in the computer that powers both the front and rear jacks.  So when the headset is plugged in the impedance is halved (oh crap, or is it doubled, I'm shaming my 1 year of electronics engineering technology training).  The amp for the speakers is expecting standard line-level impedance and doesn't do well with anything but.  Pull out the headset and the volume jumps by 3dB and we return to glorious high fidelity.  

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The story of stuff

Ever wonder how the world works?  Here's a clear concise explanation that makes a complex system easy to understand.  It's a 20 minute video in which sustainability expert Annie Leonard explores the global materials economy and its impact on economy, environment and health.


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Wow!  This seven minute video, MUTO, is of pictures animated on public Buenos Aires walls. Created by BLU.

(Found via Creative Generalist)

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Romantic Escape

Thursday was Labor Day.  As a Chinese holiday it is described as being "no less celebrated than Chinese New Year's Day".  I had shuffled my schedule so that I could have it off with Debbi.  We were going to have a lazy day off together.  Wednesday night Debbi had me head down to the island to meet up with her and her co-workers for dinner.  I showed up at our meeting spot and Debbi is waiting all by herself, no co-workers.  She pulls out a set of tickets, and says "I've booked us a trip to Macau for the night".  Wow.  I did not see this coming.  

We rode a jet foil across the Pearl River Seaway.   Jet foils are cool.  Its about as smooth as riding a train, and fast too.  And once we arrived in Macau we went to our hotel, the Mandrin Oriental.  Quite the place.  Debbi had booked us a holiday package that included one night, dinner, and a 2 hour couples treatment at the spa.  The food was excellent, and it was the nicest room that I've ever stayed in.  

We got up the next morning for out spa visit.  Our treatment consisted of a 20 min full body scrub, 30 min soak in a sangria bath (that's right, we bathed in red wine), and an 80 min full body massage.  Now I have never been to a spa, or even a massage therapist, the idea of having another woman with her hands all over me seems... undesirable.  But let me tell you, as good as your partner is at massage, there's really no comparison to a professional (unless of course your partner is a professional masseuse).  And the fact that Debbi was lying on the table next to me made things less unnerving.  It would be nice to get one of those weekly.  However that would be prohibitively expensive.  After the massage I spent a good hour between the sauna, jacuzzi, steam room and shower.  

I was then ready for a nap, but alas it was not to be, we had to checkout.   I was exhausted for the rest of the day.  I'm not sure if having an intense massage is actually tiring, its more that it relaxes you so completely that you need to sleep it off.  But since we were only in Macau for the day, we needed to see the sites.  

For those of you not up on your city states, Macau, like Hong Kong, is a pseudo independent nation.  Formerly a Portuguese colony, it is now going through a 50 year transition back to Chinese rule.  Macau is known for its odd mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture.  To walk through the city you see images that in your mind are not meant to be together.   You can walk into a Catholic church during mass and see several Chinese reciting the liturgy.  Huh?!  Macau is also the new gambling capitol of the world, because Vegas is so blase.  We walked the old town during the afternoon, had a tasty dinner at a Brazilian cafe, then we decided to go try out the casinos.  We spent 10HKD (1.50 CAD) on slot machines and decided that it wasn't much fun.  So we headed off to find dessert.  Then back to the ferry terminal for the journey back home arriving at 11.  

It was a whirlwind tour.  Very exciting.  And a complete surprise.   

Big Bed
Mary with child
I'm getting juice!
Macau at night
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