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Happy 14th Birthday Mark!

While the rest of the world celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend, we are celebrating Mark turning 14 at the cabin.

He has been saving up for a DLSR camera for months.  When I upgraded my Pentax K-x, he thought I traded it in for a new camera.  Instead I took it upstairs and have been saving it to give him for his birthday.

Pentax Kx DSLR camera

After having the camera’s sensor cleaned, I bought him a new 16 GB memory card and cleaned all of the lens up perfectly (if you don’t have a Lens Pen, you are doing it all wrong).  

Wendy and I had bought him a a new Roots sling camera bag and placed the camera in along with some of my older lenses.  Along with the camera, I gave him this 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, a really sharp manual 50mm lens, a Pentax 100-300 lens, and a Takumar-F 28-80mm manual lens (that to be honest, really sucks) but it will give him a macro to play with.  I have an older Sigma 70-210 lens that I may give him as well but I am awaiting a replacement for it.  Until then he can borrow it.

We also tossed in one of those Eneloop battery chargers and some amazing Eneloop XX batteries (best recyclable batteries on the planet) and a National Geographic magazine

Mark and his Pentax K-x

To celebrate his birthday we are heading north from the cabin for a long nature walk along the shores of Last Mountain Lake where we will hopefully get some shots of some birds and someone can test out his new camera.  I expect you will see some photos of the day as soon as we get back into the city.

Mark blogs about his birthday here.

Global cities gather in Toronto for summit and to launch the World Council on City Data

This is cool and nerdy at the same time.

The University of Toronto’s Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) is welcoming cities from around the world to the inaugural Global Cities Summit in Toronto, where the World Council on City Data (WCCD)will be launched on May 15th at 12:30 pm.

This new global entity will build an international platform for open, globally comparable and ISO standardized data for participating cities from around the world.

The creation of the WCCD is an evolution of the last seven years of successful work for the GCIF in developing globally standardized data for cities. The Council’s development has been spurred by the approval of the very first ISO Standard on city metrics, to be published as ISO 37120 on May 15, 2014 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Geneva.

The Council will coordinate all efforts on city data to ensure a consistent and comprehensive platform for standardized urban metrics. It will act as a global hub for creative learning partnerships across cities, international organizations, corporate partners, and academia to further innovation, envision alternative futures, and build better and more livable cities.

“ISO37120 is a milestone for cities. The Creation of the World Council on City Data is a pivotal next step in building a reliable foundation of globally standardized data that will assist cities in building core knowledge for city decision-making, and enable comparative insight and global benchmarking” said Professor Patricia McCarney, Director of the GCIF at the University of Toronto.  “In a world where city data is exploding and big data is escalating, we are now moving forward in building the WCCD as an open data platform on global city metrics.”

The Global Cities Summit is convening global leaders from the world’s cities, businesses, UN and other international agencies, universities, planning and design professionals, on May 15th and 16th in Toronto. The Summit is the inaugural meeting of the more than 255 GCIF member cities from 81 countries. The event will be an opportunity for cities and their partners to learn, share, and exchange experiences across a wide spectrum of big ideas and innovative solutions for cities under the theme: Getting on Track: Sustainable & Inclusive Prosperity for Cities.

The WCCD will be launched in Toronto at 12:30 pm on May 15th, 2014 at the Global Cities Summit at the Sheraton Centre Downtown Hotel. The Council has invited a select group of cities – including Shanghai, London, Toronto, Dubai, Haiphong, Amman, Makkah, Chicago, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Helsinki, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Makati, Minna and Bogota – to come to Toronto to help launch the WCCD and become Foundation Cities of the Council.

These cities, represented by senior delegations including the Mayor of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, are now arriving in Toronto to be part of this launch tomorrow.

Foundation Cities of the WCCD will help develop the vision and drive the new Council agenda forward together with other partners: private, public and academic. Foundation Cities will help define the mandate for the WCCD and develop the first five years of programming on city data, analytics, visualization, publications, city awards and recognitions. The headquarters of the WCCD will be located in Toronto and the Council will host a platform for cities and will build a knowledge network for cities globally. 

“Here in London, we really welcome joining the WCCD,” said Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director of Intelligence, Greater London Authority. “There has never been a time where it’s more important to understand how we as a global city compare with other cities so we can learn from them and actually use data to address challenges that are facing all of our cities.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said London’s biggest challenge is the boom in the number of people living in London, with the city’s population projected to hit 10 million by 2030. Access to data from other cities will be critical to dealing with this growth.

“That’s a lot of people who will need jobs and homes and a quick and convenient way of getting from one to the other,” he said.

Other cities voiced their excitement at joining the WCCD.

The City of Barcelona is “very interested in this initiative, having been nominated European Capital of Innovation by the European Commission” says Manel Sanromà, CIO, Barcelona, “Barcelona believes deeply in the value of collaboration and standardization.” 

“It will be my pleasure to join you and participate in the launch of such an outstanding initiative,” says Mohammad Jaljouli, Advisor at the Executive Council, Dubai.  “At The Executive Council, we believe in the importance of this major milestone towards building city standards, and we look forward to adding value to the ongoing efforts in this regard.”

Along with the launch of the Council, the Summit will announce a new international standard on city indicators using the GCIF framework that has been developed through the International Organization for Standardization.

ISO 37120 Sustainable Development in Communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life is the first ISO standard on city metrics. Foundation Cities will be the first to pilot this new ISO standard.

This new ISO Standard marks a critical turning point in the world of city data. ISO 37120 provides cities and stakeholders with an opportunity for a standardized approach to city metrics, and a global framework for third party verification of city data.

The WCCD is being established in this critical new space, where ISO 37120 creates the impetus for a reliable, transparent and open data platform.

Saskatoon was thinking of taking part but because of our Mayor’s strong grasp on the economy, we will do it our own way.  Another “tremendous opportunity” lost.

What would the USAF do if Godzilla ever attacked

Someone asked the USAF how they would respond to an attack by Godzilla.  They replied.

Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

Another incredible interactive feature from the New York Times

Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

Busting the Mattress Racket

I have been emailing and texting this post to everyone that I know is buying a new mattress or bed so I thought I should post it here.

Is there a more maddening industry? They confuse us with silly product names (the Sealy Posturepedic Crown Jewel Fletcher Ultra Plush Pillowtop or the Sealy Posturepedic Crown Jewel Brookmere Plush?). They flummox us with bogus science (“pocketed coils”? “Microtek foundations”? “Fiberlux”?). And they weigh us down with useless features (silk damask ticking?). It’s like buying a used car, and almost as expensive — I’ve seen mattresses going for $7,000. What’s a consumer to do?

The secret to mattress shopping is that the product is basically a commodity. The mattress biz is 99-percent marketing. So just buy the cheapest thing you can stand and be done with it, because they’re pretty much all the same. And that’s all you need to know. But do read on — the world of sleep products is quite fascinating, and I’d like to share it with you.

A couple of years ago Wendy and I bought a 2 inch think memory foam mattress topper.  Our mattress was starting to wear out and instead of getting a new one, we got one of these.  For $100, we get the best sleep we have ever gotten.   The only bad thing is that the dog likes to sleep on it now and won’t get down.

Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago my Gmail acct was accessed by someone in Hungary.  I am not sure how they got in but I changed my password immediately.  I lost several thousand email messages.  I implemented a difficult to type and guess password, used two step authentication and started to change up my passwords frequently.

Over time I got careless.  I hated two step authentication and instead of a hard to type password, I used a much easier one.  A sports team.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I had become careless and “calgaryflames” was not a good password for my email.  I saw this post by Khoi Vinh and realized that I needed to up my game but never got around to it.

Yesterday on the 5:15 p.m. Saskatoon Afternoon roundtable, I mentioned that I was a Calgary Flames fan and realized that I needed to change my password again.

As I got home last night, people asked me if I was deleting tweets.  I wasn’t and decided to see what was going on and I could see tweets disappearing in front of my eyes.  My first thought was that Twitter was having a server error but then I realized that no, they were being deleted rapidly.  I tried to log into Twitter and could not.  That wasn’t good.

I checked my email and that was locked as well.  After getting that unlocked and my old access back, I was able to have my Twitter password sent to me.  

By that time, all of my tweets except for two retweets were gone (those two retweets disappeared last night).  At the same time I realized that my blog was hacked as was two other social networks.

I have backups of my blog and I restored that database.  By that time I kind of noticed emails were missing.  Basically some of the messages that I had that were filtered a certain way were deleted.  It also looks like some searches were done and then the messages were deleted.  I have asked Google to see if I can get those back but from what I have read, they are gone.

Gmail does log IP addresses that log into the service but those are dead ends.  When I searched them, they lead to an anonymous offshore IP service that hides IP addresses.  You know if case you have to hack someone’s account.   If you searched for “password” in my email account, that would have given you all of my passwords or the ability reset passwords.  That is what screwed things up for me and gave them the keys to other services.

Everyone wants to know if it was just random or if someone was looking for something.  I don’t really know but my feeling is that they hacked the password, looked around, saw a lot of boring stuff, deleted some crap, and left once I started to freeze and re-access somethings.

Did they find anything interesting?  No.  Things I hold in confidence are actually stripped of identifying information and forwarded to a secure account.  Traces of which are deleted from my email system.  So what they found are social media passwords (doh!), XS Cargo flyers (yawn) and recommendations from Amazon on what I need to read next.  

So to avoid this from happening to you, here are the steps you need to do to keep your data safe.

  • Set up two-step authentication on all accounts that provide it
  • Use Diceware to create secure passwords for all your email accounts
  • Create a unique email address for your most valuable log-ins
  • Use a good password utility to create unique, strong passwords for every site you visit
  • Create fake security-question answers
  • Freeze your accounts with all three credit agencies
  • Don’t let Web sites store your credit card info
  • Hide your Who-is listings if you own your own domains
  • Set up WPA-2 encryption on your wifi router
  • Never click links in email
  • Prepare ahead of time for identity theft or hacking

The Sinkhole of Bureaucracy

This is incredible.  All government employees who retire in the United States have their paperwork hand processed in a giant mine underneath the surface in Pennsylvania 

That process now takes, on average, at least 61 days. That’s the same amount of time it took in 1977, according to a federal audit from that time. Many state retirement systems, which also handle large loads of employees, do it much faster. Florida takes 47 days. The California teachers’ retirement system takes 23. Texas takes two.

Those three process their files digitally, not on paper. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has been trying — and failing — to do the same thing here.

The first time, work began in 1987. Years passed. About $25 million was spent, according to the Government Accountability Office. But within the government, officials started to worry that it wasn’t working.

“The reports [from the contractor] just asserted that they had written X lines of code. . . . For an executive, that’s just invisible; you don’t know what it means,” said Curtis Smith, who oversaw retirement processing from 1989 to 1994. He was a longtime federal employee with a PhD in English literature, supervising a massive technology project.

“I had no idea [if] they were making progress from month to month. And I just sort of took it on faith that they could make it work,” Smith said. “And they never did.”

In 1996, two years after Smith left the government, officials finally pulled the plug on that project. Then, in 1997, the government tried again.

First it tried revamping the system in-house. Then it scrapped that plan and hired contractors. After years of work, the system the contractors built was supposed to be ready by early 2008.

But by 2007, there were concrete warnings that it again wasn’t going to work.

“Every time we would do what I would call a stress test, we would come up with abysmal numbers — like an 18 percent success rate,” said Robert Danbeck, who was overseeing the project. The root of the problem, he said, was that the system had trouble synthesizing information from so many sources and calculations based on so many laws. “We would go back and look at what caused it, and it was always just so many pieces, trying to tie things together.”

Danbeck quit. In early 2008, the system went live.

Then it broke and was eventually scrapped, after more than $106 million had been spent. In the mine, the files continued to move on paper.

Contained in all those failures, experts say, is a very brief history of the federal government’s recent troubles with information technology.

A recent study by the Standish Group, a firm in Boston that researches failures, found that only 5 percent of large federal IT projects in the last decade fully succeeded.

Of the rest, 41 percent were failures, canceled before they were turned on. The reasons often echoed the problems in the mine: Federal officials either tried to buy a technology they didn’t fully understand because they lacked the technical skill, or they didn’t test what they were getting until it was too late.

I love reading the reports on how long it will take to synchronize U.S. military accounting systems. Some estimates say 100 years which is another way of saying that we have given up and aren’t even trying any more.

Name brand mattresses are a scam

It doesn’t really matter which mattress you buy, they are all the same

Here’s the lowdown: Mattress makers rename identical products for each different retail store. Different labels, exact same guts. Why? Obfuscation. It’s hard to shop for the lowest price when you can’t compare apples to apples. Lucky for you, they’re all subtle variations on the same apple—not only within each brand, but even among different brands.

The heart of an innerspring mattress is the coils. Otherwise it’s just foam, cotton, quilting, and stitches. But the big-name mattress makers (with some exceptions) all get their coils from a single company, Leggett and Platt, for their highest-end mattresses down to their lowest. This is akin to every single car on the market, Lamborghinis to Kias, using an engine made by Ford. Except that mattresses are far less complicated than cars. In fact, they’re so simple that there’s no real difference among them at all.

The slow death of the microwave

Microwave sales fall as people move from quick food to fresh food.

“As people become more health conscious, and more interested in cooking ‘fresh,’ that’s not helping microwaves,” Owen said. “It’s leading to lower sales.” The interest in cooking is more than a movement; it’s a national phenomenon. Even major grocery chains have noted upticks in sales as a result.

Growth in sales of microwavable popcorn are also slowing, while sales of ready-to-eat popcorn are growing at an over 11% clip. Why microwave junk food when you can get it pre-popped? Americans are at once too patient and too lazy to use their microwaves these days.

Go into your neighbourhood Safeway or Sobey’s one of these days and look around.  When I was a kid, most of the aisles were full of things for my mom to make and cook.  Now the aisles are increasingly full of things that are already cooked.  Wendy will tell you that at even 33rd Street Safeway can’t keep up with the demand of pre-cooked chicken, soups, and fries at supper time.  Even a small store has a deli which will make you sandwiches and a variety of food like samosas and salads.   We may want to cook but many families don’t have the energy or time to do it anymore.

Report: U.S. Could Be Plunged Into Blackout By Minimal Attacks

It seems that Saskatoon is not the only jurisdiction not paying attention to infrastructure

A coordinated attack on just nine of the United States’ 55,000 electric-transmission substations on the right day could cause a blackout from Los Angeles to New York City, according to the study conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The study’s results have been known for months to select people in federal agencies, Congress and the White House, but were reported publicly for the first time Wednesday. The WSJ did not publish a list of the 30 most critical substations identified by the FERC study.

Electric substations play a vital role in keeping the electric grid humming by boosting voltage for long-distance travel and then transforming it to usable levels upon arrival. On a hot summer day, with the grid operating at high capacity, FERC found that taking out the right amount of substations could lead to a national blackout lasting weeks or even months.

How Seven People Keep the Internet Safe

From the Guardian

Standing in the break room next to Lamb is Dmitry Burkov, one of the keyholders, a brusque and heavy-set Russian security expert on the boards of several internet NGOs, who has flown in from Moscow for the ceremony. “The key issue with internet governance is always trust,” he says. “No matter what the forum, it always comes down to trust.” Given the tensions between Russia and the US, and Russia’s calls for new organisations to be put in charge of the internet, does he have faith in this current system? He gestures to the room at large: “They’re the best part of Icann.” I take it he means he likes these people, and not the wider organisation, but he won’t be drawn further.

It’s time to move to the ceremony room itself, which has been cleared for the most sensitive classified information. No electrical signals can come in or out. Building security guards are barred, as are cleaners. To make sure the room looks decent for visitors, an east coast keyholder, Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder of Sweden, has been in the day before to vacuum with a $20 dustbuster.

We’re about to begin a detailed, tightly scripted series of more than 100 actions, all recorded to the minute using the GMT time zone for consistency. These steps are a strange mix of high-security measures lifted straight from a thriller (keycards, safe combinations, secure cages), coupled with more mundane technical details – a bit of trouble setting up a printer – and occasional bouts of farce. In short, much like the internet itself.

As we step into the ceremony room, 16 men and four women, it is just after lunchtime in LA and 21.14 GMT. As well as the keyholders, there are several witnesses here to make sure no one can find some sneaky back door into the internet. Some are security experts, others are laypeople, two are auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers (with global online trade currently well in excess of $1tn, the key has a serious role to play in business security). Lamb uses an advanced iris scanner to let us all in.

“Please centre your eyes,” the tinny automated voice tells him. “Please come a little closer to the camera… Sorry, we cannot confirm your identity.”

Lamb sighs and tries again.

“Thank you, your identity has been verified.”

We file into a space that resembles a doctor’s waiting room: two rows of bolted-down metal seats facing a desk. Less like a doctor’s waiting room are the networks of cameras live-streaming to Icann’s website. At one side of the room is a cage containing two high-security safes.

Francisco Arias, Icann’s director of technical services, acts as today’s administrator. It is his first time, and his eyes regularly flick to the script. To start with, things go according to plan. Arias and the four keyholders (the ceremony requires a minimum of three, not all seven) enter the secure cage to retrieve their smartcards, held in tamper-evident bags. Middle-aged men wearing checked shirts and jeans, they are Portuguese keyholder João Damas, based in Spain; American Edward Lewis, who works for an internet and security analytics firm; and Uruguayan Carlos Martinez, who works for Lacnic, the internet registry for Latin America and the Caribbean.

All but one of the 21 keyholders has been with the organisation since the very first ceremony. The initial selection process was surprisingly low-key: there was an advertisement on Icann’s site, which generated just 40 applications for 21 positions. Since then, only one keyholder has resigned: Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet, now in his 70s and employed as “chief internet evangelist” by Google. At the very first key ceremony, in Culpeper, Virginia, Cerf told the room that the principle of one master key lying at the core of networks was a major milestone. “More has happened here today than meets the eye,” he said then. “I would predict that… in the long run this hierarchical structure of trust will be applied to a number of other functions that require strong authentication.” But Cerf struggled with the travel commitment and dropped his keyholder duties.

At 21.29, things go awry. A security controller slams the door of the safe shut, triggering a seismic sensor, which in turn triggers automatic door locks. The ceremony administrator and the keyholders are all locked in an 8ft square cage. Six minutes of quiet panic go by before they hit on a solution: trigger an alarm and an evacuation. Sirens blare and everyone piles out to mill around in the corridor until we can get back to the 100-point script. Every deviation has to be noted on an official record, which everyone present must read and sign off at a later point. Meanwhile, we use the downtime to snack: people rip open a few bags of Oreo biscuits and Cheez-Its.

 

Bubba Watson’s Golf Cart

The fact that the City of Saskatoon has not jumped on this bandwagon seems like a massive missed opportunity.

Bridges?  We don’t need no stinking bridges!

Column:Mobile services effective option

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

My ears perk up whenever I hear Coun. Pat Lorje talk about the concentration of social service agencies in Saskatoon, because it is a very hard problem to fix once it has developed.
Social services tend to be located in poor areas of the city because that is where the need is. For many people, that is the end of the debate, but it’s more complicated than that. Those agencies are located there because of need and because real estate is cheap.
Despite the rhetoric of government, most see social services as an overhead cost, and if money can be saved by locating an agency in a less expensive part of town they will do it, nine times out of 10. For agencies not funded by the government, it is seen as a good stewardship of donations and resources to pay as little as possible for rent or a mortgage.
In Saskatchewan, the need is somewhat artificial because for years the province’s rental supplement has been geared toward accommodation that’s close to supports and services. It provides an incentive for people to live close to social agencies and concentrates poverty.
Once a critical mass of social agencies gets concentrated in one part of town, they tend to drive out other businesses and decrease property values even more. For people who depend on those services, it makes more sense to move to where cost of living is lower and close to where the services are provided. Of course, then you have more social service needs.
It’s an endless cycle that can do a lot of damage to the economic districts of some communities.
An interesting trend in a variety of cities over the last couple of years has been the creation of mobile social services, which are offered all across a city or region. Often these take the form of converted school buses or motorhomes, and provide such things as medical services (i.e. the Saskatoon Health Region’s health bus), as well as mobile showers in San Francisco and even a grocery store that’s driven to areas that do not have easy access to healthy food.
It’s not an new idea.
Libraries were doing this long before it was hip and trendy. I know many people who grew up in Saskatoon who can tell you when the Bookmobile came to their neighbourhood, and exactly where it stopped. It was by no means revolutionary, but it was part of community life.
Today we have the health bus. It doesn’t replace a hospital, but provides many services that one can access without going to a hospital. Being mobile, it can adjust its routes and schedule to meet people’s needs.
The advantages of mobility is that it allows the provision of services to neighbourhoods that need them, but aren’t within walking distance from the main location of a social agency. When many service agencies located in Riversdale, the area had some of the lowest rent and family incomes in Saskatoon. Redevelopment in Riversdale has significantly changed the neighbourhood.
The next place that could see big changes is Pleasant Hill, where the Junction development is slated to proceed. The impact that has seen real estate prices soar elsewhere is yet to be seen here, but the potential exists for affordable housing to move far away from the core and needed services.
There is a reason why studies in many cities show homeless people and those in extreme poverty will walk up to 20 kilometres a day to obtain food and shelter services. Even in Saskatoon, some of the most affordable living areas have almost no access to social services. Either rent eats up one’s food money and you can access services, or you have affordable rent and no access. For many it is a loselose situation.
Using outside-the-box ideas to use buses, local schools or faith-based organizations to deliver needed social services allows agencies and the government to meet needs inexpensively, while having a minimal impact on a local community.
Not only are the startup funds needed for such programs relatively small – one community recently made a significant dent in its food desert with a $100,000 bus – but it is temporary. If a grocery store comes in and wants to build in the neighbourhood it can, and the bus rolls out to another section of town. It can create markets, not kill them.
Without a long-term investment in a property, these programs can also be suited to economic conditions.
Saskatoon is changing.
With that comes the need for the province and city to adapt to how they deliver services in a way that helps people and minimizes the impact on the neighbourhoods where they live.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Wendy’s new website

Wendy has had a blog for over a decade and has been trying to decide what to do with it.  She also publishes The Cooking Blog.  Since she doesn’t have the time or motivation to write for both of them and wanted to do something else with the site.  

Several people have asked me what they should do with their domain name and I always tell them to check out Hemant Naidu’s website.  I found it a while ago while searching for something local and found it.  It’s hosted by Flavors.me.  Depending on your options, it can be either free or $20 a year. 

It’s a one page template and does everything that Wendy wants it to do.  I set this up for her in 20 minutes.  Most of that time was Wendy stressing out over the font and the photo.

Wendy Cooper.org

About.me does something really similar but costs about twice as much.  If you are looking at parking a domain name, it is the easiest way to do it.

It’s going to be a bloodbath

Dell lays off 15% of it’s workforce

Two sources have told us Dell is starting the expected huge layoff programme this week, claiming numbers will be north of 15,000.*

The company is returning to private ownership to restructure its operations in the wake of a falling PC market, a commoditisation of the server market and a perceived need to better serve enterprises with their ever-increasing mobile and cloud-focused IT requirements.

Does the brand of computer even matter anymore?  For years Dell stood for quality but now, does anyone care if you computer comes from?  It is the same components, technology, and operating system as the next guy and if the next company is cheaper, why not go with them?  If you want a premium brand, you go with Apple.