Saturday, July 31, 2004

Marathon Online Discussion is host to what many say is the longest-running online discussion. True to Seinfeld form, it's really about nothing. But that hasn't stopped it from racking up almost 100,000 posts over the past three years.

I could make a crack about how some people have nothing better to do than post to a silly message board. But then I look at myself writing about it, so I hold my tongue.

Pot, meet kettle.

This Birthday in History

Little Man turns 4 today. The miracle of the 'Net makes it easy to dig up some cool things that have happened on previous July 31sts:

1991: President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Moscow.
1964: The U.S. space probe Ranger 7 transmitted pictures of the moon's surface (no sign of the man in the moon, however.)
1948: President Harry S. Truman helped dedicate New York International Airport (later John F. Kennedy International Airport) at Idlewild Field.
1790: Vermonter Samuel Hopkins was issued the first U.S. patent for a process of making fertilizer.

He also shares his birthday with:
J.K Rowling (Harry Potter)
Curt Gowdy (sportscaster)
Bill Berry (ex-R.E.M. member)
Dean Cain (Superman actor)
Milton Friedman (Nobel Prize-winning economist)

Given the fact that he's only 4, none of this matters to him. At this very moment, he's working the enriched birthday cake sugar levels out of his system, and will likely be doing so for some time to come. Ah, childhood.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Le Meteo - Revisited

Came across another great weather resource. It's called Weather Watcher, and it's an adware-free, spyware-free, totally free, really flexible piece of weather software. Download it from Singer's Creations.

I would tell you to let Mr. Singer know that I sent you. But he doesn't know who the heck I am, so that would be a fairly pointless exercise. Nevertheless, enjoy your newfound weather tracking skills. I'm certain it'll come in handy if you're the kind of person who hangs out in bars.

Thursday, July 29, 2004


It seems Canadian banks are having a rather difficult summer. First, the Royal Bank had a system meltdown that messed clients up for weeks. Earlier today, I caught sight of a news piece that the CIBC was experiencing hiccups of its own. How long till this one explodes over your breakfast newspaper like a badly-poached egg?

Let's get this straight. Among other things, they reduce service, jack service fees through the roof, and pay us as little interest on savings as they can legally get away with. Just about the only reason left for not keeping our money stuffed in pillows was the whole security thing.

Now, apparently, this is also evaporating. I think I'll use the Buzz Lightyear pillowcase. He is, after all, a member of the Universe Protection Force, and a sworn enemy of Emperor Zurg, leader of the Galactic Alliance (click here for story time with the Darth Vader wannabe).

Zurg has got to be a safer financial bet than some caffeine-deprived geek who executes the wrong software install routine from his laptop and blows millions of accounts into the next millenium.

SV Tech Resource

The San Jose Mercury News has long been a pioneer in technology journalism. Its sub-site,, has set the benchmark for other major media outlets' efforts to establish their own technology coverage.

If you want broad and deep industry reporting and opinion with just a small (OK, not so small) dose of edginess, follow these SV columnists:

Dan Gillmor's eJournal
Good Morning Silicon Valley
Mike Langberg / Tech Test Drive
Mike Cassidy / SV Dispatches

The Apple Product Cycle

Came across this truly funny overview of Apple Computer's product development cycle. Even if you aren't a techie, you'll find something to laugh about here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Publish Day - Of Cats & Kids

My words have once again hit print in the London Free Press. Click here for a peek at the softer, happier side of my literary world.

A happy day indeed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Simpsons Outing

This just in: The next season of the Simpsons will include the show's first-ever outing of one of its characters.

Touching Balls

A while back, a colleague and I took a lunchtime stroll around downtown London. We walked by the then-new John Labatt Centre, London's arena (or, cynically referred to as this city's really expensive attempt to convince everyone else it isn't bush-league) and noticed some concrete spheres embedded in the pavement.

We were approached by a reporter who observed our ball-touching. We had a rollicking good time sharing our thoughts on balls. Read on. Mother would be so proud!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Societal ADD

The average shelf life of pretty much anything in today's media-mad world is dwindling faster than it takes to copy the lyrics of a Spice Girls song to your already-obsolete PDA.

Bear in mind this will beg the question of why you're listening to Spice Girls in the first place, and why you feel the need to archive the lyrics to their so-called music. And it ignores the irony of the URL in the link above: (right). But I digress. Again.

Today's news is tomorrow's forgotten relic. It doesn't matter how momentous the message is. The public will doubtless tire of it in a blink before moving on to The Next Big Thing.

Ergo: the world stood still for Apollo 11. No one remembers who flew Apollo 12. When Apollo 13 was launched, the networks ignored the story. Until, of course, the now-famous in-flight explosion crippled the ship. Universal ignorance resumed soon thereafter.

In the shuttle era, Challenger and Columbia are pretty big stories, for obvious reasons. Every other shuttle-related fact seems to elude us (or you, for I am a shameless space geek. But you already knew that.)

Some other forgotten spacey stories from earlier this year that, despite their near-total absence from the headlines, continue to return incredibly rich hard-science from impossibly distant venues:
  • The Mars Exploration Rover Mission - remember Spirit and Opportunity? Didn't think so.
  • Cassini - Yup, we all enjoyed that first set of pictures of Saturn's rings. But we yawned when the second set came in. What have you done for us lately, oh planet-wizards?
  • Mercury Messenger - OK, I lied: this one hasn't launched yet. But I'll wager you've already relegated it to the dustbin of history. Tune in up to and around August 2nd. It promises to be a cool ride.
You might also remember a couple of guys named Mike and Gennady who, as I write this, continue to orbit the planet aboard the International Space Station. They're preparing for a spacewalk on August 3rd. You can watch it live on NASA TV, if you wish. You can also spot their home from your backyard by clicking here. In either case, I promise you it'll be better than Trading Spaces, Monster Garage, or any other piece of instantly-forgettable tripe that passes for entertainment nowadays.

Including the Spice Girls.

The Friendly Mazda Driver

Many thanks to the man at the wheel of a black Mazda MPV on Fanshawe Park Road this past Sunday morning. If you hadn't swerved over, lowered your window and yelled at me that I should be on the bike path, I would have never known that I was transgressing against your self-directed campaign to rid the road of two-wheeled pests.

A couple of things I'd like to point out:
  1. I evolved my cycling chops on the streets of Montreal. Self-righteous London drivers don't really scare me.
  2. You're wrong: it's my option to use an arterial bike path or the road. Given statistics that show arterial paths have accident rates that are orders of magnitude beyond those for the good old road, I choose the road. Deal with it.
  3. My one run-in with a car also happened while I was legally riding on a bike path, when a moron arguing with his wife blew a stop sign and t-boned me. As idiotic as you looked and sounded from your driver's perch, not even I would wish that on you.
  4. You may be surrounded by a couple of tons of steel and glass, but I'm the one with a photographic memory and a cell phone. I won't soon forget your license plate - ASAR 266 - and if you tick me off again, I'll be certain to thumb 911 before you get to the next red light.
  5. You forgot to use your turn signal when you turned right onto Richmond. I guess you were too busy high-fiving yourself for being so clever before your second cup of coffee.
In future, you would do well to remember that the road supports all kinds of vehicles. Expect to be surprisingly entertained if you ever encounter me and pull a similar stunt again.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Vanity Searching

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few years, you know Google is the gold standard of online search engines.

The sheer power of this resource has spawned a number of new behaviours, namely the vanity search, where the user looks up his/her name to see how many references are out there. Obviously, the more the merrier.

Self-centred? Sure. Arrogant? You betcha. But it's a heck of a lot of fun to read the zeitgeist surrounding your own name. In my case, a unique name (thanks, Mom and Dad) ensures most returns are actually about me.

As of today, the search for "Carmi Levy" returns 767 hits, about double what I was running around New Year's. Such a thrill.

A few things I've discovered about myself since I started getting introspective with my favorite search engine:
  • The City of Carmi, Illinois is an absolutely lovely little burg, with an absolutely perfect name.
  • The National Archives of Canada have started storing my columns.
  • Someone named Dawson Winchester in a St. Thomas, Ontario paper quoted almost an entire column of mine without requesting advance permission. He seems like a very nice person, but someone please tell him his e-mail address is inavlid, and has been for the past six months.
  • The Canadian military logged a couple of my pieces in their daily scans of the web (uh oh, now they know where I live!)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I Melted

It seems you can only tempt fate - or Mother Nature - only so many times before you run out of luck. Before I left the office, the radar showed no rain for 300 km in any direction. That's 180 miles for you non-metric folks.

Halfway through my energy-conserving, medium-speed cruise home, I idly watched a puffy cloud in the hazy sky gradually turn into a band of angry, black nastiness. I was watching for funnel clouds as I accelerated my bike in a panic-induced bid to beat the impending downpour home.

I knew I was cooked when, with about four kilometres to go, the temperature dropped noticeably in a few seconds. It was as if someone turned the air conditioner on full blast, and it gave me a newfound respect for the power of the weather in this part of the world. It also scared the dickens out of me. I rode even faster.

Five minutes later, the skies opened up and I reverted to drowned rat mode, picking my way through raging torrents and trying to avoid getting blown over by the wind. As I turned into my street, the rain stopped, the air got still, the sun came out, and the gray clouds gave way to a clear blue sky.

The perils of the bike commuter.

I'm Melting

The humidex has just hit 38, which means I am going to be a puddle on my bike ride home from the office. I'm also going to be chewing on the smog that wafts into London from our buddies in Chemical Valley and the U.S. Midwest. Isn't cycling supposed to be healthy?

I cycle to work - either a Specialized Stumpjumper Comp (pink!) or a Miele mountain bike (purple!) - as part of my one-person, misguided plan to save the planet. London is a great place to ride. But on days like today, I'm tempted to chuck it all and take the car.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Space, The Not-So-Final-Frontier

It's been 35 years since NASA's Apollo 11 mission landed the first two humans on the moon before safely bringing them back home. Without dating myself too badly, I was but a young pup building sand castles on the beach at Long Sault, Ontario. Yet something about the achievement resonates so strongly a generation later.

I've been a bit of an airhead and space cadet ever since. No, stop making jokes about my intelligence. Seriously, I've had a huge interest in aviation and space; both the technology that makes it all possible, and its day-to-day applications. It explains why even a flight to atomically-frozen Winnipeg (also known as Winterpeg) on behalf of a faceless corporate entity was enjoyable. I would always get the window seat, and I always enjoyed the show from the time we pushed back to the time I got off the plane.

The moral: no matter how far removed we are from the "firsts" of any technology, we should never lose sight of the magic that made it all possible in the first place.

We can explain flight by examining how air behaves as it moves over a wing. And we can explain space flight by understanding how rockets make acceleration possible in the void of space. But we can not easily appreciate the courage it takes to take that first step, so jaded have we become in our cocoon of modern technology.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Tour This!

To the average North American, sports is something to watch, not do. Even worse, the concept of "sport" is typically limited to baseball, hockey, and football.

If you don't believe me, travel to every 'burg on this continent and watch the local newscast at 6 or 11. At precisely 17 minutes past the hour, after the blow-dried talking heads have exhausted their badly-written scripts of fake news (usually shootings, layoffs, and more shootings), they throw the show over to a portly sport-jacket-wearing guy with a bushy moustache for the sports recap. After the mandatory witty banter, the cheesy dance tune fades into the background and the clips of today's "best plays" begin.

My suggestion to you: break out of this media-induced malaise and learn about some real sports. There is a bigger, broader, more exciting world out there.

For example, the Tour de France wraps up this weekend. This monumental event transcends mere sport.

When you're done, dust off your own bike, pop your helmet onto your head and take a spin in your own little part of the world. Your friendly sportscaster probably won't notice you're gone.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Art of Feedback

The tagline to each column I publish includes my e-mail address. Crusading journalist that I am, I have always believed that media - and the editorial pages of a newspaper, in particular - should serve as the basis for a two-way dialog between those who write and those who read. It's the veritable heart and soul of a newspaper, and it's the first thing I read every morning.
I'm not alone in admitting I am nowhere without readers. It often takes me longer to think of a provocative, value-added topic than it does to actually research and write the ensuing piece. If I reach one person, I have succeeded. The e-mail address gives readers a low-risk means of sharing their thoughts with me.
The ultimate thrill is, of course, seeing letters to the editor in response to a published article. Between these two feedback channels, however, readers consistently let me know what they think about my stuff. Here's a sampling from my inbox this week in response to the cigarette butt piece:
"Great cover many issues....litter, health and consideration for others and our environment."
"Just a note to tell you I really enjoyed your article this morning. You hit the spot really well. I hope if even one smoker heeds what you say it will be good. Thank you for the insight."

"I really enjoyed your article this morning in the Freeps. Like you I hope everyone soon realizes how maniacal smoking is and then we non-smokers will no longer have to smell that awful smell!"
"Loved your article on cigarette butts in this A.M.'s Free Press. It was so well written. Now let's just hope that at least a few of the people who need to read"

Dear Carmi Levy!! Your article in the London Free Press - July 14th, 2004 regarding smoking litterbugs was right on. Both my wife and I experience daily the exact same things you alluded to. It seems that some smokers just do not get it. They are fortunate that they do not live in Singapore where their actions would get them jailed. [Snip] Thanks for writing this excellent article. More public awareness is no doubt needed before things will hopefully change for the better.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Pretty Postings

Just noticed this wonderful world of blogging now supports color. No, I'm not going to suddenly go all crazy on you and post everything in a multi-hued assault on your retinas. But every little technical enhancement to the writer's toolkit is, by definition, a good thing on the assumption that the writer can treat it with the respect it deserves.
Analogy: The Force. You do remember the whole Star Wars, Obi-Won/Luke deal, right? If not, walk softly and carry a big stick ought to cover it.
While we're on the subject of the circus effect, try to avoid emulating a "columnist" who writes for a pathetic little rag in the old country (aka Quebec), who to this day insists on punctuating key words with asterisks in between the letters! And this while also using bold and italic and whatever other "enhancement" the editor allows. I'm getting a headache just thinking of it.
Feel free to share your literary war stories in the Comments below. The best examples of idiotic writing will win a prize. No promises on its ultimate worth, however. My everlasting appreciation should hold ya.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Archived Columns

I'm really big on archiving my published work. I derive comfort from reading my older musings. It also helps me benchmark myself by tracking how I've changed in the days, months, and years since a particular piece first hit print. Mostly, I seem to be getting more ornery, but that's fodder for another post, if not a whole other blog.
On the assumption that web links remain valid for a while - as if! - I'm going to experiment with this blog by posting some of my more recent columns. I know the most recent six or seven pieces are available here, but then the links roll off the back of the page to make room for the new stuff. So in case you missed 'em the first time around, here they are again:
Fiscal abuses Taxing our trust (March 24)
Hatred comes home to Londoner (April 7)
It's time to change our power-hungry habits (April 10)
Closing libraries, closing minds (April 21)
Battle of Atlantic never forgotten (May 5)
Shriners story teaches a painful lesson (May 19)
Heritage protection all about trust (June 2)
Savouring the real gifts of fatherhood (June 16)
Canada's birthday a time to say thanks (June 30)
Fuming over smoking litterbugs (July 14)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hulk's Blog

Summer blockbuster season is normally a time when people beyond a given IQ range go into self-enforced hibernation lest they lose brain cells through excess exposure to really dumb movies and their tightly integrated waves of cross-promotional flotsam.
To wit, last year's Hulk remake. Like most superhero flicks, it deservedly tanked. But from the ashes of genetic and egomaniacal failure rises a blog that ought to make even the most cynical of us crack a smile or two. So, first swallow your milk, then click your mouse on this link to Hulk's Blog.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Publish Day - Angry Carmi

My latest column is in today's London Free Press and on Canoe. Click here to go straight to it, or here to see a recent archive of publishings.

Needless to say, the smokers in our midst won't be happy with me. I was in quite the mood when I wrote it: having cigarettes whipped at you by ignorant drivers will do that to you, I guess.

In the meantime, I came across an interesting site called The Truth. It seems to be technically well-built, but its cartoonish facade reveals a scary-as-hell message about the history of tobacco and its modern-day implications on all of us.

Like most worthwhile Web resources these days, it'll work best with Flash and a fast connection.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Tech Rants

I've been a Senior Research Analyst for London's Info-Tech Research Group since last October. The company has arranged with an American technology newspaper,, to publish opinion pieces from our Research department.

Here's my bio on the site. Don't be scared by the picture! I've had three pieces published so far, and they tend toward the ranty side of the opinion spectrum. Once I'm finished my current methodology project - Optimizing Your IT Infrastructure launches July 20th - I'll be able to devote more time toward coming up with more ticked off perspectives of an accidental geek. Until then, here's what I've published so far:

The Futility Of Mobility - May 21, 2004
Turn It All Off - April 9, 2004
The Megahertz Myth - January 30, 2004

I'll post more as they hit the site. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Research Sources

My brain has often been described as an overfilled vessel of useless minutae. I seem to remember the most arcane bits of trivia, namely Simpsons and Saturday Night Live factoids.

My wife, of course, laments the fact that I still can't remember where the pots go after seven years in the same house. I have no idea why I seem to have evolved in such a dichotomous manner.

One of my favorite trivia lookup sites is the the Internet Movie Database. It is, in fact, one of the earliest commercially and critically successful Internet sites, and remains to this day a serious reference for all cinematic research. PC Magazine ran this neat article on the site's history.

Never mind that they have dated it August 3, 2004 - I guess they're simply ahead of their time.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Whether Weather?

Commuting by bicycle to and from work necessitates a few behavioral changes, namely, you must:

1 - Pack your clothes and lunch very carefully
2 - Leave sufficient time to do the Superman-in-a-phone-booth clothes changing routine when you get to the office
3 - Repeat the same process when you head home

The most important thing remains the weather. Misread the day's forecast and you'll end up swimming home.

Thankfully, Info-Tech Research Group's crack Research Department has formed an equally crack Weather Team. Here's a quick rundown of the sites we use to track the latest blowings from Mother Nature:

(Small caveat: they're all specific to the London/Southwestern Ontario region. But with a bit of tweaking, you can point most of 'em toward your neck of the woods)

National Weather Service Radar - incredibly precise and up-to-the-minute (narrow view).
National Weather Service Radar - as above, but with a wider view.
Environment Canada Forecast for London - just change the city code in the URL for your local forecast.
Environment Canada Radar Loop (from Exeter station) - same deal as above.
Intellicast Radar - a fairly decent wide-view composite image.

A couple of other general sites: - the gold standard of weather sites
The Weather Network - the pathetic Canadian version that makes us all wish we were American (Okay, maybe not...)

Here's hoping your days are warm and dry - unless, of course, you're British and you prefer them cold and miserable. In which case, you likely wouldn't be looking at North American weather sites anyway. But I digress.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Adventures of Seinfeld & Superman

If you're looking for a good, intelligent laugh, click here to go to the Jerry Seinfeld/American Express site.

The site currently hosts two long-format commercials, called "Uniform" and "Hindsight". Beyond the obvious humor in them, they represent a new breed of format-busting ad - the first true innovation in a genre long dominated by the standard 30-second shill for dishwasher soap.

If you don't have Flash and/or a high-bandwidth connection, get yourself over to a friend who does and enjoy the show.

Check back here periodically for additional titles in the series. I'll post 'em to the blog as well as they become available.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Our Moribund Family Web Site

A long time ago, in a technological galaxy far, far away (read before blogs came to the fore) I built a little web site for my little brood of little people. I called it Levyland. Then I stopped updating it. And the nasty e-mails poured in. I ignored them. I was busy, you know, working and, like, helping get the kids their breakfast and all the other stuff a dad/husband does. Eventually the e-mails stopped - no one offered to update the site for me, interestingly - but the site remains in a state of online suspended animation.

Thing is, I like the way it's written. It's an early example of my being funny. So it stays. Click here for a snapshot of life in my world, circa 2001.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Canada Day, Eh?

Today marks the 137th anniversary of Canada's founding. Now known as Canada Day, it represents our national excuse to drink beer, eat barbecued meat (kosher, of course) and recite from memory the Top 50 reasons why this is the best country in the world (#10: Drunk Mounties.)

I've never been one for jingoism, so I'll stop it there. But keep this term in mind as you watch American coverage of the upcoming Olympics in Greece. A number of things will become painfully clear 30 seconds after you flip on the telly:

1 - Only Americans participate in the events covered. Non-Americans don't matter.
2 - If an American doesn't win, the sport is immaterial.
3 - The color commentators are contractually bound to root exclusively for the American athletes.
4 - The screen will be full of For Dummies-like graphic aids to help bubbas from the heartland understand how these strange sports work.
5 - Someone will need to explain, repeatedly, why "American" football is the "real" football. The rest of the world will eventually come around and learn to call it soccer.

You've been warned.