Monthly Archives: May 2012

Some perspective on the European experiment or Europe, the last 1000+ years

There’s lots of focus on what is happening in Europe, particularly about whether or not the Euro will collapse and what effect that will have on the European Union. With all that short term focus, it might be useful to take a look at the evolution of Europe over the last millenium or so (1000-2005) to gain a better perspective:

Clearly Europe is an on going experiment, and it’s unity and disunity is a constantly shifting thing. This may be one of those times where it is going to go from being unified to being disunified. As always, time will tell.


WTH is Brotip #1550, you ask?

Now I think you will either love brotips or hate them. Bro’ language aside, the advice that I’ve come across is good. 

Click the link: brotips™ for more of them. Lots more!


A thought on the National Post graphic on the Mt Everest Death Toll

The National Post has a truly great graphic on the Mount Everest death toll (a chronicle of all of the lives claimed by the world’s tallest point). It is worth seeing to get a something of a sense of how deadly it is.

One thing that jumped out at me, though, was this pair of statistics: the number of summit ascents between 1953 and 1981 was only 117, while the number of ascents between 1982 and 2006 was 3058. That’s an incredible increase. I think it says something about the times we live in that so many people want to climb Everest.

Is New York going to replace Silicon Valley?

Not yet. But according to this, For Tech Start-Ups, New York Has Increasing Allure –, there are more and more startups taking off in NYC. While I can’t see the Valley fading away, I could see it having to compete for talent with NY. Whatever is said, where the work goes depends on where the talent is going to school and where the money is. I can’t see places like San Mateo or Palo Alto or Cupertino losing that for some time. However NYC has money and talent too. New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is hot again. The article doesn’t mention that, which is suprising, but if I were young I think Brooklyn could be the place to relocate to.

So yeah, not going to replace, but definitely going to compete.


Saturday night music with Sigur Ros and Aloe Blacc and many many more…

Where can you find Sigur Ros and Aloe Blacc and Arcade Fire and ….well….pretty much anyone interesting? You might say: Black Cab Sessions…and that would be a good answer. But another place you can find alot of great independent music is at the Take Away Shows (Concert à emporter) at  La Blogothèque.

For example, here’s Sigur Ros

And here’s Aloe Blacc

I like Blacc’s, it’s rich a cappella.

But check out the site to find lots and lots of great artists performing.


A brief and anecdotal history of 19th century American music with the Carolina Chocolate Drops

I came across this interview with the Carolina Chocolate Drops (Instrument Interview: Bones & Banjo via the Sleepover Shows) last night and I thought that it was a great lecture/discussion on the history of one segment of early American musical history. It’s only a 10 minute talk followed by a 2 minute song, but it is worth your time.


Hashtag hijacking: the increasing uselessness of hashtags in twitter and other social media

There are alot of advantages of using hashtags, but as this article shows (Obama Campaign Gets Wise to GOP Twitter Tricks – Alexandra Jaffe – it is getting tougher to use them for social media events because of what could be called hashtag hijacking. Key quote:

And, perhaps more significant, it allowed Obama to avoid the GOP hashtag hijacking that has become par for the course whenever Obama has previously announced a social-media campaign ahead of time. Though Republicans did latch on to the hashtag eventually, the White House’s craftiness prevented the hashtag hijack from becoming too much of a social media centerpiece, as has happened with such efforts before.

I’ve seen other instances where activists have hijacked commercial hashtags to counter a marketing message. I would recommend organizations be wary of using them in the future, unless you want to give activists and other critics the opportunity to weigh in. (And if you do that and you disagree, you better be ready to counter their comments.)

Friday Night Music: the Carolina Chocolate Drops with the Chieftains (no less)

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are great. The Chieftains are great. Put ’em together, and you have something really great. Here they are burning through Pretty Little Girl on Later with Jools Holland.

When I first heard the Carolina Chocolate Drops, I thought they sounded Celtic as much as anything. Seeing them pair up with the Chieftains is a natural fit. (They’re from the U.S. and their music is Carolina folk.) More on them here and from their web site here, which has lots of good stuff, including many live performances. Check out “Cornbread and Butterbeans”: it’s infectiously good.

More midweek music! For those who love Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe (and those that don’t)

Yes, you are going to hear this, Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe, forever this summer, and at some point, if you don’t already, you may hate it and her. Before you do, try this acoustic version. I think it’s good. It’s still light pop, but hey, light pop makes for good summer driving music

This blog will now resume regularly scheduled pop music with an indie bent. 🙂



Midweek music: women (singers) and men (playing guitar) messing around in the back seat of a (black) cab

I’ve found these four gems from the Black Cab sessions. Each has something in common: it’s a woman singing beautifully while a man plays acoustic guitar. That’s what they have in common. Otherwise they’re quite different.

First up is VV Brown doing Shark In The Water. I love this better than the recorded version. It has a great R&B feel, and it mixes up the tempo nicely.

Following her is Eliza Doolittle doing Pack Up. It reminds me of pop, but from the earlier part of the 20th century. Different than Brown, but still really good.

From there we go to  Alela Diane who does this haunting number that really feels like indie folk Americana.

Finally, but not least, is Holly Miranda doing a fresh cover of the great song “X Factor” by Lauren Hill. It’s hard to cover Hill, but I think she does a great job. (Her fellow guitarist is lame, but she is great.)

The epicureans vs the propagandists: some thoughts on the evolution of Twitter and Instagram (with a jab at FB)

There are many different types of social media users, but the two that come to mind are the epicureans and the propagandists. The epicureans are the ones who take pictures of their food, of their parties, of their nails, their feet as they lounge on a recliner, their friends and their cats. The overall idea behind their use of social media is: life is good and meant to be enjoyed and here is me enjoying the things in my life. The propagandists are the ones that are promoting ideas. But not just promoting them, but wanting them to propagate. They write blog posts and tweet links and republish links with ICYMI (in case you missed it) in front of them. These are loose definitions, I confess, but let’s leave that for now.

When Twitter was in its early days, it was epicurean. Indeed, the joke was: who want to know what you are eating for lunch? For epicureans, this is easy to answer: I am enjoying this lunch and I think you would too so let’s share this information so we can both eat better and enjoy lunch more. Over time, though, Twitter has been overrun by the propagandists. I still see some epicurean tweets, but by and large, most tweets have switched to microblog posts.

There is nothing wrong with either style of posting, though I suspect the propagandists look down on the epicureans. I think it is a matter of style, taste, etc. There is no proper way to share information. Face to face, we all share a wide range of information constantly, from the commonplace (e.g. weather) to the sophisticated to the deeply meaningful to the shallow. The same will be truly when we use social technology to do this.

My personal taste is that I like a blend of the two, but that’s just me.  When I find twitter is getting too propagandistic, I find it too impersonal and shouty. That’s one of the reason I like when major events occur: twitter immediately switches to the personal and trends towards the epicurean, at least for a little while.

This brings me to Instagram. I love Instagram, just like I loved Twitter when I first started using it a lot. And I find right now Instagram is still epicurean. However, I am starting to follow people that are letting the propaganda slip in. It’s harder with photos, of course. If anything, they are less trying to propagate ideas and more trying to market events. Maybe that’s how Instagram will become: from epicurean to professional marketing. If that’s true, then my feelings towards it will become like how I feel about Twitter: still like it a lot, but no longer love it. As social media goes from being personal to being impersonal, it gets harder to love.

Maybe that is the key, more than anything. Once social technology becomes impersonal, the love you have for it burns off and it becomes simply a tool to communicate, like the phone. No doubt the social technology company will make money from their technology, but our love for the technology will be gone.

By the way, this is why I think Google will never get social technology right. They don’t get the epicurean / love aspect of social technology. They focus on the technology, not the love. The social technology that gets that first has a better chance to take off. Even Facebook was that way at first, in that we fell in love with the ability to reconnect with people. Facebook was best at that at first, and other factors like network externalities have helped it to cement a grip other social technology companies can’t muster. But enough has been said about Facebook this week, so enough on that.



For fans of Ridley Scott’s films, especially the SF ones, this is a good interview

The Daily Beast has a great interview with Ridley Scott here: Ridley Scott Opens Up About Prometheus, Kick-Ass Women, and Blade Runner 2 – The Daily Beast. What with ‘Prometheus’ (the prequel to Alien) and now his preparations to make a new sequel (prequel?) to Blade Runner, it’s well worth a read. Even if you don’t like Science Fiction, he also has some interesting comments with regards to women as protagonists in film.

Via Kottke.

Rent a grannie to knit you a scarf you designed yourself. Really!

It seems hard to believe, but really it’s pretty straightforward. This site, Grannies Inc. | Home, acts as a go between you and their own group of people who like to knit. Mass customization of apparel is nothing new (running shoe companies have been doing it for awhile). This takes it to a different level, where by you have craftspeople (i.e., the grannies) hand producing work to specifications you provide. (There’s a sentimental aspect of this, which may or not be appealing to you, depending on how sentimental/cynical you are. I realize not all of them are likely grannies.)

It’s a smart idea. If you are in the southern hemisphere and reading this now, go check it out! The rest of us in the north hemisphere will likely enjoy summer first. (On the other hand, if the orders are backlogged, then you may want to get your order in right away to avoid disappointment).

Friday Night Music: Jack White and Wanda (Queen of Rockabilly) Jackson play a Black Cab Session

Black Cab Sessions are always good, but this one is particularly good: it is concentrated Americana. It’s more a documentary than a music video, but it is great nonetheless. Bonus: John C Reilly, no less, is driving the cab!

And if you are wondering who Wanda Jackson is, well click here.

Jack White & Wanda Jackson – Black Cab Sessions – YouTube






Wednesday Night Music: Montag – Nova Heart

Yes, Montag, with the lovely Liane Balaban on lead vocals, cover the 80s hit by the Spoons.

Nicely done stop motion animation combined with dreamy vocals make it a good midweek tune.

Montag – Nova Heart (The Spoons cover) – YouTube

Is this the end of magazine apps?

If you read this, Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps – Technology Review, you might think: wow, this could mean the end of magazine apps. Technology Review has decided to do this:

Last fall, we moved all the editorial in our apps, including the magazine, into a simple RSS feed in a river of news. We dumped the digital replica. Now we’re redesigning, which we made entirely free for use, and we’ll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that a reader will see Web pages optimized for any device, whether a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone. Then we’ll kill our apps, too.

For alot of publishers, this will make sense. It will be cheaper and easier to meet the needs of the web and mobile this way. I still think there will be innovative authors and publishers out there that will make apps work. I also believe future development tools will address some of the problems, especially after people abandon apps for HTML5.

Anyone interested in mobile development and the future of the web should check out the Technology Review article.

How to save up money, quit your job, and move to Paris for a year

Sounds impossible? Not really. See this blog post, After the Artist’s Way: Exit Strategy Lesson 2: Basic Math, for an example of how one artist managed to do it. Well worth a read, especially if you are having that “oh god, tomorrow is Monday and I have to go to work” feeling.

Thanks to Blake Eligh for this! Follow her on twitter for more good things: @blakeeligh.

Some thoughts on my latest piece on #sundayART: The Tragedy of Batman, Dark Knight of Gotham

The theme for this week is “an object”. Initially I was going to draw something iconographic like a Coke bottle or some other unique shape, but I decided to try something sculptural instead. I was going to do something with clay, but I decided to go with the Marcel Duchamp “ready made” approach. (Also, this required less work. :))

I have been struggling to do something with the pile of toys, many from McDonalds and garage sales, that my son has. I thought, why not use those? Hence the material.

Now, how is this different than just a jumble of toys? How is this art? I mention Duchamp for a reason. Besides being one of my favourite artists, I think his use of found objects as “sculpture” was a brilliant thing to do, especially at the time. Context is essential when it comes to designating ready mades like a wine rack or the urinal as sculpture, which is partially what Duchamp was doing. The work is devoid of craft or artist construction: it is the selection and the context that gives the work meaning. Now you can debate that meaning, but that is partially what the work is trying to do: to provoke that debate.

I was also thinking of Jeff Wall and his photographs. Wall’s photographs – at least the ones I know of — are highly structured compositions through which he creates his work.

Now clearly this photograph does not approach Wall or Duchamp, but neither is it a bunch of toys on a table.

For the photo, I selected a pile of toys that were available(like Duchamp) and then came up with a story (like Wall).  Perhaps because the new Batman movie is coming out, I selected to base it around the broken Batman toy. Also because it is a theme of the original Toy Story movie, I included the dinosaur toy, Rex, for the photo. Plus I liked his expression: it added drama to the photo. Also, when I was a kid, I had a Rex dinosaur just like that and Batman was my favourite superhero, so I thought those were good choices.

I included the Lego toys with the red faces because I like the way they looked menacing. Plus the red faces added colour and richness to the photo. I added a number of other toys as well, but it was too cluttered. I left the other two in because they added to the story, namely they were holding off the bad Lego characters while Rex rushed in despair to the fallen Batman.

I shot the photo at a number of angles, but I liked this one because it had more dimension that other ones I took. The bad guys are in the foreground and background, giving it depth. The central characters, Rex and Batman, are in the bottom right, giving a sense of motion to the photo. Also the sense that Rex is rushing through the middle while the other four characters are in a standoff gives the photo tension.

You could say all this is bonkers, of course. But if I had an expensive set and had real actors dressed in expensive costumes instead of toys and I was a famous director like Chris Nolan, you would likely evaluate it differently. This is partially the point Duchamp was trying to make: we partially evaluate art and creative works by the context they are in (e.g. on a pedestal and in a museum), not so much for what they consist of. Likewise, Wall’s photos say that just because the subjects of a photograph seem commonplace, that should not mean that the photo itself is lacking in art.

This does not put me in the camp of people that believe that craft doesn’t matter when it comes to art. I think craft, context, and thought all go into making something a work of art. But I think there is more to it than that. I’ll save that for another post.

P.S. The format of the title is derived from Shakespeare. See the full title of Hamlet or Othello for examples of what I mean.

Bill Clinton on Robert Caro’s New L.B.J. Book

If you follow anyone into politics, then you’ve likely already heard about Caro’s new book. There’s lots that’s been written about it, and for good reason: Caro is a masterful historian. Regardless if you’ve read alot or nothing, I recommend you read Bill Clinton review of ‘The Passage of Power,’ Robert Caro’s New L.B.J. Book in No one can review that book like he can, being a former U.S. President from the South, and a Democratic one at that. Highly recommended.

As the years pass, the historical appreciation of LBJ will only increase. Robert Caro will be a big reason for that appreciation. You can read him fresh now.



Saturday night music: The Lady Don’t Mind (Talking Heads) …bonus: Two Doors Cinema Club comparison :)

I didn’t realize that this was directed by Jim Jarmusch just when he was becoming known and winning acclaim. It’s hard to image now, but at the time MTV was just getting big as well, and alot of performers were critical of music videos because they felt it away from the musicians and was more about promotional videos. I think Jarmusch and the Talking Heads take it to another level here, and this stands up alot better than other videos of the time.

Talking Heads The Lady Don’t Mind – YouTube

By the way, about a minute and a half into this video, Jaramusch starts playing with overlaid images and colours, and well as having the performers suddenly shift positions and move in different ways.

Check out this video from Two Door Cinema Club – Something Good Can Work.

It’s exactly the same visual language.

The “Nigerian” spam (i.e. advanced-fee fraud) is getting “better”

What is Nigerian spam? Well, if you go here (, you’ll see the definition: “An advance-fee fraud is a confidence trick in which the target is persuaded to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a significantly larger gain”. It is associated with Nigeria, but of course it is a universal scam and the criminals associated with it are everywhere.

What is new, besides it’s spread, is the fact the writing is getting better. I should put “better” in quotes too, for while the earlier letters were filled with errors, they were also fun to read. This latest version is much better written, but also written in the boring way most business correspondence is written. I worry that because of that, more people will fall for the fraud.

Learn about the advanced-fee fraud. Talk to people you think might fall prey to it. (Believe me, if people didn’t, it wouldn’t have such a long life).

Here’s the latest version:


I am Michael Stevenson;an accredited vendor of Gartmore Investment Management, a subsidiary firm of The Henderson Global Investment Firm.; A private equity funds holding company that focuses on hedge funds in the United Kingdom.

I have contacted you with the hope that you can be my associate by accepting to stand as the legal recipient to a Fixed-Income deposit, valued at $35M by providing an International Offshore account to clear the funds. Please note that the success of this transaction hinges on you providing an International Offshore account to receive the funds.

Once I file your details as the new recipient to the funds, the funds will be approved through the AUTOMATED CLEARING HOUSE (ACH) – A facility used by financial institutions to distribute electronic debit and credit entries to bank accounts and therefore settles such entries under the automated clearing house system.

Upon approval of your details as the new recipient; a Credit advice will be issued in your favor and the funds will clear in your account within three banking days. I am willing to give you 40% which is $14M as your commission out of the $35M for your assistance in providing an International Offshore account to clear the funds.

I am confident you will be honest enough to adhere to our agreed commissions in spite of the 35MUSD coming through your account. I will need you to forward me your legal names address and phone to file your details on the fund as the new recipient in this Second Quarter of the financial fiscal year 2012.

Looking forward to working with you.

Michael Stevenson
Accredited vendor
Gartmore Investment Management

Should you check your email? Here’s a helpful infographic to let you know

Thanks to Swiss Miss for this

Dark pools may be dying off (and why that is and what that is a good thing)

I think that because of this recent bit of news: Goldman gives up on Canadian stock market – The Globe and Mail.

Goldman unveiled the market in August of last year, setting it up as a so-called dark pool in which traders could transact anonymously. The idea of dark pools is to enable buyers and sellers to put up orders in secret, which are then matched by computer systems, as opposed to so-called lit markets like the TSX where orders are posted for all to see.

I thought this could just be a Canadian story, but this story (Off-exchange trading: Some like it not | The Economist) indicates that dark pools were in trouble even as Goldman Sachs was entering the Canadian market.

Here’s a chart from the Economist:

You can see not only the number of dark pools levelling off, but the volumes traded too.

Why is that? Well, in the Globe, it mentions “a tough new set of rules recently put out by regulators on dark pools”, and the Economist states “Grumbles by institutional investors give regulators more excuse to get involved.”

It they are dying off or at least levelling off because of regulation, that will be good thing. To me there is too much potential for things to go seriously wrong in such markets. The words “anonymous”, “secret”, “high speed”, “automated” come up often in discussions about dark pools, and those words combined are a recipe for disaster. I don’t expect the banks and traders to have learned any lessions from the last big crash, but I would hope the regulators have. If not, we could all be in for alot more problems.

Some further thoughts on asking Paul Krugman a question on Reddit

So I asked Paul Krugman a question today when he appeared on the site, reddit. Not only did he reply with a great answer, here: IamA Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist. : IAmA, but he followed up with an excellent post on his blog, here: Diocletianomics –

Paul Krugman and I have a few things in common: we both like economics, blogging, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels, and posting about indie bands (him: Friday Night Music: Civil Wars, me:Great Friday night music: Never Forget You by the Noisettes). Politically we are similar too. I am a fan of his writing and thinking. Alas, I do not have a Nobel Prize.

When I saw he was going to be on reddit, I actually signed up for it just to ask the question. The question may seem bizarre out of context, but it is really a mashup of serious things he’s been discussing (the FED and it’s role, the problem posed by the zero lower bound) and the not so serious (the emperor Diocletian came up in the context of a debate he had with Ron Paul; more on that here: Don’t Know Much About (Ancient) History).

I thought mashing that up would not only appeal to the tastes of reddit readers, but to Paul Krugman and his good sense of humour. I was right!

What is the question, you ask? It was this: What is the FED doing to help the Emperor Diocletian escape the zero lower bound?

It’s a good question, I thought. One that might come from a character in a Lewis Carroll book, one that gets you thinking despite the absurdity of it. In some ways, Ron Paul could be a character in a Lewis Carroll book. But I will leave that for another blog post.

How the Obama campaign uses the new big thing in social media to attack his opponent

Can be seen here: Tell Mitt Romney: Bring your offshore accounts back to the USA — Barack Obama.

Not only is there the usual buttons to click on to spread this message, but there is also this infograph as well, which is a treat for bloggers and others.


Infographics are hot now, so it is not surprising that the Obama campaign is using them. Smart.

Naturally they are also using Instagram. If there is a new technology, expect the Obama campaign to lead.

If you want some strategies to make better decisions….

Then I recommend you read this: How to Make Good Decisions | It’s direct and to the point and a good reminder of how to shift the ways you make (poor?) decisions now to better decisions in the future.

Do you need a reason to be optimistic? Here’s a place you can find dozens of them

Even if you are an optimistic person, I highly recommend that you visit the site, REASONS FOR OPTIMISM. It’s brilliant visually and jam packed with reasons to be optimistic about…well, nearly anything and everything. As the curators say:

It’s easy to forget that in today’s not-so-optimistic world real progress continues, beauty appears, brave new worlds are explored, and creativity flows. We keep seeking—and occasionally finding—our best selves. There are, in fact, reasons for optimism everywhere we look.

You can subscribe to a weekly update email, too.

Check it out. I am optimistic you will like it. 🙂