Blog Archive for February 2007
Underground Art - Literally
Well, I went through the last couple days worth of the front page on Digg and couldn't find any decent stuff to report on. However, I did find something that reminded me of a fun article I found a couple months ago. Check out this page of images of Metro Arts and Architecture. It's a lot of beautiful places in mostly underground subways. There's also some fun photos for the world metro traveler all around the Metro Bits site.
Of course, there's no way they mention everything cool about the subways. In Washington D.C. we went to a station that is a couple hundred feet underground. That was definitely the longest escalator I've ever seen! Another article I read via Digg said that every building in Paris is less than 1,600 feet away from a subway station. Crazy!
Also, an interesting thing are underground maps. One my favorites is this poster promoting an art show as well as the London Underground, which is shown in this post. They had a copy of the poster in the business building during college. I loved looking at it.
Google Apps for Business
For a while now some people have been trying the beta of Google Apps. Apparently it's out of Beta form now and in full-fledged action mode. The current system gives you Gmail, Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Calendar, Google Page Creator, and more with technical support as well. If you want to run your own domain without any administration, this may be the way to do it.
The big announcement is that Google has started selling Google Apps to large businesses for only $50 per user per year. Hypothetically, it could replace Outlook, Word, and Excel for corporations and reduce the need for an IT department that handles e-mail and complicated Exchange servers. It costs hundreds of dollars every time an employee upgrades to Office, plus even more to mange their e-mail.
But will major corporations sign up for it? Wired News talks about Google Apps and lays out the downsides and upsides. I think that it will be a couple years before most corporations find it a valuable replacement of half their IT department. Google has to continue to make web apps like Gmail and Google Docs and Spreadsheets have as many features as Outlook, Word, and Excel. (That is, if they ever can.) Who knows if they'll ever make it work, but it's an interesting idea of corporate data being accessible securely by a user at any computer equipped with a net connection and a web browser.
The State of the World
My Grandpa was talking about this and he said he got this from his brother, who is possibly the most knowledgeable man I know about business. It's an Open Letter to CEOs entitled What In The World Is Going On?: A Global Intelligence Briefing to CEOs. Apparently it's going around mostly by e-mail, but I did find a copy of it at a blog site.
I think it's definitely worth a read even if it is a bit long, and even if you're not a CEO. He covers four major problems in the world today and then offers some thoughts on the outcomes. Here's a couple of highlights:
1. The War in Iraq
Today, terrorism is the third attack on Western civilization by radical Islam. To deal with terrorism, the U.S. is doing two things. First, units of our armed forces are in 30 countries around the world hunting down terrorist groups and dealing with them. This gets very little publicity. Second we are taking military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are covered relentlessly by the media. People can argue about whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong. However, the underlying strategy behind the war is to use our military to remove the radicals from power and give the moderates a chance. Our hope is that, over time, the moderates will find a way to bring Islam forward into the 21st century. That’s what our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is all about.
2. The Emergence of China
In the last 20 years, China has moved 250 million people from the farms and villages into the cities. Their plan is to move another 300 million in the next 20 years. When you put that many people into the cities, you have to find work for them. That’s why China is addicted to manufacturing; they have to put all the relocated people to work. When we decide to manufacture something in the U.S., it’s based on market needs and the opportunity to make a profit. In China, they make the decision because they want the jobs, which is a very different calculation.
3. Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization
Most countries in the Western world have stopped breeding. For a civilization obsessed with sex, this is remarkable. Maintaining a steady population requires a birth rate of 2.1. In Western Europe, the birth rate currently stands at 1.5, or 30 percent below replacement. In 30 years there will be 70 to 80 million fewer Europeans than there are today. The current birth rate in Germany is 1.3. Italy and Spain are even lower at 1.2. At that rate, the working age population declines by 30 percent in 20 years, which has a huge impact on the economy.
4. Restructuring of American Business
The fourth major transformation involves a fundamental restructuring of American business. Today’s business environment is very complex and competitive. To succeed, you have to be the best, which means having the highest quality and lowest cost. Whatever your price point, you must have the best quality and lowest price. To be the best, you have to concentrate on one thing. You can’t be all things to all people and be the best.
These are only the layouts of the problems. He then goes on to present the implications of these problems to American and worldwide business and the world at large. I just love his final conclusion:
Ultimately, it’s an issue of culture. The only people who can hurt us are ourselves, by losing our culture. If we give up our Judeo-Christian culture, we become just like the Europeans. The culture war is the whole ballgame. If we lose it, there isn’t another America to pull us out.
Herbert Meyer, the author, served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. According to his bio, "Meyer is widely credited with being the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union's collapse." Before reading the full document, I was thinking of mentioning that there may be some political bias, but I don't think that needs to be mentioned anymore. It seems like a well-supported, down-to-earth paper.
How Well Does Google AdSense Target?
So, about a week ago, I was browsing Digg and said to myself, "Oh nice, Google's showing me a Chipotle text ad! How did they know I loved the large burritos so much? Do they know I have a T-Shirt?" After looking at it a bit more, I said, "Hmm... I wonder where this new location it mentions is?" Here's an image version of the ad on Last.fm:
After a bit of looking, I found that this location is in St. Louis, MO. However, I'm in Minneapolis, MN and have never been to St. Louis. What's going on? Is it Google's fault or is the advertiser doing a bad job? I don't know, but I find it intriguing.
Open Document Format
My mom called a couple days ago and said she read in the paper that Microsoft was going down the tubes. I didn't know about all that, so I thought I'd figure out what she meant. (Silly mom, even if you read it in the newspaper you can find it online in seconds and e-mail me a link. It works just as well. Oh wait, you'd have to dial into the Internet - nevermind. ;-) )
A writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press was covering the fact that Minnesota is considering using Open Document Format. It's really a simple but often overlooked issue. In 10 years when you need that Excel document of your finances from 2001 to open, will you be able to? How about in 50 years?
Right now, if you're using Office or Adobe Acrobat to distribute your documents, you only partially own the document. Anyone who wants to read the document needs to go to Microsoft or Adobe to gain the ability to look at it. And what happens if Microsoft or Adobe do not exist in 10 years? What about in 50 years? When thinking on a governmental records scale, digital documents sounds a bit scary and, right now, paper is sounding really good.
The answer that the state of Minnesota is considering and that some European countries have already put into effect is the Open Document Format (ODF). But what if, in 50 years, no one supports ODF either? Will the government have to make sure some company is making an ODF-compatible reader program?
And will Microsoft die? I'm not selling my stock yet. They do have a competing OpenXML format that has yet to be ratified by the standards bodies. But even so, the idea that they're pitching an open format is encouraging because they see their business would flounder in this day and age without an open format. They might not have everyone in the world hooked on Word because it's the only way to open their documents, but they'll still sell the most full-featured word processing software around.
Open Source Development
Angie over at Lullabot put an interesting, short document together of "Best Practices in Open Source Development". I enjoyed reading it, and I think it's true.
Last week I spent a lot of time at work making my first-ever real custom Drupal site. (My other Drupal sites weren't real because I never really messed with the code much.) It was interesting. I submitted bug reports, I searched for solutions to the problems I was having, and I hung out on the IRC channel. It was sometimes helpful to have people to bounce ideas off of and who knew how to fix the problems. Other times, I was on my own and had to fix it myself.
Obviously, Lullabot has had a ton of success with participating in the already-flourishing Drupal community. However, in my experience of actual development at work, it just seems that submitting my changes back to the community would take a lot of my time. Sure, right now the company I work at won't pay me for my time to give back to the community so I have to do it when I get home, but even if we did would we see that much benefit? Maybe not, because we rarely use Drupal or WordPress in a way that we add new functionality. We usually only take the tool that fits best and make it happen. If it's not a blog or community-oriented site, then we usually build it in-house or with Zend Framework or CakePHP.
Maybe one of these years my company will become involved in Open Source. Until then, we'll just take the free ride. ;-)
The Design Side
I don't do design too much, but enough to get my hands a bit dirty. I kinda enjoy it, although I rarely get really inspired works that look amazing. So I mostly stick to programming. However, this funny post of "23 Signs That You're Becoming a Design Geek" has some funny things that mostly only designers will understand. Thanks to Leo and Amber for pointing this out on their enjoyable podcast along with the rest of fun links for geeks.
People of Praise and Blogging
OK, so this one's more like two topics. First, yesterday TJ posted and interesting link to a documentary about the blogosphere. It was an interesting look at the people that make up blogs and how blogs have changed the landscape of news. (Man, if I would've found that strike blog I would have felt a lot more connected.) The video's embedded below the jump.
In other community news, Dan Reinbold started off his new blog with some great posts: one about his story and another about what the People of Praise is. Very good reading. Also, a longtime friend, Josh, seems to be chiming in with an almost minute-by-minute look at his life in Allendale. I hope he keeps it up.
Google Buys AdScape Media
In an interesting move that proves Google is as much an advertising company as a research company, it seems that Google has decided to buy AdScape media. AdScape has been in the news a lot recently because of a bleeding-edge market that they've almost created, and that is advertising inside videogames. Apparently last year Microsoft bought Massive, another prominent in-game advertising. It also continues the Google trend of buying non-web advertising companies. Google has recently been testing selling ads on the radio and in print newspapers in magazines as well. Apparently they are setting out to bring the highly-targeted advertising systems to less-targeted places such as TV and such. It may be working, because profits are way up this past quarter. But we'll only find out as time goes on.
People of Praise Member Blogs
The number of People of Praise members with an online presence has been growing immensely. And now, we have a way to track it. Justin has created a del.icio.us tag called
peopleofpraisemember. It's a great way to keep in the know of the latest of many people throughout the community.
To add some benefit to this post, I added all the RSS feeds of these sites to my Google Reader and have shared the page. If you're looking for one page too bookmark to stay up-to-date with People of Praise around the 'net, this may be it. You can also access an RSS feed of that page if you're looking for one way to get all the blog information. Of course, if you find that I don't have all the feeds or want me to change something, feel free to contact me.