My article for Blog Idol contest: Review of Tom Rand’s Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit

Both in the YouTube clip for the book and in his TED talk, Tom speaks about possible replacement to fossil fuels we are hooked on. His confidence that we can kick the habit is contagious. Just a few solar farms in Sahara can produce enough electricity for the entire world! Instead of burning coal to heat water, use geoexchange technology that can reduce energy use and carbon emissions by up to 70%, and lowers peak electrical load in the summer months. Tom is currently implementing this technology by converting a derelict building at 357 College St., Toronto, into a green hotel.

Sounds great. However I am a pessimist, or an extremely cautious person (call it what you like), and I have been taught by experience that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As some of you may know, it is actually possible to make a gravity-powered clock, for example. The only catch is that manufacturing this clock will be a lot more expensive than a regular alarm clock and a lifetime supply of batteries.

I will be happy if someone explains to me that I am mistaken and the obstacles to Tom’s suggestions that I see are no obstacles at all.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

My article for Blog Idol contest: Open Data and disclosures, or Beware of the leopard

With governments looking to do more with less, adopting open government strategies marks an ideal way to better deliver public services and foster increased confidence in government institutions through greater transparency.

Michael Geist

‘Crowdsourcing’ puts many extra hands to work

The move toward open government is now a fact. In Canada (and specifically in Toronto) many  groups such as Visible Government, ChangeCamp, etc. are working on a multitude of new sites and services. The one I want to tell you about is, a site created by a Toronto developer, Ilia Lobsanov. The site performs web scraping to capture information from government sites about contracts awarded to various contractors. This is, officially, publicly reported information. It is, however,  displayed and stored on hundreds of disparate government sites in various forms, and this hinders the search and use of the information should anyone need it.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

What do you think of diversity?

This post started as my comment to Greg Wilson’s post. Greg posted a link to O’Reilly’s call for diversity. I think that the very concept of increasing diversity artificially is flawed. Here’s the comment I made in Greg’s blog:

Greg, as a woman who’s been in IT for about 20 years I must say that the “improving diversity” thing looks like BS to me and insults the very people whom it is supposed to help. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Here’s my train of reasoning. Either someone deserves to be a speaker at a conference (by the pure merit of their research and speaking skills), or they don’t. If they do, then invite them because they are worth it, not because they are minorities. On the other hand, if they don’t deserve it but still get invited, this implies the poor things can’t do better anyway, so let’s condescend to them.

Moreover, if e.g. a woman got to be a speaker, there will always be suspicion that she got in by being a minority and not because of her actual achievements. All in all, it seems to me that this policy does more harm than good.

Personally I’d rather have a honest and truthful judgment than condescending attitude. It was not condescending and sweet meaningless compliments that helped me or any of these women to get where we are today. As Lois M. Bujold puts it very aptly in one of her books,”…if you desire a man to tell you comfortable lies about your prowess, and so fetter any hope of true excellence, I’m sure you may find one anywhere. Not all prisons are made of iron bars. Some are made of feather beds. Royesse.

Congratulations to the lucky winner

The contest is now closed. AAAAAnd the winner is… @jkundan!!!! He gets a free #HOHOTO ticket. Congratulations @jkundan!

That’s all folks, see you at #HOHOTO today!

FREE Movie Night with Don Tapscott

Please share this with your friends, everyone is welcome!

FREE Movie Night from Volunteer Toronto: Thu Feb 26 @ Bloor Cinema 6-9pm

Us Now is a UK film on how Web 2.0 inspires news ways for people to participate in their communities. Guest Speaker, Don Tapscott.

Get your tickets and watch the movie preview here:

Myself at #hohoto

All you ever wanted to know about black history but were afraid to ask

I got a “Black History Month” brochure peddled on me today while I was going to Robin Barker to get my hair done. It was extremely interesting and I just have to share the contents.

First the brochure has some short biographies of prominent people like Elija McCoy. So far, so good.

Then it offers some word puzzles. Like the following:

Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Floods THE _EA_ _ER
White Mother, Black Father _A_ _K _B_ _A
(In case you could not guess, that’s “The weather” and “Barak Obama” respectively; the answer is kindly provided a few lines below)

Then the brochure has a wonderful list of INVENTIONS (I will reproduce the entire page here, without omissions or alterations):
Read the rest of this entry »

I have attended a SaveOurNet meeting today.
It is a grassroots movement for net neutrality – non-discriminatory treatment of Internet traffic regardless of where it comes from. Right now some big ISPs in Canada throttle traffic from some sources in favour of others. Imagine all the streets of your town having fast lanes in them and you are only allowed into such a lane if you are driving an expensive car. Not my idea of democracy, that’s certain.
I feel very strongly about this because I was born and bred in the USSR and I know perfectly well what happens when one party, or corporation, or a junta, whatever you call it, has power to determine what people should see, do and think. I don’t want to go back there.
One problem that we face is that all of us the movement participants are, generally speaking, “geeks with blogs”. I am afraid it will not be easy to persuade an ordinary person from the street that Internet regulation is a bad thing. However we should try (a nice opportunity for me to practice persuasive writing). It was also suggested that each of us contact his MP and educate them on net neutrality issue. The idea that you can contact your MP and (s)he actually would meet with you and possibly try and do something to help you is still very alien to me (I am used to our “ministers of the people” living in ivory towers where mere mortals are not allowed!). OK, so maybe it is high time for me to get myself familiar with the workings of Canadian democracy. I feel this will be fun.


At the same meeting, I have met Ryan Coleman from VizThink. That’s some coincidence, because I have been studying this workshop info on facebook only this morning. The price is somewhat stiff (especially for my very new business), but I think I will be able to write it off as business expense. If they teach me to create things just 10% as beautiful as Minard’s Napoleon charts, this money will not be wasted.
(For explanation on Minard’s Napoleon charts, go here: Edward Tufte. He is an extremely interesting author recommended to my attention by my technical writing professor from YorkU. Tufte deals with information representation. For example, there is a link to his article in which he argues that it’s PowerPoint that caused Columbia shuttle accident!)