Saturday, December 20, 2003

This is probably certainly a bad idea to waste more time...

I just came up with an idea for combining the time-wasting "googlewhack" game with the viciously evil time- (and life) wasting problem of spam.

Some spams have taken to putting two random words in the subject. Well, it's not a big leap to use those words for a googlewhack attempt.

Now, the odds of getting an actual googlewhack from this method are so small, that I figured the 'score' in this game would be based on the total number of results found by google (the smaller the number, the better).

My first try did really well - turning up only 87 results: "fernery monk".

My second attempt did very poorly at 56,800 results: "showtime rotisserie".

Some additional rules:
Only 2 word spam subjects allowed.
The words must be real words - not 5cr4mbl3d text.
Don't waste your time actually trying this, please...

Reading: The Economy of Cities

Jane Jacobs' "classic" economics text from 1969, The Economy of Cities, occasionally enters the classically dry mode of academic prose, but overall was an interesting and valuable read.

About halfway through the book, a key understanding hit me.

Most 'international development' projects ("structural adjustment", the work of the World Bank, focus on conversion of local work/production into export production (e.g., turning farmer's fields from subsistence production to "cash crops").

Jacobs' central thesis identifies that economies grow ("develop") through the adding of work to existing work. Her thesis is much more than that - a whole book's worth - but this point is critical.

If that point holds, then it's no surprise that all these work conversion projects fail to help anyone's economy. The thinking of the international development planners reminds me of the strategy of the "underwear gnomes" on South Park:
"Step 1: Steal underwear.
Step 3: Profit!"
They never acknowledge the need for a "step 2" - ignoring that there probably is no way for there to be a step 2.

The 'international development planners' are thinking that "well, our economies make big money from exports, so if we convert other economies to exports they will profit!" But the reason our economies have profitable exports is because of the way we got to those exports - and all of our other economic activity. Jacobs emphasizes throughout her work that the economic vitality of communities stems directly from the diversity of of economic activities in that community.

Basically, the practice of converting an economy to focus on one export industry (or a few) is a very effective way of stalling that economy and reducing independence.

Jacobs' thesis highlights the importance of the division of work - adding new work to existing work - as the key to successful economic growth. The elimination of existing work so that it can be replaced with "export" work is doomed to economic failure, if Jacobs is right (and I think that the bulk of her ideas are pretty close to the mark).

Reading: If at all Possible, Involve a Cow

Yesterday, I finished reading If at all Possible, Involve a Cow: The Book of College Pranks by Neil Steinberg. A number of times I was laughing out loud in what would have been an embarrassing way if anyone else had been around.

That said, the book left me with little in the way of ideas or principles to remember and use once I put the book down.

Particularly disappointing was the author's belittling of those who might not see the humor in a particular prank - most notably those pranks he was personally involved in.

In the end, the book is mostly a very fun read, but not much else. That said, I support the author's advocacy for more pranks in college (and would extend that to life in general).

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Graffiti Archaeology

The name of the Graffiti Archaeology site is pretty self-explanatory. I will say that the time-line photos of graffiti sites [flash] are an excellent way to put the art into a temporal context.

Seen on Boing Boing.

Government of Canada Goes RSS

The Government of Canada has created a whole slew of RSS feeds for government news.

Seen on Boing Boing.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Be afraid of the near future...

Fark has a contest where folks have submitted Photoshop newspaper headlines for Election Day 2004 [mature language warning]. Funny - and scary.

Probably the most believable of the spoofs, and certainly one of the most scary, carries the headline "Bush Declares Martial Law, Suspends Election ... 'You will continue to bask in my compassion!'"

Conspiracy, art, coolness

Frances Richard has written a lengthy and quite interesting article about Mark Lombardi.

Lombardi's later work consisted of amazing drawings "which map in elegantly visual terms the secret deals and suspect associations of financiers, politicians, corporations, and governments". Hist aesthetic was delightful.

"Miserable Failure". Heh.

Try a Google search of "miserable failure" to see George W. Bush top the list. Heh.

Now that's "putting the web to work"!

Some fanatics are trying to turn this around by having the phrase "real american hero" turn up Bush. How about we counter their counter by pointing "Real American Hero" to Michael Moore instead...?

It's, like, we can't really say much, anymore. You know?

Andrew Lam has written an editorial about the loss of writing and expression as we become enmeshed in technologically facilitated communication.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Beware of James Baker III

Greg Palast continues to expose important issues around the powers in the U.S. This time, he takes on the history and activities of James Baker III - a key Bush supporter.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Time doesn't stand still: A decade of webbing

Saturday, December 6, marked the 10th anniversary of my very first 'web hit' (that wasn't me testing my own server).

December 6 is a terrible anniversary to have to share, which is a big part of why I rarely mark the occasion of that first web visitor. The date of the Montreal Massacre remains the most chilling anniversary in Canadian history in my lifetime.

I will, however, take a moment to reflect back on ten years of running webservers. I started as part of the Apple Research Partnership on a beta version of MacHTTP. My server was at, then while I was working at Carleton University. I managed to hold on to the domain for some time after that, but eventually moved to my 'permanent' domain of

Many of the web projects I've worked on over the years are still intact after all this time (although a few have been 'retired'). In general, I try to avoid having links to my sites 'disappear' since I get so annoyed when it happens on other sites.

Some of my projects have taken on lives of their own - most notably the Activist Network which was started in August of 1999.

In some ways, it seems like such a short time since I began this work - but it can also be hard to conceptualize my life before, without the web.

What an odd period of history this will seem to have been to future generations.

Friday, December 5, 2003

Reading: Making a Killing

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years doing activism around Talisman Energy Inc.'s involvement in war-torn Sudan. Talisman is a Calgary-based Canadian oil company who don't seem to mind the use of military force to advance their profits.

Now Globe & Mail reporter Madelaine Drohan has published a book about how some corporations cross the line into the overt use of violence to advance their interests. Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business covers the specific cases of a number of corporations since the 19th century who have used violence to get their way.

Drohan combines research with her direct experiences of the more recent examples - gleaned through years of journalistic work both in Canada and throughout Africa.

I found the chapter dedicated to Talisman and Sudan to be quite solid, especially given my own experience and knowledge around the issues and events.

Reading: Troublemaker's Teaparty

I found Charles Dobson's The Troublemaker's Teaparty: A Manual for Effective Citizen Action to be an excellent resource. It's well structured, fairly comprehensive, provides numerous references for further information, and emphasizes those critical areas in activism that are too often neglected for perceived expediency - especially 'community building'.

The book is also the most effective introductory guide to community action & activism that I have seen. An excellent 'how-to' for people new to activism, it's also a great reference for those whose time as activists can be measured in decades.

If there were justice in the book market, this would be a best-seller for a long, long, time.

The book is based on Dobson's extensive website The Citizen's Handbook.