SHINE A LIGHT, BILL GATES!

Well it’s the last day of January. That means only another month and a bit of real winter. I used to really like this season — not so much anymore, especially when it comes to driving to work. My snow tires have gotten a real workout this winter.

So what’s new in this fast, furious, possibly up-the-creek economy of ours? First the bad news…

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* None other than Bill Gates said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the global economic downturn may take up to – wait for it – four years for real, substantive recovery. That sound you’re hearing at the moment is the collective thud of stock brokers’ heads and mutual fund advisers on desks around the world.
* First Sony and Nintendo announce truly wretched fourth-quarter results, and now NEC has to cut – again, wait for it – 20,000 jobs worldwide. This is another oh crap moment.
* It looks like the British government is going to introduce legislation that would force ISPs in the country to charge an additional £20 a year per broadband connection to combat piracy of music and movies online. I don’t have to tell you that this is not only a near-ludicrously high charge, but won’t actually make a difference. Besides, why should non-downloaders be punished? Go and thank the Labour government for yet another hare-brained idea (never thought I’d ever say this, but go David Cameron and the Conservatives — it’s time to punish Labour for their punitive, fear-mongering ways).

Alright, enough of the bad stuff — any good stories?

* Mark Gorton, the creator of LimeWire, is taking an open source approach to urban planning as his new project. Open source is the future of any successful enterprise; this is a brilliant way to apply online world techniques to the offline world. Very cool.
* One of the big quests in tech nowadays is the Green IT movement. Ever considered using tidal power sources to fuel energy-hungry datacentres?

FAVOURITES ON FRIDAY: One of the really great things about life online is just the sheer amount of innovation constantly happening on it. It’s really hard to keep up sometimes. But here’s a few sites that I’ve fallen in love with.

SoundSnap.com: If you’re a radio producer, sound engineer, podcast creator or just an audio nerd, this is a fantastic site. A must-see. So many free sound files it’s wild.

EcoGeek.org: Again, another site that promotes the Green IT movement.

YouThink.worldbank.org: Sure, this is a site run by the World Bank so you have to be a little cautious, but this is a terrific idea in terms of youth outreach about global economic and political issues. A closer to home version is a site I’ve been involved in in the past, TakingITGlobal.org.

Kosmix.com – a better, cleaner version of NetVibes that organizes the Web organically for you as a starting point to your day. Very cool.

RadioPaq.com – somewhat British in focus but still a great portal for global web radio links.

ADrive.com – Even though Google’s being rumoured to launch their GDrive cloud storage service soon, this is a nice (and free!) alternative. 50 GB of storage! Woo-hoo! Makes MegaUpload seem like a runt.

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THE REVOLUTION WILL, ACTUALLY, BE ON FACEBOOK

Hope everyone had a good weekend. It was going well until Sunday. No plans to go into detail about it on here. Needless to say, here’s to a better week!

So what’s new in GJH Land (aside from being thinner now than I’ve been in a long time)?

* Remember that much-lauded Do-Not-Call Registry the Canadian federal government set up for folks to sign onto with the premise it would, you know, reduce calls from annoying telemarketers? Well, turns out it doesn’t work. Huzzah for our government!
* The Mac has turned 25 years old. The finest computing experience out there, bar none. Funny how it all went from this…

…to this in less than a generation.

Cocky? Sure, but it’s justified.

* The White House’s IT infrastructure is considered primeval against the Obama Team’s total love of technology. Odd how a government that prides itself on innovating in military technologies like this can barely keep its civilian domain up to pre-millennial standards.
* Mad Men won yet again last night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. That’s a reason to be happy on a Monday. In other news, I’m not watching the Oscars this year and let’s hope the ratings are lower than ever. That will teach ’em to exclude The Dark Knight.
* The Encyclopedia Britannica seems to have realized that this whole Wikipedia business isn’t a trend anymore.

VIVA LA FACEBOOK: The New York Times has a great article from this past weekend’s Sunday Magazine about the influence of Facebook in organizing protests through online collaboration that spill over into the offline world. Definitely worth checking out.

ALL OBAMA, ALL THE TIME

Apologies for the lack of posts the past few days; it’s been a bit crazy at work and I’ve been occupied with a few other tasks. In the spirit of renewal that is 2009, I’ve been working out now five days a week and significantly changed my diet. I’m thinner now than I’ve been since Queen’s.

I know I’ve said on this blog before about losing weight – it only gets harder as you get older to stick with it and to make it happen in its entirety. That being said, it’s kind of important for this to work this time. There’s too much at stake for it not to.

Anyway, enough about me. In the post-Inauguration glow, it’s quite honestly All Obama, All The Time now on every MSM outlet everywhere. Even Anderson Cooper seems to have fallen in love with Obama and his family. Some noteworthy stories today:
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* It’s pretty cool that President Obama is a tech-savvy President, for he really made excellent use of his web site and social networking tools during his election run. Now he gets to keep his BlackBerry, which is likely armed to the teeth with encryption and security features us ordinary folks will never, ever get our hands on.
* The Inauguration featured the highest level of online video consumption ever. Looks like it may be time for Akamai to increase capacity, no?
* Obama’s using the Web to pledge openness and accountability in government. He’s posting legislation online for feedback from the public and the White House’s URL has been given a snazzy new look. So, um, wouldn’t suppose the Prime Minister here might consider this? Oh wait, that’s *never* going to happen.

MICROSOFT: It’s not easy these days going onto news sites and seeing non-stop bad news about the economy (although the non-stop negativity isn’t reversing the situation either, IMO). Still, when Microsoft – the lone voice of the PC-Is-Rad Mantra – is cutting 5,000 jobs because of the economic woes in the U.S., all you can do is just shake your head and do some deep breathing. I’m not sure what else will change this trend, save for Obama’s economic stimulus package (which will take at least six months to work its way into the system to encourage credit flowing again).

DAILY TECH & A CODA FOR BUSH

Today’s a bit of a slow-down compared to yesterday. I had a great birthday, that’s for sure.

First up, the round-up of daily tech stories:

*Oh CRAP. R.I.P., Nortel. Just think, 10 years ago every graduating engineer I knew at Queen’s wanted to work for them and their stock price was terrific. Now… what a disaster.
*One of the big trends in Hollywood now is rebooting old TV shows and movies with a new sense of sophistication (see Battlestar Galactica). The Prisoner is now being re-imagined for TV. This looks very, very impressive.
* I talked about this before, but the war in Gaza is spilling over to the online world in a very big way now.

MY CODA FOR BUSH: I write sometimes for my pal Neate’s collective sports blog, Out of Left Field. Today I posted an article about how the Bush Era’s culture of cynicism, greed and selfishness infected professional sports.

I’m re-printing it here, as I’m pretty proud of this article. It’s my own way of saying goodbye to a man I never, ever want to see in public again.

Writing a coda to the presidency of George W. Bush is surprisingly tough. Almost every major publication in the United States has written and published their final laments for a presidency gone so terribly, horribly wrong.

None of you need to hear again the litany of horrors Bush and his inner circle have inflicted on America and the world: 9/11, two major wars with no real end for either in sight, Katrina, New Orleans, Gitmo, the use of torture, Abu Ghraib, alienating nearly every political ally of the United States, the emboldening of America’s enemies like al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, national debt set to exceed $10 trillion, the near-collapse of what was once known as the world’s most powerful economy. It’s Mission Accomplished alright.

Even Osama bin Laden probably couldn’t have imagined this kind of endgame back on Sept. 11, 2001. Hell, when comedians like Jon Stewart can barely contain their anguish, anger and outright indignation on The Daily Show, no longer interested in generating laughs vis-à-vis irony or sarcasm, it’s gotten pretty damn bad.

Bush is about to spend his post-Presidency years in the wilderness of seclusion and near-universal hatred around the world. There will be no lasting tributes. There will be no Presidential Library. He is spending his remaining years as a dark vision of enmity for Americans – a man who personifies the worst characteristics of the American Dream turned nightmare.

It’s hard to believe, but one of America’s Top Five Worst Presidents (there’s considerable debate if he is the worst, but only future historians will be able to say for sure) is nearly gone.

But since this is a sports blog, I want to talk about what the Bush Era has meant for sports culture in North America.

If there’s one tip of the iceberg for what the Bush Era has meant for sports culture, it’s undoubtedly this week’s revelation that FOX Sports’ Troy Aikman, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have been travelling to NFL games and this year’s World Series accompanied by armed U.S. federal marshals.

In many ways, this is just another in a very, very long line of government abuses of taxpayer funds over the past eight years (let’s not mince words and suggest any Presidency has been squeaky-clean and responsible with taxpayer funds). But what this kind of story suggests is another example of the cynical, abusive, wasteful nature of the Bush Era: Three sportscasters getting the Five-Star Treatment with taxpayer money?

The Bush Era culture of unabashed greed and cavalier attitude towards the public infected professional sports like a virus in the past eight years. The FOX story is ultimately harmless (as Shysterball noted, if something happens to Buck, Thom Brennaman becomes their lead baseball play-by-play man), but it’s a window into the soulless, money-hungry nature of the sports-industrial complex that has left us all jaded.

It’s a sentiment that sports, like business and politics, has become divorced from the people these institutions presume to serve. Accountability, leadership and cooperation seem like sick, unfunny punch lines nowadays.

In the past eight years, we’ve seen some truly awe-inspiring moments of selfishness in pro sports. We’ve seen players like Mark McGwire and possibly Roger Clemens either lie or take the Fifth to Congressional committees in front of millions of people in vain efforts to save their own skins from permanent damage (talk about wasted energy).

We’ve seen the inequities of baseball revenues increase to the point of absurdity. We’ve seen rich teams get much, much richer and everyone else barely holding on. The survivial of the fittest mentality America used to use as a quiet turn of phrase to justify its numerous “bad acts,” foreign and domestic, metastasized into something else in America during the Bush Years; the utility of saying “I care about me first, screw you all” became particularly self-evident the day sports reporters railed at the lunacy of America’s Most Hated Team, the Yankees, spending $400 million in one week and launching the New Yankee Stadium during a time of economic austerity measures.

We’ve seen what hubris and hypocrisy can do to an entire sports league with the jaw-dropping decline of the NHL. Case in point: The Phoenix Coyotes –- a team on the verge of bankruptcy due to poor managerial decisions and a market best described as ambivalent. Even after the two-faced parlour game that was the season-killing Lockout of 2004-05, the NHL has fallen into an economic tailspin, has no major TV deal in America and has alienated fans across the continent. In the zero-sum game that is pro hockey, the unabashed greed of players and owners alike have killed whatever goodwill towards hockey there ever was in tenuous markets like Florida or Nashville.

These are just a few examples. And really, listing them all off isn’t going to accomplish anything.

Bush and Co. didn’t make these aspects of professional sports happen themselves. But it’s also naïve to think sports is distinct and separate from politics. If anything, sports and politics got a lot closer (some would say much too close) during the Bush Years. After all, the Rovian Strategy of Win At All And Every Cost, But Just Win It has a lot in common with sports. Even the fact both domains have the tendency to feature, once in awhile, people who will break the rules for the final big score at the end.

But it’s not as if sports are a pointless activity for the people who love it. Sure, sports are a business first and foremost — entertainment for the masses of people who just want something to celebrate about.

But it’s also, quite candidly, something people need to believe in. In a world full of empty slogans, false rhetoric and strange analogies involving pit bulls and lipstick, sports is something a person can have faith in . We can see it, touch it or relate to it unfailingly. It’s real. It’s a place of transcendence, emotion and transformation. It reminds people that no, life isn’t all about living paycheque to paycheque or coming home to a house full of pain and dreams unrealized. It’s something you, your neighbour and someone 3,000 km away can share in.

Thing is, belief is a precarious thing. If the Bush Years accomplished one cerebral, indefinable truth these past eight years, it’s this: Bush made people stop believing.

People stopped believing in a lot of things during his Presidency: Government run by people for people, businesses that didn’t so brazenly and publicly act with contempt and ignorance of average people –- the list goes on and on. When people lose faith in their leaders, it won’t be long before people lose faith in the institutions that support them.

But there’s hope yet.

Two great aspects of American Life came into their own during these eight years of tumult that may help restore faith in sports: the Internet and Barack Obama.

Back in 2000, the Internet and blogs were largely ineffectual to the way things were done in politics, business and sports (the dot-com crash now looks like a small-time correction compared to today). While it’s important to not overstate the case at the risk of OOLF’s own potential for hubris, blogs and the Web have become powerful tools to keep our leaders in check, balance power and report stories that can change things.

Even the 44th President, Barack Obama, has done more before his inauguration to restore hope to Americans than Bush could ever achieve in eight years. He’s brought back the idea that the ideas of accountability, leadership and vision have places in government; let’s hope that it also filters into areas of business and sports. Obama’s even ventured into one of America’s most precious sports institutions —- college football — and inspired the possibility of change in one of the most hidebound sports institutions. Did anyone really swallow whole the notion that the Florida Gators were national champions after that unwatchable BCS title game broadcast on FOX Sports with the heartbeat-away Thom Brennaman mucking up the call? (Brennaman is the son of a long-time baseball broadcaster, Marty Brennaman, so how appropriate that it was graced by someone who has been legacy pick all his life — like Bush!)

At the end of the day, Bush’s Reign of Error has instilled a lesson into all of us: ideas about the world are meaningless if you can’t back them up with responsibility and action. Cynicism is only possible when we allow it to happen, for taking control of ourselves and our democratic institutions means more than just concerning yourself with just yourself.

The sports world has seen some rough times during the Bush Era. It is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Of course, keeping the faith is important. As goes one of the lines in The Dark Knight — perhaps the single most defining film of the Bush Era —”people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Enjoy Inauguration Day next Tuesday.

THE SNOWY, SNOWY ROUND-UP

Holy Hanna – I’m 31 years old. In 1978 – my birth year – the following facts were in play:

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* Average cost of new house was $54,800.00. My generation weeps at such figures.
* Worldwide unemployment rises after several decades of near full employment, which got the world used to the idea of non-steady work that continues unabated…
* The US stops production of the Neutron Bomb. Um, yay?
* The first ever cellular phone network is created.
* Grease and Saturday Night Fever are released to record business and John Travolta’s first career arc and sassy dance moves.
* Happy Days is the most popular show on TV. The 1950s remains cool in shiny, glossed-over form until Mad Men 30 years later.

Anyway, enough of that. What’s going on, tech stars?

* Windows 7 is now available for all to use in Beta format. The download servers at Microsoft also crashed. That is all.
* SoundOut is a new program being used to evaluate the commercial playability of new artists. Very cool stuff.
* Nortel’s future is in serious doubt. Again. Canadian darling gone bad.

Tonight, I’m celebrating with my folks for my birthday. Nothing too big, just a nice dinner and such.

THE ROUND-UP & BUSH’S PAPER TRAIL

So tomorrow I turn 31 years old. I’m starting to turn interesting (after all, 30 is the new 20, as I’ve heard) and tasty. Mmmm, Welsh…

So what’s new today? Other than it’s now eight sweet days until Obama is sworn in as President of the United States (and we might finally be able to move forward on the looming problems America will be facing in the months ahead… almost three million out of work in one year. That’s just… I have no words *shakes head*)…

* Hey! Obama and our kinda-sorta Prime Minister Harper are both nerds! Obama even loves comic books! Harper’s a Star Trek nerd! Here’s hoping future British PM David Cameron won’t beat them up in the school yard after class.
* The Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is a decidedly downbeat affair this year in lieu of the economic mega-slowdown. Thankfully, Julia Allison showed up to the CES, so Non-Society has plenty o’ content for awhile.
* Wired has released the most anticipated new games for 2009. All I’m going to say is: BioShock 2. That is all. And yes, I fully intend to do my best impression of John Lennon with The Beatles Game.
* The ever-insightful Michael Geist has released his column on the new strategies being used by the music industry in Canada regarding digital music. Needless to say, Canadians love their MP3s. And by love, I mean steal. Hard and lots of.
* 24 is back. The series has been rebooted after two extraordinarily lame prior seasons. The new setting in Washington is a nice touch (and the abundance of Canadians in the cast? Love it!).

THE BUSH PAPER TRAIL: While the New York Times might be on life support right now, it still produces the best journalism and column inches in America. Bar none.

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Frank Rich has written a column outlining, once again, the Memory Hole/Abyss/Black Hole of Money/Decadence that has been the Bush Administration. Thank God he’s gone soon.

Thing is, there’s a big, looming Elephant in the Room here: Bush and Co. have been meticulously destroying paper and electronic evidence of their dealings. Didn’t hear about this? No, you probably wouldn’t. After all, this is Bush and he’s in the midst of doing the whole Cover Your Own Ass business so he’s not a target for trials on war crimes/war profiteering/corruption/violation of the U.S. Constitution/The List is Endless.

I’ve been thinking: why not have a Republican-chaired Commission into the Bush Administration’s crimes? That way there’s no claim of partisanship and it could restore dignity to an office that Obama’s going to have to work damn hard to restore. Just a thought.

DAILY ROUND-UP AND THE GOOGLE/TIMES CONNECTION?

It’s the end of the week and I’m feeling fine. Another four miles of running last night.

Anyway, enough of that. What’s new?

* D.I.Y. 3-D movies. In your own home. Very cool – I’ll give you $5 if you guess which industry will benefit most from this technology (hint: rhymes with a word from a Natalia Imbruglia song – “I’m all out of faith… I’m already torn…).
*Palm – the erstwhile hand set operator that produced the must-have PalmPilot back in 1999 – has released a very awesome new smartphone that has the potential to compete directly with the iPhone and BlackBerry. Now how’s the marketing going, Palm? Good? Not so good? Anything? Bueller?
*Facebook and Second Life are turning into fronts in the Israeli-Gaza War. Facebook groups, petitions and event pages are surging with threats, counter-threats and so on, while virtual war is taking place in Second Life. As my friend John pointed out, all of this is largely pointless compared to the offline war, I’d remind.
*Why are The Beatles and Apple Corps. making it so incredibly hard to make their music available as digital downloads? Seriously, this is just getting stupid. Paul McCartney’s lost half his fortune to his gold-digging ex and he’s not up for downloads? Mind you, this is also a guy who had Fidelity Investments sponsor his tour a few years ago. Like, groovy man.
*Rumours are flying that Microsoft’s Zune is toast. In other news, students at universities and colleges across North America ask themselves: “What’s a Zune?” *drags new songs to iPod*
*Here’s what the War on Terror has brought technology-wise: a Next-Generation Predator Drone. OMFG.
*Sarah Palin should stop talking. Please. NOW.
*Stephen Harper has said the next federal budget will feature “big, comprehensive action” and will be one of the biggest in years. I don’t want him to ever say the term “big action” ever again. Of course, this all hinges on his government actually surviving when Parliament comes back in a few weeks.

GOOGLE-NEW YORK TIMES: As The Atlantic pointed out in this month’s issue, the New York Times in in a lot of trouble. It’s never good when a paper of record like the Times is in trouble; it’s a clear sign small-to-mid-sized market newspapers are in even bigger trouble. Coupled with the Circling-the-Drain Advertising Market and an economy that’s two steps away from oblivion in America, you can’t be feeling too good about print journalism’s prospects in America (never mind Canada).

So here’s the question: what about Google? Why not have Google invest in the newspapers? Maybe they could try something different. After all, not like Google’s having problems with advertising (see AdWords, Google).

Finally, on a lighter note: Chez at Deus Ex Malcontent has a post on the abomination known as Bride Wars. It has the single greatest line ever in it. Please read it. Ladies, please don’t go see this movie. PLEASE.