Thinking of entering the National Geographic Photography Contest

I’m more than a little crazy for even thinking of doing this, but what the heck. I’m going to try submitting a photo to the inaugural contest. The rules are pretty strict with respect to model releases and any potentially copyrightable works included in photographs (models must provide signed releases, artists must provide copyright release for any sculptures, etc… shown in the photograph).

With those limitations in mind, I’ve selected 7 contenders from the last year. I can’t decide which, if any, to actually submit.

NGPhotoContest Contenders

Little help, please? If you feel like it, anonymous comments are more than welcome. Am I an idiot for thinking of submitting these? Any stand out for you?

Update: Slideshow of photos, in the Flickr album.

A slide show will appear here shortly.

What famous photographer are you?

I just stumbled across this on Kris Krug’s blog. Not sure how many Famous Photographers are in the pool of options, but it pegged me as His Adamsness…

Which famous photographer are you?

Ansel Adams: Known for large scale silver gelatin landscapes especially of Yosemite National Park

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

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American Inventor Stupidity

OK. I admit it. I’m watching American Inventor.

And I just can’t stop wanting to scream at the TV “The solution to burning christmas trees isn’t a fancy invention for fire suppression. STOP PUTTING FIRE HAZARDS IN YOUR HOUSE.”

There. That’s my invention. Leave the trees outside. Fires suppressed. I haven’t had a real christmas tree inside the house for, what? A quarter century?

Now, where’s my million dollars?

Comments on ETS Talk #28: The Digital Commons

I listened to the podcast while riding home this afternoon, so I couldn’t respond in real-time. Here’s hoping my memory isn’t completely jumbled, because there were several things I wanted to respond to. I couldn’t find an entry for episode 28 on the ETS Talk site, so here goes…

iPhone – I agree that the iPhone is an amazingly compelling device. Even if it was just a wifi-enabled iPod that allowed web browsing and email, it would be worth the money. If I was in charge of a department, I would issue each staff/faculty member an iPhone (unactivated – they can activate or migrate their own cell phone plans if needed). It would be money well spent, in order to have everyone able to play with the various collaboration apps we all use, anytime/anywhere.

Digital Commons – this one has me very interested, and a bit puzzled. Unconventional wisdom suggests that students all (or at least largely) have their own gear – how many students don’t already have laptops? How many don’t have recent hardware available? The idea of the Digital Commons as an access point for site-licensed software is interesting, though.

I did start to wonder about the need for site-licensed installed application software, though, in light of available web based tools for story-telling as well as free and/or open source applications for website authoring, video editing, document editing, etc…

What is the role of the 15 Digital Commons? Are they primarily for faculty members? students? Are they primarily training facilities? workspaces? collaboration spaces? For classes, or individuals?

The original Learning Commons at UCalgary had a lab for faculty members to come to work on projects. It offered video editing, image editing, etc… stations, and was used pretty well. But, that was before it was common for these applications to run as well (or better) on the faculty members’ own new hardware. The lab has been closed for almost 2 years now. There is a separate student “Information Commons” computer lab, as well as several computerless work/collaboration areas for students to work on stuff. I don’t have any metrics, but it looks like most students are working in the campus food court with their own laptops, rather than camping out in labs.

If the Digital Commons is a place for accessing site licensed software, can they take it with them? Install on their own hardware?

I’m really not meaning to be negative here, just really curious about how the DC is positioned.

Hot Teams – striking up a hot team to look at Pligg in an educational setting. I’m very interested in that particular project. And I wish I had the clout to pull of similar projects here at the TLC. I mean, I can look at new tools, but it’s largely informal and on my own. Being able to say “hey! let’s assign a few staff members to investigate this” really means a lot to being able to take the time to properly make sense of things.

iPhone, redux – when conversation returned to the great custom iPhone web apps, my first reaction was “but, isn’t the iPhone supposed to be the ‘real web’, not some custom version?” – I’m wondering if spawning a new generation of “built for iPhone” badges on websites might actually do more harm than good. We don’t need another browser/platform war – we’re still recovering from the last round.

Update: they’ve posted the show notes and info for episode 28.

Inuktitut syallabics in blogs?

I just got an email from a colleague at UCalgary, posing a really interesting question. She is doing some blogging and writing with some residents of Nunavut, and needs a way to represent the Inuktitut language online.

There is a reference to Inuktitut syallabics in Unicode, but I couldn’t find any implementation details so I’m wondering if anyone has any experience dealing with Inuktitut as digital text? Can typical blogging platforms deal with it? How do you handle text input? Do you need special fonts to display it?

Update: I checked out the Attavik website a bit, from a promising-sounding link on the wikipedia page. “publishing Inuktituk on the web” – and got this page that doesn’t appear to have much in the way of content to help.

Inuktituk in Safari

Looks promising (at least in Safari) – but Firefox/Flock show this, instead:

Inuktituk in Firefox/Flock

I’m sending a message via their “Contact Us” form to see if they can provide more implementation information.

Update: it also renders properly in Firefox 2 on Ubuntu 7.0.4

On the changing role of the Organization

I’ve been wrestling with this concept for some time now. As a member of a University, I am affiliated with a number of organizations. Each of these were set up years ago, as part of various efforts to help connect and support individuals and groups in their work at any number of distributed institutions of higher education. Many are communities of practice, at least in name, and all attempt to offer services and resources to their members.

They all mean well. But they’re largely ineffective, and mostly obsolete. On top of that, they are expensive. Maybe not extraordinarily expensive, but these organizations cost money to run. Money which is better allocated to support local efforts, rather than supporting an infrastructure that is no longer needed.

Dimetrodon fan spines

As an example, we recently let our membership in an organization lapse. We couldn’t justify the cost involved with maintaining a membership, especially in light of recurring budget cuts on campus. Sure, it’s nice to say you’re a member of an organization. It’s also nice to throw some coins into a hat to keep an organization afloat. But when faced with touch choices – do we maintain a membership, or let more people go, it’s an easy decision to make.

Ironically, after our membership lapsed, we heard from a faculty member who was using some of the organization’s resources. They were upset that the membership was no longer active, and started listing reasons why the membership was important to them. Except that every one of these reasons had been simply copied and pasted from the organization’s marketing info. The only valid complaint was the sudden removal of people from the organization’s listserv. Which is hosted not by the organization, but by a large, high profile institution in the States.

We talked about the issues related to membership in the organization for some time. Each time we discussed it, we came back to a single conclusion – we don’t need an organization to provide infrastructure to allow us to connect with others anymore. We are fully able to make these connections on our own, as we have been doing anyway. The informal, direct connections made between individuals are much more valuable than organizationally-fostered ones, at least in my experience.

I really don’t think we need many of these organizations any more. It would be better to allocate the resources locally, while using these great “web 2.0″ tools and social networks to build connections. Maybe an occasional conference, more akin to Northern Voice than to these giant organizational conferences, in order to provide a venue for face-to-face interaction.

In an era of decentralization and individually generated and managed content, the role of the central organization should be changing. To what? I’m not sure. But it’s no longer necessary as a broker to connect individuals and groups.

Further, these same changes are pending for the Institution as well – what is the changing role of a University when individuals are empowered to the level that they don’t need many of the traditional services of such an Institution?


I’ve gotten tired of my crankiness and self-censoring aborted blog posts. It’ll be a good idea for me to put the blog on hold until I’ve worked the funk out of my system. Time to switch to lurk mode. I’ll probably still be on Twitter, and commenting on other people’s blogs, and of course posting to Flickr. See you on the other side.

OpenID plugin borkage

My blog was down for much of the morning, and after contacting Dreamhost tech support ninjas, they told me that my account was sucking the RAM out of the server, and that wasn’t cool. They gave some tips on how to reduce memory usage (didn’t work), and then I rolled up my sleeves to debug my WordPress site to see wtf was going on.

I started by SSHing into the server, and moving my wp-content/plugins out of the way and creating a new, empty plugins directory.

mv wp-content/plugins wp-content/plugins-dis
mkdir wp-content/plugins
cd wp-content/plugins-dis
Then, I reloaded the blog in a browser, and it worked! Aha! Something wonky with a plugin. So… To debug with plugin was the culprit…

I started having flashbacks to debugging MacOS 7/8/9 systems, where you got to reboot a dozen times, each with a different set of control panels/extensions enabled, until you figured out which one was borking the system. Same thing here, but with plugins. I moved them back into the active plugins directory, one at a time, until it borked again. Something like Conflict Catcher might be handy here…

mv plugin-1 ../plugins/
(reload browser)
mv plugin-2 ../plugins/
(reload browser)
Looks like the OpenID plugin I use, which allows folks to leave comments using their OpenID credentials, started borking my blog for some reason. I’ve been using that plugin for several weeks (months?) with no problems, but now, it reliably kills my blog. Frack.

For now, I’ve disabled the OpenID plugin I had been using, and am trying out a different one to see if/how it works out. Simple OpenID is now enabled.

Update: I had to disable Simple OpenID as well. It was borking violently on comment submissions. If only OpenID was integrated into WordPress, as it has been for Drupal 6…

Why it’s important to “own” your content

I’m connecting the dots between two otherwise unrelated items that were in my Google Reader inbox this morning.

  1. Random Mind: USC Film Students Fight Back
  2. Dave Tosh: Data Ownership

The first article is about students at USC Film School realizing that the copyright for their student films belongs to USC. Which means they can’t do things like post their work to YouTube, or enter them at Sundance (without first going through channels to get approval from USC). I’m assuming that USC asserts copyright over student works because there might be a chance to monetize – it is Film, after all. Are there other examples of schools asserting copyright over student works? Why hasn’t this been flagged as an issue before this?

The second article is about data ownership and privacy wrt Facebook. Facebook owns everything that goes on, and in, Facebook. Because they own the whole widget, soup to nuts, they get to control what happens to and with our data. They can decide to expose, aggregate, process, and sell our data to third parties. It’s not really a free service.

Both articles emphasize the importance of owning your content and data. In an environment where you retain copyright for your own creations (ideally, sharing with something like a CreativeCommons license), you get to decide what you can do with your own stuff. Extend that to an environment where you are in control of your own personal data (or identity). OpenID and Sxip are both steps in the right direction there.

The bottom line is, when you give up ownership of your own content and data, you lose freedom.

Rogers, iPhone, and Consumers

I just contacted Rogers via their website, to try to gather some information on iPhone availability plans in Canada. I know, it’s a longshot, but if I don’t ask…

Upon visiting Rogers’ website, I was presented with a “language preference” page that, in my opinion, is rather badly crafted.

Rogers Language Preference

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I really don’t like being referred to as a “Consumer” – it casts the relationship between an individual and a company in rather explicit terms.

Here’s the message I sent Rogers:

Will Rogers be providing service for the Apple iPhone? I would like any information you can provide on plans to roll out service. Further, I am holding off on purchasing a new cell phone until the iPhone is available in Canada. ps. the “For Consumers” choice on the front page of your website is demeaning. It might be more appropriate to relabel that “For Individuals” – casting all non-business visitors to your website as “consumers” makes it pretty explicit that the primary goal of the website is for us to, well, consume. Better to treat us as individuals, rather than sources of revenue.

Update: 2007/07/09 – I just received this response from Rogers:

Thank you for taking the time to write to us, we appreciate your use of online customer service. In your recent email, you have informed us that you wish to inquire when the new Apple iPhone will be available through Rogers and regard the format of the website. Description On Tuesday, January 9, 2007, Apple announced the unveiling of their new iPhone, a combination mobile phone/digital music player/camera Availability ” The iPhone will first be introduced in North America ” Cingular is the only wireless carrier to launch the iPhone in the United States ” Rogers is actively working with Apple to launch the iPhone in Canada as soon as possible and will be the exclusive provider of the iPhone in Canada ” Apple is planning to introduce the iPhone in Europe (Q4 2007) and Asia (2008) ” Please be advised that Rogers will be offering the iPhone exclusively in Canada ” Launch date and pricing for Canada are not yet available ” Other Canadian wireless carriers will not launch the iPhone, Rogers will be the only Canadian wireless carrier to offer the iPhone To learn more about the iPhone, you may visit Unfortunately we are unaware when new products and services will be released until they are launched to the consumer market. We suggest you visit because when new products are released they are listed here. We would also like to assure you that we take your concerns very seriously and we appreciate any feedback that you can provide us. We appreciate your feedback because this is information that we can use to address any similar problems that may arise in the future. On the whole it makes us better able to address our customers concerns. We are presently changing the website. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and thank you for choosing