Friday, December 26, 2008

Flickring Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008 028, originally uploaded by Jared & Michelle Ott.

I'm just getting acquainted with Flickr, and I like that I can post directly from flickr to my blog. Unfortunately, I think I can only post one picture at a time, rather than a string of pictures and text, as I'm accustomed to. Michelle took this picture on a walk today. They are Mountain Ash berries. You can see all of Christmas 2008 here.

Flickr is nice, but it's also getting to be a pain managing all my profile pictures, not to mention the profiles themselves. The best feature of Flickr is geotagging. I'm looking forward to tagging all the locations our pictures are taken. Michelle and I can be found on Flickr at

P.S. Posting from Flickr doesn't allow the pictures to come through as aesthetically pleasing as using blogger. Nice idea, but after messing with this post for half an hour trying to get the picture resized nicely, I give up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reusing Disposable Cups

My latest conservation scheme is reusing my to-go coffee cups. It just felt like a shame to throw out these nice, convenient, sturdy cups after only half an hour. It's working out really well, to be honest. I mean, Starbucks makes those cups sturdy enough to be reused. And they really are much more convenient to take on the road. They fit perfectly into cupholders, and you don't have to wash them when you're done, unlike to-go mugs. I hate washing to-go mugs. I never feel like the lids really get clean.

This is one of those all-to-rare cases when the right thing to do environmentally coincides with the most convenient thing. If you don't mind rinsing and reusing paper cups.

FYI, the last post was authored by my brother. I'm actually quite proud of it. You're always welcome Jere.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Christmas, Part 2, Chapter 7.

The cat is wearing silly clothes.
Running, staring, licking.
A new feline dessert.
Cats r gud loolz/
-Jared Ott
I hope you'll enjoy the first of many in a series of Holiday and Yule-time flavoured and themed pieces of poetry. Tomorrow will see another prudent update with possibly an Irish/Slavic undertone throughout.

Lamps are an amazing source of light and waste heat in this world. I'm so glad I take the time each day to appreciate these wonders of our dark and slightly cold-ish world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Christmas

- Family Traditions -
Michelle and I give one another a full stocking, rather than a single "big" present, at Christmas. This year we are traveling to Alberta to be with my family, so we've started opening our little gifts early. One of my favorite things about Michelle is how excited she gets about life in general, and presents and holidays and Disneyland specifically. Especially Disneyland and presents. Her excitement is contagious, and as a result I'm really amped.

The best part of my stocking this year is that Michelle made such an effort to be environmentally aware and conscientious about the presents she got me. I have 7 little gifts, and all but one of them was made outside China. Not an easy task. What's more, fully four of them were purchased used! It really means so much to me that she did that. So what was my first little present? A pair of reflective ankle straps (made in France), for keeping my pant legs from getting caught in the chain ring when I bike to work.

- Christmas Reading -
In other news, I'm taking two weeks off this Christmas and really looking forward to lazy days at my parents' place. I always overestimate the amount of reading I'll actually get to do on vacation, and this time will be no different. I'm going to either pick up Treasure Island or The Count of Monte Cristo, in addition to Steiner's Portage. Chances are I won't crack any of them, but you gotta aim high, right?

It occurs to me that I asked for books for Christmas... I'm gonna have some heavy suitcases on the road home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is Twitter good for?

I mentioned my growing interest in social media in a previous post. It started with Twitter a couple weeks ago. I had heard the name, but didn't know what it was good for so I decided to check it out. Well, you can't see what's going on unless you sign up, which I did. Since then, they have posted a video explaining what its all about (here). My twitter account can be found here. As you can see, it seems to be an instant messaging service - but who needs another one of those? No one, that I can see. So there has to be something more to it...

Well there is, and there isn't. It truly is just a site for posting messages under 140 words. Micro-blogging, it's being called. I can perhaps best explain it's appeal through some examples.

I heard a number of stories about how Twitter facilitates communication faster than any other medium. Do I mean it's faster to tweet your buddy than call him? No. What I mean is, twitter was the first medium to have first hand information on the Mumbai attacks out to the world. Another story to illustrate: when Guy Kawasaki forgot his power supply, he posted his need on Twitter and had 5 replacements offered in a few minutes. The best example, though, is how Terry Jones got an impromptu interview with Robert Scoble. Terry explains how it happened better than I could, here. Terry also coined the phrase Twittendipidty. In my own special case of twittendipity, I've been looking for an organization working in Haiti to support. So I randomly posted a question out there, and I think by chance someone saw it and pointed me toward Mission MANNA.

Interesting Stuff
Twitter is also useful for finding interesting content online. Some users specialize in finding and broadcasting links to interesting stuff. In the week I've been on Twitter, here are some notable examples:
Three of those four items came from @timoreilly's feed. I recommend following it.

I might try and get my family to join...

We'll see.

You can follow me here.

Google Analytics is Watching You!

Lately I've been curious about how many of you "blurkers" are out there. In order to find out I signed up for Google Analytics about a week ago. It's Google's free tool for tracking traffic on websites. So beware; big brother is watching!

No, really.

You wouldn't believe the amount of detail included in these reports. OK, OK, there's no personally identifying information, and everything is presented in aggregate. But still, there's a lot of information. For example, geography. From December 4 - 10th I've had 29 visits; 22 from the US, 6 from Canada, and 1 from Croatia. (Croatia, if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you!).

Also tracked is info about your PC: operating system, browser, Flash and Java version and screen resolution. I've had 25 windows users and 4 mac users; I guess I'm not attracting the cool crowd. Lot's of variety in the browser section: 11 for both Firefox and IE; the 4 mac people use Safari; Google's own Chrome shows up twice, and one visit from someone using Opera. Before today I'd never even heard of Opera.

All kinds of analysis is provided about visitor habits: how many absolute unique visitors (takes out people who come back more than once - if you're wondering there are 14 of you thus far), how long you spend on the site (average of 13 seconds - come on people, that hurts), how many different pages you look at, which pages you looked at, and even which keywords you used to find the site.

Where you come from is tracked - and actually this might be the most interesting one. But I can't give away all my secrets. Check back soon, I'll be posting all kinds of good info. Probably not about you this time though. Probably back to me again. As Van Smack says, more of me and less of you is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bookends - Twitter and 'The Call' by Os Guiness

Today at lunch I finished Os Guiness' book The Call. I had started reading it a number of months ago, and hadn't picked it up in several weeks. The timing was interesting, because this week I have become interested in emerging social media, web 2.0, twitter, and the like. And Os' writing in The Call is deeply influenced by many historical figures and writings. So today has felt like bookends as I look into the future and into the past simultaneously. The Call was good for me to read, informative and encouraging, if a little difficult to follow at times. The last chapter and the end of the book are almost poetic. And throughout the book the theology is dead on. It has reinforced my belief in the element of tension - the following excerpt is a good example:
People make two equal but opposite errors about life as a journey and faith as the Way. On one side, usually at the less educated level, are those who prematurely speak as if they have arrived. Such people properly emphasize the certainties and triumphs of faith but minimize the uncertainties, tragedies, and incompletenesses. Having come to faith, they speak and live as if they have nothing more to learn. All truths are clear-cut, all mysteries solved, all hopes materialized, all conclusions foregone - and all sense of journeying is reduced to the vanishing point. There are seemingly no risks, trials, dangers, setbacks, or disasters on the horizon. Or so they seem to talk.

On the other side, usually at the more educated level, are those who are so conscious of the journey that journey without end becomes there passion and their way of life. To such people it is unthinkable ever to arrive, and the ultimate gaffe is the claim of finding a way or reaching a conclusion. Like the perennial seekers we met earlier, for them the journey itself is all. Questions, inquiry, searching, and conquering become an end in themselves. Ambiguity is everything.

Yet the Christian faith has an extraordinary balance between these extremes. As those responding to God's call, we are followers of Christ and followers of the Way. So we are on a journey and we are truly travelers, with all the attendant costs, risks, and dangers of the journey. Never in this life can we say we have arrived. But we know why we have lost our original home and, more importantly, we know the home to which we are going.
Perhaps more important to me were the following lines on identity:
God calls and, just as we hear him but don't see him on this earth, so we grow to become what he calls, even though we don't see until heaven what he is calling us to become.

No one has captured this more profoundly than George MacDonald in his sermon "The New Name" from Unspoken Sermons. In his message in Revelation to the Church in Pergamum, Jesus promised " a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." MacDonald pointed out in good biblical fashion that "the true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man's own symbol - his soul's picture, in a word - the sign which belongs to him and no one else. Who can give a man this, his own nature? God alone. For no one but God sees what a man is."
Anyway, to summarize, there are definitely gold nuggets in this book, but it's difficult to state in one sentence what they are. More than anything, I was encouraged by this book. I was encouraged about my future, my life's journey, and the call placed upon my life. And I needed that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Typos 2

Found in a job description:

"Requires knowledge of ... basic mathematics, and English compositon and grammar."

Wonderful irony.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shopping with a Conscience

Today I got an email from the International Labor Rights Forum announcing the 2009 Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide. Check it out, if you like. I also inadvertently found Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping - quirky and kind of weird website. But I think I agree philosophically. Getting back to the Labor Rights Forum, I think I support the unionization of workers in developing countries. In the US, where labor laws are strictly enforced, I think the benefit is debatable. Actually, I think that there are situations where unionization is a smart choice from the business' perspective, and I think there are a lot of times when it's actually detrimental to workers to unionize. Anyway, in other countries where labor laws aren't as strict, unionization may provide workers with more rights than the government will. However, what are the chances that a government that won't or can't enforce labor laws will protect workers' rights to unionize?

If I sound tentative, it's because I'm not sure I've heard the other side of the argument yet. In other news I sent a number of emails off to various organizations asking them to change this or that bad environmental or social justice practice. Responsible Shopper really is a great resource. One of the first (and only) companies to get back to me was Target. Their policy sounded a little public-relations oriented, but at least they took the time to respond to me. I sent a follow-up email asking for more specifics; we'll see what happens.

I also sent an email to The Lantern asking my standard question about green information - it was actually a slightly modified version of this post. The Green Lantern is a column written by a guy named Jacob on, and although my query didn't get answered in his column, he did send me a nice, seemingly personal, note back:

Thanks for your question -- it's a good one. Unfortunately, we still don't have much in the way of generalizable environmental info available for consumers. (In places like the UK, they do a far better job of this, although any ratings systems there are pretty nascent.) However, I'll keep your question in mind, and perhaps consider a column about the limited sources of information that are available about companies and products.

Your word of the day is nascent - "just beginning to develop; in the process of emerging, being born, or starting to develop" (from the Encarta Dictionary in Word).