The choice is ours

February 27, 2007

Craig vs Bill – clash of the titans

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 10:24 am

Some of the big web personalities want to come out to play. I caught Craigslist founder Craig Newmark on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night, following his Der Spiegel interview of a week or so ago. He seems to be a funny and clever fellow, pointing out to Stewart that the tech billionaires he knows personally don’t seem any happier than the average person. In the newspaper interview, he goes even further in asserting independence from market forces, with his bold declaration “We often operate by what feels right or not. No business plans. We’re engineers.” Indeed, it seems that Craigslist’s tremendous success can in some ways be ascribed to the fact that it was never purchased by a big player with the intent of turning a profit (though one of the other founders did sell out to eBay some years ago, so they have a stake of some sort in the project).

Elsewhere (specifically, the Washington Post), Bill Gates provides his practical advice for “How to Keep America Competitive” – given the timing, it’s unsurprising that he suggests we all upgrade to Vista… Actually, he doesn’t, and makes a sound argument for education and immigration to help to foster traditional American innovation and excellence. It’s worth a read.

Currently reading: Craigslist

Currently hearing: Panic Prevention – Jamie T

Currently watching: The Prestige (dir. Christopher Nolan)

February 23, 2007

The struggle continues

Filed under: Business Development — shippingpal @ 12:37 pm

The work continues on our API, though we have had a major breakthrough over the last few days and are on schedule for early March to roll out the build.  It’s been a challenge, with all sorts of issues emerging, and a few instances where we simply thought too much about certain things, instead of just rolling with the simplest solution – that’s a lesson that needs to be learnt more than once.  We have also added a number of major carriers to our network, including FedEx, Dynamex, and USPS, so we really are in the process of becoming a central data-collecting point for continent-wide shipping options.  Fun!  Now back to work…

Currently reading: Empire – Niall Ferguson

Currently hearing: Renaissance – The Masters Series 7 – Dave Seaman

Currently watching: The Queen (dir. Stephen Frears)

February 16, 2007

In my natural Habitat

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 1:59 pm

I was out at Habitat last night, on Queen West, for what must rank as perhaps the best meal I’ve eaten in Toronto in quite some time. Arriving early, there was a bit of a delay which the manager put down to Microsoft problems in printing out their new menu, and as an Office veteran I believe him, but once seated we were indulged royally. I should also mention in passing that the room itself – fondly recalled as the former home of Future Bakery on Queen – is one of the most nicely appointed in the city, all dark woods and creamy cloth with large booths and tasteful music selections.

We were presented with an amuse of grilled octopus, chorizo and olive which was superb – octopus can often be unpleasantly rubbery, but here it was deftly handled, very delicate and mild, while the chorizo was spicy and a single olive – dark, smoky – balanced everything nicely.

I started with the foie gras, which was seared and served on a brioche, with a fried quail egg, a piece of double-smoked bacon and a single date, which was somehow infused with coriander seed. It was everything you imagine – fatty, sweet, indulgent – and if it wasn’t for my cardiologist’s recommendations, I would eat it every day.

My main was filet mignon, served with rainbow chard and potato rosti. Nicely plated, it went superbly with the manager’s suggestion of a glass of a big Southern French red from Pic St. Loup. The beefiness of the meat merged wonderfully with the huge structure of the wine. Up to that point, I’d been indulging in a bottle of white Corbieres, just one of many unusual options in their substantial wine list – primarily grenache blanc with a few other grapes I’d never heard of before, it was medium bodied and very enjoyable. The manager, a fellow wine geek, even went so far as to call his distributor to get me more info on this bottle, which I’d never seen before – in fact, I didn’t even know they made white in Corbieres.

Dessert sent the meal over the top, with a deconstructed apple tart a la mode, which was composed of a wedge of baked apple, an upside-down cake, and olive oil ice cream, which was deliciously subtle and oaky – it didn’t behave like regular ice cream, but was appropriately creamy and smooth. Combine that with a gratis round of late harvest Vidal from an artisanal producer here in Ontario, and you have a meal to remember.

Currently reading: Noel Gallagher, in his own words (Independent)

Currently hearing: The Good, The Bad, and the Queen

Currently watching: Little Miss Sunshine (dir. Jonathan Dayton)

February 8, 2007

Phantom Power

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 6:06 pm

I recently came across a very interesting site called TriplePundit, most interesting being their ‘Ask Pablo‘ section with Pablo Päster, which had some rather arresting information about bottled water and its drain on resources – namely, that it takes about 200 litres of water to create a single plastic bottle, which contains 1.25l.  Even more interesting and worthwhile, though, was Pablo’s new year’s resolution, to stop drawing phantom power, by which he means the tiny, though cumulatively large, drains of power caused by things like the clock on your microwave or DVD player: “Let’s say that I live in the average household. Let’s assume that the average household has two mobile phone chargers, around 5 more chargers and power supplies for various other electronic devices (your Dust-Buster Vac, your I-Pod charger, etc.), two laptop power supplies, one microwave, and two TV/VCR combos (or one TV, one VCR, and one Stereo). This adds up to 37.8 W (1.8 x 7 + 7 x 2 + 1.2 + 10). That’s enough to power three CF bulbs around the clock! In one day this amounts to 0.9072 kWh of energy, or 331 kWh per year ($53.80 at current CA rates).”

It turns out Pablo is a graduate of the Presidio School of Management, which is also involved in such worthwhile projects as the Chicago Climate Exchange and DriveNeutral.  It got me to thinking about what our company can do to reduce emissions – and if I come up with any good ideas, I’ll post them here.  Please feel free to do the same.

Currently reading: FP Passport

Currently hearing: Anything – Martina Topley Bird

Currently watching: M (dir. Fritz Lang)

February 5, 2007

More than money

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 7:22 pm

I recently read this very interesting article (Nine things developers want more than money) about what motivates developers, and it got me to thinking about the kind of challenges I like to deal with, and how Shipping Pal has literally exploded over the past year or so as we transitioned from our working proof-of-concept to the actual creation of a web-enabled continent wide shipping network.  We’ve expanded our XML systems on numerous occasions as various issues arose, and I suppose the single biggest transition was from mySQL to MSSQL, which required a lot of rewriting of code as they use different commands for everything from echoing data in PHP right through to table structures and other core elements.  Now comes the API, with its attendant struggles.

My preference is for challenging, but not insurmountable, problem-solving.  Stuff that might take a while to design and build, but ultimately provides something of real value to the system.  A current example would be our new package type script, which I’m currently working on – it’s essentially an order-picking extension for our e-commerce customers, and it involves finding the optimal fit between the objects being shipped and the boxes which will contain them.  All sorts of challenges involved, since we can try cubing the whole shipment, but then if we need to resize it, it has to be in the most efficient manner possible.  I’m still working on all the details, but it’s proving intriguing, and once it’s built – and it will be built – we’ll have something really useful.

Currently reading: Sleeping with the Devil – Robert Baer

Currently hearing: The Blackfish Remixes

Currently watching: Blood Diamond

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