The choice is ours

March 6, 2007

Work, music, batteries, placebos

Filed under: Business Development, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 1:20 pm

I don’t have a lot of time to post this week as we finally wrap up our API build, coming soon to In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of coding to do myself, as well as integrating all the third party work that has gotten us this far. Such dedication – I even elected to stay in last night rather than check out the Toronto debut of a band that’s been getting a fair bit of play in my iTunes, the Submarines. Oh well, they were only the opening act.

In other news, my MacBook Pro is experiencing battery issues, a total pain as I can’t afford the time to put it in for repairs, but it has only about half the battery life I had two weeks ago, and it cuts off without any warning, leaving me in the middle of a major project without a reliable, portable system. So I’m somewhat chained to my desk, which might be advantageous considering the amount of work I face in the next few days.  Strangely, running diagnostics using the hand coconutBattery app shows no problems – it’s still running at full capacity, but it dies well before the battery indicator goes into the red.

Across the web, I see that – centuries of anecdotal evidence notwithstanding – a bunch of scientists are claiming that coffee does not in fact wake you up in the morning. I don’t drink it every day, but I have in the past, and this sounds patently absurd. I know entire companies that run on the stuff, and I’m not inclined to think it a placebo…

Currently reading: Apple discussion board – MacBook Pro battery

Currently hearing: Declare a New State – The Submarines

Currently watching: No Reservations (Discovery Travel)


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)

January 16, 2007

Time you will never recover

Filed under: music, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 11:24 am

There are certain headlines I come across every so often which instantly scream, ‘DO  NOT CLICK!’  They warn of facile self-promotion disguising itself as comment.  A recent example must be that annoying English guy from American Idol stating that Bob Dylan would never win American Idol.  Now, needless to say I didn’t read the article for a number of reasons – most having to do with the limited number of hours in the day and the fact that the opinions of someone who thinks teenage singers should aspire to become the new Michael Bolton really don’t interest me – but I can get the gist of it just from the headline.  The man who inflicted S-Club 7 on the world has the temerity to question the musical abilities of someone who has added immeasurably to the canon of popular music and is considered by many to be among the greatest American poets of the postwar era.  Let’s just let history be the judge in that particular instance.

Speaking of annoying English guys, I made the mistake of clicking on Chris Hitchens’ recent absurd article about ‘why women aren’t funny’.  I’m not going to provide a link to it here, out of humanitarian considerations, but suffice to say it’s patently ridiculous and full of asides like ‘you know what I mean’ and ‘am I wrong?’, prompting the appropriate responses – ‘No I don’t’ and ‘Yes’.  I have two words for Mr. Hitchens – Sara Silverman.  I might also remind him of the legions of men out there who are simply unfunny or the many more who seem to be missing the humour gene completely.  Working in the tech sector, I meet them all the time.  In any case, I thought that a preeminent literary critic would have better things to do with his time than a poorly considered ‘Men are from/Women are from’ schtick.

On a more interesting note, Malcolm Gladwell – sometime Toronto resident and lately of New York and the New Yorker – has penned a couple of insightful articles lately, one on Enron and another, which is actually a series of blog postings touching on recent celebrity racist outbursts, both of which are worth a look.

Finally, and totally unrelated, I must give a mention to, which is like iTunes’ cheaper, cooler kid brother.  They don’t have everything, but they have plenty of the good stuff, including today’s selection, and the subscription rates and lack of annoying DRM systems makes them preferable in my eyes.  On another musical note, Onsulade‘s DJ set at Therapy on Saturday night was a thing of beauty – mind blowing.

Currently reading:  Taking a breather after finally finishing ‘A Short History of Everything’ by Bill Bryson

Currently hearing: In White RoomsBooka Shade

Currently watching:  The Killer – dir. John Woo

January 10, 2007


Filed under: Business Development, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 10:35 am

Well, as predicted, Apple dropped their new iPhone yesterday, and set the world to drool.  Even cooler – make that way cooler – than anticipated, it also answers a nagging question I’ve had for a while, namely why they never went fullscreen with their video iPods.  At any rate, it’s definitely the coolest device out there, making my Blackberry look rather 2006…

Back here on earth, we’re ankle-deep in API documentation, both our own and those of a number of service providers whose systems we are hoping to bring into our network.  Those of you who can read between the lines might have sensed a growing frustration with a number of third-party service providers who were over-promising and under-delivering, and we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands and deal directly with certain service providers, rather than having to rely on cumbersome 3PL solutions.  It’s a bit of a major IT restructuring, and could take a while, but it will be worth it in the long run, making our systems faster, more transparent, and less reliant on other companies’ technology.

The new year brings new business cards, designed by friend and genius Avery Kalemba of Quadrant Productions.  We’re moving up in the world, with heavy card stock and high-quality, saturated colours.  It’s small things like this that make entrepreneurship so much fun…

Currently reading: A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson (almost finished it!)

Currently hearing: Love – The Beatles

Currently watching:  Nothing much

January 8, 2007

A match made in hell

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 7:15 am

Well, a week into the new year and I am still dealing with a rather persistent cold I acquired back in Paris.  I really had not anticipated the state of Parisian heating – that is, 19th century.  Note to self, when renting apartments in future, always check to see if they remain above zero degrees after sundown.  The sacrifices one makes for a nice view…

A glance at the Guardian this morning reveals a strategic partnership between Ford and Microsoft to put mobile computers in cars.  Insert your own joke here, though I am reminded of the computer engineer’s suggestion for how to fix a car.  It really does seem like a match made in hell – Ford’s diminishing reputation combined with Microsoft’s desperate efforts to become something more than a bloated-OS and Office manufacturer screams caveat emptor.  Oh well, perhaps it’s just the bias of a Mac user, but frankly no good can come of this.  I read somewhere that the majority of avoidable car accidents are caused when drivers lose their focus while fiddling with the radio – just imagine what the blue screen of death would cause.

Currently reading: Motto magazine

Currently hearing: De Stijl, The White Stripes

Currently watching: The Future of Food

January 4, 2007

New Year, New Strategies

Filed under: Business Development, News and Comment, Service Providers — shippingpal @ 10:43 am

Back in-country and flaunting a conspicuous cough from the damp Paris weather, 2007 is starting out with a bang.  We’ve been engaged in a number of meetings to re-orient our organization towards a new strategy and target market for 2007, which mostly revolves around switching our focus from the general public to the business audience, a strategy which in hindsight had been on the burner for a while but got temporarily lost in the holiday rush.  A moment’s reflection makes it clear that we were right in our thinking – the general public needs a reason to ship, namely the holiday season, whereas businesses need to ship all the time as part of their process.  So 2007 is the year of B2B.

Towards that end, we’ve been engaging new consultants and creating new partnerships to help us achieve these objectives.  We’ll be putting out an API early in the year to allow developers to integrate directly with our web service and switch our focus from being a brand to being a business solutions provider, following the model of our heroes, PayPal.  Subsequent to that, expect an eBay extension in Q1.  However, our priority in the short term is to get the web service and API out the door in advance of the semi-annual conference at the end of January.

In other news, the Guardian has an interesting article trying to guess what exactly Steve Jobs is going to announce at the next Mac love-in – odds are it’s going to be a phone.

Currently reading: craigslist

Currently hearing: Bebel Gilberto

Currently watching: The Departed (dir. Martin Scorsese)

December 30, 2006

Straight outta Montparnasse

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 5:46 am

I’m breaking radio silence for a quick word from Paris, where it is raining and kinda cold. Outside my window, there is a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower from a small terrace, though for the first three days the top of the tower was shrouded in fog. At night, it’s lit up and on the hour sparkles like a firework. Very charming.

Traveling solo, as I am, I haven’t been indulging in too much restaurant culture, but I must make mention of the Grande Epicerie de Paris, the most indulgent – and expensive – gourmanderie I’ve visited in some time; think a French version of Dean and DeLuca, in other words tons of foie gras and magret de canard, truffles and other extravagances. I’ve spent far too much time and money in that place of late, but it is only one of many attractions in the 7eme arrondissement and particularly the charming Rue de Sevres, a plethora of gastronomic pleasures. Also notable is the Centaure, a spectacular Cesar sculpture located at the point where Rue de Sevres becomes Rue de Four.

After standing in line for an hour to enter the Centre Pompidou on Thursday (ok, it was worth it for the Yves Klein show), I was in no mood to brave the even bigger crowds in front of the newly-opened Musee de Quai Branly, but walking around the parkland which surrounds it, I can testify that the building (by Jean Nouvel) is utterly brilliant. A recent sanctimonious article in the Globe claiming that Paris suffered a shortage of contemporary architecture should be officially retracted – Nouvel’s achievements alone at the Institute du Monde Arabe, the Fondation Cartier, and now the Musee de Quai Branly put the lie to the Globe’s claims; oh well, typical rhetorical devices that collapse on closer examination.

The 7eme arrondissement is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in a city full of beautiful places. It would be very easy to picture a pleasant life here, albeit one that requires about a million euros to buy a two bedroom apartment. Better start saving those pennies…

Currently reading: Generation Ecstasy (Simon Reynolds)

Currently hearing: Saharan Lounge (Putumayo)

Currently watching: Cidade Baixa (dir. Sergio Machado)

December 16, 2006

A day in the life

Filed under: Business Development, News and Comment, Service Providers — shippingpal @ 4:03 pm

Yesterday was one of those typical entrepreneur days, full of challenges and narrowly averted catastrophes which just end up making the team stronger.

It started out quietly enough, with a scheduled meeting with one of our service providers.  Only problem was, when we showed up at their headquarters, we got an urgent call from our contact saying that she was at our office.  Some wires had crossed somewhere, evidently.  So half-an-hour of Jay-Z and Nas and a cup of coffee later, we finally rolled into our meeting, which I’m happy to say went very well.  There’s nothing like some good hard hip-hop to put you in a negotiating frame of mind.

From there, we headed back to the office to work on a few things.  Form validation is a sticky issue around here, as there are many ways to do it but most of them involve messy alert boxes and can sometimes result in the filled-out data disappearing.  I finally found something that works nicely and doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast, but for some reason it was causing the insert action on the action page to fail.  After staring at it for a cumulative several hours, I finally realised it was because one of the form fields was tagged as id= instead of name= – such are the blatantly obvious things that can cause MEGO.

We managed to arrange some coverage from City TV for our Daily Bread food drive campaign, and wanted to capitalize on it, so we decided to have some jackets made up with our logo on the back.  The only problem was, it was a totally last minute arrangement, so we ended up running to the mall and spending a good three quarters of an hour trying to find suitable jackets – they had to be white, and preferably made out of wool.  The ones we got ended up being really nice, and then we killed half an hour in the food court waiting for the transfers to be applied.  I’m happy to report that no food was consumed there – I’m pretty neurotic about what I eat, and it’s been a decade or so since I would venture into any kind of fast food establishment, but I digress…

We arrived at the Daily Bread HQ, where they were celebrating their annual volunteer Christmas dinner, and it was really the first time this year that I’ve felt anything remotely close to the holiday spirit.  It was really nice, and good to see all these volunteers, many of them recipients of Food Bank donations, enjoying the fruits of their labours.  A lot of nice, friendly people and their kids.  Hardin worked on his interview skills while we arranged the unloading of over 3000 lbs of food, generously shipped by our star partners, The Messengers International.  City caught it all on tape, and we managed to score a bit of a publicity coup, as well as contributing to a really worthwhile cause.

After that, there was reason to celebrate with a couple of gin and tonics before I blasted back into the city to check my friend and fellow genius Waleed Abdulhamid at the Trane Studio for a truly barnstorming concert. Those who were there, know exactly what I mean…

Currently reading:  Motto magazine

Currently hearing: Further Adventures in Techno Soul (Ferox Records)

Currently watching: English Premier League football

December 11, 2006

Best of the best 06

Filed under: Blogroll, music, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 12:00 pm

As the year wraps up, I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and fire off a few best-of-year lists.

Most memorable meals (bear in mind, this list may be revised as a result of upcoming visits to London and Paris)

1. Le Lan, Chicago – a stunning, and completely unexpected meal back in September. The tapas place my brother and I planned to visit was packed, so we strolled around the corner and happened on this place, which I now know to be staffed by Roland Liccioni, ex of French Laundry. Inside, a tasteful room, attentive service and decent wine list whet the appetite for a truly incredible meal which made me re-assess everything I know about cooking. My main of lamb was so fresh I’m sure they must have slaughtered it in the back room moments before cooking, and it was plated with an eggplant and orange chutney that reminded me that truly great cooking has nothing to do with rare or fancy ingredients, but imagination. As Brillat Savarin once wrote, ‘the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.’ (links to interesting manifesto by Keller, Feria, Blumenthal)

2. Bouchon, Las Vegas – Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, but whereas his French Laundry and Per Se spots are booked up months in advance, in the permanent twilight of Las Vegas, I was able to secure a table at 3pm for that very evening. The chef billed as America’s greatest did not disappoint, with classic bistro dishes served with style, an excellent wine list (we had the Dame de Montrose 01) and superbly attentive service. The steak frites was quite simply the best I’d had all year, a giant hanger steak cooked perfectly medium-rare, dressed simply with shallot and herb butter, and accompanied by properly salty frites. The appetizer of raw seafood (clams, oysters, lobsters) was similarly thrilling.

3. Po, New York – Lured in by the promise of the chef’s Sunday night 8-course prix fixe, it soon became clear that it would simply be far too much food. Instead, choosing from an extensive, all-Italian wine list, we opted for simpler fare, and were not disappointed. Founded by Mario Batali, but long since its own West Village institution, Po delivered the goods with heaps of flavour and finesse, the best comfort food I’ve had in a long while. The squash ravioli in brown butter and balsamic vinegar was good enough to compel licking the plate, and my main of back ribs braised in beer and served with polenta sealed the deal, the rich meat falling off the bone and into a sumptuous tomato-and-beer ragu.

4. Fleur de Lys, Las Vegas – Located in Mandalay Bay resort, where we were attending the eBay conference, Fleur de Lys was a celebration meal to acknowledge how far we’d come in a short time (well, it was not that short I suppose). Opting for the four-course tasting menu with accompanying wine, we had all the usual suspects, served with a singular vision and expertly matched to some very interesting wine choices – foie gras done three ways with a sweet Loire wine, tuna tartare, and a mind-boggling venison dish, seared and served in its own juices, sided with a massive Californian zinfandel. The meal was polished off in grand style with an artisanal cheese plate accompanied by vintage port. Another fabulous evening.

5. Japango, Toronto – For my money, the best sushi restaurant in the city, and host to a holiday-end blowout for my brother, over from the UK where he studies law. We celebrated in grand style, with their signature dragon roll (soft-shelled crab) and lots of sake. Attentive service and a relaxed, almost bar-like atmosphere left us free to indulge in laughter, drinking and copious amounts of superbly fresh nigiri, sushi and sashimi.

Also notable:
Blowfish, Toronto
The Modern, NYC
Vong’s Thai Kitchen, Chicago

Best albums of 2006 (may not have been released this year)

1. Whatever People Say…, Arctic Monkeys – Of course. Soundtrack to Spring and Summer 2006. Can’t wait for the follow-up.
2. Snow Borne Sorrow, Nine Horses – David Sylvian partners with sometime K7 wunderkind Burnt Friedman to release the most lovely songs of loss and misery you’ll hear for quite a while.
3. Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – A return to form after the rather sentimental Nocturama, the double-album format gives Nick the range to really explore his obsessions, and the accompaniment of backing vocals adds a gospel-style layer to the music which makes it instantly addictive. Lyrically and musically, it may be his best album since Murder Ballads.
4. Scales, Herbert – Perhaps my favourite artist these days, and continually inventive and melodic, Matthew Herbert releases another album of his instantly-recognizable glitch disco, and once again makes me wonder how it is possible to be so conceptual and so funky at the same time. Additional props for his superb August show at Harbourfront.
5. Dimanche a Bamako, Amadou & Mariam – The breakthrough album for this veteran Afropop duo, full of catchy, uplifting melodies and great musicianship. They are rightly becoming international superstars.

Also notable:
Another Late Night, Kid Loco
Faking the Books, Lali Puna
Is This Desire, PJ Harvey

Best films of 2006 (again, may not have been released this year)

1. The Edukators – Daniel Bruhl continues his rise to stardom with a fabulous performance in this ensemble piece about youthful convictions colliding with adult responsibility. It starts out a bit slow, but draws you into the confused and conflicted world of young people, struggling to acquire their own identities in stifling conformist settings. The ending will have you pumping your fist in the air, cheering. I think this premiered at the 05 Toronto film festival and was released on DVD earlier this year.
2. Infernal Affairs – Not having seen Scorcese’s The Departed, I can gladly endorse this film purely on the basis of its own excellence. Tony Leung exudes the kind of charisma actors like Colin Farrell would kill for, and Andy Lau keeps it buttoned down before revealing his murderous streak when it comes to self-preservation. The supporting cast, particularly Eric Tsang as crime boss Sam and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Inspector Wong, give superb performances as well, and the plotting and dialogue are utterly compelling. The sequel (actually a prequel) is worth seeing too.
3. Yes – One of the most unconventional films I’ve seen in a while, an interracial love story told entirely in iambic pentameter. Joan Allen is superb in her role, and Simon Abkadian breaks out in a role that in lesser hands could have fallen victim to the exotic-lothario cliche. Superb and unforgettable.
4. Cronicas – John Leguizamo grabs you by the throat in this incredibly compelling mystery/horror movie/ indictment of media hypocrisy. A superb supporting cast, multi-lingual screenplay and deft storytelling touch result in a movie that will make you want to stay up a while before going to bed after watching it. Damián Alcázar’s stunning performance gets way under your skin.
5. Murderball – An amazing documentary about a bunch of mean SOBs who just happen to be quadraplegics. As compelling as a feature film, with equally memorable characters, and a satisfying narrative arc, these guys don’t want your sympathy – in fact, they’ll kick your ass.

Also notable:
Grizzly Man
The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Best websites of 2006

1. Guardian Unlimited – Whether it’s George Monbiot‘s commentary, Ricky Gervais‘s equal-parts hilarious and annoying podcasts, or Steve Bell‘s wickedly funny cartoons, it’s become my homepage for a lot of reasons. Plus, good football and cricket coverage, and Media Guardian too. Irresistible to expats the world over.
2. Epicurious – It really is the world’s best recipe collection. Too many favourites to count, but try the monkfish with leeks, chantarelles and ginger.
3. Metafilter – still going strong, one of the web’s most interesting community weblogs. Can be counted on to consistently deliver a wide range of interesting, funny postings ranging from the political to artistic to just plain weird. Just don’t call it best-of-the-web (or should that be teh internets?)
4. Der Spiegel – Their english-language site, along with sister Sign and Sight, provide an invaluable insight into european perspectives for a pathetic monolinguist such as myself.
5. eBay – still addicted.

Also notable:

Foreign Policy blog

December 4, 2006

Some different news for a change

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 11:38 pm

Logging on to WordPress today, I see that three of the top 10 posts feature the words ‘Britney’ and ‘Spears.’  Not sure what I missed over the weekend or today while I was working… But one of the NY Times blogs has an interesting article about a new French news channel – in English – scheduled to debut in the next couple of days.  France 24, whose goal is to provide a French perspective on world news, looks to be a nice complement to Al-Jazeera in terms of getting away from the dominant Anglo-American worldview expressed on BBC, CNN and so on.  The fact that they are also broadcasting live on the Web is a nice touch too – very 21st century.

The other big news is that our radio commercials are now broadcasting on 680 News and CHFI, so readers in Toronto should keep an ear out. Everyone else can listen to it here.

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