The choice is ours

January 31, 2007

Work it

Filed under: Business Development, music — shippingpal @ 12:47 pm

Out last night at Century Room for Industry night, we stumbled upon the after-party for Justin Timberlake, who played the ACC last night. Though the man himself did not appear to be in attendance, we were treated to a rare live PA set from Timbaland, his genius producer, who dropped a bunch of his hits and generally got the crowd whipped into a frenzy. It was pretty packed in there, and the energy was wild. A lot of fun. On a more laid back groove, I’ll be hitting the Dominion to see my good friend K Obsidian mix some classic jazz tonight, which better suits the tempo of a Wednesday evening.

Workwise, we are in the midst of a fairly significant overhaul of the ordering system, so that we can bring our data closer in line with the requirements of the national level carriers we now deal with. This requires a modification of our current package type selector to compel the user to enter the dimensions and weight of each individual package. It is resulting in a fair bit of extra coding, mostly to facilitate passing the variables through the system from one end to the next, and it’s fairly exacting work, as everything needs to be totally accurate. Anyway, between that and project managing our outsourced work, I’ve been keeping busy.

Currently reading: nothing in particular

Currently hearing: Anything – Martina Topley Bird

Currently watching: Ricky Gervais interviews Christopher Guest


January 29, 2007

Back to the blog

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 10:18 am

Well, the move was successful and all boxes now unpacked, it’s back to the blog.  Actually, I’ve been extremely busy with work too this past week, as we move towards a revamp of our system to complement our new, national level service providers.  Our previous system only required small/large parcel specification, whereas now we are requesting dimensions for all packages.  This will result in more accurate quotes, though for me it’s resulted in a few late nights handling all sorts of if/then algorithms.  We’re also close to completion of the alpha version of our API toolkit, which will allow third parties to plug into our system to get quotes and place orders – our subcontractors are reporting a version ready for evaluation within the next day or two.

Aside from all that, Winterlicious is in full force across town, so there’s plenty of options for dining, and I’m hoping to get out and check a few places in the coming weeks.  In other food news, Michael Pollan, author of the fascinating The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a great article in the NYT magazine, Unhappy Meals – his advice: Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly vegetables.  Can it really be that simple?

Currently reading: Unhappy Meals – Michael Pollen (New York Times Magazine)

Currently hearing: Killer (Funky Lowlives Mix) – Boozoo Bajou

Currently watching: Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa)

January 18, 2007


Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 6:57 pm

I’ll be a bit too busy to post for the next few days as I’m moving, again…  Hopefully there’ll be time to come up for air on Monday…

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 12, 2007

This is not a rant

Filed under: Business Development — shippingpal @ 11:35 am

I’ll tear my eyes away from the images of the iPhone long enough for one more post this week.  I am tempted to launch into another tirade against crappy third-party service providers whose systems don’t even do the basics (you know who you are), but that’s so 2006.  Around here, we are focused on solving problems, not kvetching about them…

At any rate, an interesting meeting recently with a very large shipping company who for some reason still don’t have accessible APIs for third party connectivity.  By the looks of things, they won’t be in place until a year from now, which is a pain because we really want to work with them, since they offer competitive rates and excellent coverage areas.  Being small, resourceful, and innovative, we took up the challenge and offered our services to try to find a wedge point in their system which would at least work as a stopgap.  We wait to see how interested they might be in such a proposition.  Yet another example of what James Gleick shrewdly described as the mammals running around at the feet of dinosaurs.  Still, it’s easy for a startup to shift gears, no so much for a many-thousand-person company with proprietary hardware and outdated systems.

The Shipping Pal holiday party, fittingly, takes place tonight, now that the stresses of the launch and the holiday season are passed.  We’ll be down at the super-hot Century Room tonight if anyone wants to take a look in.

Currently reading: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

Currently hearing: Greatest Hits, So FarPublic Image Ltd

Currently watching: Before Night Falls – dir. Julian Schnabel

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

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