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Movie Review: Tsotsi

Posted on March 29, 2007
Filed Under Movie Reviews | Leave a Comment

TsotsiTsotsi is a fantastic and very powerful film set in modern South Africa. The story itself focuses on a man named Tsotsi who has truly been dealt some rough cards in life which we learn about primarily through quick flashbacks that pop up throughout the film.

Tsotsi has ended up as a small time gangster who lives in one of the “shanty” towns in South Africa by the time we meet him. He has some friends that help him in his mischief but they seem human (well, except for one of them who is a crazy murderer but that’s another story). Tsotsi, however, seems to have lost has lost his humanity completely. He’s cold and ruthless even to his own friends.

The film really kicks into gear when Tsotsi decides to pull a big job in the rich neighborhood that can be seen from his village. Once in the nice suburbs he carjacks a woman and as she runs to the car to try and stop him from driving away he shoots her. As he pulls away he realizes that there is a baby in the car as well and has to decide what to do with it.

Ultimately Tsotsi decides to care for the child and through caring for it he rediscovers his humanity and his compassion. His journey is a very touching one and I have to commend writer/director Gavin Hood as he artfully frames the story from the first minute of film. Presley Chweneyagae also does an incredible job of playing Tsotsi. He’s is very believable and makes the transition from heartless to caring in a very real way.  It doesn’t feel contrived for even one second.

This film is truly a must watch so please head out and pick it up or add it to your Netflix queue. For your Oscar buffs out there it should also be noted that this film won the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film which it very much deserved.

Crazy Green Energy Idea: Plug-in Hybrid Cars to Power City (Someday)

Posted on March 29, 2007
Filed Under Technology, Social Ventures | 10 Comments

Chevy VoltIn an update to the ongoing Crazy Green Energy Idea saga I have some very interesting news from the city of Austin, TX courtesy of the TerraPass blog. The mayor’s office in Austin has put forth a proposal to use a fleet of plug-in hybrid vehicles as a/the power source for the city during daytime hours. Yes, you read right, the cars will power the city itself. The idea is definitely what I would call progressive (some people would say crazy) but it might just be crazy enough to work.

The basic idea is this: Drivers simply let their cars sit in parking lots most of the day and drivers of plug-in hybrids (for more on plug-ins and plug-in hybrids see this post) do the same. However, the plug-in hybrids will have generated and stored energy through breaking and other methods during the commute which means they have energy that can be harvested and sold back to power companies which can be then used to power the city.

The mayor’s office in Austin thinks that they can harness enough energy from these vehicles to someday power the city throughout the day. That’s a great idea and what’s even better about the Mayor’s plan is that the drivers of the cars will be paid for the amount of energy they give back. That will be a payment processing struggle no doubt but it is a necessary part of plan (people are motivated by green - green money that is).

Follow-up: After discussing this with my bud John Zeratsky I’m not too sure if this is a great idea.   Seems like running cars on some electricity and some gas and then using the electric energy they generate during the commute to power the city just so that people have to plug the cars back in at night doesn’t help anything.  It simply transfers the power from the home to the office/city rather than leaving it in the cars to save gas/CO2 output.  As John said - It’s like plugging your house into the city power grid.  Hmmmm  Looks like we’re back to the drawing board although it’s definitely a possibility that I could have missed something.

As a side note to this story I was made aware that GM has a survey up regarding its plug-in hybrid concept called the Volt. It’s a great looking car and will fall under the Chevy brand. The survey is only two questions and it could help the Volt become a production vehicle which would be a very good thing (not only is it a plug-in hybrid - it’s also a good looking car) so I urge all of you to fill it out.

Side Bar: If that wasn’t enough cool energy stuff for the day I saw a device in Wired created by the Ambient Devices folks (the same guys who brought you the Ambient Orb and other super cool wireless info-gadgets). The device is called the Home Joule and it alerts you, through ambient light, to increases in your power cost and consumption in the hopes that you’ll react to the signals and turn some things off if the device hits the red mark. If you do respond to the alerts to consume less power then you can become eligible for rewards like free movie tickets (its a win win!). The Home Joule is available in NYC now and other cities to come. If you’d like one make sure to request it here even if you aren’t in NYC.

TwitThis: Now with Flare

Posted on March 26, 2007
Filed Under FeedBurner | 8 Comments

TwitThisMost of you probably saw the latest addition to the Twitter arsenal already since it was all over Digg but for those that haven’t I’ll explain. Michael Simmons and Hiten Shah (collectively known as Chuug) have put together a site/service called TwitThis. TwitThis simply allows people, via a bookmarklet, to quickly Twitter site links to their friends. This is definitely a useful tool. I know I send out a lot of links during the day via AIM and Twittering them could save me some time.

Of course there are options for publishers to include TwitThis links on their posts to enable their readers to Twitter their posts. As of this writing there was a WordPress plugin available and the TwitThis guys have made the code available to add TwitThis buttons manually to each article and the overall site. After seeing this I was concerned that there was no way for people who consume their content via a feed reader to TwitThis so I put together a FeedFlare that will allow publishers to make that option available to their readers.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with FeedFlare I’ll explain it quickly. FeedFlare simply comprises little text links that can appear under content items in both the feed and on the site. We also have an open API that allows anyone to build their own flares.

So, if you publish content and utilize FeedBurner please grab the TwitThis flare and add it to your feed (and site) to allow your readers to quickly and easily send your stories to their friends via Twitter.

Special thanks to Eric Lunt for the assist that got this flare over the hump and ready for prime time.

Book Review: Miles from Nowhere

Posted on March 26, 2007
Filed Under Books | Leave a Comment

Miles from NowhereAs you may remember from the last book review I did (i.e. Riding Outside the Lines by Joe Kurmaskie) I decided to read Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage and keep the cycling book binge going (she was nominated for cycling sainthood by Joe after all which is one heck of a recommendation).

Miles from Nowhere is a chronicle of the around the world bicycling adventure Barbara, and her husband Larry, undertook in the late seventies. I have to say it was hard to put this one down. Barbara does an outstanding job of bringing the reader along with her. A few pages in and you’ll feel like you are the third rider in the group grinding up climbs with them in Alps, avoiding flying rocks and sticks in Egypt and spinning for mile after mile on the lonely roads of the Dakotas.

It took Barbara and Larry about two years to circle the globe and there were a lot of highs and a number of lows. One of the most amusing stories, and the one that Barbara starts the book out with, is one in which Barbara is using the bathroom (a bucket on the roof) at their “hotel” in an Indian town (if my memory serves me) and all of a sudden a gorilla is bounding at her across the other rooftops. She has no choice but to stop what she was doing and run inside. Stories like that fill this book and as a reader you’re never at a loss for a laugh and some true drama.

Barbara and Larry also run across some great people throughout their journey many of which helped them with food, housing and transportation. It’s always refreshing to see that there are still good people out there in the world and that, in fact, most people are good and decent folks. One of my favorite people is Geoff, a New Zealander who shares part of the journey with Barbara and Larry. He’s quite a character and a simply a great human being.

Make no mistake, this book is a great read but Barbara is by no means a fantastic writer. She gets a ton of points though since she really brings you there. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in bicycle touring and world travel. I think it will open your eyes to a lot of things even though the trip took place almost 30 years ago.

Multiple Sclerosis Society Tour de Farms

Posted on March 20, 2007
Filed Under General Thoughts | 3 Comments

MS Tour de FarmsLaura and I have decided to join up with Team CDW (Laura recently took a new job with CDW) and ride the 2007 Multiple Sclerosis Society Tour de Farms that takes place on June 23 and 24 of this year. We thought that this would be a good chance to get out on the bikes and explore some more of Illinois (which she and I have been eager to do) and also help to raise money for a great cause in the process.

I have had a number of folks with MS touch my life. Most notable of those was my college calculus professor. What always struck me about her was that despite having MS and having to struggle so much just to teach she always had a smile on her face. She was one of the kindest and most helpful people I have ever met and was definitely one of the best teachers I have ever had.

That said I would like you to invite you all to help me reach my goal of raising $500 to help fight MS. You can donate via the web at my personal Tour de Farms page (just click “Support Eric!” when you get there). As always any help you can give would be most appreciated by me and by the 20,000 people in Illinois and 400,000 people across the US who live with MS every day. Oh, and if you like Laura better (honestly, who doesn’t - she is my better half after all) and want to donate toward her goal please check out her personal Tour de Farms page.

Crazy Green Energy Idea: Update

Posted on March 19, 2007
Filed Under Science, Business, Social Ventures | 3 Comments

Bike PowerIt turns out that it’s not too hard to build your own bike powered generator. There is a shareware guide available and a man by the name of B. Whaley even created a shopping list on amazon that includes everything you need down to the bike so you don’t even need to shop. This particular bike powered generator will output a max of 150 watts and it is 12V DC.

Ed Begley, Jr. has made toast with this very contraption on his HGTV series Living with Ed so it definitely works. Bottom Line: If you’re handy, have 2 - 3 hours and about $1,200 (according to the amazon list - of course you may already have the bike and some of the other parts and you may even be able to find used parts so it could cost much less) you could be making human power after one Saturday afternoon of work.  Maybe hooking up gyms with these kind of contraptions could work afterall.

Comments on the Twitter Phenomenon

Posted on March 16, 2007
Filed Under General Thoughts, Technology, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

TwitterApparently there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of talk about Twitter at SXSW. I guess when Mr. Scoble is a big fan lots of talk, and use of your product, will follow. Twitter seems cool enough. I can alert my friends to where I am or what I am doing via short messages that can be sent via text message, displayed via blog widget, etc. but what I don’t understand is how much some people post on Twitter. It is becoming an addiction for a lot of folks. I know I am in the minority here but I just don’t get Twitter quite yet.

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users is right there with me and describes the issues I had been thinking about in a much more detailed and entertaining way than I ever could so I won’t recreate the wheel. Check out Kathy’s two posts and I think you’ll rethink the amount of Twitter usage as well:

Ahhhh - I can’t stop there. Here are some of my quick thoughts.

Kathy breaks the issues down to three main points:

  1. Intermittent Rewards Beat Predictable Rewards (Slot Machine Effect)
  2. Feeling of Connectedness
  3. Twitter is a Cause (a decent size one for some) of Continuous Partial Attention

The first reason is more of a psychology thing so I am going to go ahead and trust the psychologists on that one. The second two points are a lot of what I had been thinking about.

Side Note: I still don’t quite get Second Life. I mean, I get it technically and I see it as a good communication device (especially for hearing people speak that I never would be able to in real life) but I don’t see it revolutionizing the world as a lot of people do. Why? Well, quite simply I like my first life and in my free time I’d rather hang out in person or even talk on the phone or via skype rather than spend a lot of time in Second Life. What does this have to do with Twitter? Twitter seems to create the same feeling of connectedness in the brain that Second Life does which is probably why it is catching on.

I’ll admit that I do feel connected when I use the two services. However, I have a nagging thought that I am not so connected when I use them even though I feel connected. Why do I have that feeling? Because it’s true. In the end of the day nothing beats face time (or at least phone time) and that will always be true. There is something that meeting face to face does for us as human beings that nothing can ever replace.

Constant partial attention is another issue that is evident with continuous Twittering. How can I focus on a task or simply think about a problem and how I am going to solve it when I am constantly updating people on my status and receiving updates on theirs? The answer is I can’t focus and I don’t think others can either. A state of continuous partial attention is not a good thing. We need to think deeply at times and focus. It makes us feel good and it also helps us solve intricate problems and come up with new ideas.

So, count me in the minority on this one. Perhaps I am just missing something though and this thing will turn out to be big. I’ve been wrong before and I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time (disclaimers rock!).

A Couple Afterthoughts: 1) Why do I want people to know what I am up to all the time?  2) Twitter is great for use at conferences.  Finding friends at a super busy conference like SXSW can be tough especially because they’ll have their phones off while in sessions (but you know their laptops will be on).

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