Movie Review: The Agronomist

Posted on July 5, 2007
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The AgronomistThe Agronomist is a documentary about Jean Dominique who was a Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist. The title of the film actually comes from Jean’s first profession. He was an agronomist, or an expert in soil management and field-crop production, in Haiti after receiving degrees in agriculture. However, there was more in store for Jean and cinema would be the first thing that lead him on his path to journalism and human rights.

Jean discovered cinema while in France and realized that it held a lot of power. Specifically it had the power to tell stories and effect change. Upon returning home to Haiti Jean started a club for people interested in cinema in Haiti and actually produced the first ever film filmed and produced by a Haitian in Haiti (that’s a mouthful).

Through his experiences with cinema he learned the power of the media and one day, while he was working at Radio Haiti, the owner of the station offered to sell the station to him. Jean accepted the offer and the rest, as we say, is history.

Jean went on to be the face of human rights in Haiti and will be forever known by the people of Haiti as a man of and for the people.

Since I was a child during a lot of the issues Haiti had I didn’t know much about the situation there and this documentary enlightened me on what happened there over the 70s, 80s and 90s. The movie was pretty fascinating and it’ll definitely pull the viewer outside of their comfort zone. I’d urge everyone to check this film out if they have a chance. It’s well worth it even though it isn’t a technical cinematic masterpiece.

Side note: To tie things into this blog - Jean was a media pioneer in Haiti the same way a lot of the New Media folks are today. If you are a new media person this is a film you should check out. I am sure it will inspire you.


Tour de France 2007: Where to Get Your Fix

Posted on July 5, 2007
Filed Under Sports | 12 Comments

Maillot JauneI can’t believe the Tour de France is just around the corner. It’s been almost a year since all the pre-2006 tour doping scandals went down and a little under a year since Floyd Landis won the 2006 Tour and started fighting his doping allegations (for more on that check out his new book “Positively False” - I just started reading my copy - and the Floyd Fairness Fund site). I really hope Floyd is innocent and there is mounting evidence to confirm his side of things. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that the Tour starts Saturday (July 7th) and it’s time to get psyched - and to figure out where to consume your share of Tour de France media.

For me this year will be much different than last year since I no longer have cable. That means, unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch the live Tour coverage on Versus and listen to the tried and true trio of Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob Roll.

Yup, they don’t have a live video stream on the web. I am not sure why (well, I am pretty sure it has to do with TV contracts). The Amgen Tour of California did and they seemed to have proved out the technology for the most part. Heck, I’d pay for it just like I pay for MLB.tv. Hopefully they will offer that option soon.

That said, I have done some digging around to find some top sources of Tour media online. Here are all the spots I’ll be turning to in order to get my daily dose of the 2007 Tour de France.

TDFBlog.com: This is a site that I stay subscribed to all year long. However, during the Tour site owner Frank Steele really picks things up. This is a must read during the Tour and beyond.

EuroSport.com: EuroSport provides a live streaming audio feed during the Tour de France. These guys are the real deal. They provide solid clear-cut race coverage that, as Bicycling Magazine says, assumes this isn’t your first go around. The live audio feed is just the start of things though. They also offer video from the stages, stories, interviews, etc.

Bicycling.com: The guys at Bicycling Magazine have put together a nice site that includes daily podcasts from their European correspondent James Startt, streaming video, a tour tracker and some background on the course and history of the tour.

LeTour.fr: This is my tour tracker of choice and it also happens to be the official Tour de France site. They have continually made a better tour tracker each year on LeTour.fr and I am looking forward to this year’s improvements.

VeloNews.com: These guys always put out quality cycling content and should be a must read year round, but as everything does in cycling, VeloNews really ramps up in July. They have a great tour tracker and always get great interviews. They also have some great podcasts and streaming video each day of the Tour along with rider diaries that will really put you in the peloton.

So now that you’re all geared up for the Tour all you need to do is sit and wait for the start on Saturday. In fact, you are in for a pretty unique start this year being that the start is in London. Here’s to a clean and epic race. Let the cyclism begin.


Book Review: 1776

Posted on July 4, 2007
Filed Under Books | 3 Comments

1776I just finished David McCullough’s latest novel “1776″ yesterday and as I put the book down for the last time I found it very appropriate that I was finishing the book just before Independence Day. Being a history junkie (especially American History) this book was a no brainer for me but I would suggest that everyone pick it up if they have the chance. Yes, even those folks out there who don’t like history should read it. Why you ask? Because McClullough just has a way of bringing history alive.

McCullough’s “way” isn’t just sheer writing talent though although he is a good storyteller. A lot of the brilliance of 1776 came through McCullough’s meticulous research. He read journals of all involved in the campaign of 1776 and included many excerpts from those journals in order to put a more personal touch on the history itself.

For example, McCullough will include excerpts from Washington’s journal at certain points so the reader can get a good idea of what was going through Washington’s head.

The inclusion of the personal thoughts of Washington all the way down to the typical infantrymen and all the way back up through the British ranks makes 1776 special. The reader learns through these excerpts that there were many times when our founding fathers thought things weren’t going to work out. There were also times when Washington and his officers made big mistakes that could have cost them the war. On top of all that the reader learns how pivotal luck and mother nature were in the whole process. Some storms giving the British the edge and others, like those that bookended the battle of Trenton at the end of 1776, ultimately giving the American’s the upper hand and the victory.

To tie things into this blog, the whole revolutionary war (minus the guns and such) is very similar to a start-up and I don’t think I need to spell out exactly why I say that. The parallels should be easy to draw based on the paragraph above (here’s another post on America being the ultimate start-up that I put together just in case you want more).

If you get a chance please check out 1776. It will give you a renewed appreciation of the USA and what our founding fathers went through to make this country happen.


FBLA-PBL Competition Redux: Sometimes Less is More

Posted on July 3, 2007
Filed Under Technology, Business | 2 Comments

As most of you already know I was a judge for the web design portion of the FBLA-PBL National Competition here in Chicago last week. It was, as I knew it would be, a very rewarding experience. The sites that some of these high school students put together were amazing both visually and technically. I definitely learned some things from these kids and I hope I was able to pass on some of my knowledge to them.

That said, I was struck by one portion of the judging in particular. The section that had me questioning the judging system was the section on the use of new and innovative technology. That was a required part of the judging meaning that using technology like web video, flash and the like was basically required. Honestly, I am not sure that this should be the case. What should be required is use of technology that suits the business and use cases of the site while creating a great user experience.

Basically, students shouldn’t have to use technology for technology’s sake.

With that in mind the judging began and I was very impressed that, for the most part, students did not just add technology on their sites for the sake of including that particular technology. In fact a few of the top teams had such simple and elegant sites that I would have deemed them 37signals like if I could have (they didn’t have that option on the score sheet) and since the sites were supposed to be made for a theater companies or drama clubs a nice simple interface that provided information about the production and a way to buy tickets was the way to go.

I could tell one team in particular took things once step further and added multi-tiered authentication which would allow the director of the play, for example, different access to the site than the average user. With the added level of access the director could log in and utilize a built in wysiwyg text editor to update the site on her own therefore eliminating the need for costly upkeep of the site via a webmaster.

They did some other outstanding stuff as well and truly had a grasp of technology and design which was far beyond their years. Unfortunately a more flash based flashy website stole the show (based on the pre-judged scores that I was not a part of) even though the back-end and business fit of that site was far less interesting.

All in all the kids did an outstanding job and I was happy to see that a lot of them only used technologies when there was a business case and/or user interaction case that called for them. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to do this again someday and I thank the FBLA for including me this time around.


FeedBurner is now FreeBurner

Posted on July 3, 2007
Filed Under FeedBurner | 3 Comments

No, the name of the company hasn’t changed but our previously paid services MyBrand and FeedBurner Stats PRO are now free for everyone. Here’s the skinny on each service from our official blog post:

FeedBurner Stats PRO
PRO is feed analytics taken to the next level. You will now have access to the number of people who have viewed or clicked individual content items in your feed and “Reach,” which estimates the daily number of subscribers who interacted with your feed content. You can turn this on by signing in to your account, navigating to the Analyze tab and heading to the FeedBurner Stats PRO section. Click the “Item Views” checkbox to activate these PRO features.

MyBrand
The MyBrand service (also PRO-level) is located under the “My Account” tab after you’ve signed in. MyBrand lets you maintain consistency between your feed address and your hosted website’s domain, if matchy-matchy is your thing. For example, rather than using feeds.feedburner.com/MyFeedName, your MyBrand-ed feed address can be feeds.myexcellentdomain.net/MyFeedName. To get started with MyBrand, sign into FeedBurner, click the “My Account” link in the upper left-hand corner, and then click “MyBrand”. Nota Bene: You must be comfortable playing around with DNS entries and own the rights to the domain whose DNS entries you’ll be playing around with in order to successfully activate MyBrand.

Make sure to activate these new features as soon as you can to make sure you are maximizing your FeedBurner benefits.


Lenovo Thinkpad Reserve Edition

Posted on July 2, 2007
Filed Under Technology | 3 Comments

Thinkpad ReserveWith all the talk going around the web about the iPhone (which is beautiful by the way and if I could get my Google corporate e-mail on it I would have it right now) I thought I would take a different tack today.

Some of you may know that I am as passionate about Thinkpads as the Apple guys are about their machines (I have been using Thinkpads for 7 years now) so I keep up with what is going on in the Thinkpad world via a couple of Lenovo blogs. That said, I read on the Lenovo Design Matters blog today that they are releasing a limited edition “Reserve Edition” Thinkpad.

At first I thought the machine was pretty nice looking but then I began to think more about the leather cover. While I love leather (I have Brooks leather saddles on my two bikes), and this cover is particularly well constructed from the looks of things, I don’t really get it. It doesn’t seem to do much for the look of the laptop and seems to just add heft to the overall package. What was Lenovo thinking? They are much better designers than that.

Perhaps this machine is really geared toward corporate execs some of which are, as portrayed by Apple in their commercials, stodgy and in love with things that are expensive and limited. Even the term “reserve” combined with leather as the medium makes me think of a stodgy cigar shop. This machine is not helping the Thinkpad/PCs image that’s for sure.

I suppose the big deal with the reserve edition Thinkpad is the support that you receive as an owner and that’s a big thing to think about but what does the extra support cost? I am not sure what the price point is for the reserve machine because you actually need to be invited to purchase one but I’d imagine the price tag is up there.

It seems to me that this machine is sending the Thinkpad in the wrong direction. Would Apple ever put out a product that had a poorly conceived design element simply to charge more for it and make it exclusive? I doubt it. They’d add better features in the software and hardware of the machine to enable better performance and user interaction and they’d sell as many as they can.

Update: Raoul makes some great points in the comments that I should have added to this post. Basically this could be a great business move for Lenovo since execs that have the reserve machine will probably authorize more ThinkPad purchases. I was taking a more of a design tack in this article and I let that get the best of me and forgot to address the business implications.


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