A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2014

[LINK] “The Rise and Fall of AIM, the Breakthrough AOL Never Wanted”

I still have AOL Instant Messenger installed on my laptop, though these days I use it much more for an add-on that lets it interact with Facebook Chat than to talk to the few others who remain online in the AIM domain. Mashable’s Jason Abruzzese has a great extended interview with the engineers who developed the software, suggesting that AIM was hobbled by being too ahead of its time at a company too invested in the status quo.

Barry Appelman, Eric Bosco and Jerry Harris worked at AOL in the 1990s and early 2000s as engineers on AOL Instant Messenger, known commonly as AIM. They weren’t hired to build a messenger. Appelman and Bosco programmed in the Unix operating system. Harris had been a programmer at a small web browser company purchased by AOL.

But together with a group of other engineers they helped take AIM from inception to dominance, then watched it fall into dormancy, unable to convince AOL management that free was the future.

Sitting with them and talking about the program, they exude pride for what they built and how it impacted the Internet. That pride is accompanied by a sense of “what if?”

During our conversation, the term “innovator’s dilemma” is thrown around a few times.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen coined the term, which is the title of his renowned book. The concept is simple — companies concerned with its current products, profits and customers often fail to recognize and adapt to change even from within.

Whatsapp is not far from their minds. That comes up a couple times as well. The app, which Facebook bought for $16 billion, is essentially what they worked on in the mid 90s — messaging over the Internet.

AOL is still pivoting away from its days as an ISP. Under the leadership of Tim Armstrong it now focuses on video and its ad network. In another life, before a disastrous acquisition of Time Warner, it brought the Internet into the homes of Americans and controlled the program that popularized online messaging without ever really meaning to.

It would be easier to call AIM ahead of its time if it had not become so wildly popular almost immediately after its launch. In many ways, AIM was right in line with the times, just at a company hanging on to a business model that would soon become obsolete.

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Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 11:00 pm

[LINK] “Guizhou emerges as China’s big data center”

Chinese news agency ECNS noted that the southwestern province of Guizhou is becoming a major centre for “big data” on the basis of its environmental and other attributes.

Guizhou Province, one of the least developed in China, has emerged at the center of China’s big data ambitions, with Alibaba Group and other tech leaders moving to cash in on the big data boom.

Alibaba signed a framework agreement with the Provincial Government of Guizhou on April 17 to use the province as its industrial base for the development of cloud computing and big data.

[. . .]

Guizhou’s visibility has been rising in China’s big data frontier as a number of heavyweight telecommunication carriers, including China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile, have moved into the province’s Guian New District since October to establish cloud computing bases and big data centers.

So far, more than 100 big data enterprises, including Baidu, Jingdong and Dawning, and Internet giants such as Sina.com and Sohu.com have moved in. ( In the eyes of Li Guojie, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the swarming in of heavyweight players is not driven by bandwagon appeal.

[. . . T]he province is an ideal industrial base for big data development. Cool weather, plenty of energy resources, well-developed equipment manufacturing, military industry, sufficient power supply and lower electricity prices are all advantages to lure data centers to set up bases in the region[.]

As one of China’s least developed provinces, Guizhou is eyeing the big data industry to boost its economic sustainability while China speeds up its reforms. In 2012, the GDP per capita of Guizhou was only 50.9 percent of the national average, the lowest in the country.

Although rich in energy and natural resources, Guizhou has seen its economy heavily dependent on traditional heavy industries such as chemical manufacturing and ferrous metal production, whose growth potential have been declining.

[. . . T]he province faces a lack of talent to supply the industry’s needs.

To remedy the situation, Guizhou launched a talent recruitment project to attract college graduates to set up big data companies in Guiyang by offering them preferential policies.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 7:42 pm

[URBAN NOTE] On HMV at Yonge and Dundas opening a concert space

blogTO’s Derek Flack noted that the HMV music store at Yonge and Dundas is opening up a concert space in its basement. The idea actually makes a lot of sense to me, for the reasons he states.

As the company struggles to remain relevant in the post-CD age, the move makes a whole lot of sense. HMV needs to get people into the store and can tap into a fair bit of local history in opening a live venue on Yonge Street. Over and above the fact that Yonge and Gould was once a nexus of record shops (most notably the former home to Sam the Record Man’s flagship location), the stretch of Yonge between Gerrard and Dundas was once a breeding ground for the city’s rock and roll scene.

The space will accommodate 140 people and go by the name HMV Underground, which is kind of fitting in its ’90s-ness. It was, after all, about 20 years ago when the store was at its peak of popularity. One doubts that a crossover plan like this will restore the location to its former heights, but it sure won’t hurt. Hosting live shows is tried and tested way for bricks and mortar record shops to generate traffic and interest on the part of local music fans. In that sense, it’s nothing new. But the size and sophistication of the venue is noteworthy. This isn’t a little stage tucked into the corner as an afterthought.

I mentioned in April 2012 that the store was going through some hard times, giving up half of its former space to (among other retailers) the Silver Snail comic shop. Doing something innovative with the space remaining is probably HMV’s only chance.

HMV, now only 333 Yonge Street

Toronto Star‘s Graham Slaughter has more.

Like other stores, HMV has ridden the peaks and valleys of the music business since the dawn of the Internet. A 2010 Statistics Canada study found that 87 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 download songs at least once a week, while only 6 per cent exclusively listen to CDs.

This shift has hurt sales and triggered store closures, including Toronto HMVs at Sherway Gardens and on Queen St. W.

But the same Stats Canada research found seniors have remained loyal to tangible sound; 80 per cent of those polled over 65 said they only listen to music on traditional formats.

This demographic gap may be partly responsible for HMV Underground’s set list; the first performer will be Canadian classical guitarist Michael Kolk on May 3. The studio has also been reserved for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in June.

However, Williams insists the Underground isn’t for one age group or music style.

“This isn’t exclusive just to those hardcore consumers, it’s for everybody. If we can bring new people in the store that’s all the better,” he said. “We’re selling the product that is there, but it’s about the artist. It’s a genuine brand extension, really.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 7:36 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Fly Nightclub to close after WorldPride”

I learned last night via Xtra!‘s Rob Salerno that the nightclub Fly (official website, Yelp), famous beyond Toronto as the model for the nightclub Babylon in the American version of Queer as Folk, will be closing down at the end of WorldPride on the 30th of June.

Another gay dance club will close its doors for good after one last big bash during WorldPride. Fly owner Keir MacRae broke the news to his employees over the weekend that the club he’s operated for 15 years on Gloucester Street will shut down when his current lease expires June 30.

The adjacent resto-bar Fire on the East Side, also owned by MacRae, has already closed and is operating only for private functions.

The building Fly and Fire on the East Side are located in has been approved for redevelopment as a 29-storey condo, although developers have not announced plans to begin construction. MacRae says the landlord offered him the option of renewing his lease but demanded a large rent increase for anything more than a short-term extension. MacRae says that keeping the club going just a year at a time doesn’t make sense.

“It’s never been a fly-by-night operation. We plan our events months ahead. The numbers and the terms that they wanted didn’t make sense.”

[. . .]

“It’s a great place and central; I hope someone takes it over,” he says. “It really depends on whether the landlord wants to come to a deal with someone. The space is there, the liquor licence is there, it has a dancefloor. There’s nothing like it in downtown Toronto.”

blogTO’s Derek Flack emphasizes the extent to which this closure, as well of that of Zippers on Carlton, is the product of pressure to build condos.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 7:29 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders if one way to deal with the overaccumulation of wealth by elites is to get them to spend it in vast showy projects, like a crash program for nuclear fusion or a colonization of the upper atmosphere of Venus.
  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of the nearby and literally ice-cold brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin argues that a recent American court case regarding a whistleblower highlights a tension between an individual’s freedoms as a citizens and limits as a private individual.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers suggesting that a star’s circumstellar habitable zone could expand inwards if a planet is different from Earth, one pointing to slower-rotating planets and the other to lower-mass planets than Earth.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the fascinating recovery of evidence of hunting nine thousand years ago from the bottom of Lake Huron.
  • Writing at the Financial Times‘ The World blog, Edward Luce is worried about Narendra Modi.
  • Language Log comments on browser plug-ins and other like things which adjust text to fit prescriptivist dictates.
  • James Nicoll seems much less impressed than the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin in the idea of science fiction writers being criticized for their ideologies.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that a chart suggesting there’s a low chance of civil war in Ukraine actually suggests no such thing on closer analysis.
  • Towleroad notes that Russia’s anti-gay laws are now being implemented in Crimea.
  • Window on Eurasia’s links warn of the need for NATO to defend its own, highlight Belarus’ stated interest in a foreign policy that balances the European Union with the Russian sphere, and quotes Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemilev on the Crimean Tatars’ continued dissidence and hope for rescue.

[PHOTO] On the Queen’s University campus, August 2003

On the Queen's University campus, August 2003 (1)

On the Queen's University campus, August 2003 (2)

On the Queen's University campus, August 2003 (3)

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

[LINK] “Cornish identity: why Cornwall has always been a separate place”

Philip Marsden had an article published in The Guardian responding to the recent recognition by the British government of the Cornish as a distinct ethnicity. Cornwall, as Marsden argues, is a region of England that is not just a region of England, but rather a place with its own distinctive ethnic identity.

Why did the resurgence come so late? It might just be a matter of numbers. Only a few hundred people claim the (revived) Cornish language as their main language. The population of all Cornwall is comparable to the number of people in Wales who actively speak Welsh, and the population of Wales is six times that of Cornwall. I do wonder how long this effort can be sustained, but if Cornish wish it, why not?

When I first drove down to live in Cornwall more than 20 years ago, I was met by a graffiti message on a railway bridge near Truro: “Go home, English!” I should have taken it personally. I should have politely turned around to head back across the Tamar. I was exactly the sort of incomer who was swamping the last little islands of Cornishness. But in fact, I found it heartening. Cornwall was not England – that was why I’d come.

Since then, Cornwall’s distinctiveness has, rather than being smothered, become resurgent. In those days, the monochrome simplicity of St Piran’s flag was an unusual sight, confined to places of nationalist fervour like Hellfire Corner at Redruth rugby ground. Now it is everywhere – in the logos of Cornish companies, on car stickers (usually with some jokey tag like “Pasty on Board”), or fluttering importantly from Cornwall council buildings. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Cornish language was likewise invisible, a barbarous and long-vanished practice, like piracy and smuggling. Now it receives government funding to be taught in schools and appears on the bilingual signs at the Cornish “border” on the A30, and on street signs for every new housing development.

It is tempting to regard such reinventions as quaint, like Morris dancing or beating the bounds; some of the most vigorous St Piran’s flag-waving comes from English, or even American, settlers. But Cornwall’s separateness runs deeper than that. It is less folksy and more physical, something from the soil itself, like the radon gas that seeps out of the granite of Carnmenellis or West Penwith.

The survival of Cornish identity can be traced, on one level, to the quirk of geomorphology and tectonics that placed the sea on three sides and made most of the fourth out of the river Tamar. The shape is reflected in the name: the “Corn-” comes from the Cornish “kern”, or “horn” ( the Cornish name for Cornwall, Kernow, is now as ubiquitous as St Piran’s flag, and has the same root). Trying to identify Cornwall’s appeal, Jacquetta Hawkes reached for its shape: “Cornwall is England’s horn, its point thrust out into the sea.”

Such a position has always made Cornwall tricky to administer. The Romans didn’t bother trying, as long as their supply of tin was secure. Saxon villagisation did not extend far into Cornwall. When the Tudors tried to unite the realm, the Cornish proved unbiddable. Two of the fiercest rebellions of the time came from the far south-west. In 1497, a revolt against taxation began in the village of St Keverne on the Lizard; within months, 15,000 restive Cornishmen had reached London, where they were soundly routed. In 1997, the Keskerdh Kernow 500 commemorated the revolt tracing the original route from St Keverne to Blackheath. The smaller, more benign band of flag-waving Cornish that wound through the market towns of southern England helped to re-establish the sense of Cornish identity, at least for those who took part.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2014 at 1:04 am