articles (sympatico)

Dean Kamen Profile

This is NOT Dean Kamen's web site

It pains me to have to draw attention to something so blatantly obvious, but I've received so many emails and comments that it's obvious some people need it spelled out. Folks, just because Google sent you here doesn't make it accurate.

So don't waste your time here trying to get in touch with Kamen - go over to DEKA Research and you might have better luck.

Image of Dean Kamen
Inventor Dean Kamen
With all of the hype surrounding the mysterious invention 'Ginger', its inventor, Dean Kamen, has become the focal point of a frenzy of speculation.

Kamen's life, unlike his inventions, isn't enigmatic. The 49-year-old inventor actually courts attention, holding lavish parties for famous and powerful people, all the while pushing the idea inventors will become the superstars of the 21st century.

He nurtures this belief by operating a nonprofit venture called U.S. First (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) which encourages children and teens to follow an engineering or scientific career path.

"Our culture celebrates one thing: sports heroes," he said in a recent Wired magazine article, "You have teenagers thinking they're going to make millions as NBA stars when that's not realistic for even one percent of them. Becoming a scientist or an engineer is."

Kamen's own childhood is filled with scientific achievements and inventions. He's a self-taught physicist whose aptitude for entrepreneurism was already earning him $60,000 a year before he even graduated from high school. One of his biggest jobs as a teenager was to automate the ball drop for New York's Time Square New Year's Eve celebrations.

One of his first highly successful inventions in the 1970s was inspired by his brother, who was a medical student at the time. Kamen invented the first portable infusion pump to assist in the reliable, scheduled delivery of drugs to hospital patients.

Another of his famous, lucrative inventions was a dialysis machine the size of a phone book in the mid-1990s. Up to this point, dialysis machines were large, bulky machines that required patients to make frequent trips to the hospital. Kamen's invention made it possible for patients to have home care, freeing up hospital resources.

"I don't work on a project unless I believe that it will dramatically improve life for a bunch of people," Kamen told NBC news last year.

Dean Kamen demonstates the Ibot to Bill Clinton
Deam Kamen demonstrates the Ibot for former President Bill Clinton
Photo courtesy of NBC News
Kamen thrives on publicity. He's frequently in the company of powerful and famous people, including former president Bill Clinton, to whom he recently showed one of his latest inventions.

What Clinton got to see was the Ibot Transporter. The Ibot (initially developed in the mid-80's) is a super-powered, highly stable wheelchair, capable of climbing stairs without assistance and rolling over unstable terrain. It can also raise the user up on two of its wheels, putting the user at eye-level with a standing person.

To publicize the Ibot, Kamen used one to climb the stairs of the Eiffel Tower in Paris from the ground floor to the restaurant level. He then called prominent venture capitalist John Doerr on his cell phone to boast about his achievement.

Many people point to the Ibot as a possible taking off point for his latest invention, the highly secretive 'Ginger'. Some maintain that Ginger is probably some kind of personal transportation unit, which could be based partially on the Ibot's design.

With all of the publicity surrounding his inventions, Kamen's main goal is to continue development with his company, DEKA Research & Technology, and to spread the good word about his First program.

His goal? To have every student in the U.S. enrolled in his program.

While some naysayers are skeptical of his chances for success, Bill Murphy, a First board member recently told Wired, "You watch. Dean's a schemer. He won't quit until it happens."

What is IT?

A n internationally regarded inventor creates something that makes investors salivate with expectation. Internet discussion groups burst with speculation on the nature of the invention. It even piques the interest of the mighty Harvard Business School Press, who pays an astounding $250,000 US for a book about it. The problem? Almost no one knows exactly what IT really is.

The person at the centre of this publicity hurly-burly is 49-year-old scientist Dean Kamen. His invention, codenamed 'Ginger' (or more mysteriously, 'IT'), has galvanized the press, investors, and various industry leaders, and provoked a maelstrom of rumours via the Internet.

What ever it is, Ginger has industry leaders and investors very excited.

Image from Kamens Patent
Image from Kamen's patent application. Is THIS Ginger?
Because Kamen has given very little concrete information to the press, much of the information that is available is hazy and uncertain.

Some of the theories about Ginger are that it is some kind of personal transport device (like a scooter), a new kind of energy source, or both. Those in the know point to a profile of Kamen in a recent issue of Wired magazine, which revealed that his company (DEKA Research & Development, Corp.) is working on a nonpolluting engine. The engine is purportedly based on the Stirling engine, first proposed in 1816 by Robert Stirling in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Kamen hopes the Stirling engine can be developed into an affordable power source that would run on many different fuels (including water). He's also hoping it could act as a highly effective water purifier.

Creating a cheap, nonpolluting power source would be reason enough for investors to become excited, but the discovery of a patent application by DEKA Research has sent interest in Ginger skyrocketing. The patent features some kind of "transportation vehicle," and numerous pictures of what seems to be a kind of scooter.

IT would be "almost as big as cold fusion would have been," said 3Com's Bob Metcalfe.

Kamen recently gave a demonstration of Ginger to a number of New Economy CEOs. The personalities present included Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com, Steven Jobs from Apple, eminent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, and journalist Steve Kemper, among others.

Although details were sketchy at best, Kemper submitted a proposal to the Harvard Business School press on Ginger, which culminated in the $250,000 book deal.

Details from the proposal (as reported by Inside.com) include:
  • IT is not a medical invention.
  • There may be two versions of IT, called Metro and Pro
  • Bezos reportedly said that IT "is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problems selling it."
  • Kemper said it will "sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking."
  • Jobs was quoted as saying, "If enough people see the machine, you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen."
Bezos was so intrigued with Ginger that he's already selling it - sort of. Amazon.com has posted a page on its site featuring the mysterious IT, with a picture featuring a beanie-wearing question mark on top of two wheels.

"Is IT a car? A train? A motorized scooter, as the text in the patent seems to suggest?" the page says, "Or is Ginger simply 'New Coke 2001'?"

Another investor, Credit Suisse First Boston, said that it expects Ginger to make more money in the first year than any start-up in history. It even went so far as to predict that Kamen would be worth more than Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates in five years.

The hype must have scared Kamen, who hurriedly issued a statement attempting to quell the wild speculation about Ginger.

"Since speculation arising from an unfortunate, unapproved leak of a book proposal has not diminished," his statement began, "I feel compelled to comment further."

He continues with the explanation that some of the quotes attributed to Bezos and Jobs were taken "out of context, without their doubts, risks and maybes included."

"This, together with spirited speculation," the statement read, "has lead to expectations that are beyond whimsical."

What is Ginger? The public will have to wait until sometime in 2002, which is when Kamen plans to unveil his much-discussed invention.
Need to know more?
Sympatico-Lycos: Dean Kamen: Inventor puts inventors First
Background on the inventor, with details on his other inventions and much more.

NOTE: Clicking on the links below will open the article in a new window.

Inside.com: 'Ginger' Inventor Appears at Davos, stays Mum.

Wired: 'Ginger': Kamen's Stirling Idea

Wired: A Wheelchair for the World

TheItQuestion.com: This surprisingly comprehensive Web site went up within hours of the news breaking. You just have to love the Internet.

Syfer.net: A Ginger Theory - One man's theory (With diagrams! And charts!) of what Ginger is.

Modern Humorist: Nature of "IT/Ginger" Revealed [Spoof]

IdleWorm: Flash animation spoof on 'Ginger' (Flash plug-in required)

GingerPoll.com: Take the 'Ginger' Poll

TheGinger.com: A whole Web site on the hype of the moment.

Snatch [Review]

SNATCH
Snatch: Gangster follies is entertaining, but trite.

January 19, 2001
Directed by:
Guy Ritchie

Starring:
Jason Statham, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt

Written by:
Guy Ritchie

Running time:
104 minutes

Opens:
January 19th, 2001


T he present holder of the UK-Cool crown, previously held by Trainspotting's Danny Boyle, is undoubtedly British director Guy Ritchie. His directing debut, 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, captured audience's attention on both sides of the big pond with its ultra-hip mix of gangsters, guns, snarling Cockney accents and black humour.

His latest effort, the eagerly awaited Snatch, arrives in theatres this week. Naughty connotation of the title aside, Ritchie's sophomore effort is an entertaining piece of irony-laden black comedy. Unfortunately, it's hampered by an overwhelming sense of deja-vu and Ritchie's hipper-than-thou directorial style.

A summary of this film's complex plot would be very long (and probably try anyone's patience) but a quick overview would include underground boxing, a gigantic diamond, snarling gangsters with hungry pigs, and lots of confusing accents. It's a gangster movie for the catchphrase generation: Glibfellas, anyone?

Snatch could be summed up as "confusion, mayhem, and gangsters: snappy dialogue ensues", and if that sounds suspiciously like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels's plot, you'd be right. Snatch is basically an enhanced (reheated?) version of Ritchie's first film, with a few big name American actors (Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina and Brad Pitt) and a larger budget thrown in.

Ex-Footballer Vinnie Jones is Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch
Ex-Soccer Player Vinnie Jones is Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch
Ritchie is a master of the quick jolt and Snatch is teeming with them, whether he's squeezing a transatlantic flight into five giddy jump-cuts, or skewing the camera into a head-tilting angle during a frantic, shuddering boxing match. Everything here is cartoonish and extreme, from the kinetic camera work to the Dick Tracy-esque character names ("Franky Four Fingers", "Bullet Tooth Tony", "Boris the Blade", "One Punch Mickey O'Neil"); it's like a woozy testosterone burlesque, with irony added for extra bite.

There are definitely some great moments here, from Brad Pitt's hilariously indecipherable accent ("Kuasehfgaiurgh!"), ex-footballer Vinnie Jone' Bullet Tooth Tony, and a great scene where Uncle Avi (Dennis Farina) is asked by a customs official, "Anything to declare?"

His response: "Yeah - don't go to Britain".

A good film has to fulfill at least one of four cinematic virtues: It's got to be entertaining, intellectually provoking, illustrates the "great human drama" in a moving or soulful way, or be visually interesting.

Snatch definitely fulfills the first requirement - it's often entertaining, hilarious and surprising. The biggest problem is that Ritchie is basically remaking his first film with a bigger budget, and it's hard to tell if he's capable of anything else besides Wise-Cracking Men-with-Guns. He also seems to be trying very hard to show just how hip he really is, and after a while, a lot of the film starts to feel like hipster posing.

At any rate, Snatch is an amusing diversion that would probably make a good beer, chips and late night slumming kind of film. It will be interesting to see if Guy Ritchie can pull anything else out of his cinematic hat, or if he's merely a one-song singer.

Genies grant Quebec's Wish

Genie Award Winners


ª Best Motion Picture

Maelstrˆm - Roger Frappier, Luc Vandal



ª Achievement in Direction

Denis Villeneuve - Maelstrˆm



ª Best Screenplay

Denis Villeneuve - Maelstrˆm



ª Best Actor

Tony Nardi - My Father's Angel



ª Best Actress

Marie-JosŽe Croze - Maelstrˆm



ª Best Supporting Actor

Martin Cummins - Love Come Down



ª Best Supporting Actress

Helen Shaver - We All Fall Down



January 30, 2001





T

The Canadian film industry honoured its own last night at the 21st annual Genie awards ceremony, held in Toronto, Ontario. Quebec films swept nearly all of the major awards, with Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve's Maelstrˆm garnering five Genies.



Claude Jutra award recipient Phillipe Falardeau (La MoitŽ gauche du Frigo) summed up the Quebec situation (and cracked up the audience) with his comparison of Canadian film to beer.



"I've been asked again and again, 'What is a Canadian film?'" he said, "Well, I think Canadian films are like beer: there are some fine local products, but it's tough to get them across the borders of the provinces."



It was definitely one province's night to shine. Quebec won big at this year's Genies, with Quebec productions and actors bagging the greatest number of awards. In addition to the Claude Jutra award, the best picture, screenplay, actress, director, and cinematography awards also went to a Quebec film, Denis Villeneuve's eerie Maelstrˆm.



"This film was for me a perfect example of the kind of film I love to make. It's a very personal way to approach cinema and at the same time it tries to reach a wide audience," he said after receiving his best director award.



Maelstrˆm is a surreal film that follows a young businesswoman's bizarre journey after she kills a man in a hit-and-run accident. The film is narrated by talking fish that face death on the chopping block, and features lots of aquatic imagery.



In addition to best picture and director, Maelstrˆm also picked up best screenplay, best cinematography and best actress awards. It is also Canada's entry for the best foreign film award at this year's Oscars.



The other big winner this year was ClŽment Virgo's gritty family drama Love Come Down, which took home three awards, including best actor (Martin Cummins), best sound, and best sound-editing.



As expected, there was a brief tribute to actor Al Waxman, who passed away two weeks ago. Maria Topalovich, president of the Academy of Cinema and Television delivered a short, but moving tribute to Waxman which culminated in a standing ovation.



"He was, without a question, a star,"



Not everything was rosy at this year's awards, however. It was evident even before the first award was presented that the night would basically be a self-esteem day for Canadian films. Almost all of the nominated films have had little national exposure or play, and most of the awards were presented to French films screened mainly in Quebec.



As if to hammer home the scant effect Canadian film has on home box-office receipts, the Golden Reel award (for best box office sales in Canada) was awarded to The Art of War, which stars Wesley Snipes. After being presented, the award triggered a heated debate backstage as to whether it qualifies as a Canadian film. It was shot in Montreal, but is essentially a big-budget American production.



The film made $4.5 million in Canada, and over $30 million in the United States.



One of the highlights of the show was a performance by Toronto singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer, and the award speech by Ron Mann, who won the best documentary award for his film Grass, a pro-marijuana picture which examines the hysteria surrounding the contentious plant.



"This is a natural high," he quipped. "I make films about subjects I like. I like marijuana a lot."



Visit the official Genies Web site

You Can Count on Me [Review]

December 1st, 2000
You can count on me still
Smalltown family drama proves a terrible title can't keep a good movie down.

In screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan's directorial debut, it seems fitting that the titular words "you can count on me" are never actually uttered by any of the characters. Considering that the title sounds like a typical marketing attempt to turn a pivotal piece of dialogue into the title, the fact that it is not said at all may actually be fitting. Here, Lonergan's focus is on the unspoken, and the words that float just beneath furtive glances and averted eyes. Unfortunately, the title may work against the film and keep audiences away, which would be a shame; You Can Count on Me is definitely worthy.
Written & Directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Running time:
109 minutes

Classification:
PG

Awards:
Sundance 2000: Best Picture & Best Screenplay

Opens:
December 1st, 2000 (in select cities)

Sammy, played by Laura Linney (last seen in The Truman Show), is a WASPy, single mother living in the town of Scottsville. Scottsville seems to have sprung, fully formed, from a Norman Rockwell painting, and Sammy's life seems to echo Rockwell's quiet, homespun images. She spends her days caring for her 8-year-old son Rudy (Rory Culkin) and working as a loans officer at the local bank, and just like a painting, her world is static and unchanging.

Around the same time, a new manager (Brian, excellently played by Matthew Broderick) starts at the bank. He's one of those irritating middle-management types whose tactlessness and by-the-rules supervision drives employees nuts. At one point, he admonishes Sammy because bank staff are "setting their PC monitors to all kinds of crazy colours."

Sammy's social life in Scottsville is almost nonexistent. The closest thing to a boyfriend she has is the noncommittal Bob (Jon Tenny), who's nice enough, but doesn't call her for weeks at a time. Sammy's struggle with the relationships she has with men in her life is a continuing theme throughout the film, and the choices she's forced to make shakes up her musty Scottsville life.


Mark Ruffalo and Rory Culkin in You Can Count on MeOne of the most refreshing aspects of You Can Count on Me is the way the dialogue and interplay between the characters has such an open, spontaneous feel. It comes as no surprise that the original concept for the film sprung from theatre. Lonergan originally wrote a one-act play, which eventually became the screenplay for this film, and the way this film breathes resonates with the feel of theatre.

The performances, too, are uniformly excellent. Linney, who has usually been cast in films for her icy blondness, brings a nuanced, plaintive performance to Sammy. And Ruffalo is outstanding as Terry. He seems to be channeling a Wild One-esque Marlon Brando here, all furrowed brow and sidelong glances, as if he's lost something precious, but can't seem to remember where. Keep an eye on both of them for nomination nods come the film awards season next year.

You Can Count on Me is one of those films that critics and actors complain Hollywood doesn't make anymore. It creates situations, but doesn't ram home closure, and is unafraid to portray flawed characters who do not ultimately redeem themselves. Good brother-sister relationship films are quite rare, and it's surprising how effortlessly and elegantly Lonergan and cast manage to pull this off.

There are some small flaws here, such as a couple of later scenes which feel like forced melodrama, and the underdeveloped character of Rudy (which seems to exist for the sole purpose of being a fulcrum the other characters revolve around), but on the whole, You Can Count on Me is a excellent slice of mid-western American melancholy, tempered with a spry sense of humour. Audiences that have grown used to big, sweeping melodramas and exclamation point climaxes may not enjoy this, but those looking for a subtle tale of love and loss will not be disappointed.

Related Links
Official "You Can Count on Me" Website
Check out the trailer (Quicktime required : Get Quicktime here)

Canadians get their chance in the Hot Seat

August 9th, 2000

W ho wants to be a millionaire? Ten lucky Canadians, that's who. After a 12-day telephone contest, the names of the ten finalists who will get their chance to make their final answer on the popular American show Who wants to be a Millionaire were finally released today.

The massively popular game show is going Canuck with a one time, two-part series featuring Canadian contestants, questions, and prize money in Canadian dollars. Contestants were chosen from over 750,000 people who called into a qualifying contest over the telephone. Of those, only 4,000 correctly answered the telephone questions.

A computer whittled the short list down, and the ten finalists and two alternates received phone calls Monday confirming their good fortune. Of these, four are from Ontario, two from the Prairies and the territories, two from Quebec and one each from Atlantic Canada and British Columbia. Only one phone call was placed to each finalist, though, and if the line was busy or if there was no answer, they were disqualified.

These are the lucky contestants:
  1. Michelle Jones, from Richmond Hill, Ontario
  2. Susan Neff, from Kitchener, Ontario
  3. Bill Shizas, from Toronto, Ontario
  4. Angela Lemire, from Windsor, Ontario
  5. Shannon Sullivan, from St. John's, Newfoundland
  6. Andrew Heaman, from Victoria, British Columbia
  7. Stewart Coward, from Regina, Saskatchewan
  8. Donald Miller, from Regina, Saskatchewan
  9. Allan Vickers, from Chateauguay, Quebec
  10. Francois Laramee, from Verdun, Quebec
The alternates are Curtis Arnold from Kananaskis, Alberta and Robert Nielsen from Pointe Claire, Quebec.

The show is to be shot in New York on the same set used by the American version, but will be hosted by well-known journalist Pamela Wallin. The two specials will air on CTV September 13th and 14th, at 8pm EST.

Related Links

Technology Stocks Fall into Fall

Octobert 6, 2000
Dell Computer

Compaq Computer

Gateway

IBM

Hewlett-Packard

Apple Computer
Click for an Enlarged Chart

Oracle

Intel


T he traditionally harsh October stock market has ravaged technology stocks this year, leading experts to ponder the future of the hi-tech industry. The latest victim, Dell Computer Corp., announced Tuesday that third-quarter revenues would be lower than expected. Dell's stock dropped more than 15% in after-hours trading.

Following this news, other PC manufacturers' stocks fell, including Compaq Computer Corp., Dell competitor Gateway Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Hit again was Apple Computer Inc., whose stock had already taken a dramatic pummeling late September. Apple saw nearly 50% of its stock value disappear after making a similar warning of lower quarterly revenues this quarter.

One explanation offered by Dell is a weak European demand and sluggish growth in certain sectors. "Through the first two months of the current quarter," a company statement read, "Dell's European demand has been weak and growth in sales to worldwide small business customers has been somewhat short of internal plans."

Dell CEO Michael Dell also suggested that Internet-related sales have also dropped. "We've seen a significant drop-off in the kind of dot-com arena which had exploded on the scene in Q4 [of 1999] and Q1 [of 2000]," he told cnet news.

This e-commerce listlessness could have also affected software powerhouse Oracle, whose stock was also deflated October 4th after posting lower than expected revenues. Company officials hurried to assure investors that the company was on track, and the stock rallied near the market's close to end up just under its opening value.

The entire technology stock market has been on a wild ride in the last two weeks. On the heels of Apple's September 29th freefall came PC chip manufacturer Intel's lambasting after it warned profits would be lower than expected. Intel's announcement saw nearly $80 billion (20%) of its value vanish, and sent the entire technology sector into turmoil.

"Stocks didn't used to go down 40 percent on a 10 percent miss in revenue," Banc of America Securities analyst Tom Courtney told cnet news. "Now they do. The market reacts much more violently today than it did five years ago when a company would miss earnings."

Even with all of the apparent instability, some analysts believe that the tech sector's future is lined with gold. "I believe we're heading for a hell of a bull run in technology," fund manager Duncan Stewart told The Globe and Mail. He says he foresees "blockbuster" fourth quarter revenues -"probably the best-ever for high tech earnings in history."

Even the beleaguered Nasdaq, which is heavily laden with technology stocks, may see an upturn soon. "I do think we are close to the bottom," analyst Greg Nie told The Globe and Mail. He also pointed to Oracle's devaluation as "an example of somewhat emotional selling," and added that this kind of reaction usually appears at the end of a market correction.

For Apple, Intel, Dell and other PC manufacturers, though, the future may not be so rosy. Companies like these which focus mainly on computer sales may not see the turnaround that Oracle enjoyed.

"We have the potential to see some companies differentiate themselves from the pack," analyst Stephen Kahn told The Globe and Mail.

As for the fortunes of the PC manufacturers, all Kahn can say is, "I'm not counting on it."

Related links

Dell Computer Corp.
Compaq Computer Corp
Gateway Inc
IBM
Hewlett-Packard
Oracle
Intel
Nasdaq

The PC Industry: the times, they are a-changin'

January 11, 2001

T he PC industry is at a crossroads. Technology luminaries such as Compaq, Intel, Microsoft and Apple all posted lower-than expected revenues in the fourth quarter of last year, the demand for PCs has gone flabby with the slowing economy, and the thrashing the stock market has taken seems determined to continue. With these gray clouds hovering overhead, PC companies know that reinvention is crucial to their continued success.

Titanium Powerbook G4
Apple's new Titanium PowerBook G4
Meet the New New Us
Within the last two weeks, both Microsoft and Apple, two of technology's kingpins, attempted just that. Apple's Steven Jobs took his kick at the reinvention can at this year's MacWorld Expo, currently on until January 12th in San Francisco. His keynote speech presented revamped desktop models with faster processors and CD writing drives, a brand new, high-powered Powerbook laptop encased in titanium, and set a release day for Apple's eagerly awaited new operating system, OS X - March 24th.

Hardware company releases software...
What was the most intriguing, however, was the software he unveiled. There was iTunes, which is an all-in-one solution for digital music, and iDVD, a revolutionary piece of programming which radically shortens the amount of time it takes to transfer information onto a DVD disc. "We don't think the PC industry is dying at all," he explained, "We think it's evolving."

He then proclaimed a new strategy to position Apple's products as part of a third "golden age" in computers, with computers acting as a "digital hub", connecting the various electronic devices in their lives together.

Microsoft's Xbox
Microsoft's Xbox
... software company releases hardware...
Microsoft's new strategy took form at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is the king of all electronics expos. It was there Microsoft's Bill Gates took the wraps off of Xbox, which represents the software company's first volley into the lucrative and high-risk world of video game consoles.

"If there's an area where breakthroughs in hardware and software could really change the business," Gates said, "it's got to be video games."

If Microsoft's demonstration at the CES was any indication, they're well prepared to take on such entrenched companies such as Nintendo, Sega and especially industry leader Sony and its recently released Playstation 2. The games Microsoft exhibited featured graphics that look more like they came from a Disney movie than a video game, leaving analysts to speculate that Microsoft may have a monster on its hands.

Apple's revamped strategy is more crucial to its continued success: unlike Microsoft and the other PC companies, Apple's audience is heavily consumer-based and much smaller than that for Windows-based machines.

... analysts are unsure...
Analysts are split as to whether or not Apple's product announcements are enough to help the beleaguered company's fortunes this year.

"The new products, especially the hardware, are what Apple needs," MacWeek reported an analyst saying, "But I'm concerned... the short- to near-term outlook for Apple isn't so strong and bright, because of factors beyond what they can1t control."

An enlarged backlog of older inventory was also pointed to as a possible problem point. "They've got a lot of old machines to clear out, " another analyst said, "With a slowing economy affecting the entire PC industry, Apple always gets hit a little harder than say a Dell or a Compaq."

... but consumers are happy.
Consumers responded more positively to Apple's new products. "The new 'i' products I think were most significant," said Eric Moorehead, "I liked the new PowerBook too, but I think the software products will show new potential customers that have never used a Mac that Apple is on the cutting edge."

"I know executives who will really want this," said Sarah Ferguson of the new Powerbooks.

Response to Microsoft's Xbox has been generally positive. "No question about it," reported CNet News/ Gartner analyst Lou Latham, "the popularity and revenue of games and game devices are reason enough for Microsoft to enter this arena."

He then concludes, "Microsoft has begun to position itself to be once more the broad-spectrum, generic technology for the average user."

Still, even with the different opinions floating around, Daniel Kunstler, an analyst at J.P. Morgan H&Q has only one thing to say about the industry. "Just riding the PC market cycle is not anybody's idea of a good time."

Related Reading (These links will open in a new window.)
MacWeek Special Feature on MacWorld
The Official Xbox Web site
See Video Highlights of Steven Job's Keynote at MacWorld - QuickTime required
C|Net's Special feature on Macworld

Getting smarter online

I nterested in upgrading your skills, or learning a new one? Online training has quickly become one of the best options available for those interested in furthering their education.

In the past, most of the courses available online revolved around computer or software training, but this is quickly changing. Most major universities and numerous trade colleges now have courses available over the Internet. You can even get diplomas and certificates in many fields through courses delivered solely online, which is the ultimate in convenience for those with day jobs or other commitments.

If you're just interested in learning how to use a program or computer application, chances are there's a tutorial or course out there that's inexpensive or free. But, if you're interested in obtaining a full certificate or diploma, make sure you check out the school or company thoroughly. Some things to think about:
  • Is the school accredited?
  • Are there clear contact emails and phone numbers?
  • Is the Web site informative and clear, and do the programs have comprehensive listings (so you know exactly what you're getting)?
  • Is the certification you will receive recognized in your province?
That being said, there are as many options out there for online training as there are interests. Try contacting your local university for info on distance education, and take a look at this sampling of some notable online training Web sites.

Online Courses and Training

Sympatico Web Based Training
Over 410 courses are available, including Microsoft and A+ accreditation. The focus is on computer, networking and software training.

Kaplan College
The venerable Kaplan college has expanded online, covering a diverse set of topics including the legal profession, Computers and Information Technology, Nursing, and business oriented courses.

Ryerson Distance Learning
One of Canada's best known and acclaimed universities. This Toronto-based school offers many online courses in their distance learning program from a diverse subject list.

Humber College Distance and Open learning
This large trades college offers a diverse course calendar online, with subjects ranging from business and legal issues to technology, writing and other soft arts.

Hungry Minds
This massive resource, recently acquired by IDG books (the producers of the world-famous "Dummies" books) could easily be the largest list of online courses and self-education links available anywhere.

Corpedia
This site specializes in corporate training courses, legal training, and professional enhancement studies.

KnowledgePool
This international, award-winning company features courses centering mainly around business, IT, and networking training.

SmartPlanet
Want to learn how to be a better traveler? Want to learn how to use PhotoShop more effectively? This division of ZDnet has tons of courses covering a wide variety of interests.

ElementK
Another collection of courses dealing with office applications (Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.), Web technologies and other related topics.

Some Online Tutorials

Webmonkey
The wily Webmonkey is chock full of free, attitude-laden but insightful tutorials covering all aspects of Web design and development. Essential reading.

LinuxSurvival
This site features a free primer on Linux, the free, open source operating system developed by Linus Torvalds.

DevShed
Another free tutorial site, specializing in Open Source technologies like Linux, Apache Server, scripting languages PHP, and others. Geekdom awaits!

TypingPal
Get free typing lessons at this Web site, which also keeps track of your progress and statistics.

Other Related Links

BrainBench

Think you know your stuff? This Web site offers free (for a limited time) certification tests and certificates covering business, Information Technology, and some medical topics.

Marketing for the Masses

A Web site's success is measured in the number of people that visit it. It's that simple. Making sure your Web site is bound for success, though, is another story. The Web is like the world's biggest, most disorganized magazine, and ensuring that your pages stand out and entice visitors can be a frustrating experience.

By utilizing a varied tool kit of Internet marketing tools, however, you can help ensure that users will find your Web site. These are just some of the available ways to market your Web site, but by combining these with more traditional marketing methods, you can give your Web site a fighting chance. Good luck!
  1. Your URL is your friend
    Your URL (or Universal Resource Locator, if you must know) is a crucial part of your overall marketing plan. Also known as your domain name (http://www.mygreatbusiness.com, for example), your URL should be on anything involving your business, involving your company stationary, business cards, email signature, print ads, etc. After all, you went through all that trouble finding a catchy domain name, didn't you?

  2. Register your Web site
    A large percentage of people find Web sites through search engines, so this should be one of the first things you do in your marketing blitz. Unfortunately, ensuring that a site ranks highly with the search engines is almost an art in itself - so much so, that there are now professionals whose sole jobs are to do search engine "optimization". Check out our Search Engine resources for more help.

  3. Ads, ads everywhere
    If you've ever surfed the Web, you've seen banner ads, and whether or not you hate 'em, they still are one of the best ways to drive traffic to your site. Just like advertisements in other mediums, Internet banner ads have their own standards (see the Internet Advertising Bureau (http://www.iab.net/) for more details). Unique to the Internet, though, are banner exchanges, where you can distribute your ad banner to many other Web sites, usually for free. Enlighten yourself about banner ads and ad exchanges with our banner ad resources.

  4. Award yourself
    Think your Web site is glorious? Let the whole world know, and get some free advertising at the same time by entering it in Web design contests. There are also many sites that review Web sites, so if you feel confident that your Web site is aesthetically pleasing AND user-friendly, you might want to submit it for a 3rd-party's approval. Another plus: your Web designer will like you very much.

  5. Join a Webring
    Webrings are a group of Web sites with a similar slant or subject matter, linked together. There's webrings out there now covering all sorts of topics, so joining one might help connect you with like-minded folks from all over the world.

  6. Spread the News
    One other useful way to bring your Web site to the web-going public's attention is to post an eye-catching and concise advert to a suitable newsgroup. Make sure, though, that the newsgroup you post to permits these kinds of posts, or that your Web site fits in with the topic being discussed, or you'll find yourself on the nasty end of an angry flame.

  7. Get Traditional
    The world doesn't revolve around the Internet (yet), so don't forget to take advantage of the more traditional marketing arenas like print, radio and TV. Take a look at our list of marketing magazine and articles for help in dealing with the rest of the mass market world.
Links mentioned in this feature:

Oil and Gas Prices Soar

September 7th, 2000

T rains, planes and automobiles will all feel the pressure as fuel costs continue to climb. That means it's going to cost us all more to travel or even to stay warm at home in the cold winter months ahead.

In the last couple of days, oil prices have hit their highest levels since the Gulf War. Prices had shot to nearly $35 per barrel by Wednesday afternoon. OPEC has already boosted oil production twice this year to try to stabilize prices, and has pumped over 600,000 barrels more since July. Even with these efforts, prices still are at a ten-year high.

Analysts are confident, however, that the price of gasoline could fall again if OPEC increases production. "I'm fully expecting that crude oil prices will drop once OPEC ministers meet," petroleum industry consultant Michael Ervin told the Globe and Mail, "But by how much is difficult to say, although they have gone on record as desiring the price of crude oil to trade at below $30 per barrel."

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Maimi affirmed that his country, one of the biggest oil producing countries in OPEC, has increased production, but told Reuters on Tuesday, "We must be extremely careful that efficiency is required by people running refineries. Eventually people will realize that the industry is living with less inventories."

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah echoed his minister's comments, but also added that taxation levels in countries that use oil also contributes to the high prices. "These taxes, which bear heavily on consumers, should be reconsidered," he said in an Associated Press article published Wednesday.

OPEC plans to meet on Sunday to consider a third production increase to try to stabilize the volatile oil market.

The cost of oil will force budget airlines and other transportation companies to raise ticket prices to accommodate higher operating costs. "You've got to face the music at some point," said Royal Airlines chief financial officer Roland Blais to the Globe and Mail. He said November 1 could be the day that Royal and two other discount airlines raise fuel surcharges. They presently charge approximately $15 a flight, which is factored into ticket prices.

Canadian gasoline prices soared yesterday in response to the rising price of crude oil, with the price in some markets reaching heights of 86 cents a litre, and no relief in sight. And heating bills may also see a price hike this winter, if oil prices stay at their present levels. "When consumers get their first bill, it's likely to be higher," Michael Ervin told the Globe and Mail.

How do high gas prices affect you?
Share your stories, vent some anger, and tip off fellow motorists on cheaper gas stations in the Sympatico-Lycos forums.

Related Links

OPEC Web site

Gas price guide
Find cheap gas prices in your city with these helpful resources in the Sympatico-Lycos Automotive section

Online music battle intensifies

September 20, 2000

S ome of the biggest players in the online music industry were dealt a crushing blow this week by a U.S. District Judge. The costly decision leaves the future of MP3.com, Napster and other Internet music companies in peril.

Wednesday's ruling by Judge Jed Rakoff slammed online music distributor MP3.com with a staggering fine of $25,000 per violation of Universal Music's copyrights.

At issue are thousands of Universal music CDs stored on MP3.com's site as part of their My.MP3.com "music locker" service. Users could access these CD's by simply inserting a copy of a disc in their computer once, thereby "confirming" that they own that album. They then could listen to that particular CD from the MP3.com site to their computer over the Internet.

"There is no escape from the finding that the defendant willfully infringed on the plaintiff's [Universal Music] copyrights," Rakoff said in his ruling.

Rakoff also harshly criticized other companies engaged in providing copyrighted music online. "Some of the evidence in this case strongly suggests that some companies operating in the area of the Internet may have a misconception," he wrote, "that because their technology is somewhat novel, they are somehow immune from the ordinary applications of laws of the United States, including copyright law."

MP3.com estimates there were 4,700 compact discs in their CD database covered under Universal copyrights. That would put their liabilities at around $115 million. This figure is well within the $150 million MP3.com had purportedly earmarked for legal fees, according to recent securities filings by the company.

But, Universal music claims there are over 10,000 titles in the My.MP3.com database, which would put MP3.com's damages at a whopping $250 million. This amount could easily put the company into a precarious financial situation, possibly leading to bankruptcy.

In a surprise move, MP3.com announced yesterday that they will be reactivating the My.MP3.com service despite the ongoing court battle. The company plans to turn the controversial service back on in a couple of weeks.

MP3.com had reached out of court settlements with four of the five major record labels, and still believes that some kind of settlement with Universal Music is possible.

"We were disappointed," MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson told the Associated Press. "We not only settled with the other four plaintiffs but we got a license going forward." He remarked that it seemed puzzling that Universal adamantly pursued the court action after the other labels had settled.

"It's possible [to reach a settlement with Universal] but challenging," Robertson said, adding that he's optimistic for his company's appeal chances.

This decision comes at a time when Internet music companies like Napster are weathering their own legal and financial troubles. Napster, who provides software that allows users to share music over the Internet, barely escaped being shutdown by a court order in July.

Napster still faces a copyright infringement court date early in October.

Other file-sharing services aren't fairly well at the moment either. Scour, which allows users to directly share files and music instead of through a network like the Napster service, recently laid off dozens of employees, citing financial problems as the cause.

Related links

Find the Host with the Most

Part Three of a three part Small Business series

E ven if you have the Web equivalent of Frank Gehry designing your Web site, it's useless if it's not available on the Internet. To remedy this, you'll need to find a web hosting company who will make your business available, or "serve" your pages, to the online world.

Here, as in all things Internet, the staggering number of choices and options available can be paralyzing. Doing a simple Internet search for "web hosting" can return hundreds of thousands of matches - how's that for Web efficiency?

To start, ask your designer for help if you're flummoxed by all of the techno-jargon. Most designers will have a good idea of what you'll need for your site, and a couple of companies to look at. At the very least, they can usually point you in the direction of someone who does.

To make your search a bit less painful, there's five things you really need to know before tackling the host situation:

1. To dedicate, or not to dedicate?
If your believe that your business is going to be doing huge online business, with millions of people viewing the site and traffic galore, you almost have to get a dedicated server. A dedicated server is exactly that - a computer whose sole duty in life is to serve your site to the Web, and nothing else. The advantages in this are plentiful - no sharing of system resources, no bandwidth issues (see below), and the hosting company's tech support will probably treat you like a god. But, you guessed it - this freedom comes with a hefty price tag.

On the other hand, if all your Web site will be is a marketing/promo tool, or if you don't expect huge amounts of traffic, your best bet is to have your site hosted "virtually" - that is, on a server sharing resources with other Web sites. Most smaller companies go with this option - it's vastly cheaper than a dedicated server, and because there's so many virtual hosting companies out there, you've got lots of options.

The other thing to think about is space: how much will you need? If your site is going to include a large database of products, or any kind of video or audio, you'll need a lot of it. It's important to account for future growth by making a generous initial estimate, and to also find out what extra charges will be incurred if you need more.

2. Bandwidth on the run
Every time you visit a Web site, data is transferred from the Web site's server to your computer. Your browser then interprets the data, and you see the results as a Web page. This data transfer is measured as bandwidth, and all virtual web hosts have some kind of limit as to how much bandwidth you can use in a given period.

It's highly recommended you check into how much bandwidth you are alloted, and the extra costs involved if you go over. Many hosts advertise "unlimited bandwidth", but you should take this with a grain of salt. There's always some kind of limit, so read the fine print or ask a sales rep for the skinny. The key word here is growth. Make sure that if your web business grows, or if the traffic on your site increases, your hosting company is up to the task.

3. Get Supported
Possibly one of the most important aspects of host hunting is determining the available customer support. Make sure the company you're interested in has good customer support options - preferably email and telephone support around the clock, plus FAQ's and other resources available on their company Web site. If something goes wrong, this is usually your only contact with the company, so the customer service had better be good.

At the same time, find out if the company has an uptime guarantee. If your host's server is always down, no one can view your site, which can cost you business. It doesn't bode too well for you if you send a client to look at your site and it's down, does it? Many companies guarantee at least a certain percentage of uptime per year.

4. The Check's in the Email
Email is quickly becoming the predominant business communication tool, so it's imperative that your host's email services are reliable and extensive. At the very least, you should have access to POP3 email, which allows you to retrieve your email directly to your computer. Many hosts also provide email forwarding services, which allow you to set up email addresses which forward anything sent to them, or a web-based email interface, which allows users to view their mail from any computer with an Internet connection.

5. Toys! More Toys!
Knowing what services you need for your Web site can be an exercise in options insanity. Do you want your catalogue online? Then you'll probably need some kind of database system like Microsoft Access, MySQL, Cold Fusion or Oracle (to name a few). Want to accept orders online? Say hello to server-scripting languages like Perl, PHP, ASP, Java and countless others. Want to have streaming video or audio on your site? Then you'll need a server capable of delivering Real or QuickTime content. Often this means more money, so it's a good idea to talk to you designer to find out exactly what services you'll need for your site.
The silly word of the day: Scalability
Whether you're sick of those Internet catchwords (convergence, anyone?) or not, the magic word to remember is scalability. Think about the future. What happens if your business is massively successful - can your host keep up with the bandwidth demands, and will they charge you a small fortune for it? Or, if you hire a whole whack of new employees, can you get more email addresses easily and cheaply, or are you limited to a certain number? By planning for this kind of growth when you chose a host, you'll save yourself the agonizing possibility of having to switch hosts later on.

L'addition, s'il vous plait
Once you've chosen a host, it's time to pay the bill. Before you do that, make sure you go through the company's TOS (Terms Of Service) with a fine-toothed comb. Ensure there's nothing nasty hidden in the small print that could be a problem later. Also, just as with any business deal, make sure to get a full disclosure on the terms of any contract you enter in with the company. Many companies like to tie clients into yearly contracts, and while this may save you a bit of money up front, it's best to ensure that all is well before signing on the dotted line.

The Real World
Don't forget about the real world when making your decision, too. Ask fellow entrepeneurs who they host their Web site with. Pick your designer/developer's brain for tips and leads. Be informed, and bask in the glory of your online Web site! Good luck!


Some Interesting Hosting Links
There's a staggering number of hosting review sites out there, and the difference in content quality varies wildly from site to site. It's recommended that you check multiple sites for information on a host you're interested in, to get a clearer, more accurate picture. Here's just a sampling:
HostInvestigator

HostIndex

HostGlobal

Web Host Directory

HostCompare
[ In particular, check out HostCompare's incredible list of hosting articles and Web sites. ]
Other hosting resources
A very well written, straight talking article on hosting can be found at Forumhosts.com

Also, check out online bulletin boards like WebHostingTalk, the SitePoint Community forums, and Usenet newsgroups like alt.www.webmaster for more help. Do searches on these and the resources above for Hosts you're interested in. If you find a lot of negative reviews and comments, the host could be trouble and you should proceed with caution.

Free Web Space
What? Free Web hosting? They say, "You get what you pay for", but if you're on a welterweight budget, you might want to try searching at this extensive freebie resource.

ClientTell
Anything you wanted to know about web hosting (but were afraid to ask), and more!

What Is?
What the heck is ASP? What's a packet? Find out what all of those mystifying words mean and more here, and appease your inner nerd.

Hiring a Web Designer

Part Two of a Three part Small Business series

Once you've procured a domain name, it's time to start thinking about hiring a web designer. Trust us: Don't design it yourself unless you've really believe you know what you're doing. The results can be nasty.

Web designers come in all sorts of price ranges and levels of competency, so it's often an uphill battle finding the perfect balance of cost-effectiveness, talent and web know-how. Some things to think about before making this crucial decision:
  1. Know what you want.
    If you don't communicate what you want, there's a good chance you'll be unhappy with the end result. Do a little comparison shopping - look at competitor's sites, browse the web and put together a list of things you'd like for your own site before you start speaking to consultants. Above all, figure out who the audience will be for your site, as their needs are paramount - don't please your users and your site will fail.
  2. Be aware of the costs.
    That fancy animation you loved on someone else's site may look amazing, but be sure to understand the additional costs these kinds of things carry. The more complex or flashy you want your site to be usually adds to the final bill, and sometimes requires hiring a specialist, which can be even more costly. You're not made of money, are you?
  3. Think about content.
    No matter how many graphics you have on your site, you'll still need text content to get your point across. Product descriptions, "About Us" pages, price lists... someone has to write this stuff, and if you're not willing (or able) to, you'll have to either hire someone else, or find a designer to can do both design and content for you. Of course, either option means more costs, so if you can, do it yourself.
Look, look and look again
Once you've got your wish list together, it's time to start looking for a designer. Do Internet searches, talk to business associates and get the word out that you're looking. There's such a burgeoning number of web designers and firms out there, it shouldn't be too hard to find ton of possibilities.

Things to look for when looking at possible candidates' web sites:
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Do you find the information you're looking for easily?
  • Does it look professional, or do you find the design loud, garish or plain annoying?
  • Does the site load quickly?
  • Is there blinking text? This is almost always a true sign of a novice, as it's nearly universally agreed among designers (and surfers, too!) that blinking text is completely obnoxious.
And, possibly most important of all: does the designer have an online portfolio? If so, take a look at some of the designer's past work, with an equally discerning eye. A good designer's portfolio will have a variety of looks and feels, be aesthetically pleasing and above all, each design should accurate reflect each business's needs.

Talk the talk.
Once you've narrowed the field, contact the designers or firms and ask if they can provide a general price list or range for services. Many won't, but you'll know right away if a company is out of your range if they do.

Set up a meeting with the ones you're interested in. Bring your features wish list and prepare a list of questions in advance to ask. Is your candidate friendly and willing to listen to your needs? It's very important to make sure you feel comfortable with the person you decide to hire. If the designer or firm representative has major attitude or the social skills of wet, moldy toast, walk away.

It's not worth your while to deal with someone with attitude, no how talented they may be.

The price is right
Once you've found a designer that you're happy with, it's time to nail down a price. Most designers and firms will work on a per-project basis, which means that they will be paid a flat rate for the entire project.

This is probably more advantageous to you as you will know right away how much the site will cost - there's no surprise charges or overtime fees you sometimes find with payment on an hourly rate. You'll probably also have to put down some kind of deposit - anywhere from 20% to 50% of the total cost is typical.

Get it in writing
Make sure to get it in writing! You don't need to have a contract written up, but it's very important for you (and for your designer) to have the terms of service spelled out, plus payment details and delivery dates. Sometimes, you can find a designer willing to work on spec (where they design a mockup or prototype for you, and then, if you're happy a contract is signed and a deposit is made), but usually you should already know if the designer fits your needs by your research.

Once the contract is signed and you've "signed off" (confirmed your approval) on a prototype for your site, let the designer go do the job. Don't hassle them with calls of, "Is it ready?" or "When can I see something?" until the time you've agreed on for delivery has come. You won't be helping the process, and many designers can't stand being called at all hours of the day with questions.

Check and double check
Once the final product has been delivered, go through it with a fine-toothed comb to ferret out any errors (including spelling mistakes!) You usually get a short period of time to makes small changes and fixes, so take advantage of this. Congratulations! Now, watch for our next installment, where we will deal with finding a good Web host for your new site!

Registering a Domain Name

Part One of a three part Small Business series

Location, location, location: it's one of the oldest commandments in the small business success bible. Find a prime location, they say, and business will find its way to you. Set up shop on the outskirts of town, and watch the cobwebs accumulate on your account ledger.

The same rule applies for the hurly-burly frontier of the World Wide Web. Domain names are the addresses of the e-business world, and if you've chosen a poor one, woe be your website's fate. But, how to choose a successful one?

There's gold in them hills
With the seemingly unstoppable flood of domain names being registered (estimated at 60,000 names per day and increasing) it's becoming more and more difficult to find names that are still available. Who would believe that someone has actually registered www.perfectsideburns.com? Or even www.pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis.com (coincidentally enough, the longest word in the English language)? With the highly publicized sale of choice domain names like www.business.com ($7.5 million), or www.loans.com ($3 million), it's gold-rush fever.

Head to the top... level, that is
Add to this already complicated matter the numerous "top-level domains" available, and registering your domain name could become a small nightmare. Top-level domains are the last section of the name which define either what country the name was registered in, or used to denote what category the applicant fell under (like dot-com for a commercial site, dot-net for Internet-based, or dot-org for an organization). With the rush for good names, this categorization of names has been tossed, so you're just as likely to find a business with a dot-org domain as an organization with a dot-com.

Choosing a new name
Because so many domain names have been snapped up by people intent on cashing in on the high demand for quality names, it's very possible that your business name may already be taken. If this is the case, try to remember these handy tips when registering a name:
  1. Names should be easy to remember.
    Domain names can be up to 67 characters, but that doesn't mean yours should be that long. Shorter is definitely sweeter here, as a short and memorable name makes it easier for people to find your site. And, if you can, try to avoid using hyphens in your name. It's easy for people to forget to add them when typing the name in.

  2. Know the competition.
    If you're forced to choose a different name than what your business name is, think about other business in your field. Do you want to choose a name similar to theirs (and possibly get lost in the crowd), or go against the grain and choose something different? Researching your competition will help you make an educated decision.

  3. Name for the future
    Sure, businesses with web addresses starting with e-something or i-something might be the trendy thing, but what happens in a year when this naming convention is out of vogue? Try to choose something that will (hopefully) stand the test of time.

  4. A name is just a name.
    It doesn't matter if you choose the coolest name in the world - if the business side isn't well developed, no www.werock.com can make up for sloppy business practices and poor customer service.
Digging up WHOIS
If a name you're interested in has been registered, you can find out who owns the name by doing a WHOIS lookup. This will provide you with the name of the registrant, plus other info like contact information. This information is available from the organizations in charge of domain names, such as InterNIC (the most well-known and common), and relative upstarts like the European CoreNIC.

Other options
And finally, don't panic if your dot-com or dot-ca name isn't available. You could still try to buy a name from one of the countless domain name resellers out there, or go with a dot-net name. There's even many other country codes (like dot-tv for Tuvalu, or dot-nu for the tiny country of Niue) that might add something interesting to the name you desire. Or, you could try out a redirection service, who will provide a shorter, easier name for your website address, like yourcompany.web.com.

So, take a deep breath, start jotting down ideas, and check out the resources we've collected to help you in your quest for your own piece of the internet. Good luck!

Dressing to Thrill

Halloween Special 2000

You've been invited to a swank, hoity-toity Halloween party this year. What costume should you wear that will knock people's socks off? Should you go as a super heroic earthworm? Jo-Jo the psychic flamingo? A single-cell organism? Trent, the talking beer can?

Anything goes
According to many costume shops, this year's theme is "anything goes", as no new, trendy outfit has yet made their ghostly appearance. "This year is actually quite odd, as there is no outstanding theme," Margot Loveseth of Calgary's The Costume Shoppe told Sympatico-Lycos. "Usually, the trends that really jump out come from the movies - Austin Powers, Batman, Star Wars - nothing like that, this year."

Joyce Koke of Brandon, Manitoba's Country Costumes agreed. "There hasn't been a trend yet. Usually, you see one by now, but I haven't noticed any."

As for the Star Wars merchandise phenomenon, Ms. Koke sees the lucrative sci-fi marketing machine as a Halloween no-show. "I was expecting Star Wars to become really popular in the costumes," she explained. "We brought in the costumes, and no one has asked to even try them on."

Let's do the time warp again...
BEWARE! It's the dastardly Disco Pumpkin!What seems to be happening across Canada is that what's old is still good. "The retro trend is continuing," clarified Ms. Loveseth. "It started coming about two years ago, and then Austin Powers really threw it over the edge."

The retro trend is evolving, though, into other cheesy chic areas of yore. "Now we're seeing hippies," said Ms. Loveseth, "and a little bit of disco."

Disco Sucks! Gladiator Rules!
So does this mean that you'll have to dig through your closet for those horrific Saturday Night Live Tony Manero hot pants come Halloween? According to Douglas at Toronto's Malabar Limited, the disco-queasy may have other options.

"This year, we've had a few more gladiator rentals - Roman soldiers, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra - they're always popular," he explained, adding that knight costumes are also in demand. "Guys tend to go for the warrior stuff, and woman are getting baroque gowns and things like that - the sexy stuff."

Bring out the Party Animal
Douglas also mentioned a new interesting series of masks called "Party Animals". He described them as a foam appliance that you apply to your face, adding, "The best thing with these are, you can talk, you can eat, you can drink in them, and they don't affect anything you do." He put their price in the $80 to $100 range.

"If you're somebody that's opposed to doing a rubber mask on your face, and need something a little better, a little easier to put on, in terms of makeup or to change your look entirely, they're really good to do."

Get on the good foot
But, if you want to go with the flow, retro seems to be your best ticket. "There's three girls standing in my office door with giant bouffants, " Ms. Loveseth said, laughing, "so the retro trend is definitely a thing this year."

Horrifying Movie Madness

Halloween Special 2000

If you're looking for a good, old horrific time at the movies, chances are you may need to look back into cinema's history to fill your scary movie needs. After all, before director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson made unsuspecting audiences Scream, the horror film genre had slipped into its worst slump ever.

Ironically, it was John Carpenter's Halloween that re-invigorated a slowing industry in 1978 by creating a whole new sub-genre of horror: the Slasher film. From that point on, through the Friday the 13ths and the Nightmare on Elm Streets, horror films increasingly relied on more blood, guts, and heaving bosoms in a desperate attempt to keep audiences interested.

But, long before Halloween, there was black and white. These were the films that got under your skin - the insidious, unrelenting creepy films that conjured up a deeper, more primal fear: fear of the unknown; fear of the mystical; fear of the insane...

And, of course, there were movies that conjure up nothing but intensely sharp, delectable cheese. So, when you bunker down with the lights low to get your fill of Halloween movie heebie-jeebies, don't forget some of these hidden horror classics... and, for goodness sake, don't watch them alone!

Still from the Cabinet of Dr. CaligariCabinet of Dr. Caligari [Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari] - (Robert Wiene: 1920)
This film is one of the most disturbing bits of celluloid to emerge out of pre-WWII Germany. The story follows a hypnotist as he beguiles a poor soul into commiting murders for him, with suitably horrific results. In 52-minutes, the film pulls the viewer into a world of hallucination, fear and delirium, made even more nightmarish by the use of expressionistic sets and unorthodox camera work. Not to be missed, as this is one of the most influential horror films ever made.

Need more German horror? Check out F.W. Munrau's vampire classic Nosferatu, and the equally fine Werner Herzog 1979 remake Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht.
I Walked with a Zombie One SheetI Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
The brilliant collaboration between Frenchman Tourneur and RKO producer Val Lewton resulted in some of the most chilling moments ever. This film followed their equally creepy Cat People, and showcased Tourneur's uncanny mastery of light and shadow. The story is an inspired take off on Jane Eyre, with elements of voodooism and the Caribbean added in for spice. This eloquent, visually stunning film boasts a languid, subtle tone that allows a sense of unease to take hold almost imperceptively in the viewer's mind. Highly recommended.

Other Tourneur / Lewton gems: Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The Leopard Man.
Still from Island of Lost SoulsIsland of Lost Souls (Erle Kenton, 1933)
Forget the disasterous 1996 Marlon Brando remake - the original version from 1933 best captures the horrific tone of writer H.G. Well's vision. The plot follows the misguided experiments of Dr. Moreau (the great Charles Laughton) as he attempts to change evolution by grafting humans and animals together. Look for Dracula star Bela Lugosi as the "Sayer of the Law" - he turns in one of his best performances of his career here. Also of note: This film was nearly banned upon its release for its horrifying ending - an ending that still shocks even today.

Other Mad Scientist spook-fests: The Devil-Doll, X - The Man with the X-ray eyes, Mad Love (not to be confused with the horrible Drew Barrymore movie!)
And, for those who need a bit of humour with their horror:

AIE! Burt Convy!Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, 1959)
Easily the first (and possibly the only) beatnik horror film, this Corman classic follows the horrific events that transpire after Walter Paisley, a lowly busboy (well played by Dick Miller) attempts to break into the artsy bohemian scene with murderous results. With an hilarious script by Charles B. Griffith (featuring a sidesplitting parody of Allen Ginsberg) and good all-around performances, this film is great Halloween fun. Who can resist lines like, "Oh, Walter - take me to a cool, blue place... and gas me!" Watch for the future game show host Bert Convy as Lou.

Other funny scary escapades: Little Shop of Horrors, The Ghost Breakers.

Publishers bank on eBooks

August 29th, 2000

This week, two software powerhouses took electronic publishing to the next page. Yesterday, Adobe Systems announced a new partnership with BarnesandNoble.com to promote and distribute books written in Adobe's PDF technology. Adobe also announced the acquisition of Glassbook, an electronic book software manufacturer.

Electronic books, or "eBooks", are special computer files that contain the text of a printed book. They are viewed using special software such as Microsoft's Reader or the Adobe Acrobat Reader and its PDF file format. There are also small eBook viewing devices presently available, including the Glassbook Reader and Nuvomedia's Rocket eBook

"PDF has no peer in duplicating the printed page, and readers know it," BarnesandNoble.com CEO Stephen Riggio, told PCWorld.com. Riggio also feels confident that electronic books will become a major player in the book industry. "In five years," he said, "there will be a digital copy of every book in our warehouse."

Ironically, this announcement came on the same day that software giant Microsoft announced a partnership with Amazon.com, which will offer a selection of books readable on a customized version of Microsoft's Reader software. Interestingly, Microsoft had already forged a partnership earlier this year with BarnesandNoble.com involving the Reader software.

The publishing industry has recently been showing increased interest in electronic books. Major publishing houses such as Penguin Putnam, HarperCollins, Bertelsmann, Simon & Schuster and Time Warner Books have made deals with Microsoft to transform thousands of titles into electronic versions. And, earlier this summer, horrormeister Stephen King became the first major author to distribute his work electronically, first with the novella Riding the Bullet and currently with the serial The Plant.

Online bookseller Fatbrain.com has also made major advances in electronic publishing, launching Mightywords.com this summer to distribute thousands of titles using the Adobe PDF format. And software already exists to enable handheld computers like the Palm Pilot and Windows CE/Pocket PC to display ebooks.

This new technology is poised to revolutionize the publishing industry, in a similar way to how the MP3 format is shaking up the recording industry. "My friends, we have a chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare," said Stephen King on his Web site.

Related Links Links to Publishers

Hollywood hears a Hoo!

November 9, 2000



With the Hollywood hype machine prepping for the upcoming high-priced live-action remake of the animated holiday classic How the Grinch stole Christmas (opening November 17th), it's easy to forget about the original TV special, and its soft-spoken creator, known to millions of children and adults as Dr. Seuss.



Image of Thedor GeiselTheodor Seuss Geisel (Seuss is his mother's maiden name) wrote 47 books, which have been translated into 18 languages and sold more than 100 million copies.



Though Seuss is one of the most popular childrens' authors of all time, he himself was childless: "You make 'em, I amuse them," he once said. And indeed he seems to have known children at least as well as any parent.



"Children want the same things we want," he said. "To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted."



Green Eggs and Cats in Hats

Some of his most famous works came out of interesting circumstances. For example, in 1954 Life magazine published an article lamenting the poor quality of writing for children. In response to this, Geisel's publisher sent him a list of 400 words he felt were important, asked him to cut the list down to 250, and then to write a book using only those remaining words.



As the tale goes, Geisel read the list repeatedly, trying to find a way to create a story out of it. After many fruitless attempts, and in desperation, Geisel chose two words that rhymed, and simply made them the title of the book.



The result was one of Geisel's best selling works, The Cat in the Hat.



"I found 'cat', and then I found 'hat' ", he explained, "That's genius, you see!"



Following this success, his long-time editor and the founder of the publishing company Random House, Bennett Cerf, bet Geisel fifty dollars that he couldn't write a book that drew from just fifty words.



His response? His most popular work, Green Eggs and Ham, which has sold millions of copies around the world.



"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells," Geisel was quoted as saying. "Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities."



Geisel passed away in September of 1991.



How the Grinch stole Seuss

This year, interest in Geisel's work has dramatically increased, with the recent opening of a brand new, multimillion-dollar Broadway musical ("Seussical: The Musical"), and the November 17th release of Universal Studios' How the Grinch stole Christmas.



Universal Studios obviously sees dollar signs in the Grinch, after paying five million dollars to Geisel's wife Audrey for film rights (plus a percentage of the films profits), hiring Jim Carrey to play the Grinch (at a cost of $20 million), and then spending over $120 million on the film's production. The film is directed by Apollo 13 director Ron Howard.



The film's promotional department is poised to blanket consumers with Grinch-inspired merchandise, including an perviously unheard-of deal with the US Postal Service to have merchandise sold at postal outlets across the United States. There are even plans for tie-ins such as green Oreos and a Seuss-themed amusement park.



Ms. Geisel is reportedly not happy with the final result, complaining, "There's too much bathroom jokes. That's not the Seuss world, not at all."



Related Links

Random House's Seussville

Cyber-Seuss: A fan's Web site

Cranky Critic article on Ron Howard / The Grinch that stole Christmas

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

Another Theodor Geisel Biography

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [Review]

December 22nd, 2000
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Neil Lee, martial arts, movie review, kung fu
Chow Yun Fat bring meditative Kung-Fu to the masses in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Directed by:
Ang Lee



Starring:

Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen



Written by:

James Schamus, Wang Hui Ling, Tsai Kuo Jung



Running time:

119 minutes



Classification:

PG-13



Opens:

December 8th (Toronto & Vancouver)

December 22nd (Wider release in select cities)

Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon does the seemingly impossible - it manages to take one of the most populist film genres (the martial arts movie) and remakes it into something gorgeously meditative and narcotic. Lee describes his film as, "a kind of dream of China, a China that probably never existed," and in viewing his 'dream', it's apparent just how deep Lee's feelings are for his homeland. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon oozes sublimity.


Described perfectly by the director as, "Sense and Sensibility with martial arts", Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's story follows a similar path as a historical costume drama, but with a kung-fu twist. Li Mu Bai (brilliantly played by Chow Yun-Fat) is a great warrior ready to retire from a life of high kicks and clenched fists. He begins his move into retirement by giving his famous sword, named 'Green Destiny', away to his longtime friend Yu Hus Lien, played by Michelle Yeoh. North American audiences best know Yeoh from her high action roles in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and fellow action star Jackie Chan's SuperCop.



The sword becomes the catalyst for a convoluted turn of events after it is stolen from its resting place at a Governor's house, which in turn provokes an epic struggle between Li Mu Bai, Yu Hus Lien and a young, hot tempered girl named Jen Yu, played by the amazing Zhang Ziyi. Keep your eye on Zhang - she's poised for a huge breakthrough with her outstanding performance here.



The martial arts work in this film is jaw dropping in its speed and complexity, made even more amazing by the fact that the actors themselves perform all of the fighting. It's something that's absent from most American action films, and is even more astounding when you consider that most of the actors had very little martial arts experience coming into the picture. It comes as no surprise that Yeun Wo-Ping, whose springy, hyper-kinetic work entranced viewers previously in The Matrix, choreographed the fight scenes.



Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Neil Lee, martial arts, movie review, kung fu
Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) demonstrates her flexibility in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Lo and Jen Yu embraceDrawn from a venerable Chinese martial arts genre known as Wuxia Pian, or films of martial chivalry, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fight scenes feature an element which may bewilder North American audiences: flying. In the midst of a flurry of kicks, characters simply shrug off gravity as a minor annoyance and take to the sky.


This lighter-than-air quality makes for one of the most beguiling sequences, where characters fight it out on tree tops sixty feet above the ground. It may also leave some people more used to Jackie Chan / Bruce Lee style martial arts films feeling a bit uncomfortable with the mysticalness of it all. In fact, at a recent viewing of the film, there were a few giggles from the audience the first time a character flew into the air.



All of the performances in this film are impeccable. Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh handle both the chop-socky aspects and the dramatic elements of the script wonderfully, delivering understated and moving performances. It's more incredible once you find out that both Chow and Yeoh had to deliver their lines phonetically, as neither speaks the dialect of Chinese used in the film.



All told, the gorgeous cinematography, excellent character development and beautifully restrained romantic elements all make for a highly entertaining film experience. The movie has already been pegged for Best Picture Oscar status, and has already received three Golden Globe nominations, including Best Foreign language film and best original score.



In fact, the score for the film, composed by Tan Dun and featuring cello solos by the fantastic Yo-Yo Ma is a sleeper hit, selling out at music stores across the country. The score adds another layer of majesty to an already wonderful film brimming with romance, intrigue and karate chops - what more could you ask for from a night at the movies?

Beginner's guide to the CRTC

September 21, 2000
With contributions by Sharon Oosthoek

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is once again in the news with the announcement of yet another mega media merger. With BCE Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Canada's largest private sector television network CTV, critics are questioning the relevance of the CRTC as Canada dives headfirst into the new, multimedia world.

(Sympatico-Lycos is owned in part by BCE.)

The CRTC was established in 1968 by Parliament as a federal communications watchdog. It's responsible for regulating the Canadian television, radio and telecommunications industries. Decisions made by the CRTC affect our daily lives - the amount you pay for telephone service, and the Canadian content in television and radio, for example.

Its mission statement says the regulator's mandate is to "Ensure that Canadian communications contribute fairly and equitably to Canada's economic, social and cultural prosperity." These goals were to be met through a careful mix of regulation, supervision and dialogue with the public.

With the viral-like spread of the Internet, however, it was expected that the CRTC would take a greater interest in the new communications technology. But the regulator's announced on May 17th, 1999 that it would not regulate the Internet, and many analysts now believe the CRTC is not capable of fulfilling its mandate.

"We acknowledge the concerns raised by many parties on these issues," CRTC chairwoman Franoise Bertrand told The Globe and Mail. "In keeping with our approach to the Internet, however, we will not regulate offensive and illegal content."

This hands-off approach is not sitting well with analysts, who believe the CRTC is an old-world regulator in a new world environment. "It was a solution carved out in a different age," Carlton University journalism professor Chris Dornan told The Globe and Mail. "They [the CRTC] have a lot of head-scratching and thinking to do here."

BCE's move to acquire CTV, and now newspaper giant the Globe and Mail, raises the question of whether the CRTC is capable of handling the rapid rise of media convergence in Canada. The CRTC's mandate does not cover newspapers - only television, radio and telecommunications.

Jean-Pierre Blais, executive director of broadcasting for the CRTC disagrees with critics who question the regulator's effectiveness in the world of new media. He believes the CRTC's mandate is flexible and broad enough to cope with rapid technological changes and mergers. "The world is changing, and it's changing quickly. It's important for the commission to be nimble and act quickly."

Related Links
CRTC's Web site
Who are the CRTC?
BCE's Web site
CTV's Web site
The Globe and Mail: BCE-CTV deal under scrutiny - September 18, 2000
National Post: Monty will have his way with CRTC - September 18, 2000
The Globe and Mail: The Internet is Regulated enough- May 19, 1999

B.C. Wage increase raises blood pressure

August 30, 2000

The B.C. government wants to raise its minimum wage, but its also raised the hackles of the business community. The increase, to eight dollars an hour, is 85 cents higher than B.C.'s present level of $7.15.

The planned pay increase comes in two steps. On November 1st, minimum wages will rise to $7.60, followed by a second increase November 1st, 2001 to the approved $8.00.

The B.C. government didn't arrive at this decision lightly, spending months in discussions with various government, labour, business and anti-poverty groups before rendering their decision. B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh agreed that there would be criticisms of the government's plan, but stated in the National Post today, "It is time to give our lowest-paid workers a pay raise."

Analysts and business owners believe this move will increase layoffs and result in fewer jobs in the future, due to shrinking profits. "People are going to be laid off, no question," B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association chairman Geoffery Howes told the Globe and Mail, "Put very simply, this [wage] increase means that our members have to find a way to use less labour."

"The new minimum wage helps low-income families the most," said B.C. Labour minister Joy MacPhail in a news release today, "We want to improve their standard of living and ensure they can participate fully in our growing economy."

Still, many business associations dispute the government's belief that this will be a win-win situation for low-income families. One person who disagrees is Mark Startup, president of the Retail Merchants Association of B.C. who said in the Globe and Mail today, "There have been multitudes of studies done in Canada and the U.S. states that refute this. What [the government] is not saying, is that this increase will make it much harder for unskilled or underskilled workers, who are primarily youth, to get a job in B.C."

The increase also raises questions if other provinces will follow B.C.'s lead and also raise their minimum wages, as has happened in the past. Many provinces raised their minimum wages in 1999. A few provinces, though, including Ontario and Nova Scotia, have not raised theirs in nearly four years, with Ontario's the same since it was last raised to its present level of $6.85 on January 1st, 1995.

Current minimum wage levels by province


Other Related Links

BC Government News Release

DOW Chemical's Statement
B.C. Government's regulatory impact statement on the wage increase.

Retail Merchants Association of B.C. Web site

B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association Web site

Salary Comparison Calculator
Compare the cost of living between many major Canadian Cities.

Salaries Review Survey
Salary comparisons and cost of living surveys from all over Canada.

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