Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Book Review: The Guns of Shadow Valley

On this weeks review we will take a bit of a detour and review The Guns of Shadow Valley. A webcomic co-created by Dave Wachter and Jim Clark with Dave handling the illustration duties as well.

I originally heard about Guns when I attended the Comic Geek Speak Super Show back in September of 2008. At the show Dave was selling a preview of Guns with the Hollywood tag line Imagine The Magnificent Seven with super-powers which is supposed to put you in the mind set of a spaghetti western where the gun slingers are not quite what they seem. I really fell in love with premise so I bought the preview book and was not disappointed.

What has disappointed me is that no major comic book company has taken a chance on this book which confuses me to no end. Regardless Dave has decided to start posting up his pages as a twice a week web comic. As of this writing the first 14 pages are on-line and it gives you a good indication of what is to come. Please check it out.

I'm really digging Dave's art so much so I commissioned him to draw me a Sandman for this years Windy City Comic Con.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Terry Fox Run 2009

Once again this year I am proudly supporting The Terry Fox Foundation in its ongoing work to fund innovative and progressive cancer research programs.

I very much hope you will consider making a donation in support of my effort, confident in the knowledge that your kindness will impact the lives of so many people living with cancer. I share the following message with you, as I believe it reflects the core philosophy of this organization and one of the many reasons I choose to support it:
The Terry Fox Foundation firmly believes in its obligation to be fully transparent in all matters relating to fiscal reporting. With only 3 cents of every dollar raised going towards administration, and ten cents going towards fundraising costs, the Foundation is an industry leader in fundraising accountability.
You can donate to me directly and securely by accessing my personal fundraising page:

Thank you in advance for your generosity and support of my goal.
Simon Mac Donald

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Coffee Cup on Twitter

Did you ever wonder what your coffee cup is thinking? Well now you can find out by following your cup of joe on twitter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Starbucks Pricing Changes

Starbucks has changed their pricing retroactive last Thursday. Fancy drinks are going up 15 to 30 cents while regular drinks like coffee and lattes are going down 5 to 15 cents.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Book Review: Good to Great

I recently finished listening to Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. In it the author, Jim Collins, combs through years of data to find 11 companies who've made the jump from good to great. Those 11 companies were Abbot Labs, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo of which Circuit City and Fannie Mae's inclusions really made me laugh due to their recent troubles. However you have to take it with two grains of salt 1) the book was written in 2001 and 2) they had a great run before they lost their way.

My favourite part about the book was the Hedgehog Concept:
You’ll know that you’re getting closer to your Hedgehog Concept when you align three intersecting circles that represent three pivotal questions: What can we be the best in the world at? (And equally important—what can we not be the best at?) What is the economic denominator that best drives our economic engine (profit or cash flow per “x”)? And what are our core people deeply passionate about? Answer those three questions honestly, facing the brutal facts without blinking, and you’ll begin to see your Hedgehog Concept emerge.

As I was listening to the book it struck me that the hedgehog concept could work not only for businesses but for individuals as well. If you can find something that you are passionate about, that you are skilled at and can make a living at you will be a happier person. Sometimes this means giving up that high paying job for something that you enjoy doing more. In the long run you'll be more successful. If you don't believe me you should read Jonathan Coulton's bio.

Anyway, it's a great book and it's well worth the listen from a personal standpoint even if you are not a Fortune 500 CEO.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Caffeine and Headaches

A Norwegian study links caffeine consumption to causing and curing headaches. To much and you'll get an occasional headache. Too little and you run a greater risk of chronic headaches. My own personal sweet spots seems to be two cups of coffee a day with an unlimited amount of tea on the side.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Book Review: Groovy Recipes

I've heard a lot about Groovy in the past and I always wanted to learn more about it. What I didn't want though is a book that spends a chapter on what object orientation, another on explaining if statements and while loops and an appendix where the entire API is reproduced in order to pad out the book. I really wanted to get right into the meat of the language and start doing things right away. That's why I turned to the Pragmatic Bookshelf and Groovy Recipes: Greasing the Wheels of Java.

For those of you who are not familiar with Groovy it is a dynamic language that runs on the Java Virtual Machine and it can access the full Java API.

In Groovy Recipes you get a quick introduction to Groovy. Then you are off and running learning the fine differences between XmlSlurper and XmlParsers as the XML support in Groovy is top notch. There are sections on Web Services and working with Grails (Groovy web framework). Plus the topic of metaprogramming is covered in detail.

All in all the recipes are easy to follow and useful spring boards for your own ideas. If you are looking to learn more about Groovy you won't be disappointed with Groovy Recipes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hourglass Coffee Maker

This looks like an interesting way to make coffee. The hourglass coffee maker brews coffee over 12 hours using cold water and no electricity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Book Review: The City and the City

China Miéville is the master of the New Weird. Which makes his latest novel The City & The City an interesting departure. At it's core it is a police procedural mystery novel. When a young woman is found dead in Beszel, a crumbling eastern European type city, it is up to police inspector Tyador Borlú to find the culprit. Borlú's investigation leads him to believe that the murder took place in the neighbouring city Ul Qoma. Ul Qoma is a more middle eastern influenced city who is getting a cash infusion from North America.

Now the interesting thing is that these two cities operate as two independent countries. Think along the lines of East and West Berlin after the second World War. However, in typical Miéville fashion it gets weirder than that as the two cities occupy the same geographic location. Your house in Ul Qoma may be on the same street as others from Beszel but you are trained from birth to unsee anything in the other country. It is a hard concept to explain but it makes sense when you are reading the book.

Unseeing is enforced by a meta police force called The Breach. Anytime someone actively violates the unseeing principle it is called breaching and The Breach will be there to take care of the problem. How they take care of the problem is anyone's guess as no one comes back after being taken by The Breach.

Now Borlú must solve the crime while dealing with internal politics, trying not to create and international incident and avoiding breaching himself. The aspect of breaching breaths new life into an otherwise tired genre and I have to recommend this quick 300 page read.

If you are not familiar with Miéville's work I suggest reading Perdido Street Station which is my favourite.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Art of Manliness on Brewing Coffee

Thanks to Greg for the heads up on this good article on The Art of Manliness on brewing coffee. It covers the main points that we've discussed before:
  1. Buy fresh beans
  2. Grind them yourself
  3. Use a French Press

I have a French Press that a friend gave me as a present and it is a great way to brew coffee at work. Much better than the dreck in the break room.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Starbucks Stores without the Starbucks Names

Starbucks is opening a number of stores in Seattle under the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea banner. You can see some photos of the new store. Apparently it will also be possible to buy beer and wine at these new stores.

It seems like an interesting strategy to take a recognized brand name like Starbucks off your store front. I guess they are hoping that consumers will flock to these new stores as a Starbucks alternative. Just like those of us in Ottawa who head to Bridgehead.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dunkin's Donuts Pushing Ahead with More Store Openings

The doughnut chain is pushing ahead with a plan to open hundreds of stores this year to meet growth targets despite a rash of franchisee bankruptcies and a near freeze in restaurant financing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Starbucks in the News

I haven't been tracking the coffee news to closely lately as we've been busy moving but some interesting things happened last week with Starbucks. Apparently their 3Q earnings report beat the streets projections despite a drop in sales and foot traffic. CEO Howard Schultz is not ready to declare victory in the brands turn around just yet. Which is probably for the best as Business Week reports some people are still skeptical as one quarter of results is in so far.