Accountability

Although it’s tempting to forget the disastrous policies and illegal actions of the Bush administration over the previous 8 years and consign them to a dark, forgotten corner of our collective memory, it’s important to remember just how many laws were broken and lives were lost.

I was a long-time supporter of the movement to impeach George Bush when he was President, and now that he’s (thankfully!) no longer in office, I support the movement to indict him and other key members of his administration for war crimes and crimes against the Constitution of the United States:


Click the banner to find out more about the movement to indict George Bush and the other criminals in his administration.

Black Friday

In the United States, Black Friday falls on the last Friday of November, immediately after Thanksgiving. It is considered by many to be the “official” start of the Christmas holiday shopping season, and is typically the busiest shopping day of the year for retailers — many of whom whip up a frenzy of consumer demand by opening very early and offering deep discounts and loss leaders for just a few hours on aspirational products such as consumer electronics.

This last Friday was a very black day indeed for the family and friends of Jdimytai Damour, the 34 year old employee of a WalMart store in Valley Stream, Long Island, who was trampled to death by a crowd of approximately 2,000 frenzied bargain hunters who, after waiting in line for hours for the store’s 5am opening, broke down the doors and stampeded through a human chain of terrified staff into the store.

According to reports, hundreds of people stepped on Jdimytai Damour’s body in their rush to buy products such as heavily discounted HDTV’s and DVD’s. Even more sickening are the reports that some shoppers refused to leave when the staff attempted to clear the store, and simply continued shopping.

What makes people behave like this? Even in the midst of a recession, this insatiable hunger to hunt and “kill” bargains, to consume at all costs, is enough to turn ordinary shoppers into a frenzied mob that will willingly sacrifice a human life for a half-price flat-screen TV. Could it be a genetic hang-over from a prehistoric pack hunting mentality? Are heavily-discounted consumer electronics the woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers of contemporary times?

The only possible silver lining to this whole appalling story is that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the U.S. economy will come out of this recession sooner or later.

Here’s the BBC’s report on this sad and shocking story, which is nowhere near as graphic as many of the American news networks, but will at least continue to be accessible for the foreseeable future: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7755278.stm

Bike MS NYC

Just over a week ago I took part in Bike MS NYC, a charity bike ride on behalf of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I was talked into it by my old friend Johnny Diamandis, who told me that it would be 60km. However, it turned out that he was a bit confused between kilometers and miles, and the ride ended up being 66 miles!

I didn’t do a lot of training for the ride, although I did use it as an excuse to buy a new bike (see blogs passim). However, thanks to the generosity of friends and colleagues, I was able to raise $1,210 in sponsorship.

The day of the ride started very badly — I had to get up at 5:30am while it was still cold and dark outside, and cycled through a torrential rain storm over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to meet Johnny at Houston & Lafayette, and then Lee at something like 42nd and 2nd, before heading over to Pier 94 for the start of the ride. I also had a bit of a verbal altercation with an elderly motorist who was honking his horn at us repeatedly for several blocks.

The rain had eased off by the time we arrived and took our places in the starting chutes, but then it got heavier again just before the start at 7:30am.

We set off South down the West Side Highway, went under a tunnel and around the base of Manhattan, and then made our way up FDR Drive on the East Side. The rain was unfortunate, but thankfully the sky started to clear up a bit as we hit Harlem, and before too long we hit the first rest stop at Inwood Hill Park.

Although it had pretty much stopped raining, we were soaked through and cold, and were disappointed to discover that there were no hot drinks on offer — just water and power bars.

For the next leg us rejoined the West Side Highway again and headed South back towards Pier 94, where the ride ended for the 30 milers, but where the 66 and 100 milers were funneled off and allowed through the Lincoln Tunnel in groups. Going through the tunnel was a lot of fun!

By the time we emerged into New Jersey, the sun was trying to peek out from behind the clouds, and it wasn’t long before we reached the next rest stop at Lincoln Harbor for more energy drinks, power bars, fruit and water.

The third leg of the ride was quite tough — by this time we were riding on roads with regular vehicle traffic, and there was a steep climb up through New Jersey to the Palisades Interstate Park.

Riding in the Palisades was great once we got off the road and into the park, although there were a few more brutal hills to climb. Eventually we made it to the last rest stop for us 66 milers, Kiku Restaurant, around lunchtime.

Finally it was time for the homeward leg back down Route 9W South, over the George Washington Bridge and back down to Pier 94. I was pretty tired by this point — my knee, neck and shoulders were aching, and I didn’t have a lot of energy going up any hills.

However, I made it back to Pier 94 around 1:30pm, met up with Johnny and Lee who had got there a few minutes before me, and after getting a medal, immediately started gorging myself on hot beverages and barbecued food.

I was also entitled to go into the “MVP” area (I never did find out what that is an acronym for) because I’d raised over $1,000, and so had a couple of glasses of wine, dipped some banana pieces in the chocolate fountain, and had a much-needed 20-minute chair massage.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable event despite the inclement weather and fatigue because I had excellent company in the form of Johnny and Lee.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Last weekend I saw a band that I’ve been listening to in one form or another for almost 25 years — Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Gardens.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the 51-year old Cave, although unlike many of the bands from my teenage years, he’s put out a steady stream of quality work in multiple media for the best part of three decades (I also saw Echo & the Bunnymen earlier in the same week, and they only had a couple of songs more recent than the eighties).

I needn’t have worried — the band’s performance in the full-to-capacity venue was electric, and Cave ran around the stage with a manic yet darkly comedic energy.

My only complaint about the gig was that the sound was so loud when it peaked that it hurt and sometimes sounded distorted to my middle aged ears!

I’ve also been listening to Grinderman a lot recently, another Nick Cave project which Paul Facer tipped me off too. I highly recommend it.

Introduction to Metadata, 3rd edition

Introduction to Metadata, Online Edition, version 3 is finally available on the Getty’s website.

It contains essays by Tony Gill, Anne J. Gilliland, Maureen Whalen, and Mary S. Woodley, and was expertly edited by Murtha Baca.

I’m glad this has finally come out, because I completely rewrote my essay, Metadata and the Web, back in 2006, with another update in 2007 — but this field moves so fast, I was worried that the whole essay would become out of date before it was even published!

The paperback version (somewhat confusingly referred to as the Second Edition, as there was an online-only update in between print updates) has been available for a few months now, and can be ordered from the Getty’s website for $30.

Introduction to Metadata - Cover

Introduction to Metadata: Pathways to Digital Information, Cover illustration from 2nd print edition.

New Bike

I bought myself a new bicycle this weekend: A 2008 model Scott SUB 20, for $650 plus tax. I shopped around for it for quite a while, which meant visiting several bike shops: You can’t really buy a bike online unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for, because even slight changes in frame geometry or componentry can completely change the feel of the bike, so you really have to ride them first.

So far, I’m very happy with my purchase; It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for, and I covered 28 miles on it straight after picking it up from the bike shop on Sunday with no problems whatsoever.

SUB stands for “Speed Utility Bicycle,” because this is a hybrid bike — a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike — that’s designed for the urban environment. It has a lightweight aluminium frame, low-resistance 700c road bike wheels with fairly slick tyres and a just-above-entry-level 27-speed Shimano drivetrain. But it also has flat handlebars, and it doesn’t have any quick-release components (using a bike in the city, quick-release equals quick goodbye!).

It occurs to me that this is the first new bicycle I’ve ever bought, and the first new one I’ve had since I was a child (a select few people will still remember my old 5-speed Raleigh Arena, followed by the 10-speed Falcon Black Diamond). It replaces an old cruiser mountain bike that I bought used in Berkeley, CA, about 8 years ago, to take to Burning Man.

That old mountain bike was heavy and clunky and had pretty basic components, but it was the perfect city cruiser — in 8 years, all I changed were two brake blocks, and it was always exactly where I left it, no matter where it was locked up. I advertised it for $50 on Craig’s List last night, and was amazed how quickly it sold!

I’ve been meaning to get a better bike for a while now, but have had some extra motivation recently: My friend Johnny persuaded me to sign up for the Bike MS New York City ride in October, a charity 60km ride in aid of multiple sclerosis.

This means that I’m looking for sponsors! If you’d like to sponsor me for any amount, no matter how small, please go to my sponsorship homepage at:

http://msnyc.kintera.org/bikems/tonygill

Crash!

I just saw a really dramatic car crash on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and feel compelled to write my first blog post in 3 months about it.

I was walking south on Court street between Sackett and Degraw when I first heard and then saw a black BMW 540 accelerating hard across the junction, presumably trying to beat the lights.

The car made it across the intersection, but the roads were slick from the rain that’d been falling on and off all afternoon, and the thing about Beemers is that they’re all rear-wheel drive… Pretty soon the BMW began fish-tailing wildly all over the road before spinning out of control and slamming into at least two other cars — a parked, unoccupied Mercedes C230, and a mid-sized Ford SUV (an Explorer, maybe) with a single driver aboard.

Incredibly, no-one was injured. The driver of the BMW (which had Carolina plates) got out and started walking around to survey the scene. He looked pretty calm, although was probably in mild shock. I spoke to the driver of the Ford — an elderly local guy — and gave him my details after confirming he was OK in case he needed a witness.

I was struck by how easily there could have been a cyclist or a pedestrian in the middle of this demolition derby; without the protection of a steel safety cage around them, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Just now I had a very frustrating call with Apria Healthcare, and feel compelled to vent about the APPALLING GOUGING BY U.S. HEALTHCARE COMPANIES here.

About a year ago, a representative of Apria Healthcare brought a CPAP machine to my house to help me with my sleep apnea. The model that they supplied me with — a Fisher-Paykel HC230 — can be purchased online for $399. I received a couple of bills totalling about $70, which I figured must be my co-pay, and assumed that my health insurance company (Healthnet) had covered the rest. So far, all well and good.

Then earlier this year I received another bill from Apria for $295. Confused, I figured that they must have billed me in error before receiving payment from Healthnet, and so ignored it. However, a week ago I received another bill saying that I was “seriously delinquent” on my account.

When I called them this morning and asked what the bill was for, they said that it was my 50% co-pay for the equipment.

“How can that be?” I said, “these machines can be bought online for $400, and I’ve already paid about $70, so how can my 50% co-pay be $300?”

I was told “Apria has a pricing agreement with Healthnet.”

My response: “What’s the point of having health insurance at all if it costs me just as much as it would to buy the equipment myself online?”

I couldn’t get too angry at the courteous Apria representative on line, because there was a note of shame and resignation in her voice when she confirmed that “a lot of people ask that.”

Birthday Party

I have a big milestone birthday coming up next month, so I’m throwing a party with my girlfriend Lori Ann (who is also having a big birthday next month) to celebrate.

We haven’t found a venue yet, but the date’s fixed — Saturday 17th May 2008.

New Job

I’ve been doing my new job as Global Library Science Specialist for a new (and as-yet unnamed) advertising agency for almost two weeks now, and so far, it’s been a lot of fun.

Because the agency — which will be unveiling its name at the end of the month — is new, there is a definite start-up buzz, but the fact that it’s part of a large existing marketing communications group means that there’s a good amount of basic infrastructure in place already.

Earlier this week I went out to Austin, Texas, to visit the client (a large computer manufacturer) to talk about digital asset management, and I’m going back again next week too.