In the News

“Cat/Dead Rat” Rears Its Ugly Head Again (or: How Geeks Can Help with the Katrina Relief Effort)

Photo: Tabby cat holding a computer mouse by its cord in its mouth.

Napoleon Dynamite reference: “I caught you this delicious mouse!”

One of my favourite observations of Paulina Borsook, author of the book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech is what she calls the “Cat/Dead Rat” theory of geek philanthropy. She summarized it in this Mother Jones article from late 2000:

There is a universally acknowledged truth that if a cat loves you, it will give you a dead rat, whether you want a dead rat or not. In high-tech, pretty much the most common instantiantion of communitarian impulses is in the donation of computers, i.e. dead rats.

And lo and behold, Cat/Dead Rat manifested itself again in this Boing Boing posting. There is no doubt that the intent of providing tech assistance is good, but really, my fellow geeks: for the love of Maslow, think about it for a moment! The city of New Orleans is covered in several feet of water that is both undrinkable and a disease vector. The most pressing needs are drinkable water, water to wash in, food, shelter, search and rescue, shoring up high-priority structures and maintaining some kind of civil order. Aside from helping set up some kind of site where people can report missing relatives and friends or collect donations for the relief effort, most of the high-tech help won’t be needed in the immediate future.

Thankfully, Erik V. Olson emailed helpful points to Boing Boing, which they published as an addendum to the entry. Kudos to both! The email is published below.

People want to help. That’s good. The problem is they often can’t, but they think they can. And, in the end, all they really do is get in the way.

The single best thing Joe Geek can do is give cash. Not stuff, cash.

Cash is portable, fast, and useful. Everything else has problems — even if it is something they really and truly need, because it isn’t there, and people and resources are needed to get it there.

The canonical example: Bottled water. Something otherwise useless that is critical in this sort of emergency. So you give a few flats to the ARC. Well, you bought them at retail, and now, the ARC has to put them on a truck (which costs money) and ship them down there (which cost money, and time.)

Let’s say you give them $20 instead. The ARC notes that they need water. So, they call a bottler in a city close to, but not affected by, the storm. They get wholesale or cost prices, as opposed to retail. For the same amount of money, they get far more water, far closer to where they need to be. In six hours, you’re delivering your flats to the local ARC office. In six hours with cash, they’re handing water to people who desperately need it.

Finally, of course, if what they really need is food, your flats of water aren’t helpful, but your cash is.

So, the lesson:

1) Give cash. That’s the best thing you can do from your home.

2) Stay the hell away from New Orleans. Seriously. They’re ordering everyone out, that includes you. Do not go.

3) If you are trained to do rescue work, they have almost certainly called you by now. If not, check in with your local org — records and such get lost, and they may have missed you.

4) If you really insist, go to your *local* American Red Cross office and talk to them. If, in fact, they do need a skill you have, they’ll put you with the people you need to know, and start the wheels moving. The single biggest thing the ARC does in disasters is routing solutions to problems.

5) If you have supplies, not cash, you can talk to the local office, but realize that the cost of shipping your supplies may make them worse off then just buying them closer. If you have supplies *and* shipping — and we’re talking trucks, not FedEx, — then call the local ARC, and talk to them, and if they need what they have, they’ll put you in touch with the people who need it, who can arrange how to get it to them. In general, when they need something, they need lots of it, either in one place or put into one place so they can easily distribute at need. One satellite phone isn’t that helpful, esp. if they have to figure out how to make it work. A thousand phones, ready to go, however, is.

6) If they really need what you have to offer, and you are one of the few who can provided it, they’ve probably called you by now.

7) If you want to help in the future, start working with rescue orgs now. If you haven’t been trained in general rescue procedures, your not nearly as helpful. Think of it as backups — you can’t help New Orleans now, but there will be other bad days, and if you’ve done the classwork and drills, and kept in touch, then you will be one of the people they need — and they’ll call you when they need you. It may not be as elegant as network support — but right now, they don’t care about TCP/IP. They care about getting people out of the floodwaters, and plugging the holes in the levees.


On the Blogware Blog / Blog for Relief Day Tomorrow

On the Blogware blog: More links on Hurricane Katrina.

Also: Proposed by Hugh Hewitt and seconded by Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, “N.Z. Bear” from The Truth Laid Bear is calling for a Blog for Relief Day

for tomorrow, Thursday, September 1st. He’s asking bloggers to post an

article to encourage their readers to donate to charities to assist the

people who’ve been hit by the hurricane. This blog, along with the

Tucows blogs that I administer — The Farm, Blogware, IndieGameDev — will all participate.

In the News

If You’ve Got a Couple of Bucks to Spare…

…and really, even if it’s only a literal couple of bucks, send them to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. This Google search should help you find a suitable organization to whom you can send money.


What’s Up at Tucows


thought I’d use an old “Tucows Games” graphic to introduce this entry,

which is, as you might have guessed, about my place of employment,

Tucows Inc.

Exercising Our Options

The announcement was made yesterday, but in case you hadn’t yet heard, I’ll repeat it here:

Tucows Inc. completes closing of over-allotment option


Inc. (TSX: TC, AMEX: TCX) is pleased to announce that the

over-allotment option associated with its recent public offering has

been exercised in full, resulting in the issuance by Tucows of

2,889,250 shares of its common stock

at a price of U.S. $0.90 per share for aggregate gross proceeds of U.S.

$2,600,325. The offering was underwritten by a syndicate led by Desjardins Securities Inc., which included BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc., CIBC World Markets Inc. and Clarus Securities Inc.

Ruby Spoken Here

Photo: Ruby gemstone.

The Ruby programming language is getting a considerable amount of

attention in the programming world. It gets a lot of love from a number

of “geek rock stars” including:

  • Dave Thomas: No, not the founder of Wendy’s hamburger chain nor the comic actor, but the author of the must-have programming book The Pragmatic Programmer, the software world’s equivalent of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
  • David Heinemeier Hansson: Creator of the Rails web application framework, the application that put Ruby in the spotlight.
  • 37 Signals: The web design/usability consulting company that created the simple and useful applications Basecamp, Backpack and Ta-Da List using Ruby and Rails.

  • why the lucky stiff: This guy, who actually goes by that name (at least when he publishes) is a hero of mine. He’s the creator of Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby,

    which is a work in progress and the best candidate for the title of

    “Most whimsical-yet-useful programming book ever”. He’s probably Ruby’s

    greatest evangelist (and comic artist), promoting it in the blog RedHanded and probably the first person to do a presentation at the Free/Open Source Convention by rockin’ out.

    You’d never see Microsoft’s Visual Studio team or Sun’s Java team do

    this — at least not without turning it into a mostly-fluff

    Grammy-esque production. 

Now that you’ve met some of the cool people who work with Ruby,

let me point out one more: Tucows! As for seeing Ruby in action, as

implemented by us, you’re looking at it right now.

This blog is written and served out using our wholesale blogging tool, Blogware, is written in Ruby, as is our upcoming personal start page application, Start (written up here

under its codename, Skydasher). With a small development team and

schedule pressures like you wouldn’t believe, the developers behind

Blogware and Start chose Ruby because it helps you be more productive,

doesn’t require as much “scaffolding” as other languages and just

doesn’t get in your way.

I have to commend The Powers That Be here for actually trusting in the

developers to choose the language that they feel best for the job

rather than dictating it according to “what everyone else is using” or

following some manager’s dictum. I’m glad that I work at a place where

the culture is still willing to take some smart chances and follow Guy

Kawasaki’s advice: “Challenge the known and embrace the unknown”.

Yes, I’ve Heard

As part of a programming exercise to get myself more familiar with the

Ruby programming language, I have a little script that I constantly

refine that scours “the usual suspects” on the web for information

about Tucows. I also have a couple of investor- and biz-dev-type

friends who very kindly email me the latest “word on the street” about

this fine company.

So yes, I heard about the company that made the announcement that they

were going to buy us at nearly three times our current share price (my

response: “If it’s real, I have only two questions — How Much? and Give to it me!“). I am aware that Mark Cuban owns about 9% of us and a slightly larger fraction of one of our esteemed competition. I have heard all kinds of rumours.

However, I don’t know much else. I am privy to some of the

technological and product development plans, but I don’t get invited to

directors’ meetings. I can infer a lot based on the path our CEO takes

to his office — he’ll either zig-zag through the aisles and chat for a

little bit or make a beeline for his office (in line-of-sight of my

“office”) — but blogging that is probably a violation of his privacy,

common sense and my non-disclosure agreement.

My point: Sure, feel free to use this blog (as well as the other Tucows

blogs for which I write) as a data point in your investment research.

Disseminating information about the company falls under my job

description. However, it shouldn’t be your sole data point. I have no

special insight into the wheelings and dealings on the business side of

the operation, nor do I have any insight into Mark Cuban’s plans. I

most definitely do not get instant messages from him containing useful

investment tidbits…

Screen capture: Fictionalized IM with Mark Cuban.

Fictionalized IM chat between me and Mark Cuban. IT DID NOT HAPPEN, PEOPLE!

It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

The City’s Best Tire Pump

Here’s some useful information that isn’t “newsworthy” enough to get

into the paper, but perfect for a local blog like mine: the tire pump

at the Petro-Canada at the corner of Bloor and Keele Streets

is the best damned gas station tire pump I’ve encountered in the city!

In less than a literal handful of seconds, it brought a flabby bike

tire inflated at 20 PSI to the recommended 65.

If you decide to use this pump, keep an eye on the tire gauge. This

thing’s on overdrive, and the last thing you want to do is blow out

your inner tube.

It Happened to Me

Even Better Than All Those "Employee Pricing Deals" from Ford, GM and Chrysler

Click the photo to see the ad (it’s safe for work).


I’m Enjoying This Album

Photo: Album cover of Kanye West's 'Late Registration'.

Funny, that’s exactly what I looked like at Crazy Go Nuts University.

Late Registration is a good follow-up to College Dropout

(and hey, two album titles I can sympathize with!*), which I have also

recently purchased. It’s a perfect companion to Common’s album Be, another excellent hip-hop album released this year.

(* Special message to my in-laws: Long story. Not as bad as it sounds. I’ll gladly tell all at dinner when I come down to Boston.)

If you’d rather take some music critic’s word over mine, see Rolling Stone’s review, The Guardian’s review and Pitchfork’s review.