There, that's better.
Five years ago, when my employer, Navarik, moved into a new building, the rooms within the office didn't have names or numbers. On my own, I decided to give them identities, and since we're in Vancouver, I named the various meeting rooms after local beaches: English Bay, Jericho, and so on. I printed up little signs and glued them over the doors.
I've been on medical leave from the company since I developed cancer in 2007, three and a half years ago, but they're still using the room names I picked. As far as I know, even my little signs are still there. I like that.
Yesterday was another side effect hell, but I managed to visit a few websites in bed between trips to the bathroom:
A few weeks ago I joined a Facebook trend and posted the first 16 music albums (rather than 15) that came to mind as influential, and that will "always stick with me." But, given how quickly I posted them, I didn't say why, or think about it much. So I might as well explain them now. Again, I'm listing the albums alphabetically by artist:
Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - Drum Suite (1957): This first choice is also perhaps my oddest, since I'm not much of a jazz listener, I don't own this album, and I haven't even heard it in full for at least 20 years, possibly 30. But it—and especially the first track, "The Sacrifice"—are embedded deep in my childhood subconscious. My dad owns the LP, and as a very young child I used to ask him to play it from time to time, both because it was exciting and energizing and because it freaked me out a bit. "The Sacrifice" begins with a distant, spooky chant in Swahili, then launches into an intense seven minutes of African drumming, punctuated by Blakey's full-tilt accompaniment on his drum kit. The rest of the album includes more excellent Afro-Cuban jazz, as well as some straight-ahead bebop in Blakey's more usual style. Back in 1957, it was pioneering, World Music long before the term was coined. But I simply loved (and feared) the sounds and the rhythms, and now that I think of it, Drum Suite is probably a major reason I like much of the other music I do (including some below), and might be part of why I became a drummer myself many years later. I need to go buy it again.
The Beatles - Revolver (1966): No mystery here. The Beatles were the greatest rock-n-roll band of all, and once I became a drummer, I played a lot of their music in concerts for 20 years, so I got to know it very well. While I love their brash and exuberant early work (from "I Saw Her Standing There" to "A Hard Day's Night"), as well as much of their later material (including "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Hey Jude," "I Am the Walrus," and "Get Back"), I've always preferred the band's 1965–66 middle period. With the albums Help!, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, the Beatles took the basic concept of the pop song as far as it could go. And whenever I play Revolver (and Rubber Soul too), I'm astonished that all those great tunes appeared on a single disc: it's like a Beatles Greatest Hits record, except it was simply what they managed to record as their new material from April to June 1966 (plus a little single featuring "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" too), before embarking on their final concert tour. Almost 45 years later, it remains a landmark and a masterpiece that can inspire (or depress) any songwriter or musician who hears it.
Crowded House - Woodface (1991): From 1986 to 1996, Crowded House were the best pop band in the world, I think. And while the band's 1988 predecessor, Temple of Low Men, is probably overall a stronger collection, showcasing the always-brilliant songwriting of leader and singer Neil Finn, Woodface is more sprawling, more interesting, funnier, and includes its own roster of supremely written and performed songs, featuring Neil's wonderful harmony singing with his brother Tim, who was a member of the group for these sessions only. "It's Only Natural," "Fall at Your Feet," "Weather With You," and "Four Seasons in One Day" are compositions even Lennon and McCartney might envy. Plus my friend Alistair had the cassette of Woodface as the only music on his car stereo for at least a year, yet somehow we never tired of it.
James Brown - Star Time (box set, 1991): Maybe box sets are cheating in a list of albums, but I don't care. You can't contain James Brown in a single disc anyway. Here's what Rolling Stone said about this set: "James Brown can seem like an insufferable braggart. He makes no bones about his greatness, proclaiming himself not only the King of Soul but the inventor of funk and the progenitor of rap and disco—not to mention a leading exponent of black pride. To hear him tell it, James Brown is one of the most dynamic and visionary musicians America has ever produced. After examining the evidence set forth in the seventy-two songs on Star Time, however, only one conclusion is possible: James Brown is far too modest." I was no Brown expert at the time I first picked up the box when it was released, but I played its tracks over and over again for years afterwards. Presented chronologically, they show how Brown took his manic R&B stage show of the 1950s and stripped it down into a series of the tightest, leanest, most cutting bands in history, creating funk and transforming songs and music and voices into pure rhythm. Music (and, after listening, my sense of it) hasn't been the same since.
Led Zeppelin (1969): All the bluster and bombast, instrumental and vocal skill, unabashed musical thievery, heavy-metal invention, explosive sexuality, and blues–folk–Eastern mashupness that Led Zeppelin would unleash over the next decade are there in their first album, recorded with minimal equipment after these four British youths had discharged their obligations touring as the final incarnation of the Yardbirds. With it and Led Zeppelin II, they put the exclamation mark on the unequalled musical and cultural transformations of the 1960s. And the first track, "Good Times Bad Times," introduced the world to the terrifyingly excellent drumming of John Bonham. Most drummers, myself included, still can't play it properly.
Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998): My friend Tara bought me this album, from a group and a trip-hop genre I knew basically nothing about, and I was instantly hooked. Everyone has heard tracks from it now, with "Teardrop" becoming the theme for the TV series House, and other tracks being used in The Matrix and The West Wing. But potential overexposure hasn't depleted the dark power of these songs, and the extraordinary production that makes them entirely immersive, especially in headphones with the lights low. Mezzanine also finally convinced me that music driven by samples and loops wasn't a cheat of some kind, and could truly be newly creative.
Midnight Oil - Scream in Blue Live (1992): I'm not sure why my two favourite bands of the '80s and early '90s (Midnight Oil and Crowded House) both formed in Australia. Crowded House had more finely crafted songs, but the Oils were by far the most powerful live act I've ever seen. While a Crowded House performance was (and is) full of jokes and silliness and fun, witnessing Midnight Oil and their spastic, fearsome lead singer Peter Garrett was more like entering a war zone. (Less fearsomely, Garrett is now the Education Minister in Australia's federal governemnt.) This disc documents that assault, compiling live tracks from 1982 to 1992. Live albums are often money-grubbing afterthoughts, but not Scream in Blue: more than any record except perhaps Live at Leeds (see below), it captures all the force and passion that an unstoppable freight train of a rock band can muster with some guitars, drums, and singing. Released at the height of the distortion-heavy grunge movement emerging from Seattle, this CD prompted another gem from a Rolling Stone reviewer: "Never mind the Puget Sound, this is real guitar nirvana."
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 (box set, 1998): Another box set, this time four discs of one-hit wonders and other oddities from one of the golden ages of popular music: the DIY American garage-rock 1960s inspired by Beatlemania. You've got the extraordinary Fab Four knock-offs the Knickerbockers and "Lies," Todd Rundgren's original band Nazz and "Open My Eyes," "Incense and Peppermints" from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, "Woolly Bully," "Louie Louie," Creedence Clearwater Revival when they were called the Golliwogs, and dozens and dozens of other bands made up of usually barely competent musicians who somehow stumbled their way (for a song or two) into genius and then stumbled back into real life (perhaps Vietnam), inspiring countless other punk and New Wave and garage bands for decades to come. "Buy some cheap gear at the pawn shop and start rocking!" they beckoned. And many of us did.
Odds - Bedbugs (1993): One of the bands inspired by those '60s garage rockers was Vancouver's own Odds, formed in the late 1980s and supporting themselves as the classic rock cover act the Dawn Patrol for years before backing up Warren Zevon, releasing four great albums in the '90s, and then folding (and reforming a couple of years ago). I like Bedbugs best, with the singles "It Falls Apart" and "Heterosexual Man" being hits in Canada, and the rest of the tracks simply being great big slabs of clever guitar-powered pop-rock. I became an acquaintance, sometimes bandmate, and friend of these guys (especially bassist Doug Elliott, who over the years played on and off with my cover band the Neurotics and even helped me create a short little instrumental tune for my podcast), but I started as, and remain, a fan. They're a great live band too.
Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 4, a.k.a. Security (1982): I didn't realized it until I made this list, but this album's first track, "The Rhythm of the Heat," bears a strong resemblance to Art Blakey's "The Sacrifice," discussed up above. There's no jazz drumming and it's loaded with bizarro electronic noises from the Fairlight CMI sampler, true, but Gabriel's song skeeves me out in a similar way and ends with an African percussion freakout that would fit right in on Drum Suite. Of course I came to Security by seeing and hearing "Shock the Monkey" on TV (recommended on Canadian VJ Terry David Mulligan's TV show by Duran Duran, of all acts), so I already knew Peter Gabriel might be a bit insane, but I fell in love with it because of that insanity, and the strange, shivery, hacked-together feeling of the music. In fact, it was one of the first discs to be recorded, mixed, and mastered entirely on digital equipment, so many of the tracks were assembled rather than really recorded, and Gabriel took full advantage of that technology to create something that sounded genuinely new. Plus the cover art remains scary and entirely incomprehensible.
The Police - Synchronicity (1983): The unavoidable monster hit album of 1983 and 1984, and the one that finally sent the Police on their separate ways until the reunion tour of 2007. I was 14, and I listened to it so much that I can still pretty much replay the whole LP (plus the bonus track "Murder By Numbers") in my head from memory, something I sometimes did while riding my bike to UBC years later, before the era of the iPod. Even though much of the reggae stylings and silly humour of their earlier work were gone by this time, Synchronicity was proof that the best bands really are alchemy. Sting wrote and played bass and sang the songs, but he was never again anything close to as good as when Stewart Copeland was drumming and Andy Summers was playing guitar and they all hated each other and got into fistfights and arguments and yet crafted gorgeous and memorable recordings like "Synchronicity II" and "Every Breath You Take" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger."
Robert Johnson - The Complete Recordings (box set, 1937/1990): One more box set, okay? Pioneering blues-rockers like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards had been raving about Robert Johnson since the 1960s, so the man wasn't obscure. Cream's "Crossroads" is a Johnson song, after all, and so is "Sweet Home Chicago." But Johnson himself died before either of my parents was born, in 1938, at age 27, likely poisoned. The set encompasses pretty much everything he ever recorded, in 1936–37 playing acoustic guitar and singing solo, and dominated by Delta blues, but veering into uptempo pop in songs like "They're Red Hot." Among early blues singers and players, Johnson is like the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix all by himself, writing and performing timeless, classic songs with almost supernatural (some claimed underworldly) guitar skills. Anyone who plays any style of music that came out of America in the 20th century should knows these songs and the man who created them.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble - Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984): The blues had its ups and downs during that century, of course. The mid-'80s heyday of synth-pop and post-Halen hair metal was definitely a down time for gutbucket guitar-slingers and juke-joint howlers. Yet sometimes someone is simply too talented, too good, too explosive to be held back by musical trends, and Steve Ray Vaughan was certainly that. I'd heard him on the radio and seen his music videos, especially the funny "Cold Shot," and he seemed out of place carrying his beat-up Stratocaster and wearing a huge Texan hat. I didn't yet know he'd played the huge-toned solos on David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and "China Girl." Then I heard the title track from Couldn't Stand the Weather, with its stop-start tremolo guitar introduction and Stevie's skittering, fleet-fingered lead lines, and something switched over in my mind and heart. I loved that sound, and I had to hear more of it. I bought all his albums, and he taught me about Buddy Guy and Albert King and Otis Rush and the blues roots of Hendrix and ZZ Top. He became a superstar. Twenty years ago when I heard he'd died in a helicopter crash, I was working in the Student Union Building at UBC and I stumbled out of my office in a daze. That was my JFK or John Lennon or Kurt Cobain moment: no no no, I thought, SRV couldn't be gone. Yet he was. I bought my first Stratocaster that year.
U2 - The Joshua Tree (1987): When I bought The Joshua Tree, compact discs still came in cardboard "long boxes," so they would fit into the record-store shelves that used to hold LPs. The photo of U2 on their long box was black and white, and stretched and distorted, but they were still standing stoically in the desert, staring off into the distance, obviously a Very Important Band with a Very Important Album inside. It was the biggest record of the year, and it was also a Very Important Year for me, when I turned 18, when my parents moved (temporarily, it turned out) to Toronto, and when I started a somewhat grown-up life of my own with roommates, and summer jobs, and bills to pay, and university to manage on my own. The Joshua Tree was my soundtrack. My favourite song on it, though it wasn't a single or a hit, is "In God's Country." It's a short, beautiful, evocative tune you could bang out on an acoustic guitar, elevated to greatness by the interplay of The Edge's guitar and Larry Mullen's drums.
The White Stripes - Elephant (2003): If anyone's the definition of an old soul, it's Jack White. I described him before as "a pasty-faced ghost from the 1950s or earlier, wrestling with his ravaged and literally thrift-store Kay guitar, wearing a bowtie and a hat and smoking stubby cigars, channeling Blind Willie McTell and Elmore James, building a slide guitar out of some planks, a Coke bottle, and a metal string, assembled with hammer and nails." The White Stripes had been around for a few years before they released their big breakthrough Elephant, but I didn't know about them. Yet when I heard "The Air Near My Fingers" on the radio, it grabbed me instantly. Meg White is a less proficient drummer than me (and that's saying something), but nothing else would do to hold up Jack's guitar-and-vocal maelstrom. The band, and the album, are like a peanut-butter-and-chocolate collision of the British Invasion, Delta blues, and Nuggets spewed out of an indie-rock candy-confection marketing plan. With the other albums on this list, you can see why I liked it so much.
The Who - Live at Leeds (extended version, 1970/1995): I mentioned that my parents moved to Toronto for a few years in the late '80s. I was visiting them there when I turned on the radio and heard the end of the Who's fifteen-minute version of "My Generation" and nearly eight-minute version of "Magic Bus" blast out—the station was playing the second side of Live at Leeds. I'd already been a classic-rock junkie for awhile, and in fact I'd taught myself the original, acoustic-based version of "Magic Bus" on guitar. But what the hell was that? It wasn't the jangly Who of "The Kids Are Alright," or the majestic, synth-driven Who of "Baba O'Riley," or the bouncy late-period Who of "Squeeze Box." This was pure, overdriven heavy metal music before such a thing was really supposed to exist, a broadside against Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and the other candidates for World's Heaviest Band at the turn of the 1970s. When I bought the original version of the album, with only six songs, they were all like that. I'd heard legends about Who concerts, and now I finally understood what the fuss was about. Alas, by the time I finally got to see them play in 1989 (without the late Keith Moon, of course), it was a much more polite affair. Pity.
I'm not religious, so many of my transcendent and spiritual experiences have come through music. I suppose, then, that these albums form part of my canon, and now you know why.
A few months ago, I was forced to decide what new blogging software to use on this site, and eventually settled on Movable Type 5, to the puzzlement of many of my geek friends. Why puzzlement? Well, here's what I wrote at the time:
Movable Type's day in the sun may be past. While some high-profile sites of people I know—such as John Gruber and Dave Shea—use it, its popularity seems to have been in general decline since the licensing controversies of version 3, way back in 2004. The current version 5 (MT5) is brand new, and an open source project, but I don't sense the same community vibrancy and wealth of third-party extensions WordPress has. Six Apart, the company that created Movable Type, also seems to have been focused on its other hosted blogging tools, TypePad and Vox, for years. [...]
I know there are lots of people who love it, but I just get the sense that general enthusiasm for Movable Type has faded—even in the vibe I feel after installing and playing around with MT5 last night. The basic software is great, mature, and solid. But when I want to muck around and extend it, the available resources are a little sparse and often out of date.
Not exactly enthusiastic, was I? And if I was going to move to Movable Type, why hadn't I done so five or six years ago, when it was still cool? But then I actually tried using it, and comparing it to the main alternative (and favourite of the cool kids today), WordPress, with which I've been familiar for several years:
I'm warming to the way Movable Type works. It's taken only a little effort to customize it, roughly to match my existing page design and typography here—easier than I've experienced with WordPress.
I went with Movable Type in the end, and have not regretted it. It behaves the way I want, and I've found it intuitive and simple to customize to my liking, despite some aspects (version upgrades and plugin availability, most notably) where WordPress is unquestionably better.
So I was a bit nervous when Six Apart, the company that created and supports Movable Type, sold itself to web advertising firm VideoEgg this week to form a new company, SAY Media (or Say Media—they've been a bit inconsistent in how that's supposed to be capitalized). It's not clear what role Movable Type will play in this new company.
There's nothing inherently destabilizing in a software company being sold, acquired, or merged. Pyra Labs, which created Blogger, my former publishing platform, certainly gained stability when bought by Google in 2003. And Six Apart itself hasn't been the most reliable home for its bloggers, sowing confusion with Movable Type 3's controversial licensing changes back in 2004, buying and then selling LiveJournal, and most recently shutting down Vox entirely. The licensing situation of Movable Type remains a little confusing.
So maybe SAY Media will clear some of that confusion up, get Movable Type Enterprise updated to version 5 for those who use it, and do other things people have been waiting for. Or maybe not.
UPDATE: As of November 2010, the SAY Media–Six Apart merger is officially complete, with Ben Trott, one of the two people who created Movable Type years ago, as Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for the combined company. The Movable Type software has also seen a few minor updates, so that's at least a bit encouraging.
The early days of the merger haven't been encouraging for Movable Type users:
And for a personal blogger, writer, and editor like me, the most disturbing stuff is a sentence like this, from the merger press release:
Through the creation of social hubs and influencer-driven custom content programs linked to the innovative AdFrames offering, SAY Media delivers engagement across display and mobile.
Does that mean anything? Especially for someone who just wants to write and publish a clear and useful website? To me, the accompanying video doesn't clarify, and with all the talk about helping "creators" or "influencers" or whatever we're supposed to be called, seems mostly focused on advertising. Which is fine for the company, if the people who work there can tolerate speaking such buzzword-laden gobbledegook.
I still like Movable Type, and was pleased to see a bug-fix version 5.03 appear earlier this month. Maybe SAY Media will do well by the software, or might sell it to some other firm that will. The open-source version, and the fork at Melody, will presumably remain in some form, and the option to move over to WordPress or another platform remains open, since I still control all my data.
I'm not planning on making any rash changes so soon after moving to Movable Type in the first place, but I'm keeping my eyes open to see if SAY Media drops the ball. I expect the rest of the Movable Type user community is too. Don't screw us over, guys.
I tend to keep my computers running for a long time. Four and a half years ago, I bought my workhorse MacBook, soon after the model was first introduced. It has had its problems, but it has kept me entertained and productive, and still works with all the latest software, even if the hardware is showing its age. It, and my wife's matching black MacBook, are still the newest computers (not counting iPhones and the iPad) in our house.
For some months now, however, the power button on my computer has been flaky, sometimes working and sometimes not. That was fine as long as I never shut the computer down—always either letting it sleep or restarting it when necessary. Then I let the battery run down last week, and the MacBook shut itself off. And although everything else seemed fine, without a working power switch, there was no way to switch it on again, and thus to do anything with it. The MacBook was a brick. (Of course I have backups, so I wasn't worried about my data.)
After trying my usual voodoo tricks (which failed), I had to take it into the shop. Although the Apple Stores in Greater Vancouver are convenient, I like to give independent retailers a chance when I can—and as luck has it, Mac Station in Burnaby is the nearest Apple-authorized repair centre anyway. I had them take a look, and asked them to let me know what it would cost to fix.
The answer? Nothing! Even though my MacBook is well over a year past even its extended AppleCare warranty period, apparently there's some sort of secret Apple warranty for the top case—the part of the laptop housing that surrounds the keyboard, and includes the power button. My top case was showing cracks, so Mac Station ordered a new one, and it corrected the problem. Better yet, Apple covered the cost.
So, thanks Apple, and thanks Mac Station, for keeping my MacBook soldiering on for some time yet.
The electric guitar is the key instrument of rock and roll music, and by consensus, Jimi Hendrix is its most important player. Born and raised here in the Pacific Northwest, he died 40 years ago, September 18, 1970, in London, of an accidental overdose.
After so many decades and so many experiments in the sound of the guitar, it's not easy to recall how revolutionary Hendrix was in the mid-1960s. Yes, B.B. King and T-Bone Walker had helped create single-string blues-based solos, while Les Paul had altered the guitar's sound in the studio and onstage. Yes, Ike Turner and Link Wray had introduced amplifier distortion, and the Beatles (and the Who) had worked with feedback and recording effects. But no one made sounds like Jimi, and in some ways no one has quite done it since.
Legendary guitarist Steve Vai once claimed to have been able to figure out much of how Hendrix did what he did—"but," Vai wondered, "how did he think of it?" Without Hendrix and his Stratocasters and Marshall amps, it's hard to imagine how we could have gotten Vai, or Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Eddie Van Halen, or Prince, or John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Jack White, or Eric Johnson, or The Edge, or anyone who's played electric blues, heavy metal, progressive rock, jazz fusion, or any other genre that uses the instrument.
Plus he was a gifted songwriter and producer, a compelling singer, an unmatched showman, a fashion innovator, a civil-rights and anti-war activist (he had a brief and inauspicious Army career in 1961), and an enduring sex symbol. Hendrix's career as a rock star lasted less than five years—it's a profound shame we'll never know what else he might have accomplished.
Remember back when I didn't want to join Facebook or Twitter because they were just too new and trendy and I figured they'd go the way of Friendster and ICQ and other long-dormant online services that no one uses anymore?
Ah, those halcyon days. I've been completely corrupted now. Like Darren Barefoot, I've just added a Facebook "Like" button and a Twitter "Tweet" button to each of my blog posts on this site, the easier for you to highlight them on those services, if you use them. (It was simpler than I expected in Movable Type, actually.) I don't plan on adding the additional potential forest of other buttons for sharing around the Web, just these two.
Since I converted over to my new publishing system here a few months ago, I've been tweaking the templates from time to time (mostly altering typography a bit), but this is probably the most noticeable addition.
Let me know in the comments for this post if you find the new buttons either useful or annoying.
You'd think I'd be able to predict my chemotherapy side effects fairly well by now. After all, I've been at it for three and a half years. I thought so too. But oh no. (This post will officially count as Way Too Much Information for some of you, particularly if you're squeamish. You've been warned.)
A week ago Monday, September 6, I had my first chemo treatment after a six-week break, and as expected, I felt like crap for a few days afterwards, then started to recover. I had a few random episodes of vomiting, as well as intestinal cramps, but again, those were nothing new. Then, a couple of days ago, more than a week after my treatment, I was suddenly hit with tremendous diarrhea, coupled with puking up my entire lunch into the downstairs bathtub, and violent cramps that extended from mid-afternoon well into the evening. Eventually things calmed down with some medication and time. But even yesterday I was still a gassy, wincing mess.
Today seems better, and there's no indication I'll be in the bathroom for hours again. I've even been eating well. The intestinal chaos is, unfortunately, an expected side effect of irinotecan, but the week-long delay before it happened was a total surprise to me. I'll have to see if there's a similar pattern next time, and I also have to make sure that I keep anti-diarrhea medicine handy at all times if it remains unpredictable. Unfortunately, I've also lost about ten pounds since before the chemo, and I have to try to keep the calories in to maintain my weight. Wanting to avoid the horrible Boost and Ensure drinks I've occasionally had before, I'm just working on eating good, substantial foods I can tolerate.
There was one funny consequence, however: near the end of the ordeal on Tuesday evening, as everything was clearing out and I was lying sweaty and exhausted on the bathroom floor, I had a single fart that lasted at least 30 seconds, perhaps 45. Despite my horrible condition, it made me laugh out loud.
It's both the 25th anniversary of the video game Super Mario Bros. and the 10th anniversary of the first public release of Apple's Mac OS X operating system. These are nerdy occasions, to be sure, but also significant ones for a large number of people (at least in the developed world).
Mario and his bizarre clan of mushroom-eating, head-stomping, turtle-shell–throwing game cohorts were the first—and are still the most famous—characters to emerge into popular culture from the world of video games. (I don't count the Space Invaders as "characters.") Millions of us have deep, muscle-memory childhood associations with Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong and his primate family, Toad, Boo, Wario, and even the anonymous goombas and tortoises, green pipes and coin blocks, and endless fields of pixelated bricks and banana barrels we traversed for hours with our numb thumbs.
For most, Mac OS X lies more in the background. No, it wasn't the true revolution that the original Mac OS had been 16 years earlier, in 1984. But when the Mac OS X Public Beta emerged with its shocking, "lickable" 3D Aqua appearance and modern technical infrastructure in 2000, it promised that Apple would remain relevant in the world of computing—that there would still be something to compete with PCs running Windows, and present different ideas about how we would interact with the machines that have come to dominate our lives.
Up in our closet, my family has an old Super Nintendo Entertainment System box with its controllers. We also have a Nintendo 64 and GameCube stowed away, while the Wii sits next to our big LCD television in the living room and we use it all the time. Our kids' piano teacher has the original Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up in her studio, and our daughters sometimes play the 1985 Super Mario Bros. game cartridge on it to kill time, or via download on our Wii at home. It's still fun, as it was when I first tried it at age 16, and as are its many successor games. They are as much a part of what we share across generations in this house as fairy tales, Looney Tunes, nursery rhymes, the Wizard of Oz, Sesame Street, or the Beatles.
Totally aside from desktop or laptop computing, anyone who carries a modern mobile phone, including my wife and I with our iPhones and our daughters with their Palm Pre handsets, is living with the legacy of Mac OS X. iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches run a version of OS X (now called iOS) directly. But every other iPhone-inspired device, from the Pre to the latest BlackBerry to any Android handset, includes design elements, interaction cues, technical requirements, and user expectations set, in part, by Apple's decisions about how to build Mac OS X a decade ago. (Interestingly, Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 seems to be trying something a little different.)
Mac OS X isn't the only influence, of course, but the screen of a freshly booted Windows 7 computer, Samsung Galaxy, iMac, Android phone, or Palm Pre looks more like that lickable, colourful, three-dimensional Aqua desktop from the Public Beta than it does the main screen on Windows 2000 or ME, a PalmPilot, Mac OS 9, an old BlackBerry or Nokia or Motorola phone, or OS/2.
My daughters are 10 and 12, entering the end years of elementary school. They have never known a world where Canadians weren't fighting a war in Afghanistan, where you could go through airport security and keep your shoes on, where Baghdad was a mystical place in Bugs Bunny cartoons, or where New York City included the World Trade Center towers.
But they also don't remember a world without iPods, cheap ubiquitous sushi in Vancouver, the International Space Station, mobile phones (and built-in GPS), Loonies and Toonies and Euros, cars with airbags and traction control, blogs, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Google Maps, a Wall-less Berlin, and TV stations with nothing but kids' programming.
The world is different than it was nine years ago, when I stumbled awake to stare at the television in our kitchen, terrified and numb, and later walked my older daughter Marina to preschool under a sky without airplanes. Is it worse? Is it better?
I don't know. Is it ever?
What dismays me most about the circus show of news in the U.S. these past couple of weeks, with the Beckapalooza and the hoo-ha over the Manhattan Islamic Center/"Ground Zero Mosque" and the planned Burning of the Qu'ran, is how little the various parties involved seem to think of their belief systems.
Is Christianity really under any serious (or even non-serious) threat in the U.S.A., especially from a moderate-minded president who just managed to pass a watered-down health-care bill? Are American ideals and patriotism so fragile that they cannot withstand someone constructing a building a few minutes' walk from where the Twin Towers used to stand? Is the supposed creator of the Universe so thin-skinned that it can't handle a nutbar pastor/furniture salesman destroying copies of its book?
Strong philosophies would respond to these "affronts" with minimal, if any, concern. The religious and moral landscape of the U.S. has changed often, and sometimes radically, in that country's 234 years. But its bold experiment in building a free and diverse society has survived, and flourished. Neither the Manhattan attack of 9/11 nor the building of Cordoba House near where it happened should be able to usurp that. And would Islam not be a strong and durable religion if its adherents were easily able to brush off a silly stunt in Florida by saying, "Allah is too great to be bothered with that"?
(Okay, maybe the Tea Partiers do have something to worry about, but I don't think that the country their Founding Fathers envisaged is what's endangered.)
On the other hand, if a religion or a socio-political structure can't stand up to contrary ideas or blasphemies from non-adherents, I can't see how it should demand any respect at all.
My wife Air is a teacher, so it has been the usual crazy first-week-of-school stuff. And our kids are back to class too, in grades five and seven. Air's birthday is today, and it always falls during this nutty week. Plus I had chemo on Monday, so I was only barely functional enough to get her some flowers, a card, and some chocolates. My mom prepared a ham dinner, joined by their house guests visiting from Germany. Simply a lot going on. So, happy birthday, Air, despite the craziness.
Only once in the past three and a half years, since I found out I had metastatic colorectal cancer that had spread to my lungs, have any of my doctors said anything about how long I might live. At the beginning, my oncologist Dr. Kennecke noted that the median survival for patients with my condition is two years after diagnosis.
That was, I repeat, three and a half years ago. You might think that he predicted I had about two years to live, and was simply (and happily) wrong. But that's not even what he was saying. Because he used the word median, he meant that two years after diagnosis, half of patients with metastatic colon cancer are still alive. Therefore, in 2007, my chances of living more than two years were about 50% (assuming I was a typical patient—more on that below).
And he was right about that, since I'm still here. However, if I'd died within two years instead, he'd still have been right, since I would have been in the other 50%. You can see why doctors like using medians for survival prognoses!
According to Slate, doctors are very, very reluctant to make any predictions about how long a specific patient will live, mostly because they're notoriously bad at it, unless the patient is pretty much at death's door—within days or hours of the end. In part that's also because they don't learn how:
[In] major medical textbooks that have been used by medical students (and practicing physicians) for decades [...] the relative percentage of space for each disease entity devoted to prognosis diminished with each subsequent edition, often to a paragraph or less. [Doctors] focus almost exclusively on the ever-expanding sciences of diagnosis and treatment, leaving prognosis almost entirely to the side.
But it's also difficult to predict correctly, especially for someone like me. A typical colon cancer patient is over 50 (maybe decades over), often with a family history of the disease, and perhaps other health problems that go with advancing age. I got the disease in my mid-30s, with no family history of it—and, later testing showed, no known genetic predisposition either—as well a relatively healthy body otherwise, despite having type 1 diabetes since 1991.
So my personal chance of survival two years past diagnosis was probably higher than the median, even if no one knew by how much. Plus my cancer team has felt it worthwhile to try all sorts of semi-experimental treatments, for which more typical patients might not have been eligible. And they've been willing to subject me to fairly high doses of chemotherapy—of which I'll get more on Monday—that I'm guessing might kill someone in more fragile health.
However, all that doesn't mean I'm likely to live an 80-year lifespan like your typical newborn Canadian in the 21st century. I've seen the CT scans, and I've watched my cancer progress slowly but relentlessly over the past few years. It's never been in remission, not once.
When my doctors talk to me about my treatments, they never use the word cure anymore. When they see a treatment as successful, that means it has slowed or stopped or maybe slightly reversed the growth of my tumours for a few months, or perhaps a year. Success means buying me time, extra months or perhaps years, but almost certainly not decades—unless, during those extra months, some remarkable new treatment becomes available, and it works for me.
I can hope for that, but I can't expect it. I'm 41 now. My own estimate, not made scientifically, but as an educated guess, is that I'll be pretty lucky if I reach 45. I'll be absolutely astonished if I celebrate my 50th birthday in 2019, and that's what I tell people now. (I was a little bit surprised to reach 40 last year.) The chances are pretty good that—in addition to my wife Air and my daughters and almost all of my friends—my parents, my aunts and uncles, and even our pup Lucy will outlive me. In other words, I'm living in dog years.
Like that initial median estimate, those are all probabilities, not certainties. There's no guarantee that my cancer will kill me within the decade, but being reasonable and realistic means I have to treat that as the most likely result, and live (and plan) accordingly. That's not easy to do, especially for a procrastinator like me, but there it is.
By the way, most of you will have to do the same eventually, but with any luck not until your 70s or 80s. My time is probably briefer than most, and I don't like that. I'm not okay with it. But I can live with it. Woof woof.
This is one of those Facebook memes. I bent the rules a little: (a) I posted it here on my blog instead of on Facebook, (b) I included 16 albums instead of 15, just because, and (c) I didn't tag anyone except those who already tagged me about it. If you want to make your own version, go ahead—you don't need my permission!
Anyway, the "rules" were: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums my friends choose. Or just comment here with them. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your Facebook profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note—upper right hand side.)
So, my list, in alphabetical order. I get a small cut from the links to Amazon if you buy anything (which need not be what I link to, by the way):
You might also like my 2003 list of top albums to listen to in headphones.
A tablet is, crucially, a more shareable computer. A laptop, with its fragile hinge-ware and space-gobbling keyboard, is just not comfy to share. A tablet is easier to bring to the café, easier to hand across the table or along the sofa, easier to seize in the heat of the moment, easier to hold up in triumph, easier to set aside when you need to meet someone's eyes.
Here's how that played out for me this week, somewhat unexpectedly. I was the official photographer for my cousin's wedding last weekend. That morning, I was preparing myself to take hundreds of pictures with both my film and digital SLR cameras. But, having just picked up the digital camera kit for my iPad earlier in the week, I thought it might be useful to bring the iPad along as a quick backup device onto which I could dump the digital files from time to time during the day. (Sometimes I'm a little paranoid about backups.)
After the ceremony itself, as everyone was settled in for the buffet brunch, but before speeches began, I plugged in the adapter and my camera's SD card and got most of the photos imported onto the iPad. (The process was a little flaky: after the first few hundred, the Photos app kept quitting, and though it remembered what it had imported, it would only do a few more pictures at a time before crashing again.) I didn't get everything backed up right then, but it was enough, especially since pictures of the ceremony itself were safe.
Then, as I flipped through the photographs to check them out, I realized something: I could pass the iPad around. My cousin and her family and friends could see pictures of the wedding, in a beautiful large picture-frame style that was easy and intuitive to flick through, before the event was even half over. They loved it.
Later that evening, I'd had a chance to get home, change clothes, and import the rest of the pictures before heading over to my aunt and uncle's house for the wedding after-party. There, more people, including the groom and his mom (who was visiting from Toronto), were able to see all the pictures on the iPad, the same day I'd taken them. A few of the group portraits included the groom's extended family—who, it turns out, had never all been in a photo together before, ever. He and his mom both got teary-eyed looking at them.
A few months ago I might have brought my laptop to import photos onto during the wedding. More likely, I wouldn't have bothered. And I certainly wouldn't have passed it around, since it's more awkward, fragile, and complicated to use when viewing pictures—particularly standing around in a crowded room of people who've had a few drinks.
I'm in the process of putting the best pictures from the wedding online, and I'll give everything to my cousin and her husband on DVD too, but the immediacy and poignancy of being able to display the pictures right there, during the events of the wedding day, made the iPad well worth what my wife paid for it in June.
This afternoon I puked onto a CT scan machine, which is a first. In fact, before today I hadn't vomited in weeks, since the unfortunate incident on the Ferris wheel at Disney's California Adventure—and that's because I haven't had chemotherapy since early July.
But this Monday, Labour Day, I'm back at it, more chemo, and as usual I'm getting anxious. However, I'm not usually that anxious. I didn't barf when I had blood tests on Monday, and I had no reason to think I would today as I went for my scan. But there I was, lying down and being motorized into the giant donut of the scanner, and I said to the technicians, "I'm feeling nauseated right now. I don't know why. I think I'm going to throw up."
And so I did. They brought me one of those useless little cardboard trays that might handle the stomach contents of a small bird. Then another. Then we switched to a big trash can. It was all over very quickly. I'd lost the salad and sandwich I'd had for lunch. The techs had to slice off the right sleeve of the surgical gown I was wearing, since I already had an IV in my arm but the gown was a mess. I threw away one pair of underwear, but luckily I had another. My white T-shirt wasn't entirely spared, but with some wet towels I cleaned it off well enough.
The technicians said, "You'd be surprised how often that sort of thing happens," then they chucked a bunch of the soiled linens, replaced them, and cleaned up the floor and scrubbed the impenetrable face of the scanning machine. Just like that, the room was spotless again. Then they got me to lie down and we proceeded with the scan. I doubt anyone in the waiting room knew what just happened as I left, feeling much better.
Now, I had a rough night last night, with lots of intestinal problems that kept me up until 3 a.m., and those resumed this evening in a slightly altered form, though they seem to be calming down as we approach midnight. They seem slightly different from the similar problems I've had, in some form or another, since even before my cancer diagnosis in 2007, so I may have a mild infection. Thus, I don't know if this great big hurl came from nervousness about my upcoming chemotherapy, an intestinal bug of some kind, or a combination of the two.
But I reiterate my admiration for the consistently high spirits and good natures of the staff at the B.C. Cancer Agency. They laughed it off, as I tried to do, cleaned up both their facility and me, and got back to their jobs as soon as they could. No one's yet been able to cure my cancer, and quite likely no one will, but I drove home feeling unembarrassed, and that's pretty amazing in itself.