About This Website and Me
Derek K. Miller passed away May 3, 2011, age 41, of complications from stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer.
I'm Derek K. Miller, and I have worked as a writer and editor since the 1980s, specializing in technical and scientific subjects. I've been online since 1983, and have also been a drummer, guitarist, singer, recording artist, and photographer. I started this website in spring 1997, and it became penmachine.com in 2000. I live in Burnaby, British Columbia with my wife and two daughters.
I have a marine biology degree and a writing diploma from the University of British Columbia. I've worked at B.C.'s two leading universities, as a park naturalist, in magazine advertising, and for software and hardware companies. My writing has appeared in Macworld, Vancouver, and LINK magazines, the TidBITS online newsletter, and the Vancouver Sun newspaper, among other publications. I have also appeared on radio and television across Canada, and at several conferences, as an expert on various technical topics.
Before finding out that I had stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer in 2007, I ran the Penmachine Media Company and worked for Navarik, a company that makes web-based software for the marine shipping industry. I have also been the co-host of the Inside Home Recording podcast since 2006.
Late in 2010, I discovered that my cancer is terminal. I expect it will probably kill me sometime in 2011 or early 2012.
Words are my passion. I've made my living as a wordsmith—a writer, editor, and proofreader—and as a photographer, computer guy, and occasional drummer too. I work in English, which is probably the world's most versatile (and infuriating) language. These days, I've stopped freelance work because my family and my pesky battle against cancer keep me busy enough.
Other stuff you should know
Aside from that, I:
- am Canadian, living in a suburb of Vancouver (a lovely city).
- am married (since 1995, to the best friend I could ever have).
- am the father of two girls (born in 1998 and 2000).
- was born three weeks before the first moon landing (which I cried right through, my parents tell me).
- am a language geek (which means I sometimes read dictionaries for fun).
- am also a musician who records and releases free podsafe music.
My degrees mean you can theoretically call me Derek K. Miller, B.Sc., Dip.A.C.N.F. I would avoid that if possible, however. "Derek" works just fine.
Between leaving university and getting married, I was a full-time professional rock-n-roll drummer and singer for about two years, and played professionally part-time before and after that, on and off since 1989. For too long my basement has been cluttered with two drum kits, several keyboards, and way too many guitars.
Even though I studied classical guitar when I was a kid, I've pretty much completely forgotten how to read music. My kids, who've taken years of piano lessons, are way ahead of me on that front now.
About this website
The main page of this site is my blog. It celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2010, and is where I write about whatever I want to write about each day. It's the focus, but there are a lot of other things here too.
I originally put the precursor of this site together starting in March 1997, as a way to learn Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), before I had any way for people to see it over the Web. While they're nothing spectacular, the design and layout of this site have always been entirely my own work.
Publishing and hosting
Things have changed a lot, on the Web and on this site, since then. I converted it to a blog (or "weblog," as we said) powered by Blogger in October 2000, and ran it like that, with modifications, for almost 10 years. It has been hosted by JaguarPC almost that whole time. In May 2010 I converted the blog to use the Movable Type publishing system instead, still hosted by JaguarPC, using the Linux operating system, Apache web server software, and many of the usual add-ons.
Software and tools
When not writing directly in a web browser, I edit pages with BBEdit and transfer files with Panic Software's Transmit. I take photos with digital and film SLR cameras from Nikon, edit images with Pixelmator and iPhoto, and post them to Flickr. I record sound using GarageBand and a variety of instruments and recording devices.
Computers and such
I've used many different computers as my main writing machines over the years here, starting with a Macintosh Centris 660AV and Power Mac 6100, followed by a Power Macintosh G3 and PowerBook 1400, then an iBook G3, an eMac, and now a MacBook and a big-screen iMac. I have an iPhone and an iPad too.
Why good writing is important
Written language might be our greatest achievement. Without it we would have no Shakespeare, of course, but also no Great Wall of China, no theory of natural selection, no quantum mechanics, no constitutional democracy, no television, no antibiotics, and no footprints on the moon. No Internet either.
I think a tool that powerful should be used properly. William Strunk, in his classic book The Elements of Style, wrote that:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
I agree with him. In fact, good writing is most often invisible. Read Chaucer or Dante, Austen or Dickens, Toni Morrison or Annie Proulx—their stories come from inside their heads right into yours. Read the Talmud or the New Testament or the Qu'ran, and some (not me) would say you read the mind of God.
Good writing isn't easy. But I try to write well here, and I hope you enjoy what you find.