I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
This is "Penmachine.com: January 2002," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.
Spent more time than ever with my daughters -- I stay home with them four days a week now.
Also in the past year, the band played many high-paying and enjoyable performances, my wife and kids were in a nasty car accident (the kids are doing well, my wife is okay), and my oldest daughter started preschool. Despite the election of a government I don't like much here in British Columbia, and some consequent stress at my wife's workplace, she still has her job. None of us knew anyone involved in any terrorist attacks or wars.
Since I lost my job, I have a more flexible schedule, I'm making more money, and I'm having more fun.
I've never smoked, but those who have tell me that quitting is one of the most difficult things in life. My mother quit in the mid-sixties, before I was born. As far as I know she hasn't had a cigarette since. I've never seen her smoke -- yet she tells me she still gets cravings now and then.
Today Oh No Nellie, with whom I used to work, announced that she is quitting. She'll need help to get through the process, but, as Eric Burdon once sang (about something else), "it will be worth it."
U2 has now been good longer than any other important band in history. The Rolling Stones have been around forever, but their creative period lasted only 15 years. The Beatles imploded after a decade. U2 -- the same lineup of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen -- has been making acclaimed albums since 1980's Boy.
...which is tempered by:
U2 is perhaps the world's vaguest band. [...] This is the U2 paradox. Bono and Co. are constantly dedicating songs to specific causes, exhorting their fans to think and act in the world. Yet their music does exactly the opposite of what it intends.
Then, right at the bottom, the coup de grace, from a reader:
It's a shame that U2 and the Monkees never collaborated on "Bloody Pleasant Valley Sunday."
Craig Northey used to play guitar in The Odds, a Vancouver band that was a huge musical influence on me. He's just started an entertaining and very stream-of-consciousness weblog of his own.
And the sun is out today, the sky blue and cloudless, everything in sight covered in snow. The view out my front window (no photo -- but here's one downtown) is as spectacular and...well...Canadian as it's ever been in my life.
Today, teachers across British Columbia are staging a one-day protest against a new contract imposed by the provincial government yesterday -- one that sides in essentially all respects with the employing school districts, and completely against the teachers' negotiating position. The MyBC news portal this morning reports in a story this morning that:
Premier Gordon Campbell accused the teacher federation is orchestrating a political campaign its members could do without.
"The vast majority of teachers will want to be in their classroom working with their kids," he said.
Perhaps he's getting his information only from his wife (who is a teacher), but she may not be reflecting the facts accurately. I know a number of mild-mannered, dedicated teachers (including my wife) who are profoundly angry about this imposed "settlement." They're going to protest today not because of pressure from their union, but because they feel disrespected, violated, hurt, and mad.
These are not the usual union organizers and militants whose job it is to sound angry. These are regular teachers, the ones who do "want to be in the classroom working with their kids" -- but who think that protesting today, even in defiance of a new, draconian law that claims they can't (despite a Labour Relations Board ruling saying they can), is more important.
As I look at the view out my window, there's about thirty centimetres of the stuff in my yard right now. It's the most I've seen here since the huge "75-year" blizzard hit southwestern B.C. in 1996. It's still coming down in big fluffy flakes, and it's marvelous.
For some years now, Paul Bains, a professor at Washington State University, has maintained a Web site on common errors in English. It has hundreds of entries, and has been accessed over a million times by visitors around the world. Take a look.
Peter Gzowski's voice was always on my mom's radio in the kitchen. He seemed to be there throughout my childhood, though it was really only from junior high school on, when he hosted "Morningside," CBC radio's nationwide morning show, starting in 1982. (I had been too young to remember "This Country in the Morning," his similar program from the '70s.)
His voice was perfect for CBC radio -- not the deep, booming, relentlessly slick voice of mellow commercial FM, but not the attack-dog bark of AM talk-jockeys or morning-radio drive-time hosts either. It was warm, gravelly, and personable. Gzowski had earlier made his mark as an editor at newspapers and magazines, but his voice, approach, and on-air personality made him Canada's biggest radio star.
The voice was a consequence of a three-pack-a-day smoking habit -- 75 cigarettes daily, an average of four or five every waking hour. That gave him emphysema, which is what killed him yesterday at the relatively young age of 67. He wrote an essay about fighting his 50-year habit last year. But we have to wonder: if he hadn't been a smoker, would he have had that voice? Would he have become the icon he was? If not, and had he known it, which life would he have preferred -- a short one with greater fame, or a longer one with lesser?
Maybe he would have had the same career arc, for his intelligence, interviewing skills, and passion for the country had nothing to do with smoking. His voice might still have made excellent radio. I wish so -- maybe then he would still be broadcasting, maybe for another twenty years. But we won't know. Cigarettes killed Peter Gzowski. The price was too high.
Nine Planets is a well organized and detailed site about our solar system. Nice simple Web pages too. I like that.
Tuesday, January 22, 2002 - newest items first # 5:10:00 PM:
White and blue
It happens at least once a year: there is a heavy snowfall in Vancouver, then the sun comes out, revealing a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains, their endless, flowing treed slopes dusted white. Few things could be as beautiful.
Sure, no one knows how to drive in the stuff here, but I love the view anyway.
Lawyers, Internet users, and competing companies cried foul when Amazon.com was granted a patent on "one-click shopping" by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 1999. It's probably the most famous example of a dumb patent -- one for something that is either obvious or long established.
But there are many more. Scientific American lists four particularly nasty ones, and there is a whole Web site dedicated to cataloguing them as well.
Followup: In addition to the search terms I listed yesterday, people come here from search engines looking for availability of the Aerolatte milk foamer in Canada. My wife bought ours at a special pre-Christmas booth sale at The Bay, but they do not seem to sell it normally in the store or online.
Slate magazine's Explainer column answers all sorts of interesting questions.
Wired News's Ephemera section is also a pleasant waste of time.
There are many things -- even apparently simple ones like why countertop coffee stains are darker at the edges, or why flags flutter instead of flying straight in the wind -- that science still has trouble explaining.
People coming to this site from search engines tend to be looking for information on Aeron chairs in Canada, flash memory USB keychains, photos of Bjossa the killer whale, and the lyrics to "Hyakugojyuuichi" ("One Hundred and Fifty-One"), which is the original theme to the Pokemon cartoon.
I have sat in an Aeron chair, I own a USB keychain, and I took photos of Bjossa before she died, but I do try to avoid Pokemon.
Some years ago, pre-Web and before the term "ego-surfing" was coined, I looked through the microfiche records at the University of B.C. library for authors with the same name as me. It turns out there is a fairly famous adolescent psychologist named Derek Miller. Search techniques are simpler today -- more recently, I discovered on the Web another Derek Miller with an odd specialty: the history of food consumption in Great Britain.
I thought the past president of the U.S. National Federation of Republican Women was a Marina Miller, but it turns out she's Marian Miller -- "Marina" was a typo in the Texas State Senate minutes. Just as well.
Last June, an intensive writing and editing contract that had me working long hours three days in a row gave me a repetitive strain injury in my right arm. By taking some careful precautions -- including wearing bicycle gloves to keep my hands and wrists warm and padded, maintaining proper workspace ergonomics, and alternating using a mouse with my right hand and a trackball with my left -- I was able to keep working at my subsequent contracts through the summer. I was also able to keep drumming.
Now I'm working on another big contract at home, but instead of my usual space in my basement office, where I've set up everything as comfortably as I can, I'm now sitting in our den upstairs, because this project needs to be done on a Windows PC and I have only a Mac in my office. Doing a bit of work on the PC the way it was gave me tingles in my arm again. So I've spent the last couple of days rearranging everything upstairs, buying a keyboard shelf -- and wearing those cycling gloves again. They look silly, but seem to help.
Ah, for the carefree days of youth, when I could abuse my body and it would come back for more.
Incidentally, over the years I've installed five or six keyboard shelves, and it's never been a pleasant experience. Maybe I should have tracked down one of these this time instead. Too late now.
Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer are probably the two most famous personalities in the computer industry (Larry Ellison of Oracle, much to his chagrin I'm sure, might be third). Despite their prominent positions and shared history, Gates and Jobs are apparently very different men. Both are powerful, rich, and smart. However, despite Microsoft's (deserved) reputation as an Evil Empire, Gates is the nicer of the two moguls.
PBS commentator Robert X. Cringely (a pseudonym) has an excellent analysis of the differences between Gates and Jobs in his latest article. He sums it up this way:
We have to understand the difference between winning in Gatespeak and Jobspeak. When Gates speaks about winning he means WINNING, the whole enchilada, mastery of the universe [but] in Steve Jobs' mind, he has already won [...] Apple's future as a boutique computer company is secure. He dominates Apple completely. When he doesn't feel like being a high tech mogul, he can be a movie mogul, something Gates will never be. In Steve's mind, he has the best of everything. Apple software is cooler than Windows will ever be. Palo Alto, where Jobs lives, is trendier than Seattle. Even Jobs' plane, a Gulfstream V, is cooler than Gates' Challenger 604. It goes on and on.
I sure like my Macs, but I doubt I'd want Steve Jobs as my boss.
Thursday, January 17, 2002 - newest items first # 3:10:00 PM:
Last night I attended my first meeting of the Editors' Association of Canada, B.C. branch. I had been meaning to join the organization for years, but only now managed to get around to dropping in. It was well worth it: I learned a number of things in that first meeting, and met people with the same (somewhat perverse) interest in linguistic nitty-gritty that I have.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - newest items first # 4:21:00 PM:
As promised, I have reorganized and updated my writing samples page, which is now in reverse chronological order. Please let me know if you spot any typos or broken links. Thank you.
Tuesday, January 15, 2002 - newest items first # 9:48:00 PM:
Detergents, wind-ups, and tubs
A mixed bag today, a little on the ranty side:
In our kitchen we have a tubby little bottle of one of those concentrated "ultra" dish detergents. Yesterday, as I watched an ad for a different one (I've probably seen thousands), it occurred to me -- does any consumer actually want "ultra" detergents? Before they existed, did anyone look at a regular-sized bottle of quality dish soap, such as Joy, and think, "Man, that's just too big," "You know, one or two squirts of that in the sink is just too much -- I wish I could do it with half a squirt"? If it's a packaging and environmental matter, then why not simply put ultra detergent into the same size bottles of old, so we need to buy fewer bottles and use less detergent? The only people the smaller bottles benefit are the detergent companies, who can ship more dollars' worth of soap in the same trucks.
Now that I'm all worked up, I should report that, ever since puberty, I've been a showerer, not a bather. But my wife, who has a bath every night, has shown me the restorative and calming powers of a nice hot tub full of water before bedtime. Now, fairly often, I have a bath before bed, which helps get me all nice and sleepy, especially on a chilly night like tonight. I still need a shower to wake up in the morning, however.
If you travel on aircraft and take photographic film with you, new security measures mean you should take extra care to protect the film from X-rays. Kodak now has some online advice on what to do. Similar precautions are necessary for memory cards used for digital cameras, by the way -- even when sending them through the mail. (Airport security may not like some bags marketed to protect against X-rays, so keep that in mind too.)
New York Times followup note: I sometimes link to articles at the New York Times Web site, which requires free registration to read articles. You might like to know that the NYT has recently started asking for more information from registrants, in order to target ads at them more precisely. If you're leery of that sort of thing and would prefer not to disclose so much, you have two options if you really want to read something I've referenced:
Submit false information to the NYT in order to preserve your privacy. (I have occasionally registered at Web sites with the names of various different wild animals, for instance.)
E-mail me about the article I've linked to, and I can send you a copy.
In 1994, when I was often touring with my band, my wife (then my fiancée) would often meet us as we travelled hither and yon across British Columbia, playing grotty pubs in small towns. On one such trip to Powell River, the two of us found a nice restaurant for dinner, down the street from that town's particular grotty pub.
On the wall was a fairly large, poster-sized silkscreen called "Carmanah Mist," by B.C. artist Tony Wypkema (who is now also a Web designer -- small world). It shows a person in a yellow raincoat at the foot of a massive spruce tree in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island. I've never been to the Carmanah, but as a lifelong B.C. resident, I've seen many places like it. Both of us felt drawn to the print, but never inquired about it or its price. I was a poor musician at the time, and couldn't have afforded it anyway. (I don't have a picture of the print either -- if I get around to photographing it, I'll post it here later.)
Some years later, after we were married and I had quit the band (I've since rejoined), my wife tracked down another print of "Carmanah Mist," had it wonderfully framed, and gave it to me as a gift. It now hangs in our bedroom. It's one of my favourite things, in part because it is beautiful and evocative, but mostly because she gave it to me.
This is from a New York Times article (to read the whole thing, you have to register -- for free -- with the NYT site):
Ten years ago, at the end of 1991 [...] the Net was home to some 727,000 hosts, or computers with unique Internet Protocol, or I.P., addresses. By the end of 2001, that number had soared to 175 million.
And yet no one is really in charge. How does that work?
If your inkjet printer suddenly refuses to print because the paper keeps jamming, before you go cursing the cheap processes used by the manufacturer and contacting technical support for warranty return information, first check to see if one of your daughters has surreptitiously dropped a pen into the paper-in slot.
Saves a lot of hassle.
Tuesday, January 08, 2002 - newest items first # 6:57:00 PM:
I've reworked this home page slightly today. The major additions appear underneath the "Site Info" section in the right column: a bunch of links and a list of weblogs I visit regularly. I've also beefed up the archive and index page a bit.
I'm working on reorganizing and updating my writing samples page too. That should happen soon.
A batch of photos has lived for months on my hard drive. I had meant to turn them into a photo essay, about my commute to Richmond by bicycle each day for my contract last summer. They were already scanned and ready to go, but the labour of getting them ready for the Web made me procrastinate about putting them online.
But the best thing was a free piece of software, called iPhoto, which made it simple for me to sort, organize, and export those photos into a Web page. And now, here is my photo essay.
The page is nothing spectacular, but I only downloaded the software about three hours ago, and whipped the page together in between making lunch for my kids, putting the youngest one down for a nap, and doing laundry. My life just got easier. Thanks, Apple.
I have determined that there is a firm line marking the end of childhood. It comes on the night that we go from hating bedtime to loving it. My children, unfortunately, are at least eight years away from that point.
Whoohoo.co.uk (link courtesy of Marlush) is a site containing a number of "dialect translators," which convert your writing into something approximating Scottish, Irish, Scouse, and other English accents and dialects of the British Isles.
For example, the preceding paragraph, in Scottish, becomes:
Whoohoo.co.uk is a site containin' a number ay "dialect translators," which convert yer writin' intae somethin' approximatin' scottish, irish, scoose, an' other sassenach accents an' dialects ay eh British Isles.
In wartime, certain qualities sometimes associated with high intelligence -- fascination with detail, a tendency to self-reliance, an awareness of ambiguity -- become greater obstacles to effective leadership. And the contrary qualities often associated with mediocre intelligence -- oversimplification, an eagerness to delegate authority, moral certainty -- can be pronounced advantages.
He does so in arguing that George W. Bush makes an effective wartime president because, not in spite, of his intellectual limitations.
My new page tracker tells me that I've had visitors to my Web site from the government of B.C., Mexico, Japan, and even Thailand in the past day or two. It tells me nothing about who they are, though I can make some guesses -- I know someone on vacation in Thailand, for instance. However, I have no idea who came to my page from the Taverners Cricket Club in Manitoba, or why.
A few years ago, the very concept of an Internet connection in Thailand would have been laughable. Today, you expect it.
Thursday, January 03, 2002 - newest items first # 7:11:00 PM:
The unexpected war movie
I've never read The Lord of the Rings. My wife and I read its prequel, The Hobbit, a few years ago, so I imagined the film of the first book of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) would be something like that -- a kids' adventure story, full of strange places and creatures, bold deeds, and maybe a few somewhat scary monsters.
But Rings is not, at heart, an adventure story, nor a kids' story, nor an "action" story, nor a fantasy of the sort those of us who have grown up only on its reputation have come to expect. It is a war story, and a tale of horror. It is full of fear and violence and death, hacking and stabbing, soot and muck and cauterizing fire, destruction, monsters, and bleakness. Major characters die unexpectedly and terribly. While interspersed with green oases of peace and tranquillity, it is tale of a relentless march into deep dismay. And at the end, the worst is yet to come.
My wife hated it, and it's hard to say I enjoyed it. Can you enjoy a war movie like Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, or Full Metal Jacket? (Or even Aliens?) That's the kind of film Lord of the Rings is. Sure, there is bravery and goodness, but under a constant barrage of sickness and evil. The war fought by the Fellowship is necessary, but far from noble. It is desperate, tragic, and soaked in blood as the world turns into a desolate wasteland.
That makes sense, since J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the books during wartime. There are obvious parallels between the enemies of the Rings tales and the Nazis, and between the dark power of the Ring and the corrupting lures of fascism and communism in Tolkien's time. But of course, the story resonates now too, as it did for those in the time of the Vietnam War thirty years ago.
The film is a spectacular technical and storytelling achievement. It includes some of the most frightening monsters ever filmed, battle scenes of both shocking immediacy and massive scale, and interludes of lushness and greenery as bucolic as anything in Babe (which had the same cinematographer). There's a lot going on at many levels -- not least the idea that the small and the meek may be the strongest in times of great trial. Light and darkness represent good and evil, but sometimes the tables are turned -- darkness may be a safe hiding place, while a distant light could be the worst thing in the world.
Don't take your young kids: they'll have nightmares. If you're looking for a good-time escape at the movies, well, try Harry Potter (with the kids) or Ocean's Eleven (without). I think that's what we'll see next time we get a babysitter. I am certainly glad I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, exhausting as it was, and I'll see its two sequels when they arrive. I'll need the twelve-month break before the next one, though.
Yesterday I wrote about espresso, and how the best is probably in Italy. The best latté is another matter -- in my city of Vancouver, at least, I think the best is at the Cafe Artigiano, at 1101 West Pender Street downtown. Not only is the drink exceptionally tasty, but it's a little work of art, with the coffee poured through the foam to form an elegant tree-leaf design. Well worth a trip downtown in itself.
(The photo is from recent Green Party candidate Bob Broughton's home page.)
Where to find the world's best espresso? The Economist suggests Trieste, Italy, where the drink seems to have been invented. It would be hard to argue.
The article also includes some history of coffee preparation, as well as a chart showing that my ancestors, the Finns, drink more coffee per capita than anyone else. (I well recall my grandfather's percolator, sitting and bubbling away atop the stove burner, distilling stronger and stronger coffee all day.) Read while you sip.
This page still isn't clean code as far as the official HTML specification is concerned, and I seem not to be able to make my new tracker work otherwise. So for now, the tracker stays, and my code is unclean.
Thank you to my wife and her friend Jo for tracking down the tracker.
Many free, useful services live on the Web. In honour of the new year, I just installed another: a tracker that lets me know how many people have visited this site and how they might get here (search engine, link, etc.). The hardest bit was getting it to work while keeping my page fully compliant with the official HTML 4.0 code specification. (If that makes no sense to you, ignore it and read on. It barely makes sense to me.)