Journal: News & Comment

This is "Penmachine.com: June 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.

Saturday, June 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:18:00 PM:

Spam wins

I had 107 messages to download from my e-mail inbox for the past three days. 59 of them were spam or spam-related (bounce-backs, etc.). That's 55% spam. How depressing.

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# 9:52:00 PM:

Come see The Neurotics

Monday, July 1 is Canada's 135th birthday (it comes one day after my 33rd, which is tomorrow). My band, The Neurotics, usually plays private parties and corporate events, but you can catch us at three separate free public events on Monday:

  1. In the courtyard in front of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, near Georgia and Hamilton streets in downtown Vancouver, in the mid-morning, we'll be playing for the finishers of the Post-to-Post 10K run.
  2. On the Canada Safeway Plaza Stage at Canada Place at 2:45 in the afternoon, for about 45 minutes, we'll be playing at the Canada Day at Canada Place celebration.
  3. At the Cadillac Fairview Cordova Street Stage at 7:45 in the evening, for an hour or so, we'll be playing near Canada Place again.
See the Neurotics calendar for more info. I hope to see you there. I'll be the guy with the Beatle hair, beard, and glittery blue jacket playing the burgundy drum kit with "The Neurotics" painted on the front. We're hard to miss.

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Thursday, June 27, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:24:00 AM:

What do I charge?

People ask it a lot: how much do I charge for my work? I don't have a generalized answer here on the Web site because my answer is, quite truthfully, "that depends."

Sometimes it's $50 an hour, sometimes more. Sometimes it's 50 cents per word, or $5 per page, or rates up or down from there. Sometimes it's a flat rate for a project. It changes if I'm writing, editing, proofreading, taking photos, marking up, laying out, or some combination of all of those things. If you want to fly me somewhere for a week, I'll cost more than if I can stay home with my family.

Adrienne Montgomerie of Catch the Sun has posted answers to some common questions about editorial rates in Canada and elsewhere. She's aiming at editors, but potential customers of any writer or editor will also find it useful. She also features a number of other resources and links for editors and our clients.

And hiring the band in which I play drums is more expensive than just getting me, my word processor, and my red pen.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:53:00 PM:

Kensington rocks

Kensington makes computer mice, trackballs, mouse pads, wrist rests, locking cables, cases, keyboard shelves, and a whole bunch of other accessories and peripherals. Kensington's mice aren't quite as well built as they used to be at the low end, but their high-end stuff (such as the Expert Mouse mega-trackball) remains pretty bulletproof. Plus they have a no-questions-asked five-year warranty, which I've needed in the past.

But here's why Kensington really rocks.

A few years ago, a four-button mouse of theirs that I had bought second-hand started acting up, so I e-mailed them. They no longer made it, so they offered me a refurbished Turbo Mouse (the Expert Mouse trackball, Mac version) in exchange. They sent me the Turbo Mouse first, without asking for any further info from me, and included a box to ship back the dead mouse,with an RMA number already on it. Cool point #1. (The Turbo Mouse is a way nicer product than the one I was replacing.)

A few months ago, my four year old lost the ball for the Turbo Mouse in the house somewhere. I finally got around to e-mailing Kensington last week about a replacement. Not only did they send me a new one -- they sent me twenty-four (yes, 24) replacement balls of several different colours, for free (not even shipping cost), two days ago, by Airborne Express, so I got them today. (The support rep e-mailed that they were actually for my daughter, and I could keep a few for the trackball.) These things are not small or light -- they're the same size as billiard balls, and only a little less heavy. Cools points #2 through #25, as far as I'm concerned.

Plus their MouseWorks drivers give you more control than anyone else's, and they provide great cleaning instructions for their products. With support like that, I'll buy their stuff again.

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# 9:27:00 AM:

Derek is...

According to Google (at least today), I am recognized, featured and listed in all of the prestigious links down below; a gorgeous collision of Texas eclectic and the wickedly stylish; a stand-up comedian originally from Timmins, Ontario; employed to do nothing; a "stars' star"; an accomplished artist who has recently completed a series of landscape watercolor paintings in the plein air style; currently the recipient of a four year Presidential Fellowship at the State University of New York at Buffalo; Managing Director of The WOW!; a racist pig; and not God.

Thanks, Alistair and Tonya. I think.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:59:00 PM:

What kind of penmachine?

Some years ago I went to see Timothy Findley, one of Canada's (and the world's) great novelists, speak at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. I was surprised to discover in his talk that, as the CBC reported in his obituary this week, he "always wrote in longhand, in pen and ink, then [his life partner] Whitehead typed his manuscripts. 'I love the ink,' Findley once told an interviewer. 'I love the feel of the pen in my hand, and you don't get that flow into a machine.'"

Few enough people write with even a typewriter anymore, let alone composing whole novels and plays with a pen. As someone who used to write many school essays, in their only draft, on the bus, I know that doing so is a very different physical and intellectual process than the infinitely-reviseable typing into a computer that I do almost exclusively now. Knowing that what you write is hard to change makes you think more, and write less but better.

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# 12:13:00 PM:

Writing symbols

Not that it needs any more coverage, but I find the idea of warchalking fascinating.

[Warchalking symbols]

In the Great Depression, hobos who roamed transiently across North America invented pictographic graffiti languages which were cryptic to the police but well understood in their community. They indicated good places to sleep and eat, warnings about police and guard dogs, and so on.

Warchalking takes that idea public and high-tech. Wireless Ethernet networks are becoming more common, and many people make their nodes publicly available as a service to those in the area -- and many cafes, hotels, and airports are beginning to do the same for their customers and even passersby. Warchalking (a word derived, ultimately, from wardialing, a method of brute-force dialing of phone numbers to find accessible computer systems) uses its own symbols to indicate, in chalk-mark pictographs, where public wireless access is available -- whether the provider knows it or not.

Unrelated to that, if you're tired of writing or sticking labels on CD-Rs you create, Yamaha's latest CD-R writer (model CRW-F1) can etch readable art into the data surface of CDs -- as long as you don't mind not being able to use the etched section for data or music. This Japanese page has better photos.

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Monday, June 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:06:00 PM:

Here I am

In Slate this morning is a succinct summary: "I began to have an inkling why the '80s revival has not occurred [...] the sense of orderliness to the whole venture. Much of the music of the '60s and '70s, from folk to punk to funk, had a kind of chaos to it. [...] Nostalgia is fueled by innocence, but '80s pop lacks innocence: It all feels calculated."

I grew up in the '80s, and though I like much of its music, David Plotz's argument rings true. That's not to say there wasn't a lot of calculated, processed gunk before the '80s (Starland Vocal Band, anyone?), and hasn't been a ton since, but the '80s were when it dominated. I'm glad there were still U2, R.E.M., the Police, Prince -- even Madonna. But remember what the hits actually were too.

On second thought, check out the charts ten years earlier and later too.

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# 11:26:00 AM:

The sounds of summer

Before Vancouver developed air quality problems in the 1980s, we used to have scheduled leaf-burning days. One day a month (or one day in the fall, I can't recall), everyone in the neighbourhood gathered leaves fallen from the trees and burned them in big piles. A distinctive, slightly sweet, acrid smell wafted over the city on those days. It was tolerable once in a while, but would have become irritating if people just burned leaves indiscriminately whenever they felt like it.

I'm now convinced that it is time for scheduled power-washing days, one day in the summer. Let's get it over with already.

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Sunday, June 23, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:10:00 AM:

Flight

Flying in a plane is, when you think about it, a pretty amazing thing. But we don't think about it much -- jumbo jets wheel over my house dozens of times a day on their way to Vancouver International Airport, and most of the time we don't even look up.

P. Smith, Salon's anonymous airline pilot correspondent, puts it well:

Here I am, sitting in a Boeing 747, a plane that, if it were tipped onto its nose, would rise as tall as a 20-story office tower. I'm at 33,000 feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean traveling at 600 miles per hour, en route to the Far East, a voyage that once took seven weeks in a sailing ship. And what are the 400 passengers doing? Complaining, sulking, reading the paper and tapping grumbly rants into their laptops. The man next to me, having paid a $5,600 business class fare, is upset because there's a dent in the lip of his can of ginger ale.

If you're more interested in planes and flying than that, read Smith's other articles.

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Saturday, June 22, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:04:00 PM:

Rock life

I make about half my living as a drummer in the Neurotics, in which I'm known as "Sticky Neurotic." We're doing a lot of shows over the next while -- three on July 1 (Canada Day), and others on July 20, 21, and 31, and August 3, 7, 10, and 17, then into the fall. We even have shows booked for the Christmas season, and one for June 2003.

One of my friends asked today, "Do you rehearse before your gigs? You sound very busy." My response was:

[Derek on the drums]
We haven't rehearsed for at least a year, and we only do so when we need to work out new songs. (Often we don't even then -- we just work out our individual parts in advance and maybe run through once or twice during soundcheck.) We've all been doing this for a long time (13 years in Seb's and my case, about 16 for Adam, and over 20 years for Dave), and this particular band has been going in some incarnation since late 1993, so we're pretty seasoned at it. Seb and I were in the Neurotics back then, Adam joined in 1996 or so, and Dave has been in the group on and off since 1998.

Even when we need fill-in players, we have guys who've been playing with us and in similar bands for years, so they can fit right in.

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Friday, June 21, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:09:00 AM:

Welcome back the toys

Nearly a week ago, I had to turn back from the security gate at Toronto's Pearson International Airport because I mistakenly packed my Leatherman multi-tool in my carry-on luggage. Improvising before my flight, I dropped the Leatherman into an envelope and mailed it to my home address in Vancouver.

Then, on Tuesday, I was taking my kids to the Piper Creek boardwalk at Burnaby Lake Park when, just after we'd stepped off the bus, I realized that the case carrying my Palm PDA had slipped off my backpack strap -- and was now driving away toward Lougheed Mall. I later called Translink's Lost Property Office to report the Palm lost, and they reported it would take at least two days to see if it had been turned in.

Today I got both my Leatherman tool and Palm handheld back -- the first came in the mail, and the second I picked up from Translink after they phoned me this morning.

Incidentally, Burnaby Lake Park was where my wife and I worked together as park naturalists when we first met, fourteen summers ago. It will be summer again in a little over six hours, at 6:24 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, when we reach the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere.

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Thursday, June 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:53:00 AM:

Wipe it

I remember thinking when I visited Niagara Falls more than a decade ago that it would be a much more spectacular place if all the buildings and crap we've built around the falls would just evaporate. Craig Northey seems to agree.

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# 12:08:00 AM:

Aerial photos of Vancouver

Some people specialize in aerial photography. I just happened to take some neat overhead shots of Vancouver while in a plane last week. I've added them to my photo essays page.

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Monday, June 17, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:21:00 PM:

Change for the better

About one year ago, I complained about how hard it was to get my two daughters and all their stuff from the car to the house by myself.

Now they walk on their own, and I can cart in the much smaller amount of gear they require in one trip (or two if we've bought something).

Thank heavens.

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Sunday, June 16, 2002 - newest items first
# 6:04:00 PM:

Death to dialup

[Written Saturday, June 15, 2002, 11:35:28 AM]

This past week, it's been sunny and warm -- sometimes genuinely hot, like 30 degrees Celsius hot -- at my house in Vancouver. Real summer weather. I know this because my wife has told me about it and I've seen it on the news. I've been in Toronto, a few thousand kilometres east, where it's been foggy, raining, windy, and mostly fairly cool. (Okay, Thursday was nice -- 20 degrees and sunny. But two days earlier, when I arrived, the city was like a shower you couldn't step out of, with a raging downpour in 32-degree temperatures. Ugly.)

As I write this journal entry, I'm moving westward at about 800 kph, 10 km above the ground in an Airbus 320 jetliner, on my way home. I see lakes below, American ones, and can just detect that the horizon is slightly curved up there in Canada somewhere. My, the Prairies are flat.

I just spent three solid days creating daily newsletters for the 79th annual meeting of the Canadian Paediatric Society, which comprises pediatricians and other child health experts from across the country. It was my second year in a row as a one man band note-taker, writer, editor, photographer, and layout technician for this project, and the first time I've been flown somewhere to write stuff -- my first editorial business trip for my own company. (I was flown to New York City with my bandmates for a show in December 2000, and I'd been on a few plane trips for other jobs before that.)

Staying awake and in touch

Since Monday morning, I've had a total of 19 hours sleep or so, yet I'm strangely un-tired. The cold I developed last weekend hasn't gone away yet, however, and I suspect I will sleep very deeply tonight before I have to pack up the car and drive to West Vancouver to play the drums again. My wife has had it harder, with her and our two daughters all hammered by the same cold, and bacterial ear and sinus infections stemming from it. Fortunately, my in-laws and parents gave her a lot of help. I think I managed to avoid the worst of it by the force of will required by my knowledge that there was no room for error during my editing contract, and getting sick meant losing several thousand dollars and maybe future business too.

My wife and I talked on the phone daily, and e-mailed, and sent a few instant messages to one another, but not as much as I would have liked to, because even though I had a "Guest Office" in my room, the Internet connection was a simple dialup data port in the side of the telephone, for which the hotel charged $1.50 per call (up to one hour). Even though there is ADSL high-speed Internet available in the business centre at the base of the hotel, it hasn't migrated its way up into the rooms of the Westin Harbour Castle yet, much less my spot on the 34th floor. There was a networking port in the wall, but it wasn't hooked up. (The view was pretty good though.)

At home, we've had a high-speed Internet connection since 1998. I'm now so used to being able to e-mail, chat with my wife when she's at her computer at work, browse the Web, transfer files, and generally stay connected that having to dial up, monitor my connection time, and wait 15 minutes for a 2.3 MB file to upload is tremendously frustrating. (I'm a long way from thinking that 300 bits per second was as fast as anyone would ever want, as I did in 1983.)

Don't go back

Here's how spoiled I am by broadband Internet: quite routinely, I'll be looking for a program to install, and while I know I have it on a CD-R somewhere, or even maybe buried on my computer's hard drive, I'll just go to the Web site and download it again, because that's simpler, faster, and more convenient. The file could be 15 MB, and it still only takes a few minutes. If I'd tried that in my hotel room, I would have had to wait an hour and a half.

Actually, I did try it. Elizabeth, a conference organizer, asked me to put a PowerPoint presentation for one of the doctors on a CD, since my technologically beefy rented PowerBook has a built in CD burner. Staff in the business centre would e-mail me the files. Fine with me, I said.

Now, the night before, I had tried to e-mail another file, for printing that night's newsletter, to another office of the business centre -- but it was too big (5 MB) and bounced back. The e-mail server kindly decided to return the whole 5 MB file to me in another e-mail, so I cancelled the transmission, ended up burning a CD with the file, walked the eight blocks into the heart of downtown Toronto from the waterfront at midnight, dropped it off, grabbed a Tim Horton's coffee, and walked back to the hotel -- all in less time than the file would have taken to travel the same distance (detoured through my e-mail server in Vancouver) and back over wires.

So now we're back to the PowerPoint files -- all 9 MB (!) of them. (What is it with PowerPoint? I looked at the presentation later, and I could have compressed it into another format less than 1 MB in size.) My 5 MB bounce-back was still waiting for me to download it (attempts to delete it without downloading failed), and the 9 MB of PowerPoint was in queue behind that. Again, an hour and a half's worth, if the connection didn't get interrupted.

No way. Having come prepared, I schlepped downstairs with the PowerBook and small bag of networking equipment I'd stashed in my suitcase, just in case.* After fighting with the business centre's setup for about 25 minutes (with their permission), I had hooked into their ADSL connection, but not into their internal network, where the files I needed lived. So I downloaded my e-mail (5 MB bounce-back, plus only 6 of the 9 MB of PowerPoint, it turns out) in a couple of minutes, and then transferred the one remaining file from their network to my file server in Vancouver. Then I downloaded the file from Vancouver to my PowerBook on the next desk. I had reassembled the PowerPoint presentation, burned it to CD, given it to Elizabeth, and come back to my room in less time than the download alone would have taken on the dialup connection in the room, if it worked at all.

Technology and people

So I had to stick with the telephone for talking to my wife, for which the hotel charged another hefty long-distance fee, and occasional e-mails. I tried my cellular phone too, but reception was spotty in my room, though it was fine in the lobby and on the street. I like speaking to my wife on the phone, but it's nice to have spur-of-the-moment conversations with instant messaging and quick e-mails too, and I missed that.

It reinforced how much I miss my family too. It's the longest I've been away since my oldest was born. Marriage and family are far more complicated than we grow up believing, even though many of us witness those complications in our own parents. But my life is better for those complications, and I love my wife and girls more for it. I'll be desperately glad to see them in three or four hours.


* P.S. When my wife looked at my bag as I packed it, she surmised that, while women pack extra makeup and clothes and accessories, "men seem to pack wires." Good thing I had them, too. I also packed my Leatherman tool (which she calls my 'man tool, with a wink), and then stupidly put it in my carry-on luggage for the trip back. Security wouldn't allow it through (of course -- it has blades), so I turned around and took advantage of another fine technology: the kind people at the Sheraton connected to the terminal gave me an envelope, and I sealed the Leatherman inside and mailed it to myself. Even high-speed Internet won't let you do that.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:36:00 PM:

N-n-n-n-night

They also keep you awake if you take them too late. That's okay -- there are still four and a half hours to sleep.

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# 9:18:00 AM:

M-m-m-m-morning

I have discovered today that if you wake up and consume nothing but a cup of coffee and two Tylenol Cold Daytime non-drowsy capsules on an empty stomach, you can find yourself just a tad jittery.

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Monday, June 10, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:43:00 AM:

Farewell, and thanks

I received an e-mail yesterday from my old high school, informing me that my English 9 and 12 teacher, Mr. Robin Baker, recently died. This year, two of my other teachers from that era, Mr. Tosh Ujimoto (Math 9) and Mr. Paul Baumann (every Biology class), retired, and another, Mr. Dougal Fraser (English 10, English Lit 12), left the school because of health problems. I graduated in 1986, and all of these teachers had been at the school long before I arrived four years earlier. They inspired many -- like me.

  • Mr. Baumann's enthusiasm for his subject (I remember his complete pre-empting of a planned lesson to teach us a ton of neat stuff he'd just learned at a seminar on the human skeleton) led me into a biology degree. I didn't become a biologist, but in that degree program I met my wife, and set a course that means I can confidently write a newsletter for a professional organization of physicians this week.

  • Mr. Ujimoto taught me only one course, but his precision on the overhead projector and sly humour helped set me up for advanced math programs in the rest of high school and even university, though I am not naturally a strong mathematician.

  • Mr. Fraser did nothing less than teach me to write. Although jovial and extremely funny (he delighted in having a huge collection of shockingly ugly neckties), he maintained ruthless standards for written English, and assigned us a short 300-word essay almost every class. I usually wrote them on the bus in the morning, which forced me not only to write well, but to write well quickly, and without an outline. Again, I wouldn't be able to do most of my work today at any reasonable, professional speed without those lessons. (My weblog might be less annoyingly large, though.)

  • Mr. Baker, apparently a former hippie, ran the yearbook while I worked on it (and so taught me my first lessons in cut-and-paste layout, long before desktop publishing appeared), had posters for The Doors and Arthur C. Clarke's novel Rendezvous With Rama on his classroom walls, and had us not only reading classic works, but also analyzing the lyrics of The Eagles and Peter Gabriel. He'd been to more rock concerts than nearly any of his students ever will. He was a rarity: a teacher cool enough for the dudes in class, but with solid standards that made sure we did our work. He's a big reason why I'm both a writer and a classic-rock musician today.

    He also smoked up a storm. Though he officially died of throat cancer, he really died from smoking, as his colleague, my French 9 teacher Mr. Cam McLaren, did while I was still in high school, as my step-grandfather did in 1981 -- and as Peter Gzowski did this year.

It's sad when your teachers retire. (Though we loathed going to his classes, my Math 12 class was wistful when our mercurial and self-taught instructor Mr. Tony Parker-Jervis -- a.k.a. Mr. P-J -- retired after graduating us, his last class in a long career.) It's sadder when they're killed by a habit. Yet their inspiration remains regardless. And I know that my wife, who is a high school math teacher, inspires kids every day, just as Mr. Baker and his co-workers inspired me in the '80s. She's been teaching for 10 years already, and she doesn't smoke, so she'll almost certainly inspire for another two decades before she too retires.

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# 9:39:00 AM:

Dangerous experience

I've been using personal computers for a long time, since 1980 or so, and before that I even used to use my dad's access to a mainframe to play some games while I was waiting for him at the local technology institute. I've been online for more than 20 years too -- I remember plugging a phone handset into an acoustic coupler to connect to the telephone company's computer, with a borrowed terminal that let me play Wumpus on an endlessly spewing roll of thermal printer paper.

But I've never been a laptop guy. I've never owned one, and all my computers have been bulky things with big cathode-ray-tube screens and noisy fans and wires sticking out all over the place. Portability has been limited to my Palm handheld. This week, however, I'm renting a sexy Titanium PowerBook G4 for a big editing and desktop publishing contract, and it's spoiling me. Aside from the much-speedier performance over my old Mac, and the "mega-wide" LCD screen, the G4 also lets me get my e-mail and some Web pages and then sit in the living room or on the porch to do my work (or my weblog), rather than having to hang out down in my basement office.

If I had a wireless Ethernet network, I'd be totally set. Oh yeah, and $4000 to buy the laptop instead of having to return it next weekend.

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Friday, June 07, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:36:00 PM:

Get odd

The Canadian Press oddities news is a fun distraction.

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# 4:56:00 PM:

Aerolatte distributor in Canada

A surprising number of visitors come to my site looking for information about the Aerolatte milk foamer, a neat little tool my wife bought me last year.

Those of you looking to buy one should contact these people:

Batten Enterprises
1520 Columbia Street
North Vancouver, BC V7J 1A4
1-888-984-7471 toll free
604-984-2855 local

I hope that's useful to you.

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# 1:22:00 PM:

A free place for your photos

Photo labs and online photo services let you store digital pictures online, but often they cost money or impose limits on how many you can put there, or on the photos' maximum resolution.

On the other hand, photo.net (set up by MIT professor Phil Greenspun) provides better picture-archiving services, as well as a huge photographic community, for free. (You can pay for extended services too, and the subscription is cheap.) At any one time, there are dozens or hundreds of people logged in (each with a personal info page), and most are willing to help you learn about photograpy -- digital or old-style -- or buy or sell stuff.

I've been posting selected photos there for a few years now, since long before I set up a photo section on this site, and around the same time I started submitting to MacDesktops. Photo.net is a great site.

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# 10:52:00 AM:

Is that meta-information, or meta-meta-information?

Find out what each of the top ten search engines thinks are the top ten search engines.

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Thursday, June 06, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:28:00 AM:

Wild life

When I talked to my friend Alistair this morning, he was very tired. As a stay-at-home dad with two kids under five, I always assume that when my single friends like Alistair are tired, they've been out partying at a nightclub or bar or restaurant or storm sewer or steam tunnel till late in the evening, as we used to do in our late teens and early twenties.

But he told me he'd simply been home, doing some work on his computer much, much too late. Which is exactly what I had been doing too.

We're a wild bunch.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:46:00 PM:

[Mozilla dinosaur]Happy birthday

Mozilla is 1 today (1.0, that is). Who knows what she'll grow up to be? Or if she's a she at all?

By the way, if you use Mozilla as your Web browser, I recommend the Little Mozilla "skin," which uses screen real estate very efficiently. Looks nice too.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:57:00 AM:

Keep it free

Here's why big companies (or anyone else) shouldn't own and control the Internet.

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# 10:56:00 AM:

Forcing frames or nuking them: getting people to see your Web site content the way you want

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a well-known U.S. radio personality with some strong and controversial medical opinions, as well as a decent Web site. Diana Mirkin runs it, and she asked me some questions about working with old Web content inside Web frames. I thought others might find my answers to her useful. She asked:

The person who designed www.drmirkin.com for us (in 1998) used frames, and I'm quite happy with the way the site works EXCEPT when someone arrives at a report through a search engine, the frames aren't there. (You can see what I mean if you go to www.google.com and type in "night-time leg cramps". One of our reports will be the 4th on the list (or so); click on it . . .) On some of the older reports I have a link ("Click here to return to the home page of DrMirkin.com) but -- is there a better solution? Is the basic design so out-of-date that it should be completely redone? One suggestion I have had is to use a pop-under window, but I find them annoying and don't want to annoy other people.

I'd avoid the pop-unders for precisely the reason you specify. They're generally pretty evil. And there are alternatives -- Option 2 below may be your best bet.

I don't think the site needs a redesign -- it is well constructed and pretty easy to work with as it is, and starting from scratch is likely to be a big headache.

Frames make it easy to maintain consistent navigation, since you only have to update one page (your left-hand frame) to change things for the whole site -- IF your visitors reach you with the frameset intact. Of course, the very problem you identify is one reason people avoid frames more than they used to.

Option 1: nuking frames

Indeed, frames often make page linking, search engine links, and general navigation confusing, so designers these days tend to:

  • use server-side tricks to create frameless pages that use a database to plug content into a template, or
  • use a frameless template that includes navigation, and do a search-and-replace or "include" operation with their editor (like HomeSite) whenever they want to change how that works.

You could hire someone to recreate the look you already have using frameless templates, simply moving all the content over into the new templates. That can be somewhat automated, but is still time-consuming. From then on, you'd have to make sure to use the same template consistently, and have a way of updating it whenever you want to change the look or high-level links on the site.

If you use exactly the same template exactly the same way with every new page, then changing the look of the site is a simple matter of search-and-replace. But if you don't apply the template consistently, then it gets to be a big headache (as I've discovered with my own site -- www.penmachine.com -- but it's small enough that I can clean up by hand).

You could also do it with a database system, but that requires rejigging the whole way your site works and maybe even moving it to a different kind of server, which is an even bigger pain. It would make things much easier in the future, though.

Either approach would give you something that looks like what you have already (except the whole page would scroll, instead of just the right-hand frame). If you were creating a new site, something like this is what I'd recommend. But you're not, so rebuilding the site that way is almost as much work as starting over -- if you're going to try it, you might wish to redesign the site anyway.

Option 2: forcing frames

Using JavaScript (which requires that your visitors use a JavaScript-capable browser and have JavaScript turned on -- not a bad bet, since about 97% of Web users probably do both), there's a trick to force "child" pages to load in a "parent" frameset. I haven't done it myself, but here are some online resources to tell you how to do it with a few different approaches:

Take a look and see which one works best for you. Note that anyone without JavaScript capability won't get forced into the frameset, but that's probably fine. They'll still get the content, which is what counts. It's a good idea to put links to the home page in the frame content anyway for those people, as you were doing. Just make sure it includes a target="_top" attribute, like this:

<a href="http://www.drmirkin.com" target="_top">link text</a>

That makes sure you don't end up spawning new windows when you don't want to.

Whichever option you use, TEST the results in a number of different browsers on different operating systems to make sure it works consistently. I'd recommend Internet Explorer 5 and 6 and Netscape 4.7 and 7 on Windows, and Internet Explorer 5.1 and Netscape 4.7 and 7 on Macintosh as a minimum. (Get some friends to try out a few pages if you don't have all those options yourself.)

If you can (though it's not necessary), try Internet Explorer 4, Netscape 3, Opera, OmniWeb, and some other browsers (maybe on Linux too) to make sure your pages work in some way or another on the widest possible range of devices.

Getting in the right directory listing at search engine sites

Diana went on to ask:

Many search engines have the site categorized as "Kensington, Maryland (USA)" instead of as a health or medical site. Is there a basic flaw in the Title, Meta tags, or in the multiple pages, or ??? Is there a not too labor-intensive way to get this corrected? Since I don't know what I'm doing, my efforts to submit the site to search engines have probably been all wrong.

I was initially puzzled about this one, but I managed to suss it out. I couldn't even FIND "Kensington, Maryland" in the code on your site, so I'm not sure where this information came from. Your META and TITLE tags are all very good -- informative and to the point, which is why search engines actually find you when people look!

But I see what you mean:

Open Directory - Kensington, Maryland

Many directories, including Google's, Netscape's, and many others, use the same database (called the Open Directory -- www.dmoz.org), so I suspect the reason you keep running into it this way is that they're all using the Open Directory as their source material -- and it has Kensington, Maryland as the primary category for your site. Here's a list of the sites that use it:

Sites Using Open Directory Data

As a counterexample, Yahoo! does NOT use the Open Directory, and they seem to be fine:

Yahoo! - Radio Programs

That's where you'd like to be, right?

Here's what I think happened: somewhere back in The Day, your site was originally submitted to the Open Directory as being in Kensington, Maryland, and that's where it has stayed. Every other directory that uses the OD just absorbs that information from the master database. So you need to see if you can make the change there.

Unlike automated search engines such as Google, Teoma, and AltaVista (which just look for results, rather than categorizing sites by topic), directories such as Yahoo! and the Open Directory are run and constructed by actual people. So you need to contact an actual person and see if they can help.

  1. First, find a category in the Open Directory where you'd like the site to be listed. Maybe something like this:

    Health Publications - Magazines and E-zines

  2. Click the Add URL link at the top. For the above example, it goes here:

    Submit to Magazines and E-zines

  3. Fill in the info. Take care with your site description and summary -- make it clear and short, with maybe three or four critical keywords included, but in real sentences. In other words, say what you want people to know about the site, no tricks. Surprising how that works!

  4. Submit the form and wait.

It may take some time for updates to happen (maybe as long as a month), then it takes even longer for the change to make its way beyond that to all the sites using the information. But it should work eventually.

Also, try for a few other categories, like maybe:

Follow the same procedure. If I understand it correctly, you'd still be listed under Kensington, Maryland too. I'm not sure if there's a way to get yourself removed from that listing or not, or whether you'd want to bother.

Here's an interesting discussion of how categorization works in the OD:

Search Engine Secrets - Open Directory Discussion

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Monday, June 03, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:03:00 PM:


NOTE: Maintenance at my service provider meant that none of the last three days' updates (starting here) was visible until the morning of June 4, 2002. They're all here now.

Push, push to the edge

Daypop isn't quite a search engine, and isn't quite an archive. It's useful, though.

 |

# 1:24:00 PM:

The disembodied hand

My photographic skills are modest, but people still pay me to take pictures on occasion. I've photographed weddings and corporate events, and even taken and edited some video.

Last summer I put together the first draft of some instruction manuals for Sierra Wireless, a wireless modem manufacturer. If you go to this page and download the Installation Guide (the second link -- it's an Acrobat PDF file), you can see some very non-artistic photos I took of setting up and installing a wireless modem card. Though I'm right-handed, you mostly see my disembodied left mitt in the photos -- because I was holding the camera in the other.

Although informative, they are perhaps the least interesting pictures I've ever created.

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Sunday, June 02, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:11:00 PM:

iGeek, uGeek, weAllGeek

iGeek is a commentary site run by David Every, who used to be the man behind MacKiDo. Good stuff there.

Politech, run by Declan McCullagh, formerly of Wired News, has lots of interesting things too, if you don't mind wading through a lot of discussion.

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Saturday, June 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:02:00 PM:

Accents

Most people are familiar with the wide range of accents and dialects of English spoken in the British Isles -- such as Liverpudlian Scouse, the drill-sargeant burr of Glasgow, upper-crust RP ("received pronunciation") on the BBC, and lilting Irish -- and across the United States -- including the broad "hey youse" of New Yawk, southern gool-ole boy, Valley Girl uptalk?, wide-mouthed Bostonian, and the Scandi-yah of the Dakotas made famous in Fargo.

However, those unfamiliar with other English-speaking countries tend to think that we have uniform accents. For instance, there's a general impression that Anglo Canadians share a common tongue. Other than the distinct dialects of the Maritimes and especially Newfoundland, that's even mostly true. Americans claim we all say "aboot" for about, but no Canadian I know actually thinks we do -- on the contrary, we think Americans say "abaht" (except for their newscasters, who are often Canadians anyway).

However, a lifelong British Columbian like me can usually detect slight differences in how someone from Ontario speaks. (I recall an Ontario-bred teacher of mine in grade 10 saying "fil-um" when talking about a film, for instance.) The highly inbred community of journalists in Toronto and Ottawa seems to have its own particularly sonorous central-Canada sound, which makes voices on national newscasts a bit grating to westerners.

My friend Leesa (an Australian currently in England) pointed out an article from her homeland describing the emergence of regional dialects in Australia too -- apparently that's something new there, and it's appearing (as these things do) in young speakers of Australian English.

Are there similar regional or class dialects in other places with many native English speakers, such as South Africa, New Zealand, or India (where it's usually a second language)? Probably. Maybe this upcoming book will reveal the answer.

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