Journal: News & Comment

This is "Penmachine.com: August 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, August 31, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:45:00 PM:

"Guy"

I just noticed that I use the word "guy" fairly often here. Over the past couple of years, for instance, I have said that I:

  • will be "the guy with the Beatle hair, beard, and glittery blue jacket playing the burgundy drum kit."
  • am a guy with a nerd voice.
  • "was Web Guy about four years ago."
  • was one of four guys who "played 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and 'With a Little Help From My Friends.'"
  • am "a long-time Mac guy, and before that I was an Apple II guy."
  • am "not a car guy."
  • "am a pretty lefty-leaning, love-is-good, save-the-world guy."

Do you feel you know me better now?

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# 7:33:00 PM:

It's ali... I mean, it's a radio!

Look what Alistair found: evidence that living organisms are not alone in doing cool and unexpected things by evolving.

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# 4:30:00 PM:

Frighteningly positive

Fairy tales and nursey rhymes often have a dark edge, which, together with elegant wording, is usually what gives them their power and longevity. Now imagine this:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such a sport,
And the dish said, "We'll all do it soon."

or, more poignantly:

Little Miss Muffit sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her,
And brightened Miss Muffit's whole day.

or this:

Rock-a-bye, baby, on the tree top;
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock;
Birdies and squirrels will be at play,
And you can watch them
All through the day.

You don't have to imagine it. There's a whole book full of such creepily diluted nursery rhymes. It's called Positively Mother Goose, and it gives me the willies. My wife and kids found it by accident at the library, to which it had been donated by some smart family who didn't want it anywhere in their home.

The illustrations are pleasant, and the title gives little indication of what's inside. The jacket says that it "offers a refreshing new version of the traditional rhymes, promoting the values of self-esteem, conflict resolution, lifelong learning, and innovative thinking." (Buzzword alert!) Apparently, the "positive" new rhymes are "designed to honor what is valuable from the past while gently guiding us into the future." And the original rhymes (the "negative" ones, I guess) appear inside the covers for reference.

The back flap hints at the real story: "When [young co-author] Julia heard the line 'And down will come baby, cradle, and all,' her body stiffened, and she asked her mother to help pick up the crying child. [Her mother] Diane quickly got some white-out [my emphasis], and she and Julia wrote a new and positive Rock-a-Bye Baby. [Co-author Karen Kolberg] was fascinated by the cow who jumped over the moon. On the other hand, she was upset and scared by the dish that ran away with the spoon. Were they unhappy or afraid?"

Upset and scared by Hey Diddle-Diddle? I am a pretty lefty-leaning, love-is-good, save-the-world guy, but I find the book repellent, largely because its attempts at "positivizing" are so clumsy and didactic. I guess the authors don't want kids knowing that fear is normal and okay, or asking any questions about life. ("Why did the dish and spoon run away?" has all sorts of potentially interesting answers, in my mind.) The third co-author, Diane Loomans, is also the author of The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem.

I am not making any of this up.

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# 9:51:00 AM:

Don't fall through the gaping chasms

Back in March I talked about how, while Hong Kong is listed by various think-tanks as the most "economically free" jurisdiction in the world, it can be a pretty crappy place to live, since economic freedom and quality of life don't necessarily correlate.

Today's National Post shows that, when things start going sour, that's especially true. A worldwide economic downturn, decreased political freedom, and (with some irony) competition from mainland China has made poverty, unemployment, and unrest suddenly big problems in what used to be held up as a model capitalist economy.

In Hong Kong, "almost half the population has less than a Grade 10 education," while real estate prices have plunged by 60%, and the city "has the most basic of social safety nets. To qualify for social assistance, you have to be virtually destitute. There is no unemployment insurance or old age pension."

I'm not writing this out of schadenfreude for the people of Hong Kong. And free markets can do amazing things. The problem is when you expect them to do everything, always. Yes, it's expensive to buy a safety net, and that eats into profits and ups taxes. But when the bottom falls out, no net means the fall is hard, and sometimes lethal.

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Friday, August 30, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:47:00 AM:

If the boot fits

Business 2.0's "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" is funny, if overlong. No doubt the magazine contributed to some of the list's happenings too.

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Thursday, August 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:12:00 PM:

Good advice on installing Mac OS X 10.2

If you're upgrading a Mac OS X computer with the new Mac OS X version 10.2 (a.k.a. "Jaguar"), as I plan to do in the next few weeks sometime, I recommend reading this Macworld article by Dan Frakes on how to do it most effectively. It's a nice compromise between updating your current Mac OS X installation (a recipe for conflicts and problems) and starting from scratch with a clean hard disk. At least, I hope it is.

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# 11:44:00 AM:

Catalogues and magazines

Ryan's link to the Globe and Mail article about Martha Stewart and L.L. Bean reminded me of a time twenty years ago when I loved a particular mail-order catalogue.

Banana Republic, like Abercrombie & Fitch, started out as a very different clothing company from its current incarnation, which is as the high-end outlet for Gap, Inc. (or, in Abercrombie's case, a sexed-up sweats & jeans retailer). Both BR and A&F were originally more like outfitters, with practical, non-stylish British Empire-type safari clothes and similar outdoorsy equipment. (Consequently, their names made more sense then.) I bought a pair of zip-off-leg cargo pants from Banana Republic in La Jolla, California years before that design existed anywhere else, for instance. Before the Gap transmogrified it, the store was most similar to Canada's Tilley Endurables, but without the dreaded "older traveller" connotations.

The best part of the old Banana Republic was the free, booklet-sized mail-order catalogue, which was much like the J. Peterman catalogue so often satirized on Seinfeld, but with better illustrations and less stuffiness. I dreamed of owning the lushly described items in it, even if they included a belt I could just as easily buy at Sears for half the price and without paying shipping and U.S. exchange. But the catalogue was expensive to produce, and eventually they stopped sending it. And I stopped buying. And then they became just another clothing store, years before an outlet appeared in Vancouver, where I live. I've never shopped there.

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# 11:06:00 AM:

Software: like publishing, but also not

Doc Searls has a good essay on copyright today:

We can talk about [software] in the same terms [as writing and music] (we write, publish and copy it), but what it does for us is radically different. It's stuff we build. It serves as a platform for other stuff we build. It's an environment for whole domains of our lives (such as our professions). It's provides tools for every kind of activity that can possibly be aided by computer. Those all involve different conceptual frameworks to scaffold our understanding of what software is, and what it's good for.

So why bring copyright law into the conversation at all? Only one reason: it's like publishing. It seeks to lock software into one conceptual framework.

That's not a good enough reason. That reason gives insufficient respect to the profoundly unique nature of software ? to the ways software is unlike anything else, and must be understood on its own terms. And we haven't even begun to agree about what those terms are.

There's been much angst recently about lopsided and reactionary legislation in the United States (sometimes mirrored in Canada and elsewhere) that tries to shoehorn new technologies into old legal frameworks and business models. Eventually everything will get sorted out, but it's likely to be messy, partly for the very reasons Doc describes.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:10:00 PM:

The real reason for the dot-com collapse?

A recent visitor to this site reports:

I now have your website as my homepage [...] your website and particularly, your home page journal, is more interesting than anything else on the internet.

Very flattering, and I am humbled. I mean, I don't have my Web site as my home page, and neither does my wife. I didn't think anyone did, let alone someone I've never met. But if I'm the most interesting thing on the Internet, that would explain a few things. And the Internet has a whole lot to answer for.

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# 6:19:00 PM:

Minor differences

I'm not a car guy. As cars go, the one we own, a Ford Focus wagon, is not especially exciting. It has slightly more cachet than the Toyota Corolla loaner car we're currently driving, while the Focus is in the shop. Both are low-priced, solidly built, functional, and extremely popular cars built in North America but designed elsewhere -- the Focus in Europe, the Corolla in Japan. I'm routinely amazed by how much stuff I can cram into the Focus -- my entire band's instruments and PA setup, for instance, including drums, three guitars, three amplifiers, sound board, stands, cables, lights, and monitor speakers (i.e. everything you see here), as well as costumes. Plus me and my briefcase. Everything except the two big main speakers, the subwoofer, and the rest of the musicians, actually. If I use the roof rack, I can even carry a passenger.

The Corolla seems a bit roomier for passengers, and has a little more zip from the engine. A few of its ergonomic details are odd: the steering wheel seems too low, and the centre console definitely is, preventing me from comfortably resting my right elbow on it while I drive, as I do in the Focus. Where the Focus has a well-hidden little plastic coin pocket in the dashboard (in the "wedge" between the instrument lights and air vents at the top of this photo), the Corolla's is right out in the open (it's the scoopy thing at the far left of this photo), which means you have to take the coins out when you leave the car in public, negating much of its usefulness.

The Corolla, like most Toyota products, is a legend of reliability. The Focus is more iffy, but ours has been pretty good so far. Were I in the market for a new vehicle, I'd probably still choose the Ford. Of course, there is no longer a Corolla wagon, and I couldn't stuff those drums in the trunk anyway.

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Sunday, August 25, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:02:00 PM:

First crossing

Yesterday my family and I crossed the border into the United States for the first time since last September's terrorist attacks. I expected security to be much tighter, but the only real difference from the dozens of other crossings I'd made in previous years was that both American and Canadian customs officers now require identification papers for everyone, including birth certificates for my two children.

The 90-minute lineup wasn't unusual for a Saturday lunchtime -- we'd had a longer wait in the summer of 2000 before a camping trip to Oregon. Coming back around 9:00 p.m., we waited less than five minutes. Then again, we've always been pretty low on the list of potential terrorists in profile: two young, white, Canadian-born English-speakers with preschoolers in tow. I would have been more nervous were my skin and eyes darker, or my accent less identifiable. Which is too bad.

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Saturday, August 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:19:00 AM:

Good business

Last year I did some work for Navarik, a Vancouver-based software company that creates programs for the shipping industry. It was founded by some friends I've known since university, Bill Dobie, Martin Ertl, and others.

Yesterday I visited them at their office in the legendary Sun Tower (once the tallest building in the British Empire—which tells you how long ago that was—and longtime home of the Vancouver Sun newspaper), for the first time in more than a year. I'm always impressed by the company, because it comprises a small group of very smart people who are genuinely trying to solve problems in an industry that, like its ships, has a lot of inertia. Plus the name, Navarik, makes the company sound like it's from Iceland or, even better, Norway, with all its we-know-our-ships cachet. Of course, given our coastline, we Canadians know our ships too, but Navackenzie or Navareh? somehow don't work as well.

[Wally's Burgers sign on Kingsway]

Navarik has already moved offices once in its brief history, and will soon move again, to another floor in the same building. On my way home, I dropped in to another small business that has never moved: Wally's Burgers on Kingsway. It opened as a drive-in half a century ago, when drive-ins were the latest, hippest thing.

Wally's looks much worse for wear today, the outside menus on the fence are all faded and peeling, and you have to go to the counter now (it was fully enclosed some years ago), but the burgers are still good and reasonably priced. I had a Deluxe Chuck Wagon burger -- the name shows its 1950s origins too -- which is a double burger where the patties overlap inside an oval bun, instead of being stacked as at most burger joints, plus fries and a drink, for a little over five bucks.

I wonder where Navarik will be in fifty years? Not in the same location, that's for sure.

Disclaimer (added May 2004): While I now work for Navarik Corp., this site is my own, and doesn't represent the company's position on anything.

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Friday, August 23, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 PM:

Simpler, better

This site now hosts the video pages of The Neurotics and The Shagadelics, two retro-sixties bands I'm affiliated with. (I play drums in one, and the leader of the other fills in when we need another bass player.)

I moved the pages here when Apple Computer announced that it would start charging for its formerly free iTools service (now called ".mac"), and in the process I made the design of the video pages cleaner and simpler. I prefer the new looks, which are also easier to maintain. In general, I've always eschewed complexity in designing Web sites. That's partially an aesthetic choice, but largely because I still make my sites by hand with a text editor, and haven't developed my whiz-bang Web skills enough to do anything fancier.

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Thursday, August 22, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:27:00 PM:

New addition

Regular visitors know I like my gadgets, so I like Gizmodo, "the gadget weblog" (via Dan Gillmor). I'll soon add it to my weblog roll.

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# 1:30:00 AM:

Doing the right thing, if you can figure it out

I'll just quote:

In the decade since the first earth summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, the destruction of natural habitats has accelerated. How can this be, if protecting the environment makes economic sense? In a telephone interview with Salon, [Robert] Costanza explained that the problem is -- what else, these days? -- bad accounting. If governments devised rules that required corporations to "internalize" any environmental damage they might cause, Costanza says, we'd probably see a lot of companies thinking about the fate of our grandchildren.

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# 12:32:00 AM:

Overload

For most people, a daily diet containing 2000 calories of energy (actually 2000 kilocalories, but never mind) is about right. Many dieters survive on 1200 calories a day. You can get that from a single large Burger King Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shake -- which also contains more than two days' worth of the recommended intake of fat. That single drink also has more calories and fat (42 g) than a Double Whopper with cheese (1150 cal, 33 g of fat).

Pick a Double Whopper Value Meal, and you're up to 2100 calories, and approaching a week's worth of fat. And if you're wondering, a Venti Egg Nog Latté from Starbucks is a bit milder -- 810 calories, and 36 grams of fat, or only a little over a day's worth, but still more than the Double Whopper with cheese.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:15:00 PM:

Oh that! Em, er, we knew about that...

Dell and news.com seem to have fixed their problem, several days later. Laptops apparently start at $1049 (US dollars, of course).

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# 12:05:00 PM:

Getting the most from iPhoto

If you use Apple Computer's wonderful iPhoto digital photo organizing program on Mac OS X, I recommend you read the new article and discussion thread about iPhoto "power tips" from TidBITS, the venerable Mac e-newsletter.

Here are some some additional pointers:

I use iPhoto on a first-generation beige Power Mac G3, which is below the threshold of supported hardware for that program. It works, of course, but some things are slow.

In particular, the first time I select and deselect an image in Organize mode after starting up, I often get the Spinning Pizza of Death (SPOD) for 30 seconds or so. Subsequent selections are usually fine.

Overall, though, iPhoto is still slower than I would like in most operations (building previews after import, scrolling, dragging crop rectangles, and especially resizing thumbnails). It remains usable, and is so much better for organizing things than any of the alternatives that I've used that I put up with the speed hit.

I have three tips:

  1. Mac OS X's built-in Image Capture remains, for me, a better way of getting photos onto my computer. First, it's faster for previewing on my beige G3 (USB speed limits mean it's no faster when actually transferring). Second, it lets me rotate photos BEFORE they're downloaded, which is a help and may also save disk space. Third, I can choose to download only some of the photos on my camera -- iPhoto will only take them all.

    What I've done is used Image Capture's prefs to make it the default program to open when I plug in my Secure Digital (SD) card reader (it also worked fine with a borrowed Canon G2 camera, and with an Antec CompactFlash reader). I click to download just some of the photos, and in the thumbnail view that appears (very quickly, I might add), I select and mass-rotate any photos that need rotating, then select and import everything I want. I have them set to go into the root of my Pictures folder.

    Next, I get iPhoto running and drag my photos onto it. If I want, I can select and drag subsets of the photos from my camera -- if I have a full 128 MB SD card of low-resolution JPEGs on my camera, that can be 500 photos, so I may want to break them down a bit -- they end up as separate film rolls. Then I can either back up the original photos or just delete them, since there are now copies in the iPhoto library.

  2. Since getting my own digital camera, I've taken a lot of photos -- over 1200 since early July. Luck has it that, so far, each month has had about enough photos that the dated folder in the iPhoto library (2002/07/ and 2002/08/, for instance) is between 600 and 700 MB, just the right size for a CD-R. So I use Toast and back up just that subfolder in the iPhoto library monthly. I know that doesn't keep the index, and does include all the thumbnails, original versions, and so on, but if I ever need to restore, all the photos are there, and not too hard to find.

  3. Some free third-party programs are handy. The free Better HTML Export iPhoto plugin is MUCH superior to Apple's included HTML Export. You can set up your own page templates, the overall navigation and design of the HTML albums is good, and tweakability is far better:

    www.droolingcat.com/software/betterhtmlexport/

    I've used it to create a number of Web albums -- you can see how much better the Better HTML albums (artsy, aerial, and fireworks photos) are than the native iPhoto export (bike commuting) and the quite different one from TalaPhoto (D.Q. Neurotic), another interesting and simple free program:

    www.penmachine.com/photoessays/

    www.talasoft.com/talaphoto/

    Note that installing iPhoto plugins is rather odd: you do so from the Show Info window. And if any of the plugins you use has a problem or is corrupted, the entire Export window in iPhoto can become non-functional. (I discovered that a version of the Toast Export plugin I had caused me a problem. I just use Toast directly now.)

    Pic2Icon is a fun little application that will create lovely big preview icons for any picture (or movie, I think), with configurable borders and antialiasing controls. I occasionally drag subfolders of the iPhoto library onto it to make the thumbnail and photo icons nicer-looking than they might be otherwise -- especially if the Finder icons and previews are absent, which they sometimes are:

    www.sugarcubesoftware.com/sw/index.php?pic2icon

    Those icons are particularly helpful if I decide to browse the iPhoto folders manually for any reason, which I occasionally do to copy photos back onto my digital camera using their original file names, so I can use its video-out port to show pictures on my TV.

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# 10:00:00 AM:

No holiday

Next month, my doctor, I.K. Hassam of the Yaletown Medical Clinic, is taking three weeks off. It's no holiday, though -- he's joining more than a dozen other physicians on a medical relief trip to Tajikistan. As he's done once before, he'll see patients there and help set up medical clinics in a remote, mountainous, and dangerous part of the world.

Just to get there, he must fly from Vancouver to Frankfurt, then to Istanbul. From Turkey, he boards a Tajik jet on a route that Soviet-era Aeroflot pilots used to receive extra danger pay for flying, because of the difficult, high terrain and primitive aerospace infrastructure. Plus it's next door to Afghanistan.

Ryan (whom I seem to quote a lot since discovering his site last week) wrote about doing the right thing: "If doing the right thing didn't cost you personally in dollars, friends, prospects, health, whatever you value most, everyone would do it and it would no longer be an act worthy of profound respect. But they don't, and it still is." Dr. Hassam is doing the right thing. I'll see him once more before he leaves, and I'll wish him a safe journey.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:07:00 PM:

RSS feed now active

After a long-ago request from Ryan, this site now has an RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed, which lets you read my latest headlines without needing a Web browser. Here's some info on RSS. The full RSS address is:

http://www.penmachine.com/rss/rss.xml

If you use Mac OS X, I recommend Slashdock to read RSS feeds. Have fun. I'll get the proper little RSS badgie logo and stuff up here eventually.

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Monday, August 19, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:12:00 PM:

Sixty

Five thousand Canadian soldiers stormed the beach at Dieppe in France on August 19, 1942, and hundreds of others flew over in fighters and bombers. German forces (not including my grandfather, who was on the Russian front) took some 2000 prisoner, and killed over 900 more. In one company, over 500 soldiers landed. Not even 30 were fit to serve the next day -- the rest were dead, captured, or injured.

Most of those men were young, many just out of high school. Today, they are old, and only a couple of dozen are alive and well enough to travel to Dieppe for the sixtieth anniversary of the event. Imagine yourself graduating from grade 12 (or maybe lying about your age and enlisting before that). A few months later, you're lying in the muddy sand on a French beach, watching your friends and peers killed and maimed around you.

On another note, only 13 of the 18 e-mails I received today were spam. It doesn't seem very important, though.

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Sunday, August 18, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:19:00 PM:

A new record

Thirty-six new e-mails in my Inbox this morning. All spam. Every one.

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Friday, August 16, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:44:00 PM:

Average people

Earlier generations knew death well. Children died routinely in infancy, or before their fifth birthdays. Women died in childbirth. Many then-fatal diseases are mere nuisances, or entirely unknown, today. We who live in the developed world -- who, on average, have the best standard of living of any people in history -- are unfamiliar with death, and perhaps fear it more than our ancestors because of that.

Yet still it comes. When I was in my twenties, two of my grandparents (my mother's parents) died, a year apart. Many of my friends, and my wife, lost grandparents during their twenties too. Now I'm 33. My parents and my in-laws remain healthy. But two friends lost their mothers a few months ago. This week, another's uncle died suddenly, and yet another friend's mother, not so suddenly. These were not accidents or contagious diseases, but natural causes: heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and simple old age, things that remain much more than nuisances in 2002.

In my family, deaths span time. My paternal grandfather was a German footsoldier, and died in 1947 of tuberculosis, contracted when he was a prisoner in a Russian camp during World War II. (My father, who was eight, barely remembers him.) His wife, my grandmother, lived more than half a century longer, until November 2001, just a month shy of her 91st birthday. She outlived her much younger second husband, my Opa, by two decades.

We live longer than anyone ever has, on average. But it's just an average.

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# 11:52:00 AM:

Not the Vin Diesel movie

I went to read a story at news.com (via Doc Searls) and saw this ad for Dell laptops:

[Dell ad with price as $XXX]

When I went back to the story, there was no ad at all. Later, it had been replaced by something else. I guess a price "starting at $XXX" wasn't what they meant.


UPDATE: I went back to the story again and hit Reload a few times. The $XXX ad is still there, but you get it randomly with ads for servers and desktops (with proper prices) and different ones from Gateway, as well as occasional pages with no block ad at all. So as far as I can tell, Dell hasn't yet noticed.

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# 9:16:00 AM:

Thanga. Thanga very mush.

Elvis died 25 years ago today. No really, he did.

Mark Steyn, in yesterday's National Post, explained the King's enduring appeal as that of a man who never lost his white-trash roots and culture:

...his tastes never changed. Being rich meant doing all the same things he'd done when poor, only more so: he had banana pudding every night; instead of eating one cheeseburger, he'd eat six; instead of cruising Main Street for a late-night diner, he'd hop on the private jet, burn $16,000 worth of fuel and fly to Denver for a peanut-butter sandwich; instead of a 22-inch TV, he had the planet's biggest set; instead of grumbling that there was nothing on, he'd blow the set apart with his M-16 automatic rifle; instead of shooting beer cans off the tailgate of his pick-up, he'd buy up every available flashbulb in Memphis, toss them in the pool and shoot them out of the water. At Graceland, he took an antebellum colonnaded fieldstone mansion and turned it into the world's largest trailer.

We know Elvis would not disapprove of the tens of thousands of impersonators, the velvet paintings, the collector plates, the bobble-heads. He allowed much worse in his lifetime -- the Having Fun with Elvis On Stage album, for instance, voted the third worst of all time a few years ago.

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Thursday, August 15, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:29:00 PM:

Visual creatures

Few doubt that humans are primarily visual animals. Here's proof: visit Bill Atkinson's and Charles Cramer's Web sites. You'll be amazed.

And by the way, before becoming a photographer full-time, Atkinson had a sideline doing such things as helping to design the original Macintosh computer user interface, as well as the MacPaint and HyperCard programs that came with it. He's much too talented. (Thanks to Alistair for the link.)

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# 3:39:00 PM:

The flaws in Vancouver's transit tickets

Ryan notes that Vancouver's transit ticketing system is rather a mess. It's only become worse since the company introduced new ticket machines and new tickets to go with them.

On buses, what used to be either:

  • a simple drop of change into the coin box, or
  • displaying a transfer with a clear expiry time

now involves either:

  • waiting for coins to be mechanically counted by an electronic coin acceptor, or
  • inserting a magnetically coded ticket into the machine and waiting for it to be validated.

Not only does that cause delays, it's confusing, because the tickets only go into the machine one way (with three possible wrong ways to insert them). Drivers routinely have to explain how the system works, even to people who use the system regularly but not often, like me. At SkyTrain and Seabus stations, the diagrams showing how the tickets fit into the validator machines don't even represent the tickets clearly, so it's still too easy to do it wrong. Even worse, the correct way puts the fine print (presumably the back of the ticket) on top, so it's upside down from any normal person's point of view.

The whole system seems designed to prevent people from trying to defraud the system by paying too little, but it's also removed the ability of real human beings, like bus drivers and passengers, to use their judgment to help make the system more efficient. Plus, no one at TransLink or the companies building the ticket machines seems to have done much usability testing -- how hard would it be to make a ticket that could be inserted all four possible ways (one end or the other, flipped over or not) and still be valid?

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Wednesday, August 14, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:00:00 PM:

Miscellaneous miscellany

Here's some news worth noting on this hot August night:

  • Internet e-mail as we know it turned twenty this week.

  • Swaziland became home to some particularly blatant corruption. The best summary is from The Economist, tersely: "Swaziland's king bought a private jet costing $55 million, twice the amount the UN has appealed for to stop 250,000 Swazis from starving this year." Worse, the jet is made by a Canadian company, Bombardier.

  • Sharing a bed with your kids causes them no trouble.

    Our family long ago gave up trying to enforce any particular sleeping arrangement. Our youngest daughter, who is two, prefers her own big adult double-size futon in a dark room down the hall for most of the night. Our oldest, four, makes great talk about getting a bunk bed to share with her sister, but when night comes, she wants to sleep with mom and dad. So we shoved our queen-size bed and a matching twin-size together into a bigger-than-king-size "big bed," and she joins us there. Sometimes it can be frustrating (as are many things with a four year old), but we all sleep better.

    Still, it's strange that sharing a bed with your young kids is controversial at all. For the vast, huge majority of human history, and still today for the great mass of the world's people, there has never been any choice: everyone shares a bed, a room, or maybe just some shelter under a tree, because that's all they've got. A family sleeping together is safe from things that go bump in the night, whether imaginary monsters or real predators on the savannah. Just because in the last century the richest sliver of the population of the richest countries in the world could afford to have separate rooms for their kids, suddenly that's the way things should be?

    It will be nice when our oldest is willing to get that bunk bed, though. As the story said, "the study didn't look at the effects on parents."

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# 11:09:00 AM:

That didn't last long

I followed a mysterious site in my referrer log and discovered that my old university friend Ryan has a weblog. And so do Bill, Randy, Grant, and Martin.

It's nice to be able to keep up with people I don't seem to bother ever calling or e-mailing.

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# 10:13:00 AM:

A smart man

Scott Rosenberg of Salon wrote some very smart things recently:

The media cover technology on a predictable cycle -- a rhythm of hype and scorn that you can follow like clockwork each time a new wave of innovation sweeps the high-tech landscape. For nearly a decade, the Internet story has followed this arc; by all rights, it should be over by now.

But it isn't, is it? Not for you and me, it seems. And then:

Word count is a discipline as well as a yoke. It forces writers to make choices; deciding what to leave out is as or more important than deciding what to put in. The discipline may matter less when one is writing for an intimate few than for a mass audience, but it remains central to effective writing.

And so I shall shut up, for now.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:13:00 PM:

End of an era

Today I glanced at a stack of my wife's work papers, and noticed a floppy disk. But my brain didn't know what it was off-hand. "What is that?" it wondered. "A big SmartMedia card or something?"

I remember when I first used a floppy disk, back around 1980, when they really were floppy, and about the size of a 78 RPM record. But I can't recall when I last used one, even though every computer in my house still supports them. I move files over our network, or on my USB keychain, or just e-mail something to myself downstairs sometimes.

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Monday, August 12, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:48:00 PM:

Mmmm. Cake.

Some people (like my wife's friend Jill) make really cool cakes. (Once you visit the page, click the photo for more.)

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# 10:27:00 AM:

Okay, no more fireworks after this

After going overboard on the last two fireworks pages, I present only selected highlights of the Grand Finale on Saturday, August 10. Some of these are unusual because I stopped using the tripod and propped my camera on a guardrail -- those photos include a neat "jiggly" appearance from the lack of a fully stable support. In other cases, I moved the camera upward during the exposure, creating spacy "wash" effects.

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Sunday, August 11, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:46:00 AM:

In this corner...

Last night, the Canadian team won the Vancouver Celebration of Light fireworks competition, for the first time in a few years, beating out the Italians and the previous champions from Spain.

If you like, you can compare the Spanish (new today) and Canadian pyrotechnics in the two fireworks photo galleries I've posted here, taken from the vantage point where my band was playing at the English Bay Bath House. Although photos are vastly different from seeing fireworks in person, you'll discover that while the Spanish team had more colours, the Canadians put on a more varied and interesting show.

Of course it's really just an excuse for 400,000 people to have a party at the beach anyway.

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Thursday, August 08, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:18:00 AM:

Wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-woaaaah...

Doc Searls wrote some good commentary about the Alicia Keys concert he just saw:

Alicia put on a nice, big, well-produced show. We enjoyed it. But I was hoping it would be great, and it wasn't. She seems to have one song [...] the same song you hear lots of talented young female vocalists sing when you hit SCAN on the car radio. It's the song all of these girls turn "The Star Spangled Banner" into when they sing it at ball games, working 50 notes into the word "wave." It's a gospel thing, but it seems to be more about showing off than about showing soul.

Alicia has soul, no doubt about it. But not as much as she'll have when she hits 25, 35 or 45 [...] she'll be a much better artist and performer after she's done with her turn as a blockbuster. She'll also have a lot more to sing about.

Last month my wife and I went to see Neil Finn, who used to head Crowded House and, before that, play guitar in his brother Tim's band Split Enz. He's probably better than he's ever been, now that he's 44.

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# 9:55:00 AM:

Really wireless

We talk about wireless this and wireless that, but how about a solar-powered house with a solar-powered laptop computer running (solar-powered) wireless Internet, completely off the electricity and wired-Internet grid in rural Hawaii? That's wireless. (And here's a link to the Acrobat PDF version of the article, which looks like it might persist longer than the Web page version I linked to above.)

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Tuesday, August 06, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:55:00 PM:

A tree? Or something else?

It makes perfect sense, but it never occurred to me that cellular phone companies might disguise their transmission towers as pine trees, palms, or even cactuses. But of course they do.

And of course there are companies that specialize in building disguised cellular towers, among other things.

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# 10:11:00 PM:

What is your fantasy?

A couple of days ago I fulfilled a childhood fantasy. (No, it had nothing to do with Farrah Fawcett.) My four-year-old daughter and I went to Radio Shack and bought a ceiling-mounted mirror ball, then set it up in the basement with a spotlight. Now we have a disco in our rec room.

We even played K.C. and the Sunshine Band to help inaugurate it.

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Monday, August 05, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:35:00 PM:

Ooh aah

Vancouver is hosting a fireworks competition this week, and I took some photos on Saturday.

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Sunday, August 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:43:00 AM:

Nice views

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has 24 webcams throughout Alaska for pilots to see what the weather is like, helping them decide whether to fly. As a bonus, the cameras provide a variety of excellent views of the state.

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Saturday, August 03, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:00:00 PM:

Enjoying ignorance

Last night my wife rented Amélie, last year's popular French-language film. Unlike with most films, I knew pretty much nothing about it -- I hadn't read any reviews, noticed much about its advertising, or heard about its plot. All I'd seen was a brief clip from last year's Academy Awards, where it had been nominated.

Watching a movie without any foreknowledge was an unusual treat. I should do it more often. And since you should too, I won't tell you anything else about Amélie, except that it's quite good.

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Thursday, August 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:15:00 PM:

Moving, excuse the mess

I'm reorganizing my Web server at the moment, so things around here might occasionally be a little weird, and some links may not work properly.

Everything should settle down shortly, but if you do encounter a problem, please let me know. Thanks.

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Journal Archive »

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