Journal: News & Comment

This is " December 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.

Monday, December 30, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:28:00 AM:


While I ride a bike and own a car, I've never liked motorcycles. One of these little numbers (only in Europe, link via Ryan) would be a nice compromise, especially because they can park like this.


# 11:20:00 AM:


The melt gods came after all.


Sunday, December 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:57:00 PM:


It's snowing again, for the second time in five days. (Of course, the first batch all melted before Christmas morning.) And, of course of course, my kids want to rush right out into it, even though the yard is slushy and gross, and it's dark, and they're wearing dress-up party dresses and faux high-heeled plastic shoes.

Unless the melt gods come again, perhaps we'll build a snowman tomorrow.


Saturday, December 28, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:48:00 PM:

Think writing and editing aren't important?

Here are the champions of the 2002 worst manual contest (via DayPop). Check out the 2001 "winners" too.


Friday, December 27, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:14:00 AM:

Top camera picks

CNET seems to agree with my various assessments of digital cameras in past months, naming the Canon A40 and G3 and Minolta F100 (all of which I pegged as good deals) as their top picks. CNET adds the Olympus D-40, and the newer C-50 is worth considering too.


Thursday, December 26, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:56:00 PM:

Happy feet

A year ago I bought my first pair of Blundstone boots, made in Tasmania. Except in summer, when I often used sandals, I've worn the Blunnys pretty much every single day. My Doc Martens, comfy as they were, will last years longer, because they're just sitting in my closet.

My wife's (ahem, I mean Santa's) generosity means I now have a second pair, chunky-soled brown "Canuck" model 409s, to go with my original black model 510s.

The first person I knew to own Blundstones was my friend Alistair, who got his in 1995 in Melbourne, Australia when we were on tour there in a band together. That pair was already nearly destroyed from the original owner's relentless wear, yet Alistair had them for a few years afterward. Now he has two more pairs, and is buying a third.

If you don't mind their basic, somewhat utilitiarian look and the moderately steep price ($150 Canadian per pair or so), go get yourself some Blundstones right now. They are the most comfortable, practical, and well-made shoes my wide and ugly feet have ever lived in -- for me, they feel better than slippers, yet slosh effortlessly through rain and muck too.

If you prefer to pay a bit less, wait for them to go on sale at A Step Head Footwear in Metrotown Centre in Burnaby (or try the Nanaimo location on Vancouver Island).


Tuesday, December 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 4:00:00 PM:

Not everyone has peace...

[Last winter in Burnaby]...but I'm glad we do at my house. Sure, we have aches and pains, and the kids stay up too late, and there are bills and lousy copyright laws. Those things are minor.

[Last Christmas on this site, via Apple iCards]My daughters are two and four. When my father and his sister were that age, they were living much of their lives in bomb shelters. If we were in Afghanistan or Congo, Venezuela or Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, things could be dreadful.

We are not. Tonight and tomorrow we'll eat, and open presents too. Things are good.

I hope they're good with you too. Merry Christmas.


# 3:16:00 PM:

It's not impossible

[Snow coming down on 24 Dec 2002 in Burnaby]According to Environment Canada, there's only an 11% slim chance of a snowy Christmas here in Vancouver.

But here we are!

Snow is unremarkable for most of the country, but we're called the Wet Coast with good reason. Also according to Environment Canada, the best chance for a "perfect Christmas" (at least 2 cm of snow on the ground, and another centimetre falling overnight on Christmas Eve) is in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario -- 76% probability any year.

I'll take whatever we can get -- we're a few hundred metres up, and last I heard, it was raining closer to sea level.


Monday, December 23, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:40:00 PM:

Gearing up to waste some time

Thank you, Bill (who also found this), for pointing me to the Proteus instant messaging client. Now I can be on MSN Messenger, ICQ, and AIM/.Mac simultaneously in one program.

Hold on. Did I just say that as if it were a good thing?


Sunday, December 22, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:26:00 PM:

Been a long time

Here's my latest example of how peer-to-peer file sharing could really help music companies if they played their cards right, which they almost never do.

A few hours ago I heard the last thirty seconds of a song on the radio. I liked it, and wanted to find out who it was. A quick search with Google and the Gnutella network yielded Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why." A lovely song. I'll probably buy the album.

It's been a long time since I heard and liked a song and wanted to buy it without being assaulted by videos and photos and fawning articles and so on first. I just liked the song and the performance. Had I seen Jones's album cover first, I never would have guessed she was a languid jazz singer, or that I might have appreciated her music. (For that matter, I'm not fond of most languid jazz singers.)

And here's a nice piece (via Doc Searls) on a similar topic.


Saturday, December 21, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:40:00 PM:

Snip school

Yesterday my four-year-old daughter decided she would be her two-year-old sister's hairdresser. She cut off rather too much of the youngest's curly locks. We were pretty cheesed off, and my wife had to fix the little one's hair, which is now a bit too short. Still, she's not nearly as bald as she was a year and a half ago, and she likes her new look well enough.


Friday, December 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:24:00 PM:

Working around the Mac OS X 8 GB limit

Since the first public release of version 10.0, installing Mac OS X on a first-generation beige Power Mac G3 like mine (and some other models) has required, for fairly obscure but necessary technical reasons, that all system files reside in the first 8 GB of the hard disk. Mac OS X installers from 10.1 on enforce this by requiring beige G3 owners to partition a larger drive so that Mac OS X installs on a segment 8 GB or smaller.

"Jaguar," the recent Mac OS X 10.2 update, has tweaked this a bit again, and it's fouled up my installation process.

Last time I installed Mac OS X 10.1, I partitioned my 120 GB Western Digital drive into two segments, one 8 GB large and one for the rest of the drive. Mac OS X 10.1 was happy with it, and installed. I've been running it like that since early October 2002.

My wife and I just got our copy of Jaguar from Apple. It would not install, saying the 8 GB partition is not in the first 8 GB of the disk. (Lovely logic, that.) A Show Info on that partition said it was 7.99 GB in size, with 1.82 GB occupied and 6.17 GB free. Apple's Disk Utility reported 8.00 GB (8,589,934,592 Bytes).

Again, the 10.1 installer thought that was fine. The 10.2 installer says it's too big. After investigating workarounds that didn't require me to back up everything on both drives and repartition, FWB's Partition Toolkit (even though it apparently runs only under the old Mac OS 9), saved the day by letting me make the first chunk of my hard disk slightly smaller without erasing anything. The little chunk left over I've turned into a scratch disk for CD images and such.

Jaguar is now running, and while I still have to move a few things like fonts and some preferences and utilities into their proper places, it seems to be working just fine. The new text anti-aliasing is way better, and even the modified SPOD (spinning pizza of death) is yummy-cute.


Thursday, December 19, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:12:00 PM:

The best idea in a long time

Until recently, creative people have had two options in sharing our work: copyrighting it and reserving all rights, or releasing it to the public domain. The first option means anyone who wants to copy, republish, or adapt that work has to ask permission and maybe negotiate some sort of fee or contract. The second means anyone can do anything, including selling the work for their own profit, with no compensation to the original creator.

Not surprisingly, most people have stuck with rights-reserved copyrights. Open-source and free software advocates have modified that into a shared resource using "copyleft," but Creative Commons takes a more nuanced approach to a wider variety of materials. It's a marvelous idea, with a huge buzz among techies since its first public release earlier this week.

I'll soon figure out how to apply Creative Commons licenses to material on this site. The Internet is about sharing, and I'd like to figure out how to do it better.


Wednesday, December 18, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:59:00 AM:

Save yourself the aggravation

Setting up a wireless network? Buy this book. You can also buy it here and get the same 30% discount directly from the publisher using the checkout code PE-Y2AK-TIDF. In Canada, try here or here.


# 12:16:00 AM:

Could your CD-ROM drive draw blood?

At about 40x speed, CDs may become unstable due to the structure of the plastic media, scratches on the disk surface and weight or friction of the ink used to print the label. At 52x (27,500rpm), disks can shatter in a "rain of plastic particles," shooting out long, sharp, knife-like shrapnel at half the speed of sound.

Yikes. And I thought the vibration and whooshing noises were just annoying.


Tuesday, December 17, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:33:00 PM:

Funky iBook

In Japan, many people spend way too much time customizing their laptop computers (warning: long load time!), especially Apple PowerBooks and iBooks. If you own or plan to buy a new iBook, the fine Vermont company Small Dog Electronics will do something like that: they'll convert the translucent white casing into a completely transparent one.

The operation is costly ($375 US), since it means removing the iBook's case, soaking it for about 18 hours, scrubbing the paint off the inside for about four hours, and then drying, cleaning, and reassembling everything. But when you're done you can see the innards of the machine while you use it.

Or wait a week or two and read the instructions online. (They're not posted yet, but will be shortly.) Risk your own machine to this cool but warranty-voiding procedure!


# 11:42:00 AM:

Uh, yeah, sure...

My computer sits on a Jerker desk (pronounced "yer-ker" to avoid any unsavoury connotations, I guess) from Ikea. A man named Adam Prato discovered that, and e-mailed me:





I guess there's a bit of a cult around this piece of furniture.


Monday, December 16, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 AM:

Very smart

I don't mind writing HTML code at all -- tapping out <strong>boldface</strong> to make boldface is almost second nature now. Nevertheless, ex-Vancouver resident Dean Allen's Textile is quite elegant, and I expect to use it from time to time.

Dean lives in France now, and seems to be giving the French a good run of Canadian-style snarkiness.


Friday, December 13, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:48:00 PM:

Which digital camera for the office?

A friend of mine asked for advice today on a new digital still camera for her office. She wrote:

We need one at work that will take good quality ID (passport-size) photos, and also headshots appropriate for our public website. The biggest problem with our current digital camera is lighting -- we get a shadow-halo around the back of people's heads. The person who takes the photos at work thinks this is because the flash isn't good enough to compensate for the lack of proper lighting. Unfortunately his solution is a $2500 (Cdn), 5-megapixel camera, which isn't within our budget.

The catch is, it would be nice if this could also be used for events occasionally, so it's not really just headshots. However, these would be posted on the web too, so we're still not talking about print photo quality.

What should a camera like this cost, and do you have any recommendations?

She knows how to pick a topic for a long answer from me.

Almost any decent current digital camera will take photos high-resolution enough for head shots on a Web site. You're likely right that the flash is causing the halo problem, but the easiest way to avoid that is to take the photos in a location where you have the right kind of lighting in the first place, i.e. somewhere with oblique front lighting and a fairly neutral background (grey being better than white, but white will do).

To avoid a shadow halo, try putting the subject farther away from the wall, or standing outside, or with some strong lighting (such as a desk lamp) aimed at the wall from the side so that the shadow isn't as harsh.

You do not need to spend $2500, or even much more than 20% of that.

Four things help:

  1. A reasonably powerful flash, which not all small digicams have.

  2. Being able to increase the sensitivity of the light sensor (CCD or CMOS chip) in the camera. Most let you do this, but the tradeoff is that more sensitivity means more noise in the photo -- there's usually a good tradeoff somewhere around ISO 200 equivalent, which is the same as 200 speed film. My digicam defaults to ISO 100, which is good for outdoors, and some higher-end ones default to ISO 50, but if you adjust them upwards for darker situations, it should help the photos.

  3. An accurate electronic exposure and focus system. This is the hardest to judge from the specs, and you sort of have to go from the reviews and trying it yourself.

  4. A "fast" lens with a wide maximum aperture. Most digicams (like mine) have maximum apertures of f2.8, with lower numbers being better. f3.5 and up is too slow. Some have lenses as fast as f2.0, which lets in significantly more light and will get you better pictures when there's not as much natural light around, like in an office. However, only higher-end digicams ($1000 and up) like the Canon G2 and G3 and the Panasonic Lumix LC5 have f2.0 lenses. Not worth pursuing for general head shots and Web photos, I don't think.

A few months ago I wrote my recommendations of a few different digicams on my site. Though things have changed, any of them would probably work well for typical office use.

For what you need to do, the Canon PowerShot A40, probably the best current 2-megapixel model, seems like a good fit. It costs about $400 right now, though you should also budget an extra $50+ for some rechargeable AA batteries and a charger, since I think it comes only with regular AAs, which all digicams eat for breakfast. Also, you'll want a bigger CompactFlash memory card (64 MB or more, about another $50-65), but that's an expense for every digital camera, since none come with anything remotely large enough. So look at $500-600 by the time you're done.

The design is now getting long in the tooth (nearly a year old), but that means the price has come down. It does have a reputation for being a bit power-hungry, but if you're using it in the office where outlets are always at hand, and you get maybe a couple of sets of rechargeables, you'll be fine. The other nice thing about AAs is you can use Energizers or Duracells in a pinch.

My little 3-megapixel camera takes pictures that are probably about the same quality despite the extra pixels, and it uses up its tiny proprietary battery far quicker than the A40 does, I'm sure, yet I'm still happy with that.

Tha A40 is more expensive than other 2-megapixel (1600x1200 pixel photo resolution) cameras, but it's also better in many ways, especially photo quality, and I expect it would do what you need for not huge amounts of money. It will make good prints up to 5x7, and even 8x10 if you don't crop at all. I have a lovely 8x10 of my oldest daughter taken with a 2-megapixel Nikon CoolPix 800 in 1999, and it's better than many of the 8x10s from my Nikon film SLR.

I recommend talking to London Drugs photo specialists, rather than actual camera stores -- the LD guys seem to know digicams better. The big electronics LD stores (Broadway near Oak, Granville and Georgia, Brentwood, etc.) seem to have the best selection and knowledge. Try using a demo model to take some head shots like you want to, and see how they look on the camera in the store.

Make sure you have a tripod for portraits.

One final tip: try taking the photos for the Web in black and white, or converting them to black and white afterwards. You can often get much better looking results than by trying to match sometimes diverse colour profiles of different photos on a page. Plus it looks classy, and the files are smaller.

You might also want to look at the Fuji FinePix 2600 or 2650, the Panasonic Lumix LC20, the Pentax Optio 230, the Sony DSC-P51, and the Toshiba PDR-2300. All have optical zooms, which I think is essential. I recommend the Canon over them, but one might appeal to you better.

And while I really like Nikon SLRs, their low-end digital cameras (the Coolpix 2000 and 2500) have the nasty flaw that they lack an optical viewfinder -- you can only use the LCD panel on the back, which isn't good in bright light or many other situations, and increases battery use.


Thursday, December 12, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:06:00 PM:

Your world, my world

As he often does, Joel on Software talks about programming, but what he says applies to many broader things.

People who only know one world get really smarmy, and every time they hear about the complications in the other world, it makes them think that their world doesn't have complications. But they do. You've just moved beyond them because you are proficient in them.

Think Mac vs. PC vs. Linux. Or U.S.A. vs. Europe. Or west vs. east, north vs. south. Divorces. Office politics. Laundry.


# 1:50:00 PM:

More ultimate genius

Leonardo da Vinci was certainly a genius, but we realize it even more now that researchers have determined he sabotaged his own designs. In his plans for devices with military uses, Leonardo, a pacifist, seems to have included simple but fatal flaws which, while difficult to detect in his drawings, prevented the final designs from working when built.

So his tank won't drive because the gears work against each other and his glider won't fly because he set up the forces to work against proper aerodynamics. Yet in each instance, the flaw is singular, not systemic, and goes against things Leonardo demonstrated he knew very well in his other work.


Wednesday, December 11, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:46:00 AM:

Hidden view

The New York Times reports (free registration required) that, when forced to make snap decisions under time pressure or stress, people often fall back on racial stereotypes, even when we are consciously unprejudiced. In research studies, people "are often upset at having displayed biases that they neither agreed with nor approved of."

You can test some of your own hidden biases online. I was sad to find my own.


Tuesday, December 10, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:34:00 AM:

Wild and wacky displays

I have way too many monitors in my house -- five in active use, and three more in storage, not even counting the two classic Macs with their built-in displays that aren't in operation right now. But all of mine are quite conventional. I don't even own an LCD flat panel.

So I'm not likely to get a 180 computer monitor, the triple or quad 18, the 61MP1 61" plasma display, or even Sony's biggest CRT monitor.

But they're fun to look at.


# 8:02:00 AM:

For your eyes and ears

The latest issue of TidBITS (#658) has a good look at three very different laptop stands (the groovy lucite iCurve, the iMac arm-style Lapvantage Dome, and the spidery and portable Dexia Rack) by Adam Engst. The stands are designed to help notebook computers work as desktop replacements by elevating them to the proper height.

The same issue also has an excellent and concise overview of the best currently available headphones (those that plug directly into MP3 players and computers without a headphone amp, anyway) by Dan Frakes. He includes models from $17 right into the hundreds-of-dollars range, and discusses all styles, from earbuds to in-ear to traditional headband to noise-cancelling.


Monday, December 09, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:18:00 PM:

What speech is good for

Here's something for me to keep in mind for my presentation next month:

Speech is a bad medium for communicating information [but] a good medium for dialog. [...] Every conference I can think of gets these two things backwards. They use valuable face-to-face time for worthless presentations by people who are not particularly entertaining and even if they were are saying things you already know, and then try and stifle discussion (one question per person, sir!) and shunt it off towards lunch or something (we don't have time for questions now). Hello? What did all these people come out here for? I can watch infomercials at home just fine, thanks.

Bill gave me the pointer.


# 12:36:00 AM:

Maybe things aren't so bad

I get dozens of e-mails a day, sometimes over 100, much of it spam. Apparently I remain in the minority, however, so my doom and gloom a couple of days ago may have been premature.

[UPDATE: Alistair, on the other hand, is in the same spam boat with me.]


Sunday, December 08, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:52:00 PM:

There is a place...

...not far from Vancouver where cellular phones work only intermittently, because it is in a deep little valley on top of a small, forested mountain. It's a flashback, a small Catskills-style old-fashioned resort called Heritage Valley, and it's atop Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford, about an hour's drive east of the city in the Fraser Valley. My band played there last night, at the Christmas party of a company that makes feed for farm animals.

In contrast to the gigs we played as a scrabbling pub band ten years ago, which typically ended at 2:00 a.m., this show was over at 11:00 p.m., and I was home in bed by 1:30 in the morning, despite the hour's drive and time to pack up all our gear.


Saturday, December 07, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:40:00 PM:

The good death

"Like it or not," writes Kevin Werbach in Slate, "the only way to kill spam is for an element of e-mail to die as well." Internet e-mail, like other Internet protocols, was built by people who implicitly trusted each other not to abuse the system. In other aspects of networking, we've seen the development of firewalls, security encryption, intrusion detection, and anonymous surfing. The world of e-mail now faces similar chisels chipping away at its chummy openness: server-side filtering, intelligent client mail rules, pay-per-mail proposals, and whitelists that block e-mail from everyone except people you know.

E-mail may die. But, with 30% of all e-mail being spam today, and the percentage only rising, would it be a bad death if something better replaced it?


Friday, December 06, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:52:00 AM:

Things move fast around here

[UPDATE 3:43:12 PM: The man from Paricom apparently thought the article was new, from November 2002 instead of 2001, which explains his confusion. He also plans to note wireless Internet services on their Web site.]

The Vice-President of Communications for Paricom, Inc. in Iowa read my article "Which Way Wireless" (PDF file) in LINK magazine and had the following comments:

Your article titled "Which Way Wireless" by Derek Miller is outdated and misleading. In Council Bluffs we are using 802.11a technology over 5 miles and are getting 30 Mps throughput on a 45Mbs system. Technology is available to go 7 miles with Gigabit speeds. Not only is bandwidth available, but security issues are being resolved with 3DES encryption, and proper network design can provide reliability better than "land lines." We are using the "self-healing" design for wireless networks, that provide redundant links to the customer site.

We also have a company that provides "High Speed Internet" access on a wireless system for $30/Month for users that cannot get DSL or Cable Modem service in rural areas.

He's quite right. The article he mentions certainly is outdated -- it was published over a year ago -- and given the changes in the wireless marketplace, anyone using it to understand the current state of things would indeed be misled. They would also be misled by an article that described the World Trade Center towers as two of New York's most identifiable current landmarks. But they still were when I wrote "Which Way Wireless."

Because of lead times in magazine publishing, I wrote it in the late summer of 2001, and it appeared in November of that year. The first consumer-level 802.11a products only became available after I wrote the piece, and while I was making short-term forecasts, I was also discussing dedicated wide-area wireless technologies rather than wireless LAN technologies being adapted to wide-area use.

In the summer of 2001, few predicted that wireless Ethernet like Wi-Fi or Apple's AirPort, or offshoots like warchalking (which didn't exist then), would become so widespread and encroach on the wireless Internet turf of cellular phone carriers. And I'm not nearly as smart as people who work in the wireless field for a living or make a full-time wage sniffing out tech trends, so I certainly didn't predict it.

Even so, my last paragraph gives me a bit of a weaselly way out:

More grassroots are home and business users of the IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN standard (used by the D-Link Air line of products) who band together to create underground wireless networks totally separate from the cellular system, with current maximum speeds of 11 Mbps. These local wide-area networks may mount a serious challenge to cellular data providers, especially with faster networking coming soon.

"Faster networking coming soon" over IEEE 802.11 sounds a lot like what my reader described, so maybe I wasn't too far off the mark after all.

Wireless carriers have indeed rolled out GPRS and 1x CDMA services, as I thought (they're sure hyping them in their new phones, Treos, etc., at least here in Canada), and EDGE/UMTS are still apparently on the way. I didn't get all the predictive specifics right, but I think I did okay.

I also noticed that Paricom's Web site doesn't mention any of its excellent wireless options in its Internet Connectivity section. Given the neat stuff their VP describes, it would be a good idea to put some info there.

By the way, I think my other article from that issue of LINK, "Taming the E-mail Monster" (PDF file), is even more out of date, since more effective algorithm-based spam filtering has become available in the past year, even as spam has gotten much worse. The tips I gave there are still useful, but you need much more to combat spam today than you did in 2001, unfortunately.


# 9:06:00 AM:

*Smack* I could have had an MP3!

AOL is trying to save itself. Dave Winer had an excellent suggestion for what AOL should have announced, but didn't. Others follow up. Someone, eventually, is going to figure out that people want to download music. Lots of it, in a free-for-all way. Many will pay for it if it's done properly. I would. But nobody's offering. Demand, meet supply. Please.

On another topic: "Dreamer geniuses founded Adobe Systems, but the company runs on reality now."

Too bad. Most of their software is still pretty good, however.


Thursday, December 05, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:02:00 AM:

Geeky gadget gift ideas

NOTE: I like all these things, but I'm not asking for any of them. I originally put together this short list of fun toys when a former co-worker asked me about gift ideas for someone else.

Okay, now that that's out of the way:

  • LED flashlights have hit the mainstream this year. They're highly energy efficient, and have no regular bulb, just a cluster of LEDs that never burn out. Some models even have no regular battery: you just shake them to charge them up.

  • The SoundBug is a little suction-cup device that turns almost any solid surface (windows, tabletop, etc.) into a speaker. Not hi-fi quality, but cool and useful.

  • Who of us who grew up with the first generation of home video games would not want an Atari joystick that not only duplicates the one from the original Atari 2600 console, but packs the whole console unit and a whole bunch of games inside itself? And for $25 U.S.? From Avon, of all places?

A good place to find similar things is ThinkGeek, especially their gadgets section.


Wednesday, December 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:34:00 AM:

Sucky books

To help me convert this site from plain old HTML Web page code to spiffy, up-to-date XHTML code (something that mostly involved adding slashes and quote marks in the appropriate places, to be honest), I bought a book from the remainder bin at my local supermarket. I was a bit surprised to find it there, since it was only a year old and seemed to cover material that remains relevant -- usually the bin books cover old versions of topics, or are otherwise out of date.

I discovered why soon after, and was glad I paid about a third of the cover price. While Que Special Edition: Using XHTML by Molly E. Holzschlag contains almost everything I wanted to know about XHTML at this point (i.e. how to add the slashes and quotes in the right places), it's nearly 1000 pages, or at least 700 pages too long.

The book:

  • is poorly organized.
  • contains numerous typos and other mistakes (in both body text and, more unforgivably, in code examples).
  • includes several entire chapters that actively flout the very standards XHTML is supposed to enforce.
  • features randomly-interspersed chapters from other authors that are poorly integrated with Holzschlag's main text (although they are generally better written than her material).
  • often mentions an accompanying CD-ROM that isn't included with the Special Edition, since that's for more-special Premium Editions.
  • could easily have been edited down by at least 30% by simply trimming Holzschlag's bloated sentence constructions and repetitive code examples.

Ms. Holzschlag knows what she's talking about, for the most part. The problem is the way she talks about it. To be fair, publishing pressures meant that this new book is really a poorly-updated revision of her HTML 4 book, which itself probably comprises cobbled-together sections of her previous work.

Tom and Dori of Backup Brain (whom my wife and I met a few months ago) write better books, and make a living at it, but they also point to a good article describing why computer books mostly suck. My only advice is to keep an eye out for books from O'Reilly, Peachpit, and New Riders, which I've found are usually much better than average, and sometimes truly excellent.

In a way, though, the existence of Using XHTML is encouraging -- I could quite possibly have written a more useful book on the topic myself, and could certainly have helped edit the existing one into a much better (and shorter!) document. Pity that computer books are so often sold by bulk, not quality.


# 8:02:00 AM:

Earth as Art

I like aerial and satellite photos. Here are some especially cool ones, posted on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the LANDSAT imaging program.


Tuesday, December 03, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:07:00 PM:

Ten simple things

Here are ten things you can do to help the planet be a better place (via Hey Jo!):

  1. Reduce home energy use by 10%.
  2. Choose an energy-efficient home and appliance.
  3. Replace dangerous pesticides with alternatives.
  4. Eat meat-free meals one day a week.
  5. Buy locally grown and produced food.
  6. Choose a fuel-efficient vehicle.
  7. Walk, bike, carpool or take transit.
  8. Choose a home close to work or school.
  9. Support car-free alternatives.
  10. Learn more and share with family and friends.

Not so bad, are they? And apparently they're only asking you to try three.


# 8:16:00 PM:

Thanks for the rage and roll

After 25 years, Midnight Oil have called it quits. Some speculate that lead singer Peter Garrett is moving on to Australian politics (he ran for the country's Senate under the Nuclear Disarmament Party banner almost 20 years ago), and the rest of the band plans to continue playing together. Still, while that new setup will doubtless still have power, it won't be under the name Midnight Oil.

I'm glad I didn't miss their last concert here. Guess I have to find a new favourite band now.


# 12:23:00 PM:

Two very long series of photos

The California Coastline Project shows photos of almost every chunk of that state's Pacific coast, from north to south, taken from a helicopter.

Seamless City is a much prettier montage of photos of San Francisco, taken at street level, cleaned up, with power lines and other interfering material edited out, then stitched end to end digitally.


Monday, December 02, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:12:00 PM:

One more addition

I've slimmed down the buttons at the top of the right-hand column on this page, as well as adding a new one: you can now subscribe to my Rich Site Summary (RSS) feed by clicking the green "Sub" button -- if you use AmphetaDesk, BottomFeeder, fyuze, Headline Viewer, Radio Userland, Syndic8, the Snewp, or the RSS Validator to process RSS feeds.

If none of that makes any sense (it hardly does to me), then never mind.


# 9:26:00 AM:

Simplifying search

Searchling is a neat idea.


Sunday, December 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:44:00 PM:

Invisible success

I know this page doesn't look any different, but with a little bit of effort (and some reprogramming of keystrokes in my brain) I finally managed to make the code that generates it validate completely as XHTML (XHTML 1.0 Transitional, to be exact). Geeky, yes, but there are some good reasons for doing it. This page:

  • is now as likely as it may ever be to look the same in modern Web browsers, regardless of computer platform or browser maker, yet still work in older ones.
  • can display acceptably on text-only, handheld, and other limited browsers.
  • is at least minimally accessible to people with various types of disabilities.
  • doesn't require your Web browser to do any guessing about what I meant it to do when rendering what you see.
  • will be easier to port to any future Internet or Web display standards, which, like XHTML, are likely to be based on XML.
  • is easier for other Web developers to interpret if they want to look at my code.

But really, I like it mostly because it's geeky.

(Extra geek points: the style sheet validates too.)


# 10:35:00 AM:

Open up

David Reed argues in Context Magazine (via Tomalak) that there's no longer any point in having governments regulate and restrict radio spectrum, as they have for nearly a century. Why?

[...] in the early 1900s, radio equipment was easily thrown off when signals of the same frequency from more than one source overlapped. We call this phenomenon "interference." In fact, the waves sent out by different transmitters don't interfere with each other at all. They pass right through each other unchanged.

Interference occurs in the receiver, when its antenna picks up multiple signals of the same frequency and has trouble telling them apart. In other words, interference is a function of the intelligence designed into the receiver, not a function of what happens in the airwaves -- and receivers can be a lot more intelligent than they were 90 years ago.

He goes on to show how unregulated spectrum could lead to all sorts of innovations. And it already has -- Wi-Fi (a.k.a. AirPort and 802.11b) wireless Ethernet networking, those two-way family radios, and cordless phones are just three examples.


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