Journal: News & Comment

This is "Penmachine.com: March 2003," 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, March 31, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:56:00 PM:

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

My laptop is finally wireless via Wi-Fi, and it's fun to type this on the kitchen table with no wires at all connected to the computer (and the battery running down). It looks a bit odd to have an Apple PowerBook with a Dell TrueMobile slab antenna sticking out the side.

Bluetooth is a different wireless technology with a much cooler name. You can read about it (via Gizmodo).

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# 10:58:00 AM:

No! No no no no! No!

Telemarketing is annoying enough. But just now, the phone rang (LONG DISTANCE, said my caller ID). I picked up to hear a recorded message: "This is Doubleday. I am on the other line. Can you hold, please?"

No, I can't, bucko.

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# 7:03:00 AM:

Hello, Vancouver!

I have now achieved the dream of any musician who came of age in Vancouver in the 1980s: playing at B.C. Place Stadium.

Of course, there was no one in the stands. All 60,000 seats were empty, and we were playing amidst a stadium floor full of shiny new cars and trucks, to a few dozen VIPs invited for a buffet breakfast by General Motors, at 7:45†a.m., before the Auto and Truck Show opened to the general public. But one shouldn't be picky about these things.

Similarly, my next performance with the band will be for 45,000 people or so, but they'll all be running by first thing on a Sunday morning, April 13.

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Thursday, March 27, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:45:00 AM:

Goodnight in India

Adam Osborne was the founder of one of the first specialized personal computer book publishers and inventor of the first real portable (or "luggable") personal computer. He died this week in India, where he had lived, in failing health, for a decade with his sister. He was 64, the same age as my dad, who remains quite healthy, I'm glad to say.

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# 10:34:00 AM:

More online war news summaries

Command Post (via Dan Gillmor) updates links to a variety of Iraq war news sources quite frequently.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:58:00 PM:

Winning comes later

David Remnick in The New Yorker (via John Robb):

How the world comes to see this invasion -- as a reckless imperial adventure or as a decisive attempt to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and the brutal dictator who would not relinquish them -- will be determined by the character of its aftermath.

I think this is where the United States faces its biggest dangers.

(But boy, are those New Yorker umlauts -- "coŲperation?" "reŽngagement?" -- annoying. Now that the twentieth century is over, let's join its spelling conventions, shall we?)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:45:00 PM:

War coverage from all over

That's a pretty big list.

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Monday, March 24, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:29:00 AM:

You have to ask....

...what's in it for Office Depot in this deal?

And what if you want something that works with Linux or a Mac? Glad I shop at Staples and Grand & Toy.

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# 9:24:00 AM:

Ouch

In my e-mail signature, I call myself "writer, editor, Web guy, drummer, dad." Each of those jobs depends on my hands and arms. Last night I remembered how much.

My three-year-old daughter was bouncing around on the bed, as kids her age do. Moving to get up from next to her, I was pushing myself to a sitting position using my right arm when she lost her balance and landed on my wrist, just as I'd put my maximum weight on it.

It hurt. Nothing was broken, or even sprained -- this morning it's pretty much back to normal. But, after the kids were asleep, I had to postpone my plan to work on a big editing contract. I tried, but stopped after half an hour because my mousing arm was too sore.

Instead I watched the news with a blue ice pack on my arm for an hour. (Perspective: I was relieved to be in a comfortable TV room with a mere sore arm, rather than terrified and breathing hot sand in an Iraqi desert firefight.)

I expected I'd be okay by the morning, yet had things gone a bit differently, I might have been incapable of writing, editing, working on Web sites, playing the drums -- i.e. making any income -- or lifting my kids. Maybe for days, possibly for weeks, if something had broken.

A friend of ours, a court reporter, broke her wrist some weeks ago in a similar minor incident, and was out of work for weeks. I was lucky last night.

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Sunday, March 23, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 PM:

My favourite sound

[Windy tree]There are many sounds I enjoy, such as:

  • The laughter of my kids.
  • A Rickenbacker played through a Vox AC-30.
  • The squeak of fresh snow underfoot.

My favourite, perhaps, is one I heard today in our back yard: strong wind through the branches of a high evergreen tree on a quiet, sunny day.

Wwwwwhhhhhhhhhhhhssssssshhhh...

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# 11:54:00 AM:

We need a new word

Is there a term yet for the (often irony-laden) animation that apes the style of Japanese anime and manga, but is made by westerners?

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Saturday, March 22, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:35:00 PM:

Some updates

I have made a few changes to my clients, expertise, and writing samples pages.

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Friday, March 21, 2003 - newest items first
# 4:14:00 PM:

Learn about batteries!

Way more than you ever thought you could know! In German, French, Spanish, or English!

Thanks, Ryan!

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Thursday, March 20, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:38:00 PM:

Toddler site

Penmachine.com is officially three years old today. Three years and one night ago, the name penmachine came to me in a half-dream as I fell asleep, after I had been thinking about dozens of domain names over a few months. (My previous favourite, kneebone.com, was by then taken.)

This Web site itself is twice that age, though, since I first started learning HTML in March 1997. Some of the first things I wrote back then, when it lived as a free site at angelfire.com, are still here in some form. That's how the site got so big -- sadly, as in my basement, I almost never throw anything away.

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# 8:30:00 AM:

Down the hole

Lorraine Murphy, the author who spoke at last night's meeting of the Editors' Association of Canada B.C. branch, talked about a site called The Memory Hole.

The site "exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known [...] material that exposes things that we're not supposed to know (or that we're supposed to forget)." Yes, it has a whiff of conspiracy-theorist paranoia to it, but there are fascinating things there nevertheless -- everything from supposed plans for American "Total Information Awareness" to people removing cigarettes from a photo of the Beatles for a poster.

It also links to some images ("This Is War") of what wars really do, but I won't link there directly because they are disturbing enough that you should probably have to click twice to see them.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2003 - newest items first
# 3:58:00 PM:

Words make their way around

I just found that my November 2002 article from TidBITS, about making newsletters for an annual conference of physicians, has been reprinted (or reposted, I guess) by LD Resources, a site for those with learning disabilities. I'm not sure why they found it useful, but they did. Here are a bunch of other articles there too.

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# 3:47:00 PM:

Advice for aspiring editors

Okay, before we get to that, this is just weird: Al Gore joins Apple Computer's board of directors. Yes, that Al Gore.

Right, so the Editors' Association of Canada, to which I belong (there's a meeting tonight) has posted a good guide to getting started and finding work as an editor. It's focused on the Ottawa area, since it was put together by that branch of the EAC, but a lot of the general information is useful for anyone interested in editing as a career.

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# 9:53:00 AM:

Mysteries of modern life

Not many decades ago, having a package take only 12 days to travel from Massachusetts to Vancouver would have seemed a miracle. Now it feels like forever, but what's even stranger is that, not only can I track my package instantaneously on the Web, but that tracking tells me that:

  1. It took a week to find its way out of Massachusetts.
  2. It then reached Seattle in slightly over a single day.
  3. Only a few hours later it was across the border.
  4. It will probably be delivered to my house today.

What was it doing in Massachusetts for a week?

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Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - newest items first
# 2:47:00 PM:

Strange bedfellows

Putting more than 5000 MP3 files on "shuffle" leads to some unusual combinations of music, I have discovered: Rage Against the Machine followed by Neil Diamond, then Christmas carol choirs, the Who, Sergio Mendes, P.M. Dawn...and so on.

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# 2:30:00 PM:

Larry really is a nice guy

Shared Vision, which I usually find rather too far at the New Agey granola alternative end of things, has an excellent interview with Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, by Sean Rossiter.

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# 1:54:00 PM:

Could it happen here?

Tom Tomorrow gets to the heart of the matter.

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Monday, March 17, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:51:00 PM:

Two years of squander

What an extraordinary article.

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Sunday, March 16, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:28:00 PM:

Bye-bye Sherlock

Back in 1998, with the release of Mac OS 8.5, Apple computer relentlessly hyped its new all-in-one computer and Internet search tool, Sherlock. The hype is lower-key now, five years later, with Mac OS X, but it's still there. Sherlock has changed a lot in that time, undergoing several alterations (many for the worse) in its interface and function.

Dave Aton e-mailed me today, writing:

Have you noticed that Sherlock seems to be getting less emphasis from Apple? Methinks they may have realized most users would prefer to live in web-world and Google up what they want rather than use Sherlock, especially the latest lethargic incarnation.

I've hardly ever used Sherlock myself since it appeared in Mac OS 8.5, because of its very sluggishness. If Apple is de-emphasizing it, that's good. It was a bit misguided from the outset. It became less, not more, useful as its interface degraded into trendiness in Mac OS 9 and X, and Watson is generally a better application for the sorts of things Sherlock does anyway -- enough so that Apple has lifted many "new" Sherlock features directly from Watson.

One of my favourite discoveries about Mac OS X 10.2 -- and a key sign that Apple does listen to users, even if it takes long time to respond -- was that the old pre-8.5 Find window had reappeared, not requiring that we launch a big hoggy slow application (Sherlock) every time we hit Command-F to find a filename on disk. That, the new Finder toolbar search, and the Google field in Safari make the most common (if not most powerful) uses of Sherlock moot.

It seems that Apple has, quietly but decisively, realized that Sherlock was more about marketing and hype than usefulness, and is relegating it to the background. Just as well. It works fine as it is, but it's not a core part of the Mac OS. It's still annoying to have to use it in Mac OS 9.1 on my PowerBook 1400, which will never run OS X.

I've never found Find By Content (FBC) all that useful either. The results rarely come back with much of what I want, while searching multiple files with BBEdit seems to yield better ones. At least you can turn off FBC indexing so it gets out of the way.

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# 12:50:00 PM:

What do you need?

Andy Carroll on the editors' e-mail list I belong to points out a useful list of what different search engines are good at, from NoodleTools. No, Google isn't good at everything.

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Saturday, March 15, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:14:00 PM:

Redeem Krill!

Alistair points to an online anagram generator. My name, Derek Miller, becomes:

  • Drill Meeker
  • Red Killer Me
  • Dr. Eel Milker

and, my favourite:

I knew there was a reason I took that marine biology degree.

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# 11:03:00 PM:

More blathering from Derek

Gladys We is an instructor in the Print Futures program at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C., not far from where I live. Fourteen years ago, we worked together as floor staff at Science World the first year it was open.

Now, like Nancy Pollak of SFU, Gladys has asked me to come talk to her students about Web publishing, at the beginning of April. This yapping at people about what I do for fun is turning into a nice sideline.

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# 8:28:00 PM:

Finding wireless

Now that I have a laptop, I'm considering setting up a Wi-Fi wireless network in the house, so we could sit in the living room or on the porch or in the back yard (or, at least in theory, in the bathroom) with an Internet connection.

Having a wireless antenna on a laptop has other uses: many other locations are making wireless Internet available to the public (and not just accidentally). Airports and hotels are adding it to the services they provide to guests. Some other wireless hotspots are commercial, via services like FatPort, and some are free, like those mapped by B.C. Wireless here in British Columbia, or Consume.net in Britain. In the U.S., even Starbucks and McDonald's are getting in on the act, which means there must be something to it.

There are now Web sites dedicated to identifying available Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide. A new one set up by major computer industry players is the Wi-Fi Zone.

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# 11:57:00 AM:

GeoURL - a neat idea

Okay, so what if you wanted to know about which Web sites are physically close to one another? Now there is a way: GeoURL.

Let's make it concrete. Not many Web sites are yet in the database, but here are the ones within 100 miles of Vancouver. Here's another view. (I'm not in there yet.)

The locations here refer to the proximity of the people who maintain the sites or the things they are about, not the actual server machines. My site will be listed for the Vancouver area, not Texas, which is where my Web server is.

Neat. Found it via Doc Searls.

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Friday, March 14, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:13:00 PM:

Using unsupported browsers with Blogger

I've been using Apple's Safari browser since it first came out as a beta product in January. Unfortunately, because it's still beta, Safari remains unsupported by Blogger, the browser-based weblog program I use to write this journal. Blogger puts up an error when I try to edit my entries using Safari.

However, it turns out that it does work, with a few bugs -- something I discovered when I installed Safari Enhancer so Safari could tell Web sites that it was some other browser, like Internet Explorer, Netscape, or Mozilla.

I just found out that's even unnecessary. All I have to do is modify the Web address I use to edit my journal a bit. Instead of going here:

pro2.blogger.com/blog.pyra?blogid=[my site's ID number]

I just tack on an extra bit to the end:

pro2.blogger.com/blog.pyra?blogid=[my site's ID number]&anybrowser=true

Then, any browser will get through, and if it supports Web standards well enough, it will work. Thanks to Joel Slovaceck at Blogger for responding to my query and providing the solution.

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Thursday, March 13, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:39:00 PM:

Some weblog elements I like

I like Mikel's pencil, Formica's page header, Alistair's mouse-animated blocky photo, Textism's use of fonts and whitespace, Marlush's furrowed brow, Frank's obsession with cheese products, Ryan's rock to be rolled, and Jo's woman on the couch (scroll to the bottom of the page).

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# 7:57:00 PM:

Night owl

Some years ago, in one of those fallow summers when I was in university but didn't yet have to make a lot of money to get by, I discovered my natural sleep schedule, or at least what it was then. With no other constraints, I tended to go to bed around 2 a.m. and wake up around 10 a.m., with eight hours being plenty of sleep.

Even today, I seem to be most productive at night. Yesterday I started on a copy editing project at 10 p.m., after my wife and daughters were asleep. I finished four hours later, accomplishing what probably would have taken me at least six hours during the day, even if I were alone in the house. I felt great for completing the job and being productive, even at 2 a.m., and even though I have a cold. Still wide awake, I posted some emergency Web site changes for a colleague, for good measure, then went to bed at 2:30.

Then, of course, my daughters woke me at 7 a.m. -- things are different for Derek in 2003.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:15:00 PM:

Circling the productivity drain

Is it too much to ask for two Microsoft applications, Windows 98 and Outlook Express, to get along well enough that something as simple as editing a draft e-mail message doesn't crash OE, as has happened to me several times in the past week? Is it? Really?

Apparenly it is.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 PM:

Shutting it up

Some months ago I set my e-mail program to stop checking mail automatically, because it distracted me too much and threw me off my work. Ole Eichhorn just wrote an incredibly popular article about e-mail, explaining that, while it's wonderful, it can also suck time and life out of you.

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Monday, March 10, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:24:00 AM:

Taking it back

The Contiki operating system is impressive: a 42 K program that runs happily in 64 K of random access memory (RAM) on an ancient Commodore 64 microcomputer. It harks back to 1980, when I was 10 and we had our first home computer, a TRS-80 Model I.

The Model I had 4 K of RAM and no disk. To load a program, you either typed it in from a book or used a special cassette player (using regular audio tapes) to play ugly sounds into the computer, like a very slow modem. A typical application might take 15 or 20 minutes to load, so sometimes typing was faster. Around the same time, there were more advanced machines such as the Apple II Plus and, later, the Commodore 64 itself.

Contiki runs on that old machine, but includes a frightening array of modern features: multitasking, graphical windows, Internet access, Web browsing, and even a small Web server -- all in 42 K. It's almost magic, since few people seem to be able to write even a text editor that doesn't require a few megabytes of memory and disk space anymore. By comparison, my current Mac has 416 MB of RAM, more than 6,500 times as much as Contiki requires.

The Mac has a Web server, browsers, and windows too, by the way. I'm not too far behind.

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Sunday, March 09, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:10:00 PM:

At least there were two

Thirty-six e-mails this morning. Thirty-four of them spam. Ugh.

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# 10:50:00 AM:

What editors do

A couple of days ago, Nancy Pollak, one of the instructors of "What Editors Do" (warning: the link opens a new window) -- an editing course at Simon Fraser University's Writing and Publishing Program -- asked me to speak to her class at the end of April.

Editing is a career that requires no formal training -- I have none in it, specifically -- but it is good that some exists for those who want to learn that way. And while the Editors' Association of Canada is working on a certification process, it will be based on tests of ability, not any formal diplomas or degrees.

My progress on the EAC's annual conference site has been slow, in part because it's taking time for the conference committee to get all the complex materials together, and in part because I've never worked on a bilingual site before. Even though others are doing the vast bulk of the translation, suddenly my très pauvre high-school French has become rather necessary.

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Saturday, March 08, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:03:00 AM:

Simple? Simple.

This good advice, about writing English on Web sites intended for non-English speaking audiences, applies to Web writing in general. Most often, when writing for the Web, simpler is better.

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Friday, March 07, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:33:00 PM:

What was that again?

Hey Jo! wrote down some unusual things she overheard people saying here in Vancouver recently.

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# 10:08:00 PM:

Vapour trails and engine strikes

Some photographs take luck, skill, and perfect timing. Others just make you say "ouch." Thanks to Barclay for the pointer.

(P.S. If you've ever wondered what aircraft contrails look like up close, here you go.)

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# 9:03:00 PM:

Tappity tap

Ryan also pointed me to LaunchBar, a very spiffy Mac OS X utility that's way more useful than a quick description -- "run programs and do other things by typing simple key combinations instead of using the mouse" -- indicates. Alas, it would be most useful on the PowerBook he just sold me -- and that only runs the old Mac OS 9.

Perhaps that was one reason why he got a new laptop.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:27:00 PM:

Yet another computer

Thanks to Ryan, I now own my first laptop, a PowerBook 1400cs with a G3 processor upgrade, which makes it nearly modern.

It's still older than my five-year-old desktop Mac, but like that old beige thing, it's quite serviceable.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:26:00 PM:

The eyebrow

I've cleaned up my Editors' Association page a bit. The design makes more sense now, and there is a semi-amusing photo of my eyebrow. Woo woo.

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# 3:35:00 PM:

Small pleasures

As a teacher, my wife likes a good pen. As a writer and editor, I do too. Not long ago, she discovered our current champion, the best of the cheap pens: the Zebra Sarasa. Go get one. You'll like it. This is not a paid endorsement.

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# 11:57:00 AM:

All stick, no carrot

If you're a software company that charges lots of money for your products and cracks down hard on unlicensed copies, you have to be careful what you wish for.

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Monday, March 03, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:52:00 AM:

Eh, sonny?

Alistair agrees with me about earplugs. But I should be clear: I don't wear them all the time. Just when I'm drumming.

Although with two preschoolers in the house, it's mighty tempting.

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# 10:43:00 AM:

Digital camera crazy

Digital camera manufacturers have gone nuts over the past couple of weeks. There are compelling models from every maker, but Canon and Sony seem to have a particularly good range of new products.

If I were shopping today, instead of last July, I would probably go for the new Canon S400 Digital ELPH, once it's available.

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