I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
This is "Penmachine.com: November 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.
Sunday, November 30, 2003 - newest items first # 7:58:00 AM:
A couple of months ago I went a bit nuts researching what kind of digital piano to get for our house. My five-year-old has now been in piano lessons for about a month and a half. She likes them, and I feel I should learn something about the instrument after 13 years as a professional musician, so getting a proper one seems worthwhile.
Back in July 2000 I noted that, eight years earlier, when I first got involved with the Web, there were 26 sites online. Now Dave Hyatt, one the Apple Computer developers working on the Safari web browser, notes that:
...there are (conservatively) 10 million Web sites on the Web. Let's say (conservatively) that each Web site has 50 unique Web pages. That's 500 million Web pages that the Web browser has to work perfectly on.
And to emphasize the sorry lot of those who build web browsers, he goes on:
An awesome browser would be (conservatively) 95% compliant, which means that it would have some sort of bug or problem on 5% of those 500 million Web pages.
5% of 500 million Web pages is 25 million malfunctioning Web pages. Let's now assume that only 10% of those Web pages are even seen by someone using Safari itself. Now we're down to 2.5 million pages seen by Safari users.
If only 10% of those users even bother to report a bug, that's 250,000 unique bugs that have to be screened.
So those of us who build web pages would be a whole lot better off if we made them correctly, rather than hoping that browser makers can create browsing software that works no matter what junk we send to it.
Slight correction, though: not all cities with Ikea locations have just one for every three million people. In Greater Vancouver, we have two, and only about two million people. (The entire province of British Columbia is only about four million.) But if everyone I've met makes a good sample, we Vancouverites do seem to do a lot of shopping at Ikea per capita.
I'm generally pretty happy with the design I use for pages on this website. That design has remained essentially unchanged for more than three years now. I am, however, considering changing the colour scheme, and an article about using nature-derived colour combinations (from the Boxes and Arrows site) has given me some ideas.
Monday, November 24, 2003 - newest items first # 8:43:00 PM:
In 2002 my wife and I bought a cordless phone from VTech. Nothing special, but it had Caller ID and did the job. Then, a year later, just out of warranty, it broke—stopped connecting to its base station, so no dial tone and no phone calls. We bought a Uniden to replace it, and so far it's worked fine. (We have another Uniden without Caller ID, which is much older than the VTech. That one still works and I use it in my office, because the battery holds little charge anymore.) I doubt I'll ever buy a VTech phone again.
Dave Winer is a famous weblogger, and he phoned IBM to order a ThinkPad laptop. Things broke before he had even ordered it. I wonder if he'll ever think of buying one again?
Here's the lesson: in a competitive marketplace, one bad experience can poison a customer's relationship with a company, perhaps forever. Scary.
On the other side of the coin, we have a three-wheeled plastic toy scooter (the "Tutor Scooter") with a detachable fake phone attached, which makes ringing noises and speaks when a child presses buttons. My oldest daughter got the scooter from her grandparents for her first birthday, almost five years ago now. It has been abused, dropped down stairs, ridden down muddy hills, flipped over, left outside in the rain (with the electronic phone detached), and ridden endless hours by two preschool children. It still works fine. And VTech made it.
Maybe they should get some of their toy people into the phone design department.
Following up on my presentation to the Editors' Association of Canada B.C. Branch last night about backup strategies for computer data, I've posted some notes, audio of my talk, and other material. [Read more...]
Website designers, in general, target the mainstream. Often that means only testing websites on the latest version of Internet Explorer running on Windows, which is a mistake. It's worth trying to make web pages conform to web standards (and then test to see if the major web browsers support your use of standards well enough), since creating pages to work with particular browsers is always a chase of a moving target.
It's true that the vast majority of people coming to this site use either Windows or a Mac, and either Internet Explorer, Safari, or one of the browsers based on Mozilla/Netscape. Looking at my site statistics, those combinations make up about 92.3% of visits here in 2003 so far. Another 1% are Linux users, and 5.1% are "unknown"—my web server couldn't find out what kinds of systems they were, but it's a good bet that the proportions are the same as among "known" types (there might be some Palm and smartphone users too). But what about the remaining 1.6%? Here's how it breaks down:
Unknown Unix system
Those are small but non-trivial numbers. Most of them are Unix or Unix-derived systems of some sort, from Sun, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SGI, or one of the various open-source projects out there. But look: there are users of the Amiga, IBM's old OS/2, and even CP/M, which was on its way out when I started using computers more than 20 years ago. Most surprising, someone has come here using a Sega Dreamcast video game console.
The lesson here is that you can't possibly know what kinds of weird devices might visit your website. I wouldn't even want to try finding a Dreamcast or CP/M machine to try testing this site on. So I don't. I just try to make the site valid HTML, and hope people can read it okay when they get here.
Can an image from a 3-megapixel digital camera printed on a 2400 dpi printer look worse than that from a 1-megapixel camera printed on a 600 dpi printer? Yes. Can you fix it? Apparently. (Via Mark Pilgrim.)
I'll be speaking in downtown Vancouver twice in the next two days:
At Simon Fraser University's Harbour Centre campus, I'll be talking about editing for the Web, from 6:30–7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday the 18th). It's a closed presentation for members of the What Editors Do (warning: link opens and resizes a new window) class in the SFU Writing and Publishing Program—the same topic I covered there last April.
At the monthly meeting of the Editors' Association of Canada B.C. Branch on Wednesday the 19th, I'll be talking about backup strategies for individuals and small businesses, which will help you avoid losing everything on your computer. The talk begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Welch Room of the YWCA Health & Wellness Centre on Hornby St. in downtown Vancouver. If you're not an EAC member, it costs $5 to get in, but there's free coffee and snacks.
By the way, for those of you who dislike that I don't allow comments on my weblog posts, here's why.
Right now, we're adding 8,000-9,000 new weblogs every day, not counting the 1.2 Million weblogs we already are tracking. That means that on average, a brand new weblog is created every 11 seconds. We're also seeing about 100,000 weblogs update every day as well, which means that on average, a weblog is updated every 0.86 seconds.
BlogRolling, the service I use to generate the list of links on the right side of this page, is having a weird problem this morning, in which every link in every blogroll provided by the service points to a single site, "Laura's Blog." It seems to be a bug, since Laura (whoever she is) has no idea why it's happening—and seems to be getting a lot of angry e-mail from people who mistakenly think she had something to do with the issue.
Anyway, I have not suddenly developed an unhealthy obsession with one website. We'll see if things clear up later today.
UPDATE: Jason, who runs BlogRolling, fixed it before 9:00 a.m. today. He writes, "I got 3000 emails on this problem this morning when I woke up so I obviously can't reply to everyone." It appears that someone hacked into the system.
Sunday, November 16, 2003 - newest items first # 9:58:00 PM:
ScreenIt is not the place to go if you want to avoid spoilers about movies, but if you want an idea of whether one is appropriate for your kids—or is too much of a chick movie/blow-up–fest for your boyfriend/girlfriend—nothing beats it. ScreenIt categorizes all the various things you might want to watch out for, in excruciating detail, but without moralizing.
We're thinking of taking our daughters to the new Looney Tunes movie, which has received some prettygood reviews (as well as some bad ones, but they seem to be from people who expect a plot or something). Our girls love the old cartoons. It its Violence section on the movie, ScreenIt reveals that:
A race car blasts through a wall, throwing Yosemite Sam into something that shocks him. He's then knocked into a room with lots of TNT that then explodes and blasts him up through the ceiling and way up into the sky (partially on fire).
A large rock squashes Daffy. Moments later, many darts impale him.
Most of the movie takes place in the dark, dank, dreary "real" world. The biggest battle, which is as much of a special-effects spectacle as anything you've ever seen, has three main flaws:
It involves none of the main characters of the series.
It contains not one cool freeze-frame or slo-mo action shot.
It involves no kung fu—I guess because it doesn't take place in the Matrix, but so what?
Even though probably millions of bullets are shot in that sequence, we don't get to see any of them in bullet time. And, from the way the movie plays out, the giant humans-against-robots conflagration is also just stalling for time while Keanu Reeves's Neo character goes off to fight the battle that, in the end, really counts. I think.
Still, the bits that are in the Matrix (or sort-of in it) are worth watching. They still get you thinking. The film would have been more effective if it were an hour shorter. The last two movies, indeed, would be improved if the underground human city of Zion remained more mysterious. They could be edited together into one, better movie, where we see more of people in flashy leather duds and sunglasses instead of stained waffle undershirts.
Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News is teaching a course in Hong Kong right now, but his editors in California don't have to pay long distance to phone him, because he's using Voice over IP (VoIP):
When I arrived at my temporary Hong Kong apartment, which has a high-speed data connection, I had some configuring to do. [In the end,] I plugged the phone—a regular old telephone—into to the box.
Voila. I had a fast surfing connection. And I had a phone with which I could make no-charge calls inside the United States—and on which people could call me using my California number.
It gets better. I'm going to buy a stored-value "SIM card" to have a local Hong Kong number for my mobile phone. When I leave the apartment I'll forward the VoIP calls to that number.
My longtime friend Bill Dobie, who's president and main salesperson for the software company I'm doing work for right now, travels a lot—he's in Washington, D.C. now, and will be in Houston next week, then Hong Kong and maybe London. He could use a service like that, because no matter how much you use e-mail and instant messaging, sometimes it's best just to talk to someone.
This is not a new thing: a couple of years ago I was searching for new colour and black ink for my ancient Apple StyleWriter 1500, which had been a gift from my wife in 1996. I discovered that, with a mail-in rebate, it was cheaper to buy a (then-)new Lexmark Z33 with cartridges included.
I know it's risky to speak about religious controversy in almost any public context, but whatever your opinion on the new openly gay Episcopal bishop in the U.S., you might (as I did) find this quote to be a remarkable line of satire:
The consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese of the Episcopal Church is an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, and his wife Anne Boleyn, and his wife Jane Seymour, and his wife Anne of Cleves, and his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on traditional Christian marriage. —Paul Emmons, West Chester University
Eighty-five years ago, a war ended. In the battles at Ypres between 1914 and 1918, the death was unimaginable. Fifty-five thousand soldiers from the western side of the line are still missing. Now some have been found.
Few can now really remember—even those who lied about their age to enlist are 100 years old now. The rest of us have to work at it, and learn.
Monday, November 10, 2003 - newest items first # 3:14:00 PM:
Apple's Mac OS X gets better all the time. Going back to the "classic" Mac OS feels less and less appealing every time I do it, so I do it less often. And in almost every way, the current Mac OS kicks Windows XP's butt all over the place.
However, Jon Siracusa's excellent (as always) review of Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther" nails it (as always) with respect to the broken way the Finder now works. I don't know anyone who isn't sometimes (or often) confused by the way windows and file management now work on the Mac—because Apple has fundamentally broken the spatial metaphor that made the original Mac Finder so intuitive for nearly 20 years:
[In] the classic Mac OS Finder [...] there is no complex set of rules to be memorized, no strange mechanisms to understand, absolutely no "game" to be played at all. There is no 14,000 word treatise on the user actions that determine the subsequent state of windows in the classic Mac OS Finder. I doubt anyone even thought about the issue at all. Everything is always how you left it. What's to know?
It's a pity that such great simplicity, so well executed back in 1984, has been lost and not (yet) recovered among all the yummy things in the new operating system. Worse yet, it wastes my time almost every day.
Sunday, November 09, 2003 - newest items first # 9:55:00 PM:
Earlier this year, I ranted and raved against the evils of PowerPoint presentation software. Now Ryan has found an excellent New Yorker piece from 2001 that not only skewers the program, but reveals some of the history behind it. My favourite line:
PowerPoint, which can be found on two hundred and fifty million computers around the world, is software you impose on other people.
I'm giving another presentation next week, and I'm considering not using any slides at all. Perhaps I'll just write on a flipchart, walk back and forth, and wave my arms a lot. You know, performance art. I think it's more fun that way for everyone.
Weirder still is thinking about what you're seeing when bright sunlight strikes the edge of the moon's arc again, as the eclipse ends. The edge of the darkness is the other side of the world, where the sun is rising on a new day. Theoretically, part of that edge is the shadows of people from that side of the earth, cast on the face of the moon.
Thursday, November 06, 2003 - newest items first # 2:53:00 PM:
Dave Shea makes a good point that the little orange XML button on the right side of this page yields some very poor web usability. I'll work on fixing that whenever I get around to updating my page templates. Who knows when that will be.
In 1995, when she was 84 years old, my grandmother had a mild stroke. She was in the hospital for awhile, and while she was never as strong as she had been before, she soon went back to living on her own in an apartment downtown, where she remained nearly until she died more than six years later.
Four years before my grandmother's stroke, Ontario writer and editor Ruthanne Urquhart had a much more severe one. She was much younger, and she wrote eloquently about it, then posted it to the Web.
Ruthanne's chronicle helps me better understand something of what my grandmother experienced. Be prepared to spend some time reading, since you're unlikely to stop till you finish.
Monday, November 03, 2003 - newest items first # 4:39:00 PM:
When I was a kid, the only cartoon my dad liked to watch with me was Road Runner—he enjoyed the wordless mayhem as much as I did. Still does.
And while I still like watching those old Warner Brothers cartoons with my kids, I have to admit that I love SpongeBob Squarepants even more. Heck, I think I may like it more than The Simpsons, in which my kids as yet have no interest.
Sunday, November 02, 2003 - newest items first # 3:23:00 PM:
You might have seen one of the new commercials for Pepperidge Farm Flavour Blasted Goldfish crackers playing lately across North America. I saw it last night on TLC: two guys playing fish-shaped guitars and then, at the end, being coated with orange powder from an enormous Flavour Blaster machine.
You might think that the man on the left resembles Vancouver musician Adam Woodall, who also plays in my band The Neurotics.
That's because it's him.
Saturday, November 01, 2003 - newest items first # 8:19:00 AM:
Some of the more rabid fans of The Neurotics, the fab classic rock band in which I play drums (as my alter-ego Sticky Neurotic), might have wondered what we've been doing since our last show in August. Wonder no longer, baby.