Journal: News & Comment

This is "Penmachine.com: April 2004," 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.

Friday, April 30, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:58:00 PM:

It is to laugh

My wife pointed something out to me. B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said today of striking Health Employees' Union members—who are walking out of work in escalating job action over the next few days—and of their other supporters: "They should be obeying the law."

Uh, Gord? Obeying the law is not something you should be saying too much about, mmkay?

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# 8:04:00 AM:

Nooks

Many (often questionable) website operators have registered slight misspellings of popular URLs in the hopes of getting traffic. See microsotf.com (look out—popups), appel.com, and whitehouse.com (warning: some adult content—the U.S. presidential residence is whitehouse.gov, by the way).

Which is why I'm surprised that no one owns nuxeiaidr (.com, .net, or anything else). That's what you'd type if you were trying to go to microsoft.com, but moved your fingers one key to the left on a QWERTY keyboard.

Okay, maybe it's not that surprising. Never mind.

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Thursday, April 29, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:37:00 PM:

Links of interest (2004-04-29):

  • "...releasing a product as a form of open source has many other marketing benefits and can lead to greater user satisfaction and wider use. The question is, of course, can you make money that way?"

  • "[In Iraq] a loose federation will have many drawbacks, especially for those who dreamed of a democratic Iraq that would transform the Middle East [but] the alternative is an indefinite US occupation of Iraq in which we have fewer and fewer allies. It is an occupation that the US cannot afford. It also prevents the US from addressing more serious threats to its national security."

  • "More than any other account of the Beatles' rise, this film makes the case that had it not been for [Brian] Epstein's persistence there is no evidence that the group would have become known outside of Liverpool, let alone outside the U.K."

  • "Imagine if only one out of every twelve people who called their local pizza shop were the only ones who ordered a pizza. All night long, the pizza shop would get calls from people who aren't interested in ordering. Would the shop owner be happy?"

  • "For a one-time fee of US$49.95, per copy, per product, Mariner [Software] customers qualify to receive every major upgrade for the lifetime of the registered product, delivered automatically to their inbox on the day of public release."

  • "Approximately 1800 web sites later, I have this collection of 300 of the most interesting, unique, and beautiful formations of pixels to display."

  • "...if by now we all don't realize that anything we write or transmit electronically, whether it be via email, blog or any other form of digitized medium, is not fodder for someone to data mine, then we're just plain ignorant."

  • "An accessible website is automatically optimised for good search engine placement as accessible sites are machine friendly, making it far easier for search engines to correctly index the website."

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# 8:39:00 AM:

A fun comparison

Joel Spolsky:

When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can't fire at you. [...] The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you're not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing.

[...] The companies who stumble are the ones who spend too much time reading tea leaves to figure out the future direction of Microsoft. People get worried about .NET and decide to rewrite their whole architecture for .NET because they think they have to. Microsoft is shooting at you, and it's just cover fire so that they can move forward and you can't, because this is how the game is played, Bubby.

And Chris Pratley of Microsoft:

Understand the market, and the customers, and then go pedal to the metal, with release after release focused on what the customers need, incorporating their feedback. That puts the competition into reaction mode. And of course it helps if they also make a strategic error because they are under so much pressure.

The thing is, who's Microsoft firing at now, with their big, big guns? Pratley's article shows how intense competition and missteps by the other competitors—when Microsoft was the underdog—drove the real improvements in Microsoft Word in the 1980s and 1990s (well, except for Mac Word 6). Now that the competition has largely been shredded by Microsoft's fire, is the company still intelligently defining the motion?

And is a gunfire metaphor the best way to approach making good software that people will like to use?

Just to be clear:

  • In a couple of weeks, I'll be paid real money to help people figure out how to use some of Word's editing features, so it's in my interest that people continue to use the program—and also that it's not too easy to figure out.

  • I love Microsoft's Entourage e-mail application on the Mac. It holds six years of my accumulated mail, and I prefer it to any competing product, including Eudora, Apple Mail, PowerMail, Mailsmith, Thunderbird, or Outlook. Yes, I've tried them.

  • While I prefer Safari and Firefox for web browing, on Mac OS 9, I alternate between Mozilla 1.2 and Microsoft's still-good but no longer actively developed Internet Explorer 5, which continues to be superior to its Windows counterpart in most respects.

  • While it's an improvement over previous versions, I think Windows XP looks hideous, and is still a train wreck of a user interface. It sure is way more stable than its predecessors, though.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:25:00 PM:

Trainscape

Vancouver has many views worth seeing. Some of the best are from our SkyTrain rapid transit system.

While others might prefer looking south between Edmonds and 22nd Street stations, across the Fraser River delta to Georgia Strait, and beyond to the United States, I'm partial to the green swath of East Vancouver, with the (now still snowy) North Shore mountains behind it, in the short stretch of track between Nanaimo and Broadway stations, where the tracks curve southeast to northwest around Trout Lake:

Trainscape

There, the city is framed by the mountains, but not overwhelmed by them. It's urban, yet lush, and on a sunny day, it makes me happy.

What's your favourite view of Vancouver, or of the place where you live? Leave a comment if you like, and link to a photo (yours or another's) if you can.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - newest items first
# 5:01:00 PM:

Links for "What Editors Do" students - April 2004

On several occasions over the past year I've spoken to Simon Fraser University's "What Editors Do" class about editing for the Web. I'm doing so again tonight. Here are some posts and links I made about those previous appearances:

A few other things from my site that might be relevant:

Other sites I may mention tonight:

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# 11:05:00 AM:

TCP Internet bug whazzit?

Attempts to explain the recent TCP Internet vulnerability have been hampered by its obscurity. It's pretty hard to talk about something that could affect a wide swath of the Internet, but that involves the kinds of technical minutiae that took dozens of PhDs years to formulate in the first place.

Glenn Fleishman of TidBITS, however, does an excellent job of outlining the whole thing today. I particularly like this part:

Before 2001, researchers [...] viewed [the problem] as a guess-what-number-I'm-thinking game, where the number guessed turned out to always be wrong.

In 2001, researchers discovered new information about the problem that made them change the game. It became, "I'm thinking of a number between one and four billion." It would take four days to four years to win that game randomly, they said.

Now, however, the latest weakness could be stated as, "I'm thinking of a billion numbers between one and four billion. Guess any one of those." Computationally, it's a much easier problem to solve, with probabilities as high as 1 in 4.

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Monday, April 26, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:23:00 AM:

What he said

A couple of months ago I wrote that, much as I love using it, Mac OS X:

has so many dependencies, so many thousands of files, and so many intricacies, that manually fixing a choked-up system is close to impossible. [It] may be capable of running for weeks or months or years without a reboot, if something does go wrong, it can go catastrophically wrong, and it's hard to know why.

That was before my machine started refusing to run Mac OS X at all. Now I'm stuck back in Mac OS 9, and while it's been tolerably stable, it feels so, so clunky.

John Gruber, who's always worth reading, agrees about OS X's sometime brittleness:

When things go wrong on Mac OS X, they often happen at a deeper level. File permission and ownership problems, for example, are not something a typical Mac user can deal with. It's not enough that Mac OS X doesn't require any Unix nerdery whatsoever for day-to-day use—it should never require Unix nerdery to recover from software updates, either.

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Friday, April 23, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:47:00 AM:

Burn, baby, burn

I've long wondered what methods food manufacturers use to determine how many calories are in their products. Now I know, and you can too.

I was also puzzled about whether dance choreographers have any way of notating what they do. Even with video, the answer is no, not really.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004 - newest items first
# 4:17:00 PM:

Vancouver weblog conference in the fall?

A little prodding does some good: looks like the chances of a Vancouver blogging conference in the fall are decent.

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# 10:34:00 AM:

With-it hipsters

So, how do Canada's major political parties reply to text messages sent to them as part of their new, "youth-friendly" cell phone SMS initiative?

The NDP and Greens seem to fare best, with short and effective responses. The Conservatives? "We did not understand your message. Please try again." Six times.

Yeah. Real hip.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:29:00 AM:

Links of interest (2004-04-21):

  • A few weeks ago Darren Barefoot posted a survey asking whether people were interested in a Vancouver weblogging conference. And then... nothing. So, I wonder, what's up?

  • "RSA security offered 172 London commuters [...] a bar of chocolate in exchange for their corporate password. 37 percent agreed; another 34 percent gave up their password when the interviewer suggested that it was likely name of their pet or their child."

  • "So, there are plenty of sites showcasing well-designed web sites [...] but where's the list of well written web sites?"

  • "If he had tried to play the 'my stuff is the best and the rest is crap' line, he probably would have lost the sale. Instead, he played 'I'm an authority and I'm looking out for your best interests' and that hooked me. He got the sale."

  • "...quite aside from any technical solutions, we desperately need to work harder at educating people that e-mail viruses are not inevitable, that they neither need to be put up with nor merely reacted to. It is possible to eradicate them, mostly if not completely, proactively rather than reactively, and without rendering e-mail (or even attachments) useless in the process."

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# 10:32:00 AM:

Wood or hemp?

Today's Good Morning Silicon Valley notes that:

Those eco-geeks among you will no doubt be happy to hear of a new alternative to the environmentally unfriendly PC: the wooden computer.

It's far from new. Aftermarket firms were building Apple IIs with high-end hardwood cases 20 years ago or more—I remember ads in the long-dead magazine Creative Computing. For that matter, the original Apple I kit had a wooden case as well.

And of course there are many others for standard PCs.

Whether any of these are environmentally friendly is another matter. There's always cardboard or, even groovier, hemp-based plastic (currently only for CD cases, but you never know).

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:39:00 AM:

Way, way back

Dave Shea and Cameron Moll ask us to reveal our first web development projects.

I didn't get involved in web design until 1997, when I took over maintenance for the site of Maximizer Technologies in Vancouver. (Previously, I had written web content, but never created any HTML or web images.) The next year I redesigned the site, and a year after that (in 1999) I even wrote about how we put it together.

So, back to that first commercial site. It was hand-coded, and there were frames and FONT tags galore, of course. It's only in the Internet Archive now, and some of the images are broken, but you'll get the idea:

The 1998 redesign, entirely my fault (and again, many broken links and graphics):

Here's an earlier (1996) version I worked on, but only a little:

More frames! With scroll bars! And a scrolling marquee in the status bar! Optimized for Netscape 3!

I also preserved a copy of my own site from that same era:

In 2001, I lost my job at Multiactive, and they've since gone back to the Maximizer company name, with several redesigns in the interim.

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Sunday, April 18, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:10:00 PM:

Er, yum

Earlier today, something happened that has never occurred before—at least onstage—in my fifteen years as a professional musician. During our performance for the Vancouver Sun Run, while I was singing a song ("I Feel Fine," by the Beatles), a small fly flew right into my mouth and I swallowed it.

I didn't sing the rest of the song very well.

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Saturday, April 17, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:09:00 AM:

Suggestions for Microsoft Word editing seminar?

I'm running the Onscreen Editing With Microsoft Word workshop organized by the Editors' Association of Canada in Vancouver on May 15, 2004.

Whether you're participating or not, I'd like to know if those of you who are interested in the topic have specific editing tasks using Word, or editing features of the program, that you think I should cover. Please do so using the comments link at the bottom of this journal entry, or by e-mail if you prefer.

What we'll cover

Word has a lot of editing features, and since we have just the afternoon, I'm planning on looking at some of the major Word tools I use every day, including:

  • Paragraph and character styles
  • The Track Changes features
  • Using variables and cross-references
  • Auto-numbering and -bulleting

as well as some tips and tricks, including how to strip out formatting, working with web documents, and when it's best just to print out your document and use a red pen. The seminar takes place in a computer lab, so you will have your own machine with Word running, and you'll be trying some of these techniques yourself.

Suggestions, please

If you think I should focus on any of the items above in particular, or if you have suggestions for other topics I should address or ways people might like to learn about them, I'd like to know. Please leave a comment or send an e-mail with your thoughts.

Needless to say, the ideas of those who are paying to come to the seminar have priority.

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# 12:19:00 AM:

Guide to designing with web standards, and a way to a free pen

456 Berea Street's Developing With Web Standards is the best single online document I've seen about the topic—because it explains things clearly and links to a fine set of other resources around the Web. Thanks to Dave for pointing to it.

And, just for the heck of it:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence on your blog.

Prepare to be thrilled:

This example is a bit naïve for several reasons.

Um, okay. My book is none of these, but I suspect it's the same as this guy's. Here is an even more interesting, similar idea, which I may try sometime.

By the way, if anyone figures out which book mine is, I'll send the first person to e-mail me with its title and author a free Penmachine ballpoint pen.

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Thursday, April 15, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:49:00 PM:

"I have failed"

Svend Robinson is the only Canadian federal politician I've ever voted for. I have lived in what is now his constituency for 32 years, and he was first elected here when I was 10 years old, in 1979. He is by far the best-known member of Canada's Parliament who has never belonged to a governing party—recognizable by first name alone to a decent chunk of the Canadian populace, even those living thousands of kilometres away.

Today, he revealed that last Friday he spontaneously and inexplicably stole an expensive piece of jewelry (a ring worth some $50,000), which he returned after the long weekend by contacting police himself. He cannot explain why he took the item, but revealed in a press conference that he has been under considerable stress in recent months. Psychologists interviewed on the radio—this story has been top news across Canada—speculate that Robinson may also still be suffering from post-traumatic stress following drastic injuries he suffered in 1997, when he fell down a ravine while hiking alone on Galiano Island, not far from Vancouver. He almost died, and had to crawl his way to help despite broken bones and a shattered jaw.

Principles and PR

His admission is, aside from being totally unexpected and quite sad, a remarkable piece of PR. He is an elected official admitting to a serious crime, and yet as far as I can tell, no one in the country, from the Prime Minister on down, has been able to say anything bad about him. Me included.

Robinson came out as the country's first openly gay MP in 1988, but he had championed gay rights and a host of other left-wing causes in the decade before that, and ever since. The fortunes of the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) to which he belongs have waxed and waned in federal politics, but we voters of Burnaby have re-elected him not only because he sticks to his principles—even those that some who vote for him might disagree with—but also because he has always worked relentlessly for the interests of the people in his riding.

Our little Switzerland

My wife and I have a jokey catchphrase about him: "Svend tables the cheese bill." Several years ago, Health Canada was floating the idea of banning unpasteurized cheeses (you know, the good kind) as a potential bacterial hazard. Svend made a point of opposing the idea, and small crusades like that are one reason he appeals to the people who live here.

He has also, I admit, had the luxury of never being in government, and thus never having had to implement his principles in policy. And we Burnaby residents have been able to claim Switzerland-like uninvolvement in federal scandals: "Eh, whatever, we voted for Svend." (Okay, it's a pretty activist little Switzerland, but all analogies break down somewhere.) But, in the end, the periphery is where he has made the best of himself.

Whatever the reasons for his thievery, Svend is not running from the consequences. He has taken a leave from his job and stepped down (at least temporarily) as a candidate in the next election. If that election comes soon, as it might, he will not be on the ballot this time around, for the first time in a quarter century.

A stronger path

I complained here in January 2003 that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell should have stepped down when he was caught driving very drunk in Hawaii. He did not, and while he apologized and was obviously sad and contrite, I'm still puzzled that most voters forgave him so easily.

Robinson (if his account is complete and accurate) is following a stronger path: it's as if Premier Campbell had not been pulled over, but arrived safely at his destination, yet felt so guilty about his crime that he turned himself in for a breathalyzer test anyway, while also taking a leave and stepping down as a candidate in the next election.

In other words—again, assuming his story is the truth—even in a moment of great personal failure, Svend Robinson shows every sign of being a man of principle and integrity. He said, quite clearly and without equivocation, "I have failed." If he feels well enough and wants to run in an upcoming election, I'd vote for him again. I hope I get the chance to.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:57:00 PM:

Links of interest (2004-04-14):

  • "MSNBC reporter Deborah Norville went on air with news that more than half of all exercise done in the United States happens in TV infomercials for workout machines. Norville neglected to mention her source: The Onion, of course. Norville did not return a call seeking comment."

  • "In 1937 [...] Kenneth Daigneau won $100 for coming up with the name to replace Hormel Foods' canned meat-based product, then known as Hormel Spiced Ham."

  • "Scientists do not debate whether evolution (descent with modification) took place, but they do argue about how it took place." (Check out the efficient and useful top navigation on that site.)

  • "As I sat there wondering how to respond, a baby voice from the back seat took care of it, saying “hé, caca de salaud d’enfoiré!” (roughly translated: hey, you poopoo asshole prick)."

  • "To set the parking brake, slide over to the passenger seat, roll down your window, and feel behind the windshield wiper until you notice a barely detectable, curved bump. Stroke it twice, then tug the wiper blade away from the windshield—but only for a second—and then release it. You should hear a very quiet click. The parking brake is now set."

  • "A series of three bowls made by melting toy soldiers, ninjas and knights."

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:55:00 PM:

I've begun to wash my face

Until recently, I took better care of my feet than my face. I've had diabetes since I was 21, and am at risk for—though have so far avoided—complications from poor circulation in my extremities. Part of preventing that involves washing, buffing, creaming, and occasionally pedicuring my footsies.

My face, conversely, just got whatever soap dripped down from my hair in the shower, and whatever water I aimed at it to blast out the crusty stuff in the corners of my eyes.

Well, no more. After reading a link from Dori Smith a few weeks ago, I decided that now that I'm nearly 35, I should probably do a little work to keep from going the way of Nicholas Campbell and Bryan Adams all that soon.

So I use a facial cleanser with little gritty beads in it to rub off the dead skin in the shower, a toner (applied with a little cotton ball) that helps remove oils afterward, and an SPF 18 moisturizer to soften things up before I go out.

Now, I can't say that things look any different, but I'm starting to see how women get addicted body products, because I sure smell nice and feel great when I walk out of the bathroom. Plus my wife and kids like it. Except now, with the toothpaste and the mouthwash and the soap and the shampoo and the conditioner and the cleanser and the toner and the moisturizer and the hair gel and the deodorant, I'm spending a whole lot more time hogging that bathroom, smearing stuff on myself in the morning.

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Monday, April 12, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:24:00 AM:

End of the line

Perhaps Easter weekend is a bad time to try fixing up a Mac.

For some months now, my Power Mac G3 (vintage 1997) has been intermittently cranky about running Mac OS X.

In the past few weeks, it has been regularly crashing or locking up when I tried to do something relatively complex—resizing large images, converting big batches of files from one type to another, or running a lot of programs at once. And it was becoming more and more sensitive over time, until it crashed more than my Mac OS 9 PowerBook and Windows 98 desktop machine combined.

This led me to reason that I might have some bad RAM or a USB incompatibility. To be safe, I pulled out all my expansion cards and swapped the RAM for other memory chips I had kicking around.

No improvement. In fact, as of this morning, while the Power Mac will boot into Mac OS 9, my Mac OS X partition is non-functional, and trying to reinstall the operating system leads to further kernel panics and lockups. In other words, this computer is on its last legs.

I suspect the old motherboard is just dying. Maybe it's the processor, maybe some supporting chips. Who knows. But it's just not doing the job any longer.

I haven't lost any data. The hard drive is still pretty much fine. My files are all on there, and the important ones are backed up anyway. I can even work with them by starting the machine in Mac OS 9. But right now I have no other computer than can run Mac OS X, which means that my long-term e-mail archive is inaccessible (Microsoft's Entourage X files aren't readable by the earlier version I have on my laptop, although there may be alternatives), as are a number of other sorts of documents. But I can limp along in my work and online play for the moment.

Maybe it's not so bad that I have all these old computers kicking around. There's always something available.

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Sunday, April 11, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:05:00 AM:

Designing for the small screen

The late, lamented Webmonkey posted an excellent article by Heidi Pollock about designing websites for small screens (thanks, Miraz), such as those on web phones, PDAs, and other such devices.

Back in the day, circa 1998, when I was a year or so into building websites, I tried my hand at coding pages for WAP phones and handhelds. It sucked. No, let me rephrase that: it suuuuuuuucked. There was no way to predict how different devices would display pages, the limitations on even the amount of text were insanely low (even for the very limited memory and screens of mobile phones), and trying to get resources to test the results was a joke.

The bad: Pollock reveals that little has changed in some regards:

The number of devices, screen sizes, operating platforms, and support levels for small-screen browsing is mind-numbing. While doing the research for this article, I actually walked away from my computer right in the middle of my umpteenth developer guideline PDF download, hopped in my car, picked up a bottle of wine, three DVDs, returned home, and crawled into bed. That's how bad it is.

The good: Mobile small-screen browsers today understand standard extensible hypertext markup language (XHTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS), at least to some degree, so if you create pages using those technologies for regular desktop and laptop computers, and do it right, those pages may Just Work on many small-screen devices:

It requires you to separate your content from your design and use CSS the way it was meant to be used. Finally. Right now you may or may not be concerned with the small-screen audience, but someday soon your audience will be browsing over television and voice connections, so you might as well buckle down, once and for all, and learn to separate your data from your formatting.

My site here doesn't quite use its stylesheets in that elegant a way, but I was quite surprised last year when I had chance to use Palm's wireless Tungsten C handheld and its built-in browser. It displayed these pages just fine on a screen of only 320x320 pixels. That screen, by the way, remains the best PDA display I have ever seen.

So, if you build pages using modern web standards, and especially if you set up a separate, minimalist stylesheet for small screens, you have a pretty good chance of giving people a good experience surfing on a phone or PDA. Hallelujah.

Incidentally, it was a sunny 27°C on our back porch last afternoon, I could go to the grocery store at 9:30 p.m. in a T-shirt and shorts, and it's not even mid-April. While I did write some entries in this journal and take some time looking at a computer screen, I spent a good chunk of the day with my daughters in the back yard. That's as it should be. If you're in Vancouver reading this, get yourself outside. If you're reading this wirelessly outside, put the computer down. Run around a bit. It's good for you.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:50:00 PM:

Wires fly

One year ago tomorrow, I posted an article about old PowerBooks and wireless networks, which I've updated periodically since (most recently today). It remains by far the most popular thing on this website.

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# 1:44:00 PM:

Links of interest (2004-04-10):

  • "The police began shooting looters in May, when radioactive TV sets began to appear in the pawn shops of Kiev."

  • "Desktops are appliances. Laptops are instruments. The difference between a Dell desktop and an Apple PowerBook is like that between a Kenmore washer and a Fender Stratocaster."

  • Now here's a piece of web design: "Do away with needless programming. In fact, do away with computers altogether." (Thanks, Dave Aton.)

  • "But even if you don't have $249 to spend on an awesome network music player for your stereo cabinet, you can take advantage of Slim Devices' remarkably good server software to stream your home music library to your work."

  • "You need a big hardware budget to build an application that can scale, but you need good programmers and system administrators to handle the load, whose salaries require an increased marketing budget, to attract enough users to pay for it all. What I think I'm seeing my students do is get off that ride."

  • "Cameron Diaz has pimples. Hamburgers only look juicy on TV because they're slathered in Vaseline. The cool kid isn't just hanging out playing a game on his cellphone—he's a Sony guerrilla marketer, paid to make a product look desirable."

  • "Now you can download and use these vintage images in your print, web, or even letterpress projects. No bitmapped scans are these: our postscript images will print crisply at any size."

  • "I love all your photos, but I especially love this one."

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Friday, April 09, 2004 - newest items first
# 2:46:00 PM:

Smack it, kick it!

Sure, it's tongue-in-cheek, but this web design smackdown does make you wonder why so many high-paid information architecture experts have crappy websites. (Via Dave Shea, who was mentioned, but not included in the competition.)

If you're a musician, as I am, you'll be pleased to read about the relative merits of various microphones at different prices (here's another). I also stumbled across an enormous list of useful musical gear links.

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# 9:13:00 AM:

Do you need wireless security?

I've updated my popular wireless networking for old PowerBooks article to include a link to Adam Engst's new tips on deciding about wireless security at TidBITS. (Check out this related article from O'Reilly on how easy it is to crack into wireless networks that use only basic security measures.)

If you're in the market for a laptop case, TidBITS also has a good article on buying one too.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004 - newest items first
# 4:45:00 PM:

The honeymoon is over

Antivirus vendor Intego claims that:

MP3Concept [is] the first Trojan horse that affects Mac OS X. [It] exploits a weakness in Mac OS X where applications can appear to be other types of files."

Actually, it appears to be a demo of how such a Trojan could work (thanks, MNJ), but the lesson is still there. Indeed, this Trojan demo is even supposed to work on Mac OS 9—but, I believe, not on previous systems, such as those that do not understand bundles or won't run Carbon applications.

We Mac users like to gloat about not being vulnerable to all those Windows-specific viruses and Trojans. We were also lucky that, back in the 1980s, the dedicated John Norstad squashed viruses nearly as soon as they appeared, and made virus-writing for the Mac an unfulfilling bad habit for those who practised it.

But while Windows may be exceedingly vulnerable, Macs are not immune. This particular exploit is more social than technological—it takes advantage of people's assumptions and some of Apple's poor file type metadata decisions, but a sufficiently creative programmer with nothing better to do could have come up with something essentially identical for the classic Mac OS years ago.

So get used to it.

UPDATE: Ooh ooh ooh, Mr. Kotter! This is turning into quite a kerfuffle. I mean, Apple responds! Intego explains! Wired News snickers! Mac users gripe! Drama! Excitement!

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# 3:40:00 PM:

Quarter-century story

Tim Bray tells some tales about his 25 years as a computer programmer. I can't do that—the last time I tried programming, nearly 20 years ago, I sucked at it. But here is my 25-year computer user story.

In 1979, my dad was taking courses at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, programming in Fortran on the campus mainframe. He'd sometimes bring me down to play some games—Wumpus, Star Trek, and a car racing game that played in plain text—on the dumb terminals. I was nine.

Later that year, an acquaintance of his who worked at B.C. Tel (now Telus) loaned us a dialup terminal we could use at home. It used an acoustic coupler—two rubber cups into which you plugged the two ends of your phone handset after dialing the B.C. Tel computer—and transferred data at a maximum of 110 bits (or about 14 letters) per second. I used it to play Wumpus, Star Trek, and similar games, except instead of a screen, the terminal spit out scads of thermal printer paper.

From there we moved, in 1980, to a borrowed TRS-80 Model I ,which tended to reset itself if you had any sort of static charge on your body when you sat down to type. I typed in some games, line by line in BASIC code, from a book, including one called RamRom Patrol. Then, in 1982, we bought our own Apple II Plus, on which the coolest game was Choplifter. Soon after, we visited a technology showcase at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, where the only thing I remember was a very expensive dedicated word processing system that showed spelling mistakes in (gasp!) colour.

I don't play games much anymore. And my dad rarely programs, especially not in Fortran. I haven't seen an acoustic coupler in many years. But you can still play Wumpus.

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# 10:35:00 AM:

Links of interest (2004-04-08):

  • "If there was a weblogging conference in Vancouver, would you attend?"

  • "You can stop servers from hotlinking your site's files by editing the .htaccess file in your site's root directory."

  • "If someone was peering over your shoulder, watching every Google search you made; making a note of what you looked for; what you found; and sometimes where you visited from the results [...] they'd grow to know quite a bit about you, eh? Well, that's what the cookie allows Google to do, forever [but] this GoogleAnon Bookmarklet [will] remove the GUID from the cookie, and therefore from any information Google collects..."

  • "Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be..."

  • "In the bottle before you is a pill, a marvel of modern medicine that will regulate gene transcription throughout your body, helping prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and 12 kinds of cancer [...] gallstones and diverticulitis. [...] You'll feel better, younger even, and you will test younger according to a variety of physiologic measures. [...] There is just one catch. There's no such pill. The prescription is exercise."

  • "Principles are fine things to have, but only if you can afford them. With its stock declared a 'junk bond' and finishing a terrible quarter, Silicon Valley's leading Microsoft antagonist Sun Microsystems has now decided it can't."

  • "These designers are approaching Web design as a craft. They are looking to squeeze every available ounce of Web into their designs. In fact, it actually reminds me of those folks at Wired who would do test after test of hideous fluorescent inks and glossy stock to ensure the dot gain was exactly right."

  • "Provide Web authors with the resources necessary to promote Web standards as a commercially desirable choice for clients."

  • "Not knowing of [the soft hyphen's] existence may be one reason [no one uses it], typographical ignorance or time constraints others, but what's really stopping us using it now is poor and inconsistent browser support."

  • "[In] the June issue, they will see on the cover a satellite photo of a neighborhood—their own neighborhood. And their house will be graphically circled."

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:12:00 AM:

Arms race

Slightly over two months since I activated comments on this journal, I received my first comment spam (see the fifth bullet point) this morning.

It was, appropriately enough, an attempt to advertise an anti-spam e-mail product—one which, even if it worked, wouldn't have prevented its own advertising. Essentially, someone came and found an old post I wrote about spam, and added a comment to it that was nothing but a (grammatically questionable) ad for their product, hoping I wouldn't notice because it was so far back in the archive. However, I'm notified when new comments get posted, so I saw it and deleted it today.

I'm hoping this doesn't turn into a big problem.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:30:00 PM:

My day

My wife and I have consciously tried to avoid overscheduling our kids—you know, ballet and swimming and soccer and music lessons and tutoring and tot's yoga all at the same time. Still, things sometimes do get a bit out of hand. Here was my day today:

  • 8:00 a.m.: Wake up to calls of four-year-old daughter, not having adjusted to Daylight Savings Time yet. Realize that her six-year-old sister must be at school in one hour. Wife has been up for an hour, is getting ready to leave.

  • 8:01 a.m.: Give littlest daughter morning milk and turn on TV, go put coffee on, use washroom.

  • 8:15 a.m.: Take insulin. Prepare breakfast for kids and grownups. Cereal, toast, etc. While eating breakfast, make recess snack for kindergartner.

  • 8:20 a.m.: Kiss wife goodbye for the day.

  • 8:25 a.m.: Gather clothes for girls while they eat. Also provide hairbrushes and cotton swabs to clean ears that were pierced a few weeks ago. Hope both kids manage to dress themselves.

  • 8:35 a.m.: Return from brushing own teeth, combing own hair, and getting dressed to find girls (a) have accepted clothes provided (yay!) and (b) have mostly put them on without assistance (double yay!).

  • 8:36 a.m.: Go downstairs to retrieve kids' bicycles from storage room to prepare for ride to school. (No, I have to walk, since they still need the occasional push.) Also start a load of laundry.

  • 8:40 a.m.: Shoes for everyone.

  • 8:43 a.m.: Coffee in travel mug—quite essential. Make sure recess snack is packed.

  • 8:45 a.m.: TV off, girls coaxed downstairs, sweaters and helmets on, out the door.

  • 8:55 a.m.: Trip to school is all uphill. Run into school friends on the way, dawdle a little.

  • 8:59 a.m.: Arrive just before classroom door opens, after hauling bikes over gravel next to school annex construction area. Ensure six-year-old takes sweater and snack in.

  • 9:00 a.m.: Talk to other parents a bit, then push four-year-old on swing, assist on monkey bars, etc.

  • 9:30 a.m.: Start heading home, pushing older daughter's bike while younger one rides.

  • 9:31 a.m.: Four-year-old distracted by secondary playground. More play.

  • 9:50 a.m.: Arrive home, after pushing empty bike and following full one downhill the whole way.

  • 10:00 a.m.: Finish bringing bikes back in, hanging up sweaters, putting away shoes, cleaning up perishable breakfast mess left on counter. Set up four-year-old to play "Operation" in order to take own shower.

  • 10:25 a.m.: Complete showering, shave, morning ablutions. Clean kitchen and make beds.

  • 10:55 a.m.: Read e-mail and websites briefly, drinking coffee, while daughter plays. Post reasonably pointless journal entry.

  • 11:15 a.m.: Dress again for going out in half an hour. Transfer laundry from washer to dryer, start another load.

  • 11:30 a.m.: Have youngest daughter assist with putting necessary tax receipts and paperwork into large brown envelope for appointment with accountant at 3:30—we won't be home in the interim.

  • 11:40 a.m.: Reheat last night's noodles for a pre-lunch snack to prevent diabetic low blood sugar which would otherwise come on around 12:15. Make second travel mug of coffee.

  • 11:50 a.m.: Put on youngest daughter's shoes again and pack her into car to go pick up her sister. Run dishwasher. Forget travel mug on counter.

  • 12:00 p.m.: Retrieve six-year-old from kindergarten, hold her stuff while she plays with friends.

  • 12:10 p.m.: Make spur-of-the-moment plans with parents of one friend to take all three kids to McDonald's for lunch before preschool field trip at 1:30.

  • 12:15 p.m.: Tell kids, cajole them to cars.

  • 12:20 p.m.: Drive to McDonald's.

  • 12:30 p.m.: Arrive at McDonald's, park, go inside, line up, order food.

  • 12:35 p.m.: Eat, while two daughters and their friend make dog-barf jokes about little toys they received in Happy Meals.

  • 12:50 p.m.: Send kids to McDonald's play area for 25 minutes, discuss with other parents contents of list for their grocery shopping following lunch.

  • 1:10 p.m.: "Five minutes, kids!" "Awwwwww?! No fair!"

  • 1:15 p.m.: Shoes back on, out to car, bye to friend.

  • 1:20 p.m.: Kids wave and make faces to friend in other car as we drive in parallel to our different destinations.

  • 1:32 p.m.: Arrive at preschool field trip destination: the public library, slightly late. Preschool teacher hustles four-year-old in. Go with six-year-old outside to play.

  • 1:35 p.m.: Read paper intermittently while six-year-old plays, runs, climbs, asks questions, picks flowers after being told not to, asks to go to another park before accountant's appointment at 3:30.

  • 2:20 p.m.: Bathroom and water fountain (for hiccups) break. Go to see if preschool session is over. It is. Older daughter presents illicitly picked flower to preschool teacher, who is charmed.

  • 2:25 p.m.: More playing, this time with both kids and preschool chums. Much rolling around in grass, kicking balls, hide-and-seek. More requests for another park before accountant's appointment. "If there's time," I answer.

  • 2:45 p.m.: Time to leave for accountant's appointment. "Awwwwww?! No fair!"

  • 2:55 p.m.: Realize that main route to accountant's is clogged because of road construction. Take alternate route, which turns out to be quite pleasant.

  • 3:08 p.m.: Arrive near accountant's office, stop car next to park with playground. There is (a little) time.

  • 3:20 p.m.: Time to go. "Awwwwww?! No fair!" Girls fight over who gets to press the crosswalk button.

  • 3:30 p.m.: Arrive at accountant's office. Interrupted by cell phone call from optician revealing that new glasses are ready. Make appointment for 6:30. Discuss taxes, present papers. Kids play with electric fan by speaking into it to make their voices go all weird. Accountant is charmed.

  • 3:45 p.m.: Accountant works next to a Dairy Queen. Caramel sundae, vanilla cone, two drinks.

  • 4:00 p.m.: Back to the park, holding kids' drinks and one ice cream cone. Kids make new friends, play games, climb, slide, roll in grass and gravel.

  • 4:35 p.m.: Time to go. "Awwwwww?! No fair!" Girls fight over who gets to press the crosswalk button.

  • 4:45 p.m.: Back in car. Heading home. Kids suck back more of their DQ drinks.

  • 5:00 p.m.: Home. Kiss wife, who is back and has taken over the laundry (bless her). Pack up for six-year-old's piano lesson. Four-year-old wants to come. Make sure hands and faces are washed before departure.

  • 5:15 p.m.: Arrive at piano lesson. Try to keep four-year-old reasonably quiet while sister's lesson proceeds. Six-year-old demonstrates more (simplified) Beethoven than she was supposed to have learned. Teacher likes that.

  • 5:45 p.m.: Back home. Dinner includes noodles, cheese bread, tomatoes, leftover DQ drinks, dessert, in no particular order.

  • 6:00 p.m.: SpongeBob Squarepants—sweet relief. Take more insulin. Eat own meal, empty dishwasher and add newly dirty dishes.

  • 6:30 p.m.: SpongeBob ends. Wife watches kids during rush to make eyeglass appointment. Run dishwasher again.

  • 6:37 p.m.: Arrive at mall, weaving around remnants of free Avril Lavigne concert that had ended in parking lot about an hour earlier.

  • 6:42 p.m.: Arrive at optician. Wait a bit, have glasses fitted. I like 'em, though they're not really that different from the old ones.

  • 7:00 p.m.: Back home. Wife is chasing kids around house, pretending to be giant praying mantis. Join in.

  • 7:20 p.m.: Bath time.

  • 7:30 p.m.: Four-year-old is tired of bath. Six-year-old is so not tired of bath. Wife dries four-year-old, helps with toothbrush, comb, pajamas, and ear cleaning, then takes her to bed for books.

  • 7:45 p.m.: Six-year-old still playing with snorkel.

  • 7:55 p.m.: Time to get out of bath. "Awwwwww?! No fair!" Towel, toothbrush, comb, ears, pajamas.

  • 8:00 p.m.: Everyone in bunk bed. Read second book.

  • 8:20 p.m.: Book finished. Girls still swinging on bed like monkeys. Lights out. Play word games in the dark.

  • 8:45 p.m.: Mom's tired and goes to own bedroom. Dad hangs around until girls go to sleep.

  • 8:55 p.m.: Girls want cold cloths for their hot eyes. (This is a routine.)

  • 9:10 p.m.: Girls are asleep. So is wife.

  • 9:15 p.m.: Tidy up, read e-mail and websites in downstairs office. Write second reasonably pointless journal entry.

  • 10:10 p.m.: Investigate mysterious banging upstairs. Older daughter is whacking wall with leg while trashing in sleep. Put blankets on her.

  • 10:20 p.m.: Upload glasses photo self-portrait taken with digicam in kitchen two minutes earlier.

  • 10:30 p.m.: Post journal entry. Time for bed. Or maybe to empty dishwasher again.

Perhaps you understand why, when I work at home, I do so mostly at night.

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# 11:11:00 AM:

Swooshyswirlyzappyball

Following Dave Shea's link to the old overdone spiral logos page, I'd like to point you to:

Finally, go to GoodLogo to view and vote on logos famous and infamous. As I write, the current #1 is Stüssy, which I personally can't stand. Go vote and change that, please.

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Monday, April 05, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:38:00 PM:

Urban Vancouver meta-blog

CORRECTION: Richard Eriksson notes in the comments that he and Boris Mann are the two other partners in the Urban Vancouver site—it's not Roland by himself. Of course, Richard also pointed out four more sites that Roland is involved in.

Urban Vancouver is a new weblog that brings together posts from other weblogs in the Vancouver area. It's published by the irrepressible Roland Tanglao, of VanEats.com, who has so many blogs I can't keep track of them. How he has the time since he and Barb Wong had a baby a few weeks ago, I have no idea.

By the way, I linked to four separate blogs there, and he writes on all of them, plus this one too. There may be more. See what I mean?

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# 11:21:00 AM:

I'm in with the stars

If you happen to grab a copy of the Vancouver Sun today, check out page C5 (the Arts & Entertainment section, in which fine people such as Nelly Furtado and J.Lo regularly appear), where you'll see my bewigged head in a photo, with accompanying article, promoting the various bands (including mine, The Neurotics) and our appearance at the Vancouver Sun Run on April 18:

[Neurotics Sun article super-sexy image, click for large 230 KB version]

A full-size readable scan of the article is available on the Neurotics site, since the Sun, like all CanWest papers, doesn't seem to think putting articles online for free is a good business model. They also forgot to note the URI of theneurotics.com, despite quoting from it right at the beginning of the article—so I'll just plug it here without remorse instead.

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# 12:28:00 AM:

Ups and downs

Last year when I looked at my income distribution for 2002, I found 60.5% from writing and editing, 38.5% from music, and 1% from technical work of various sorts.

This year, in preparing my 2003 receipts for my accountant at tax time, the numbers are much different. While my freelance work breaks down to 71% writing and editing, 24% music, 3% technical, and 2% speaking engagements (a new category), I also had some salaried work in 2003. When I include that (which is nearly all writing and editing), I'm at 78% writing and editing, 18% music, 2% technical, and 2% speaking.

My gross income for 2003 was up about 5% from 2002. That's nice, but it's still 25% less than it was in 2001, when I had the great bonus of a very well-paid three-month summer contract. Interestingly, that year I was at 80% writing and editing, 18% music, and 2% technical—nearly identical to this year's percentages, but with a lot more money overall.

So far in 2004, things are all over the place, for all sorts of reasons. It's hard to say how the percentages will break down by the end of December, but I'll let you know next spring when I get around to figuring it out.

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Saturday, April 03, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:25:00 PM:

Changes

I've ordered new glasses, and they should be in early this coming week. They're not radically different from the ones I wear now, but they're enough of a change that I'll probably need to update that photo in the corner, which is now more than three years old (and which has led more than one person to think that I'm gay, for some reason).

You can take a look at the previous version (snapped on a snowy mountaintop in March 2000), or the one before that (taken in 1996 in our den by my wife).

If I do upload a new version, I'll pick one I like—whether people infer anything about me from the photo alone will be up to them.

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# 12:01:00 AM:

Unglamorous interfaces

Let's follow up from one of yesterday's links of interest. In the world of computer programming, user interfaces—more specifically, graphical user interfaces (GUIs) such as the kind most people use, with a mouse pointer and icons and text fields and buttons and widgets—have traditionally received little respect. Some hard-core software engineers consider GUIs mere window dressing, something to be added after the real work (i.e. the back-end logic of a program) is done.

Here, in chronological order, is a series of weblog posts describing why that's totally wrong:

  1. "...the vast majority of open-source projects are also volunteer projects; and it seems that the use of volunteers to drive development inevitably leads the interface design to suck."

  2. "...the developers of CUPS [Common Unix Printing System] have obviously tried hard to produce an accessible system—but the best intentions and effort have led to a system which despite its superficial pseudo-friendliness is so undiscoverable that it might as well have been written in ancient Sanskrit."

  3. "Linux geeks [are] frustrated by open source software's terrible usability. [...] the problem is that even Linux geeks have trouble figuring it out."

  4. "Creating a bad GUI is really, really easy. Creating a 'good' GUI is really, really hard. [...] How do you quantify good GUI design skills? I do not know. A great GUI is a work of art."

  5. "I spent most of the last decade honing my ability to absorb complexity and detail and translate that complexity into working programs. I'm spending this decade trying to make that premise seem ridiculous..."

  6. "When you're working on end-user software, and it doesn't matter if you're working on a web app, adding a feature to an existing application, or working on a plug-in for some other application, you need to design the UI first."

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Friday, April 02, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:28:00 AM:

Links of interest (2004-04-02):

  • "Over and over I've heard the same complaint [...] 'Turns out, after all the budget and time we spent, we really didn't need a content management system at all. We just needed some editors.' [...] Your public-facing Web site is a publication. Treat it like one." (This one warms my heart.)

  • "Oh, I see: the problem is that Linux developers are just so [bleep]ing smart that they overlook the problems faced by 'dumb users' [...] But everything will fall into place with just a little attitude adjustment. Well, allow me to retort."

  • "Even at its most efficient power setting, the big [14-cylinder marine cargo ship engine, the most powerful in the world] consumes 1,660 gallons of heavy fuel oil per hour."

  • "Upon returning to Japan, he outfitted a backhoe-like machine with 40 spinning blades inside a drum [which] is strengthened to withstand up to 10,000 explosions." (This and previous item both from Gizmodo.)

  • A few lists of April Fool's jokes for 2004.

 |

# 9:35:00 AM:

How to remove unwanted invisible information from Microsoft Word documents

An article on the dangers of not removing embedded change-tracking and metadata from Microsoft Word documents:

I happened to be browsing aimlessly through case studies and other publications released by Microsoft [...] I stumbled upon a Word file I wanted to read [and] noticed there is a good deal of amusing change tracking information still recorded within the document. [...]

A pointless idea came to my mind that instant: why not run a gentle web spider against all Microsoft sites in English, specifically looking for other instances of tracking data not removed from documents?

Another, in a legal context:

[...] how a Microsoft Word document of SCO's lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler indicated that a lawsuit was also contemplated against Bank of America.

Incidentally, Microsoft provides a downloadable tool to remove all hidden data from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files (they're all vulnerable), but only for Office 2003 and XP on Windows.

Manual methods of removing the information for those versions of Word (and earlier ones) are also available.

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# 12:11:00 AM:

Three more ways kids differ

  1. Plates are perfect for catching crumbs and mess when eating on the couch, but once the meal is done, it's fine to flip them upside down.

  2. First, biggest, oldest, and highest up are always better.

  3. Consonants are less and less necessary the louder you yell.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:30:00 PM:

Weblogs and wikis on the continuum

Glyn Moody of Netcraft writes about weblogs and wikis, and has some insight:

In a sense, the Wiki is to the blog what open source is to proprietary software: a communal effort where group dynamics rather than a leader's fiat determine the end-result.

[...] the main strength of Wikis [is] a depth born of multiple authors working together to hone material. This contrasts with the blog, which shines in its ability to offer one person's quirky and brilliant insights across what may be a vast and often contrasting spectrum of subjects.

Frank Catalano (via Buzzworthy) tackles the continuum that lies within blogging itself, with some pithy observations:

Blogging-as-journalism and blogging-as-conversation are two ends of a continuum, with many variations as you slide from one end to the other.

Pro-blog partisans like to say that the number of people reading blogs is more than the number of people watching CNN. Sure. And the number of people reading weekly community newspapers is likely greater than the number of readers of the New York Times.

I also suspect (hell, I know) I'd have more readers by just submitting some of my ramblings as a letter to the editor in Pocatello, Idaho.

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# 11:43:00 AM:

Important incompatibility note for Apple Bleeper and CountDown G5

Now that the two products have been formally announced, I can note that I have been beta-testing both CountDown G5 and Apple's Bleeper extension for GarageBand, and there is currently an incompatibility between the two.

If you have a Power Mac G5 with CountDown G5 installed, and booted into Mac OS X (obviously, since GarageBand won't run under Mac OS 9), GarageBand quits unexpectedly (with a very loud bleep!) if Bleeper is installed. Bleeper installs just fine on a CountDown-enabled system, but there is no way to get GarageBand running afterwards.

Unfortunately, Bleeper doesn't provide an easy uninstall capability—you need to delete the contents of /Library/Application Support/Bleeper, as well as the /Applications/Bleeper folder, to get things back to normal. CountDown G5 can't be uninstalled because it is a firmware update.

Of course, Apple won't help you, since CountDown is completely unsupported and, as the TidBITS article noted, likely voids your G5 warranty anyway.

So, be warned! And remember that today is an especially important day to bleep safely.

 |

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