Journal: News & Comment

This is " April 2005," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Saturday, April 30, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:30:00 PM:


You know, I look forward to John Siracusa's exhaustive Mac OS X reviews almost more than to the operating system upgrades themselves. And this time he's outdone himself for Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger."

If his 40,000 words are too much for you, read the summarizing conclusion, then go check out the other John (Gruber) and his neato features mini-weblog for the new OS release.


Friday, April 29, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:29:00 AM:

Hay in a needlestack

Three or four years ago, when I first started complaining about spam, I don't think I could have imagined how bad it would get.

In 2002, I was dismayed to get a few dozen spam e-mails in a day, making up a mere 59% of my mail. Over time it has become steadily worse and worse, well outstripping my most pessimistic fears.

Yesterday I installed the new 2.0 version of Spamfire on my main Mac. I've been using Spamfire for almost exactly two years. The old version used regularly downloaded rule-based filters to turn away the junk, and worked reasonably well for awhile. The new version adds trainable, Bayesian filtering as well, and is working quite a bit better. (Be careful when installing it, by the way: it would not work for me when I put the application in a folder called "Spamfire ƒ" with a curly f—but it runs great if installed directly into the Mac OS X Applications folder.)

Here's why I need the upgrade. A good chunk of my e-mail has spam filters applied before I even see it, from either my hosting provider, my e-mail forwarder, my ISP, or a combination of two or three of those. I never see hundreds or thousands of of my daily spam messages. Even so, yesterday Spamfire intercepted more than 900 spam messages. Overnight, it caught 244 more, letting through 5 legitimate e-mails. Yes, five.


And I use Macs, so I'm not even worried much about spyware and other crap. If I were getting this sort of onslaught on a Windows box, I might just just revert to paper and typewriters. Or maybe CB radio.


Thursday, April 28, 2005 - newest items first
# 12:01:00 AM:

Hail Gruber CS2

Once again, John Gruber provides the best analysis so far of the Adobe-Macromedia merger, from a less silly perspective than last time.

He nails why, as someone who's used both Adobe and Macromedia applications for a long time, I had a queasy feeling when I heard the announcement.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:21:00 PM:


It's a couple of months short of the end of the school year here in Canada, and my oldest daughter has come to like her Grade 1 teacher quite a lot. Mrs. M. has a mass of curly black hair, is laid-back and funny, respects the kids, and even loans my little girl a sweater when she realizes her decision not to bring one on a semi-warm spring morning may have been a mistake.

The thing about Mrs. M. is that, while she's fun and cares, she's not easy. The Grade 1 class has done some complicated stuff, and I certainly don't remember having weekly spelling tests when I was six years old (at the same school, incidentally) and just learning to read and write. Never mind having words like quaint and special on those tests.

Alas, Mrs. M. has been filling in while the regular Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. T., was on maternity leave, and next Monday the kids change teachers. Mrs. T. is good too, and some of the children (though not mine) had her in Kindergarten last year. But they'll still be sad to see Mrs. M. go, as will many of us parents.

Don't forget that there are a lot of good teachers out there. I married one 10 years ago. And I'm glad my kids are learning from some others too.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:55:00 PM:

Amerie's "1 Thing" samples "Oh, Calcutta!" by the Meters

Many of us who grew up before hip-hop became mainstream (I'm at the tail end of that group—Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy hit just as I finished high school) have a subconscious disdain of sample-based music, especially if, like me, you're a musician. You might find yourself thinking that songs based on samples are somehow not "real" enough.

Well, that's crap. Yesterday, my wife bought the song "1 Thing" by Amerie (you can listen at iTunes—Canada or U.S.). Producer Rich Harrison constructed the entire track from almost nothing but two drum-and-guitar loops and Amerie's vocals. And it's awesome.

That's because he picked one of the best possible sources: the huge, slamming drum break is a three-second slice from New Orleans funk legends the Meters (now known, with only half the original musicians, as the Funky Meters). It features Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste on drums and Leo Neocentelli on guitar, and you can find it around 1:41 of their version of "Oh, Calcutta!" (yes, from the infamous stage musical) on the Look-Ka Py Py album.

Now, that could have been enough on its own, but the Harrison does a brilliant job of chopping up and recombining a couple of those Meters samples with bongos, a bit of keyboard wash, and fantastic high-range singing from Amerie, as well as her "whoah-oh-wa-oh" background vocals. (The rap by Eve is good too.) It's not so much a song as a series of greasy, impeccably assembled, dance-inducing hunks of groove that you can't get out of your head—and don't want to.

It went straight onto my iPod, and I've found myself air-drumming to it all day even when I wasn't actually listening to it. Also, I was thinking that Zigaboo Modeliste may be the coolest drummer's name ever. He's got, even.

NOTE: You can hear an NPR interview with the original Meters lineup before what was billed as their final reunion performance—just last week!—in New Orleans.


Sunday, April 24, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:07:00 PM:

Looking at the earth

Did you notice Earth Day over the weekend? Well, it's been 25 years since the first warnings of global warming:

As best as can be determined, the world is now warmer than it has been at any point in the last two millennia, and, if current trends continue, by the end of the century it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million years. In the same way that global warming has gradually ceased to be merely a theory, so, too, its impacts are no longer just hypothetical. [...]

As it happens, the most dramatic changes are occurring in those places [...] where the fewest people tend to live. This disproportionate effect of global warming in the far north was also predicted by early climate models, which forecast, in column after column of fortran-generated figures, what today can be measured and observed directly: the Arctic is melting.

This post was originally going to follow up on James Archer's list of neat Google Maps satellite photos, with some more interesting locations, and it still will, but now it will start with something else:


Saturday, April 23, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:57:00 AM:

Brevity is the soul of rudeness

I'm often astonished at how Joel Spolsky can make topics like statistical e-mail filtering interesting to read about—in this case, by digressing into a discussion of whether more typing leads to happier customers:

I have never been to Japan but my father, a linguist, once told me the story of the train station in Tokyo, where the announcements were made in Japanese and English. You would hear four or five minutes of nonstop Japanese and then the English translation would be "The train to Osaka is on platform 4." It seems that in Japanese there is simply no way to say something that simple without cosseting it heavily in a bunch of formal etiquette-stuff. And it turns out the same thing applies to email messages, even in English. The moral of the story is that given two email messages with the same semantic content, the terse one is more likely to come across sounding rude.


Friday, April 22, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:25:00 AM:

The details we know well

Too many people have written about blogging vs. journalism, but Scott Rosenberg's latest article is worth reading because it provides the best analysis so far:

We're happy with what we read in the paper until we're reading about something we know really well. Then, too often, with all but the very sharpest and most conscientious reporters, we see all the small errors, distortions, omissions and problems that are daily journalism's epidemic affliction. [...]

Until recently, each reader who saw the holes in the occasional story he knew well was, in essence, an island; and most of those readers rested in some confidence that, even though that occasional story was problematic, the rest of the paper was, really, pretty good. Only now, the Net—and in particular the explosion of blogs, with their outpouring of expertise in so many fields—has connected those islands, bringing into view entire continents of inadequate, hole-ridden coverage. The lawyer blogs are poking holes in the legal coverage, while the tech blogs are poking holes in the tech coverage, the librarian blogs are poking holes in the library coverage—and the political blogs, of course, are ripping apart the political coverage in a grand tug of war from the left and the right. Within a very short time we've gone from seeing the newspaper as a product that occasionally fails to live up to its own standards to viewing it as one that has a structural inability to get most things right. [...]

As a profession, journalism has a choice: It can persist in a defensive, circle-the-wagons stance, pretending that nothing has changed. (The public has spontaneously and inexplicably decided to withdraw its trust from journalists! How strange! Let's wring our hands and wait for the madness to pass.) Or it can accept the presence of millions of teeming critical voices as a challenge to shape up and do a better job.

So far, things don't seem to be moving in that direction in this city. There is a proliferation of free daily papers that essentially repackage wire service stories, and the old-school newspapers have fewer staff doing fewer hard news stories than they used to.


Thursday, April 21, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:41:00 PM:

Jazz vs. rock

Netdud's jazz vs. rock deathmatch is fun and revealing. Some additions:

Jazz: Louis Armstrong
Rock: Chuck Berry

Jazz: Buddy Rich
Rock: John Lennon

Jazz: Verve
Rock: Sun

Jazz: Winton Marsalis
Rock: Brian Setzer

Jazz: Miles
Rock: Beatles

Jazz: Mingus
Rock: Dylan

Jazz: John D'Angelico
Rock: Leo Fender

Jazz: Charlie Parker
Rock: Kurt Cobain

Jazz: Steinway
Rock: Hammond B3

Jazz: Dizzy Gillespie
Rock: James Brown

Jazz: Ella
Rock: Janis

Jazz: Benny Goodman
Rock: Beastie Boys

Jazz: Stan Getz
Rock: Carlos Santana

Jazz: Charlie Christian
Rock: B.B. King

Jazz: Smooth Jazz
Rock: New Country

Jazz: John McLaughlin
Rock: Jimmy Page

Jazz: Diana Krall
Rock: The Eagles

Jazz: Oscar Peterson
Rock: Al Kooper

Jazz: Coltrane
Rock: Hendrix

Jazz: Les Paul
Rock: Les Paul

Jazz: Bloop-doodle-ee-oop-doodle blee-donk
Rock: Dortch-key dortch-key weedly-weedly-weedly krang!

Jazz: Rock
Rock: Hip-hop


Wednesday, April 20, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 PM:

Hail Gruber

I appreciate when someone can cut through the crap in a PR document.

He's done it before too, with chilling accuracy.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:47:00 PM:

Links for SFU editing students

Every time I speak to SFU's What Editors Do class, I recycle many of the same links. So this time, here are a few search slices through this website that might be informative:

Plus some specific articles:

I find all sorts of interesting things I'd forgotten about when I assemble these retrospectives.


# 7:59:00 AM:

Head out on the highway

As I mentioned last week, my oldest daughter suddenly figured out how to ride a bike. Here's the picture:

[M rides a bike]

(The bike belongs to her friend on the scooter behind her, and her sister followed along—still with training wheels, of course.)

I learned to ride in a similar way—just able to do it one day, after trying it for weeks—only about five blocks away from where she did it. But neither of my parents was there to see or photograph it back then.

We'll see how she does on her own bike in the next day or two.


Monday, April 18, 2005 - newest items first
# 1:09:00 PM:

Laptop bags made in North America: a long last chance

Willow Design here in Greater Vancouver started shutting down its laptop bag business more than a year ago, but found enough demand to sell what remains of their inventory still. I have one of their (now unavailable) lovely purple iBook bags, which also fits the 15" PowerBook, and it remains too bad that they're no longer developing new products, and will (eventually, I guess) shut down entirely.

If you don't mind paying a bit more money than you would for bags manufactured in China or Vietnam, there are other semi-local suppliers that, like Willow, manufacture laptop cases and other similar bags. One that's almost local is Tom Bihn Bags, based in Port Angeles, Washington, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria. B.C.—while I haven't owned one, I've heard good things about the Bihn bags. Like Willow, Bihn also has lots of funky colours if you're not the grey-or-black type.


# 12:26:00 PM:

Physical not virtual

These are not trick photographs. The cars are hung with cables from the ceiling and strung with lit fibre-optic cables. It would be even neater in person, I'm sure.


Sunday, April 17, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:38:00 PM:

And here we are

While it rained, we still had fun at the Sun Run starting line stage this year again:

[The Neurotics at Sun Run 2005

The satin jackets looked lovely. I'm Sticky Neurotic, second from the right, red jacket, teeth showing, thumb up. On my left is Dilly Neurotic (in purple), and on my right are Swingy Neurotic (red, stripey pants), and Bumpy Neurotic (purple, crazy hair). The Hotel Vancouver is in the background.


# 4:00:00 AM:

Sleepy eyes, but ready to rock

Musicians aren't known for getting up early, so there's some irony knowing that the earliest I have to get up at any point during the whole year is right now, for our show at the Sun Run. It's four in the bloody morning.

Then again, the guys setting up the scaffolding and sound system have been there all night, so I shouldn't complain.


Friday, April 15, 2005 - newest items first
# 5:12:00 PM:

Join us at the Sun Run

One of North America's largest 10 K runs is the Vancouver Sun Run. For the 12th year in a row, my band The Neurotics will be playing there, on a scaffold above the starting line.

As they did last year, last year, the Vancouver Sun has featured us in its Sun Run coverage. On Wednesday they even put my picture in:

That's entertainment!
Sticky and article Starting area

The map above shows you where we'll be playing at 8 a.m. on Sunday, April 17, 2005—on Georgia Street between Burrard and Thurlow.


Thursday, April 14, 2005 - newest items first
# 3:04:00 PM:

Reasons for fabness

For various reasons, I've been listening to a whole bunch of Beatles music recently. Last year, Spin music critic Chuck Klosterman wrote an article about ten rock artists who are neither overrated nor underrated, but precisely accurately rated. About the Beatles, he wrote:

The Beatles are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, the Beatles are rated properly.

It may be stating the obvious, but he's right. You can listen to the entire Beatles catalogue, from beginning to end, and the amount of middling-to-crappy music is quite tiny. That's true even if you include the stuff they didn't think worth releasing at the time: the highest proportion of junk was in the aimless jams and lame covers they recorded during the Let It Be sessions, when they were holed up in an empty theatre and hated each others' guts. But then they went on to record Abbey Road before breaking up, so you can forgive them.

Conversely, the amount of trascendent, booty-shaking, innovative, and astounding music in their recordings is just way too high to be realistic, but there it is. That four kids from a decaying English port city could pull all that off before any of them turned 30 is nearly a miracle.


# 1:45:00 PM:

Watch the watchers

University of Toronto professor Steve Mann has invented some clever privacy/surveillance tricks:

He has designed a wallet that requires someone to show ID in order to see his ID. The device consists of a wallet with a card reader on it. His driver's license can be seen only partially through a display. And in order for someone to see the rest of his ID, they have to swipe their own ID through the card reader to open the wallet.

He also made a briefcase that has a fingerprint scan that requires the fingerprint of someone else to open it.

People rarely ask me for ID, but I'd be interested in the wallet in case someone did—especially if I'm unsure whether they're legit.


# 12:28:00 PM:

A once-in-a-lifetime event, plus iWork tips

My oldest daughter figured out how to ride a bike without training wheels yesterday. As Tim Bray noted not long ago, "You only get maybe one of these per child." I may post a photo or two.

Totally unrelated: If you've started using Apple's iWork (Pages and Keynote), as I have, these very cool tips are quite helpful.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:29:00 PM:

Quivering and leafy

Are there men out there who find Paris Hilton attractive?

Just wondering. She makes me think of a praying mantis, and predatory insects don't exactly get me all hot and bothered.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:18:00 PM:

Not for my neck

aire by ThomWhile I have an iPod (the shuffle), I don't use the included, iconic white headphones. It's not because I don't want people to know I'm a podhead (I was even a tad conflicted over that). Rather, I just don't like earbuds much, and never have.

There are several reasons—few fit well in my ears, and because of that they don't generally sound as good as other designs. Plus the cords are prone to tangling, and so on. But the main thing that has always annoyed me about earbuds is that whenever you take them off, even for half a minute, you have to find someplace to put them.

Any other type of earphones, with some sort of headband (over or behind the head, whatever), lets you rest it on your neck while you're trying to talk to the grocery cashier, or use a phone, or just hear what's going on around you. With earbuds, either you're holding them awkwardly in one hand, or you have to stuff them in a pocket, or they dangle, ready to fall or get caught.

One thing in their favour, though: they work great when you're lying in bed. Consequently, the only person who gets to see what a cool iPod owner I am with those white headphones is my wife.

And I'm sure she's very impressed.


Monday, April 11, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:09:00 PM:

Not your father's Oldsmobile

My in-laws bought new cars this past week. Good for them. They purchased an Oldsmobile Alero and a Buick Century.

What's interesting is that I don't think I know a single person of my generation or younger who would even consider buying a new Oldsmobile or Buick. (Second-hand beater? Sure! But new? From a dealer?) Yes, there are demographic differences in car buying—I once saw a middle-aged man driving a white Volkswagen Cabriolet, and it was just wrong—but these are stark choices.

My father-in-law has been a GM man for a long time, but most of my peers aren't wedded to a single manufacturer in the way buyers seemed to be decades ago, when Dodge drivers looked down upon Plymouths, and vice versa. My wife and I own a Ford and a Toyota, for instance, and by the time we need new cars, nearly anything's up for grabs: Honda, Volkswagen, Nissan, Hyundai, Volvo, Mazda, Mini, or Mercedes Smart Car (as well as others) might all the in the running.

But not Oldsmobile or Buick. They're so far off the radar, so associated with taxi companies and different generations that I don't find it a surprise that the Oldsmobile brand has been shut down—or that I hadn't even noticed. Buick soliders on as a semi-upscale but still somewhat stale brand, at least to people under 50. (Cadillac miraculously avoided a similar fate in recent years by completely reorienting the kinds of cars it makes and buyers it seeks.)

My father-in-law's 2004 Alero is the last year and model of Oldsmobile ever produced, which is cool in its own way. A sad end to the brand that was North America's oldest, and with its "Rocket 88" inspired one of the first rock 'n' roll records. But us young'uns will hardly miss it.


Sunday, April 10, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:58:00 AM:

End of the invasion

Despite our best efforts, and even though those who came had a good time, Invasion Thursdays with the Neurotics at the Central City Brewing Company in Surrey have been officially canceled. That's not a surprise, because as I looked around the pub each week, it didn't seem that we were bringing in enough extra people to justify how expensive we are.

What's too bad is that we didn't know it yet last week, so we weren't able to give a formal farewell performance. Perhaps we'll play there again on a weekend in the summer, but for now, the next big Neurotics event is next Sunday, April 17, at the starting line of the Vancouver Sun Run—our 12th year in a row there. (Here's last year's article, plus a photo or two.)


Saturday, April 09, 2005 - newest items first
# 12:00:00 AM:

Health hazards of being an editor

Sentences like this one Jeremy Wright discovered pain me:

The goal of this description is to provide a clear description of the instructional purpose of the activity and how the activity will be facilitated by the instructor or completed by the student.

Physical pain, I tell you.


Friday, April 08, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:39:00 PM:

Aerial vs. satellite photos of Stanley Park

The Google Maps satellite photo virus is spreading. Many people I know are wasting tons of time looking for interesting views from space of places they know. Here's one of mine:

[Stanley Park - Penmachine version] [Stanley Park - Google version]

Nearly three years ago I took some photos from a jet coming in to land in Vancouver. One was of local landmark Stanley Park, on the left. Now you can compare my picture to the Google satellite version, on the right.


# 2:06:00 PM:

Detonating the detonator

A few days ago I wrote about the death of Pope John Paul II, calling him "the detonator," and contrasting that with a photo of him and a dove, the symbol of peace. My article was a bit mixed (though, I think, subtly so), like the disjoint between those metaphors.

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian is blunt in her assessment:

Curiously, the celebrity nature of [the papal funeral]—a must-do for 200 world leaders—signifies the opposite of what it seems. It shows how far people have forgotten what the church really is, how profoundly ignorant and indifferent they have become to history and theology. Hell, he was just a good ol' boy, wore white, blessed folk, prayed for peace—why not? [...]

The Vatican's deeper power is in its personal authority over 1.3 billion worshippers, which is strongest over the poorest, most helpless devotees. With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. [...]

But genuflecting before this corpse is scarcely different to parading past Lenin: they both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost.

So who was the Pope? A promoter of peace and tolerance, an opponent of tyranny, or one whose ideology helped foster death, promote intolerance, and maintain a tyranny of its own?

Both. He lived and preached his principles, which originated in a small corner of the Middle East thousands of years ago and accreted in Europe since medieval times—ages before effective birth control, before AIDS, before civil liberties or personal freedom even made sense as concepts.

He interpreted them in the context of his deep understanding of Catholicism and its philosophies; his experiences with Nazism, Communism, and later global capitalism; and his complete lack of any significant personal experience with sexuality—but regardless of whether those principles made sense in every application to the diversity and sprawl of the modern world. For him, like many, they are clearly God's rules, not for us to decide.

Humanity has its giants, and the Pope was one: his achievements span chasms, from good to bad.


# 9:18:00 AM:

Boogie night

[Neurotics at Central City]I guess that plea worked—we had a decent group of people for our Thursday night show out at the brew pub in Surrey. So thanks to everyone—including my parents!—who joined us. (If you missed it, we're there every Thursday until at least the end of the month.)

UPDATE: No we're not.

I've noticed that no matter how late the show, or how early I have to get up the next day, I can't just go straight to bed when I get home from a performance. It takes me at least half an hour to wind down enough to be tired, and then I sleep much more soundly than if I went to bed at the same time after just sitting at the computer and blogging. Last night, I got home at 1:00 a.m. and went to bed around 1:30, which isn't too bad. It's the mornings where I fall asleep at 3:00 and the girls wake me up at 7:00 that are a tad awkward.

Then again, I think they expect me to be a bit cranky at that hour anyway, so it works out.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:53:00 AM:

Please come to Central City Brewing on Thursday April 7

[Swingy and Dirty Neurotic]Apparently the Central City Brewing Company, where my band plays every Thursday, has a new manager, and it's been subtly suggested that we should impress him by bringing out a bit of a crowd this week.

Now, I've been a professional musician for 16 years, and I'm generally long past the point of begging my friends, relatives, and distant acquaintances to come see our show. (Most of them have seen us dozens of times by now anyway.) But if you've been thinking of coming out to see us at what is a very nice brew pub in a brand-new high-tech building, with good beer and food, then tomorrow would be a good day to do it. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to know more, but the place is at:

13450 - 102nd Avenue (map) (satellite photo)
Surrey, B.C.
V5L 1V9

For those living in downtown Vancouver or along the SkyTrain line, getting there is dead easy: Board an eastbound Expo Line train and take it to Surrey Central Station, the second-last one on the line. Go down the steps and walk across the street. You're there. We start around 8:30 p.m., so you can still get to work Friday.


# 9:11:00 AM:

Google maps trickery

[Pools near Metrotown in Burnaby]Now that Google Maps has added satellite imagery, my wife and I have discovered a neat game: you can search for all the buildings in your neighbourhood that have swimming pools you didn't know about.

Finally, I understand the high rents some of the unassuming apartment buildings in my area have been charging.

If you drag around the satellite map, you can see the lines where different photos have been digitally stitched into mosaics (it's particularly obvious on water). Also, while Google has tried to use photos with as clear skies as possible, there is the occasional cloud (and its shadow) if you look closely.

BONUS: James Archer is tracking particularly cool Google Maps satellite photos.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - newest items first
# 12:18:00 AM:

Oh yeah, baby

[Swing Out, Swingy]In case you're wondering how that Thursday night band gig thing is going, I've posted some photos of the crazy goings-on over the weekend.

Thanks to my wife for snapping the latest shots to be added to the collection. Unfortunately, she didn't catch the stripping part.

But the Elvis jumpsuit got in there. Hoo yeah.


# 12:12:00 AM:

Hard work

I spend many days home with my kids, and while I'm not a prosecution lawyer, take it from one man who was:

Staying home with two children is harder work than any work as a Crown attorney, with the possible exception of a murder prosecution.


Monday, April 04, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:09:00 PM:

Flickr down, or not, who knows?

There's nothing on the blog, but I and others have been completely unable to access Flickr today, which is why KasiaS's picture of the Pope below is not showing up.

If you're in the same boat, at least know you're not the only one.

UPDATE: It's back now, and the Flickrons explain. Turns out it was a naughty load balancer.

Incidentally, just for kicks, I'm posting this update using Cyberdog 2.0, last updated in April 1997, exactly eight years ago. It still works in Mac OS X.


Saturday, April 02, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:03:00 PM:

The detonator

John Paul IIAs someone who is neither a Catholic nor religious, the death of Pope John Paul II is much less personal for me than for the 1.2 billion adherents of his church around the world. Yet he is the only pope I remember clearly: the headlines from the brief reign of his predecessor John Paul I in 1978, when I was nine years old, are vague, and Paul VI is a historical shadow to me.

As John Paul II always reminded the world, despite humanity's great achievements in technology and knowledge in the past 100 years, the 20th century was one of great wickedness. His role was to fight that wickedness, in all the forms he and his church perceived it.

Even for those who disagreed with or actively opposed him, or those from radically different intellectual and spiritual traditions, the Pope was a man of unusual principle. Unlike so many politicians and others who bend concepts such as "sanctity of life" to fit their current priorities, John Paul was (as far as I know) consistent in his philosophy, following it through even when it was unpopular, or personally dangerous for him.

In many ways he was very conservative, slowing some of the changes begun by the Second Vatican Council and remaining firmly traditional in his views of sexuality, secular law, and women. He was, to put it plainly, an old man who opposed birth control. But he was also a radically new kind of pope: a world traveler on an unprecedented scale, a man in some ways more concerned with the poor and oppressed of the earth (regardless of their religion—but also limited by his beliefs in what he thought was best for them) than with the European heart of his church—and a celebrity superstar, one of the most famous and widely recognizable people in history. (Whose face is better known? Einstein's? Hitler's? Those are painful ironies.)

He forced everyone who heard him to think about the big questions: What is life? What is peace? What is love? What is good? What is right? (His answers sometimes differed from mine, but he made me ask.) In his many appearances around the globe, he probably addressed a larger proportion of the human population in person than anyone ever has. No matter how you feel about his message—or really, his many messages—no one can deny that he was a profoundly important man. One who presided over the key mysteries, myths, ideals, and beliefs of a vast number of people, and one who pushed them to real ends.

Pointedly, maybe Eastern European Communism would have collapsed without John Paul II, but would it have happened as soon as it did, and without much more dreadful bloodshed? Probably not. Former Polish Communist leader General Jaruzelski agrees with historians and analysts worldwide that the Pope's return to his home country in 1979 was the beginning of the end for the Iron Curtain. It may have taken another decade to take effect, but the general said, "that was the detonator."


Friday, April 01, 2005 - newest items first
# 1:23:00 PM:

A couple of neat iPod shuffle notes

The iPod shuffle doesn't seem to be a substantial enough device to write much about, but that hasn't stopped me. So here are a couple of other tidbits:

  • If you accidentally pull your headphones out of the audio jack while playing songs (say by snagging the cord on your knee while putting on a shoe, as I have done), the iPod shuffle automatically pauses. Yet another clever design touch that should be standard on any MP3 or CD player, but isn't.

  • Nikkei Electronics reports that, in dissecting an iPod shuffle, "Apple's care is obvious in the appearance of the components, and innovations to improve how the unit feels when you use it. The firm didn't hesitate to use expensive components when required." They highlight in particular how sturdily built the case is, how tightly the components fit into it, and how well engineered two key parts—the audio jack and the clip that keeps the cap on—are. Make sure to click on the photo to zoom in.

  • The iPod shuffle apparently has significantly better sound quality than pretty much any other MP3 player out there, including the bigger iPods. Although Apple won't confirm it—presumably because they don't want to point out that the more expensive models don't sound quite as good—that seems to be because the shuffle uses a push-pull output amplifier circuit design, rather than the single-ended approach taken by other players (and, at much greater expense, some high-end tube audio amps).

Okay, that's three, which is more than a couple. As for the last one specifically, while I'm no audiophile, I have noticed that the iPod shuffle sounds remarkably good—and also, unfortunately, reveals the flaws of poorly-encoded MP3 files.


# 11:10:00 AM:

Finally, some sanity

Homestar Runner has at last joined the Real Web and turned into a pay site:

  • New annual fee
  • The same content!
  • More banner ads

There's even a seven-second free trial. As they say, "Subscriptions are the latest craze!"

I give it a day or so.


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