I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
This is "Penmachine.com: November 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.
One of the things they don't teach you when you become a parent is that elusive point where a family activity tips from "tons of fun" to "this is going to make the kids really cranky later."
Yesterday, after one of Vancouver's relatively rare snowfalls, my girls and I took about two runs too many down our local sledding hill, where we had ventured with KerryKLove and her family and friends. On what turned out to be the second-to-last trip down, my daughters were suddenly whinily incapable of hauling either the sleds or themselves up the hill again. So I rode down to help them.
Which is when my borrowed mini snow tube slid onto the grass under a tree, stopped, and pitched me backwards into an unexpected backflip, producing a mild crunching sound on my shoulders as I landed. "That's gonna hurt tomorrow," I said aloud as I stood up.
And oh yes, it does.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005 - newest items first # 8:50:00 PM:
What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. "Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography."
And of course it is. But it is also much, much more. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology—the next worldwide web—is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.
Today was our first snow day in Vancouver this season, so the kids, of course, were up before the crack of dawn, dressed in their parkas and gloves even before I let them outside at 7 a.m.—some time after they first woke me up. That was fine. What wasn't fine was:
While trying to keep an eye on them out the window, I turned on the wrong element on the stove to boil water, and burned one of our decorative metal element covers into unrecognizability. They're cheap to replace, but now the house has an acrid metallic smell throughout the top floor.
When the girls came inside for oatmeal (boiling water, remember?), I put their damp jackets in the dryer. I didn't check the pockets. Fortunately, there is good advice on the Web about how to remove melted crayon from the inside of a dryer drum.
My daughters were upstairs, and were lucky not to hear what I said when I opened the dryer door.
Monday, November 28, 2005 - newest items first # 4:34:00 PM:
Every few months the instructors for Simon Fraser University's night course "What Editors Do" (warning: link opens and resizes a new window) ask me to speak about web editing for their students. I'm doing so again tomorrow night, November 29. Here are links to some of my past posts about the topic:
Take yourself back a few years and try to imagine this sentence appearing anywhere other than in a science fiction novel:
My son is ten and has successfully mapped DNA, used the centrifuge, and performed a number of experiments with some assistance from me.
Yep, that's from an Amazon review of the Discovery DNA Explorer Kit, which includes its own centrifuge, magnetic mixer, and electrophoresis chamber.
After discovering the DNA Explorer Kit, it occurs to me that, whatever you think of shows like CSI, they have permitted the phrase electrophoresis chamber to appear, without further explanation, in toy catalogues. As someone with a biology degree, I don't think that's a bad thing.
Back in 2002 I found 59 spam emails in three days (a mere 20 per day) dismaying. Earlier this year, in April, I had four separate levels of spam filtering (email forwarder, ISP, spam program, and email client), to handle the 900 spam messages I was getting daily.
After recently ditching Telus as my ISP, and deciding at the time to use Gmail as my primary email interface, I thought I'd try turning off all my spam protection except for the one Gmail provides. That was a frightening concept: I've had the same pobox.com email address since 1996, so it's on every spam list imaginable.
Gmail's spam filter is pretty darn good. It still lets through a couple of spam messages to my Inbox each day, but get this: in the five days between November 21 and 26, it caught almost 2500 pieces of spam, averaging 20 every hour, or one every three minutes. If I let it go on all year, that would be in excess of 175,000 spam emails I'd have to deal with. Oddly, most of them are in Korean characters, with much of the rest in Cyrillic.
On the other hand, 480 a day is still a mysterious 47% reduction in overall spam per day since April!
By the way, does anyone know how to delete more than a single page of 100 spam messages at a time in Gmail?
Friday, November 25, 2005 - newest items first # 2:44:00 PM:
Judd Bagley runs the Business Jive podcast, where he interviews CEOs and other businesspeople, and he does so in an unusual style. He edits the interview responses together into relatively short shows (15–20 minutes) backed by music. He used some of my tunes in his earlier shows, then in early November 2005 he phoned me up (and happened to catch me at the playground of my daughters' school after they'd finished class), asking to hire me to compose and record a custom theme song for him.
So I did. Here is "Can You Dig It?" (2.5 MB MP3 file), a.k.a. the Business Jive Podcast Theme. It took a couple of weeks to get together, because Judd had some specific time and style requirements. I'm very happy how it turned out, and so is Judd. Les Thorn mastered it, as usual.
Judd has paid me for exclusive use of this tune as his podcast theme song. So you are free to download, file-share, copy, and webcast this song without having to ask me, as long as you give me credit. However, you cannot use it as a theme song or background music (i.e. you need to play the whole thing if you use it on a podcast or radio show), use it to promote anything other than Business Jive, or sell, alter, or make any other commercial uses of this track—as detailed in the Creative Commons Music Sharing License. It's still completely podsafe, just play it as itself, not as promotion for something else. (Does that make sense?)
One advantage of being a musician is that you have contacts to get into concerts for free. Tonight, my bass player Doug, who also plays with Colin James, put me on the guest list for their show at Vancouver's legendary Commodore Ballroom, no charge.
One disadvantage to being a musician is that attending a concert too often becomes an overly intellectual exercise. While I had a great time tonight, I found myself checking out what kinds of guitars and amplifiers and drums and keyboards the musicians were playing. (Doug played the same old solid bass rig he uses when he does much smaller shows with my band.) I watched the crowd, and what the players onstage were doing—but I can no longer just let the music wash over me as I used to.
Colin James certainly enjoys his job. Unlike so many sullen long-time musicians, James, who's been at this for 25 years now, had a smile on his face the whole night. Like Buddy Guy's, whom I saw twice in the same room in the '90s, James's smile was infectious. He has genuine stage presence, and he can surely play that guitar.
Slau, a recording artist in New York City, has a Christmas song called "If Every Day Were Christmas." It's a fairly straightforward, sing-along holiday number, but ever since podcast co-inventor Adam Curry suggested using it to help promote podsafe artists, it's taken on a life of its own.
Now Slau is (with great patience and politeness, given the technical and logistical complexities of the task) coordinating a recording process where dozens of musicians from the Podsafe Music Network are recording a big "We Are the World"/"Do They Know It's Christmas?"/"Tears Are Not Enough" version of the track, with the publishing rights being transferred to charity. I've recorded a podcast episode (5.8 MB MP3 file) that documents what my contribution to the sing-along chorus sounds like, and how I put it together. I'm not sure my voice will end up in the final mix, but I made an effort, anyway.
I'll post the track to my Penmachine Podcast soon, but here's an important note: unlike almost all my other tracks, this one is released under the Creative Commons Music Sharing 2.0 license, rather than the more flexible Attribution-Share Alike license I use most of the time. That's because Judd has paid me to write it, and for it to be exclusive for his use as a theme song. So:
You CAN copy, share, podcast, and distribute the song for non-commercial purposes.
You CAN'T use it as a theme song, for background music on a podcast (i.e. you should play the whole thing), for sampling or remixing, as a soundtrack, or for commercial purposes.
(You can do all those things with most of the other tracks in my podcast.) As usual, "Can You Dig It?" was mastered by Les Thorn in New York City.
So go to Business Jive and check out the track, and subscribe to the Business Jive podcast while you're there.
Madonna is doing a weird thing right now in her new video. First of all, the Marilu Henner impresonation is frighteningly accurate. Second, she's doing a big retro thing—except, if you think about it, she's retro-oing right back to the early- to mid-'80s, which was when she herself first appeared on the scene.
I was watching the video and thinking, "Yeah, that takes me back to the days of Fame and shoulder pads and The Police and... hey, and Madonna! What the hell?"
It would seem very strange indeed if, say, Paul McCartney started parading around in Sgt. Pepper's satin sailor suits, Bono spiked his hair and wore ripped-sleeve tank tops, Cher went back to her long-straight-hair-and-macrame Native American Princess days, or Neil Diamond...er, well, never mind.
Anyway, it just strikes me as strange. Generally, when an artist goes retro, they're channeling one of their early influences, i.e. someone older and someone else, not themselves.
In August 2005, Les Thorn of New York City heard my tune "Stop Yield Go Merge," originally released in July on my Penmachine Podcast, and remastered it for me, unsolicited, at no charge.
The results were so impressive that I've had him remaster everything I've recorded here since. He also asked me for the separate instrument tracks of the song, so he could try a remix, and the result is the "Stop Yield Go Merge Extended Les Thorn Mix." He mastered it too, of course. Here's a direct link to the fully podsafe 4 MB MP3 file.
Les also pointed me to this excellent overview of audio interfaces for computer recording.
When my oldest daughter was born in 1998, she was among a large cohort of children born to our (mostly my wife's) friends around that time. Now, seven years later, the boom is hitting people on my side (so to speak) in earnest:
You might recall that a few a weeks ago, I put together a prototype CD of my Penmachine Podcast free podsafe instrumentals to send to CBC Radio, and that I've been thinking of selling audio CDs too.
Well, now I'm committed. I've sent a master CD and artwork off to Diskfaktory in California, and should have my first shipment of shrink-wrapped Penmachine Sessions CDs in two to three weeks. Back in 1994, which was the last time I was involved in putting an album together, making a CD was too expensive for my band, The Flu, to contemplate, so we ended up releasing a cassette.
Now my manufacturing cost per CD will probably end up between $3 and $4, including artwork, jewel cases, and the whole bit. It's a good thing I'm not charging myself for my time, though.
Oh, and if you're interested in pre-ordering a copy, get in touch.
Monday, November 21, 2005 - newest items first # 2:57:00 PM:
Columnist Bob Cringely has some pretty crazy ideas. But he's very smart, and knows many other very smart people in the technology industry, whom he interviews on NerdTV. This week he has one of his craziest ideas yet—so crazy, I think he's quite right.
And (completely unrelated) Andlauer Transportation Systems has perhaps the worst logo I've ever seen from a company of any significant size. Even worse because they paint it nice and big on all their trucks. Ouch.
Sunday, November 20, 2005 - newest items first # 9:11:00 PM:
One of my wife's co-workers wrote to me this week:
I know my kids would love an iPod for Xmas. We're just trying to understand the ipod generation - ipod minis or nanos? We have a PC with windows XP so I think they would be compatible. The boys are l7 and 14 and download for music like most kids but [your wife] was also saying that books/novels can also be downloaded to the devices as well. With that in mind, which would you suggest?
Also, where is a good place to get them? London Drugs always has good customer service but do you have other suggestions?
What kind of iPod you get depends on two things: your budget, and how much audio the boys will store on them. Apple has three current lines of iPods:
The iPod shuffle - very minimal, just a few buttons, no display screen, looks like a white stick of gum, $130 Cdn for about 120 songs (512 MB) or $170 for 240 songs or so (1 GB). This is what I have (my work bought every employee one earlier this year), and while it sounds great, is supremely light, and is great for exercising or running around, the lack of a screen makes it sometimes awkward to use if you're looking for a particular track. You can only hold a portion of your music collection at once (although it's still something like 10 or 20 CDs' worth) with the relatively small amount of storage on the Shuffle.
The iPod nano - the coolest (and thinnest) of the bunch, also quite small, but with a fabulous little colour screen and the trademark iPod scroll wheel control, available in black or white, and $250 for around 500 songs (2 GB) or $300 for 1000 songs (4 GB). This model just replaced the previous iPod mini, which is now discontinued (although you can find it on clearance, maybe for a good price—see below). This is a very functional device that plays music and displays photos, and which you can use to keep track of contacts and other stuff too. It does not play movies, and while 1000 songs is a lot, even the 4 GB model won't hold most people's entire music collection—you can pick songs to go on it when you hook it up to your computer, just like the Shuffle.
The iPod - the latest version of the classic "big" iPod is called the "5th generation" model, and while it's physically larger (though still pretty small), it holds a LOT more stuff. For $380 you get 30 GB of storage (around 7500 songs!), or for $500 you get 60 GB, or 15,000 songs, and both come in white or black. For most people, 30 GB will hold every CD you've ever bought plus a lot more. (The couple of hundred CDs in my living room and all the music I've collected or recorded otherwise still only just breaks 40 GB, and I'm a musician.) This iPod does everything the Nano does, but has a bigger screen that also plays movies (including TV shows you can buy from Apple or movies you convert from other formats—you can play them on a TV by hooking up a cable too). Finally, unlike the other iPod models, it can record CD-quality audio with extra-cost external accessories.
As I said, the iPod mini is now an old model, replaced by the Nano, so you may be able to get deals on it—it comes in an aluminum housing in several cool colours, with a black and white screen, and plays music but doesn't show photos or movies. There are 4 GB (1000 song) or 6 GB (1500 song) models that may be kicking around.
Similarly, previous-generation big regular iPods (mostly 3rd and 4th generation iPods) may also be available at lower prices as clearout stock, but they won't play video, and may or may not have colour screens to display photos. Don't buy used: iPods tend to get a lot of use, and the batteries are awkward and costly to replace if they're not holding a charge well any longer.
What they do
Now, all of the iPods, from the shuffle through the big one, will play audiobooks (most cost money) and free podcasts (radio shows that download automatically, and run the gamut from CBC's Quirks & Quarks to people like me recording stuff in their basements), as well as MP3 files you can easily create from your CDs (including audiobook CDs) or get from your friends, and tracks you can purchase from Apple online for $1.30 each, as well as audiobooks from Audible.com and Apple. Audiobooks and podcasts generally take up less space per minute than music, because they don't need as high quality in their files, so even the Shuffle will hold plenty of such material.
So, the question becomes: if you can't spend more than $200 each, the Shuffle is your only real option, unless you can find a great deal on a clearout Mini. If you can manage $250, the low-end Nano is a good bet. For $380, the low-end "big" iPod offers the best bang for the buck of the lot—I think the $500 one is overkill for most people. The $300, 4 GB Nano is a tough one, because it costs only $80 less than the 30 GB iPod, but holds only 13% as much music. But it is sooooo cool.
Keep in mind that the cost of the iPod itself will be far from the end. While you may not be the one who buys it, the boys will need a case of some sort at the very least, and I would recommend some better headphones, because the included white earbuds don't fit most people well and also don't do justice to the excellent sounds these things produce. The $80 Sennheiser PX100s amaze even snooty audiophiles for the price, and they come in matching iPod white from Future Shop, London Drugs, or many other retailers.
There are a kajillion other accessories out there, but you can let the boys buy their own as they figure those out—with their own money!
Where to buy in Vancouver
London Drugs is a good place to get them. Every store charges pretty much the same, and LD knows what they're talking about. Another good option is CompuSmart at Georgia and Seymour, across from the Bay downtown. Dedicated Apple stores like Westworld and Simply Computing on Broadway, or Mac Station in Burnaby or Yaletown are also good; while they don't know as much about Windows XP, they usually have an excellent selection of cases and other accessories.
Future Shop salespeople don't generally know their stuff well, and I don't have a good enough grip on Best Buy to say one way or another, although they seem like a good store. Even Chapters sells iPods, although I notice on their page that they're still selling old models at the bottom without an apparent discount, which is weird. There is also an excellent buyer's guide (which may be a bit overwhelming) from the site iLounge.com.
So, the big question: What would I buy? My budget would probably only allow for the $250 Nano, but if I had $400 to spend I would be in a tough spot choosing between the cooler, light, more rugged $300 Nano and the video-playing, massive storage, and bigger screen of the $380 big iPod.
Really, if I had to make a snap decision, the $250 iPod nano (in black if you can find it) plus a cheap case or sleeve to protect it would be great. Add the $80 Sennheiser headphones and you'll have Cool Mom points for a very long time indeed.
Oh wait, never mind. There's all those new iPods Steve Jobs introduced on Saturday Night Live yesterday instead.
After an earlier failed agreement, picketing Telus workers voted convincingly in favour of a new contract, which means they'll be going back to work soon. That's good. But having everyone back on the job after four months won't change my switch to another Internet provider, or my wife's new cell phone carrier—we didn't notice any service disruptions, and we have other reasons for leaving.
Saturday, November 19, 2005 - newest items first # 9:30:00 PM:
Recently I noted that I've been commissioned to write theme music for the Business Jive podcast run by Judd Bagley. It's now finished, and Judd is likely to use it for the first time for his Wednesday, November 23 show. At that point I'll also release it on my own Penmachine Podcast so you can listen to it.
The whole experience has been a great one. Judd already liked my music and had used other tunes of mine (as I encourage people to do) in his show. He phoned me with the idea of paying me to custom-compose and record new theme music for him. By email, he described what kind of vibe he wanted and what sort of parts he needed for different components of his podcast. He paid me a deposit and I started to work. Over the course of the next ten days, I sent him a sample backing track, then a draft mix. He asked for one small tweak, and then approved a final mix yesterday.
I had Les Thorn master the final recording, and then sent both uncompressed AIFF and compressed MP3 versions to Judd this evening, to which he replied, "I'm near giddy about this." We're both happy.
We plan to release the tune—called "Can You Dig It? (Business Jive Podcast Theme)"—under the Creative Commons Music Sharing 2.0 license. That means you can share, copy, or distribute it, and podcasters other than Judd can play it on their shows if they give credit—but they can't use it as theme or background music, modify or creative derivatives of it, or make money from it. Judd has exclusive commercial and derivative rights to the track.
Judd and I think the CC Music Sharing license a good balance to let people share and distribute the music, but to keep it exclusive as Judd's theme song.
And incidentally, Grammy-nominated flamenco-inspired guitarist Ottmar Liebert has licensed some of his material under the CC Sampling Plus license, which lets you sample, mash up, and remix it. He even has some loops and other stripped down parts you can use. They cost $1 to download, but then you can remix away. That's pretty cool for a relatively major artist.
Here's what that could mean: I could collaborate with Ottmar Liebert without having to ask him, by sampling the music he has released that way, and I could even conceivably make money from that collaboration. This is the future of music, I think.
Friday, November 18, 2005 - newest items first # 7:02:00 PM:
When Apple's new Aperture software first appeared a few weeks ago, many thought it was a competitor to Adobe Photoshop. Photo District News takes a look, and shows that's not the case at all:
It took around 5 minutes for us to cull down a group of selects from the hundreds of shots in the assignment. By contrast, this same process using my collection of assembled tools would take me anywhere from thirty-minutes to a few hours.
It's not so much a photo editing tool as a photo workflow tool, and in many ways it's a new thing altogether. Not something I'm likely to use, but neat, nevertheless.
On another graphics-related note, I pronounce GIF like "gift." That seems to be the trend, even though those who created the format wanted it otherwise. And in the end, it's usage, not pedantry, that determines these things. Otherwise I'd still be writing "e-mail" and "Web site."
My suspicion is that it won't be long before saying GIF like "jiffy" will seem as quaint as the way the New Yorker writes "coördinate" with the diaresis on the o.
Lena from Telus's "Loyalty and Retention" department left a message on my home phone this afternoon. This was likely not a follow-up to my previous phone call, but rather one to the email I sent pointing out my earlier blog entry and telling the company I was leaving—but Lena's message was nearly two days later, and more than 24 hours after I bought and hooked up my Shaw cable modem. Why Abdul in Sales couldn't have passed me on to the Loyalty and Retention department when I said I was going to cancel two days ago, I don't know. Now it's too late.
Anyway, in her message, which was quite polite, Lena (Lina?) tried to make the argument that every ADSL customer has been the recipient of some promotional offer when he or she first signed up, and said that mine, back in 1998, was a price of $24.95 a month. Which would have been pretty sweet, but I didn't remember any such deal.
So I checked my bank records, since Telus has been automatically deducting the amount from my account the whole time:
The least I paid (in early 1999) was $41.43 for one month, and if I recall correctly that was pro-rated after an ADSL outage of more than a week.
The most I paid was $74.37 a month—in fact, for the entire period between my first signup in 1998 and when I changed plans in September 2002 (more than four years), I was paying a rate of either $70.55 or $74.37 per month.
When I moved from the clunky old two-piece modem I rented from Telus to a newer D-Link model I purchased, my price moved down to the $47 range, which still isn't cheap.
I've never paid as little $24.95 a month, though that sure would have been nice.
I don't mind having paid $74 a month back then—early adopters are used to paying more, and we should because early deployments are limited and expensive to support. But I kept paying that $74 until I made the effort to find something cheaper.
Lena went on to retread what I learned from Abdul, that I could get the new-customer pricing, but not the new-customer iPod promotion, and that there wasn't any other special promotion for me as a long-term customer. There was some blather about 1000 long-distance minutes at some good rate, but I suspect that's not a special deal for long-term customers either.
Here's some irony. I don't call long distance. If I need to get in touch with someone far away, I use my Internet connection.
Maybe it's a lousy analogy (I'm not Telus's girlfriend, and I don't expect customer monogamy from them), but one way to imagine the company's attitude to long-term customers, based on Lena's message, is like this:
Me: Why don't you ever buy me flowers or take me to dinner anymore? You even forgot our seventh anniversary! And you're buying gadgets and dinner to try to bribe guys into the poker-buddy group where you work at Makita now too!
Telus: Hey baby, I know I don't buy you flowers and take you out to dinner anymore. And I know I've forgotten our anniversary every year for seven years now. But I bought you that awesome bouquet and took you to Bishop's on our first date!
Me: Well, that was nice, seven years ago. But it wasn't a bouquet, it was a single carnation, and we had to split the bill at Bishop's, in case you don't remember.
Telus: Um, I got Fred a new Makita drill press when he joined the poker group. You can have one of those. [Sheepish grin.]
Me: [Blank stare.]
I'm not calling Lena back. They don't get it. I'm calling the service line to cancel, thanks very much.
I hope Shaw doesn't turn out like this in a year or two.
Looks like I touched a nerve with my "you blew it, Telus" entry. Check out Darren's post linking here, and especially the comments. Raymond relates his switching tale, and why he's happily now paying more to Shaw. Rob too.
And this is being posted through my new Shaw cable modem. I picked it up this morning at the nearby Shaw retail store (where I also inquired about VoIP phone service, not available quite yet). I'm saving a bit of money by having Internet service appended to my cable TV bill too. I was able to get my laptop online on the first try when plugged straight into the modem, but for some reason my router, Ethernet hub, and wireless base station demanded several rounds of cable-switching voodoo to get onboard. Everything's working now, though. The only anomaly is that network traffic now causes mild intermittent static interference on channel 3 (CBC TV) in the bedroom.
Finally, since I was already reconfiguring all my email software over to use Shaw, I decided that, while my public email addresses (at pobox.com and penmachine.com) will not change, I'll now retrieve them through Google's Gmail, which smoothly permits both webmail and desktop client access.
I have to remember to call Telus to cancel ADSL tomorrow. I sent the company an email yesterday linking to my earlier blog post and giving them a chance to wow me with an apology and some spiffy offer to stay a Telus customer.
So, does anyone want a free Gmail invitation? Or, for that matter, a used D-Link ADSL modem? Cheap?
I've had my ADSL high-speed Internet service from Telus, our local former telephone monopoly, since 1998—which was as soon as the company was able to roll out its first unadvertised semi-beta-test service to my neighbourhood. Despite occasional early-adopter service bugs, it's generally been pretty reliable and I've been happy with the service.
I signed up in '98 as soon as I decided to ditch my old dialup account from the University of B.C., I've never had any kind of term contract, and have paid month-to-month for more than seven years. For high-speed home Internet, that's forever. I've stuck with Telus high-speed Internet through thick and thin for as long as it's existed, under no financial or contractual incentive. That makes me the definition of a loyal customer.
Losing a loyal customer in two steps
And now it's over, because Telus blew it. It's not about price, since I can get comparable deals from Telus and its major competitor, Shaw cable Internet. It's not about the technical details of the service itself, since I've found my available bandwidth, bundled adjunct services, and reliability just fine with ADSL. It's about how Telus has treated me as a customer for the past few months, and more specifically, two things:
In the summer, Telus unilaterally and extra-legally blocked me and other Telus customers from seeing websites that made threats against its employees who were crossing picket lines during its (still continuing) lockout of unionized workers. Shaw and other customers were not affected, and a mirror went up soon enough, so Telus's tactic didn't work, set a bad precedent, blocked hundreds of other sites as collateral damage, drew extra attention to the site in question, gained it bad publicity around the world, and pissed me off. I also wasn't satisfied with the response from Telus head office, though I give them props for being quick to phone me back.
More recently, until the end of the year, the company is offering new ADSL customers a free 2 GB iPod nano for signing up to a three-year term at a monthly rate similar to, or a bit less than, what I'm paying now (two- or one-year terms will get you an iPod shuffle, but I already have one of those). Notice that's new customers. I phoned up to see what better offer Telus has for existing, loyal customers like me.
Guess what? Nothing.
The phone reps I spoke to, Lori and Abdul, told me that Telus will give me the same pricing as for new customers, but that I'm ineligible for the iPod, or any equivalent offer. Now, I know from my own experience in sales and marketing that a new customer is much, much, much more expensive to acquire than an existing customer is to retain. But what Telus is saying here is that they're willing to increase their already-high customer-acquisition cost by the $250 or so an iPod nano runs, but that they're not willing to incur a similar expense to keep an already long-standing customer like me.
Preferring expensive and fickle over cheap and reliable
Both Abdul and Lori, although likely not part of the regular phone sales workforce because of the continuing lockout, were very polite and helpful, and I had almost no wait to talk to them. They did, however, seem rather powerless. I spoke to Lori first, and as soon as it was clear what I was asking for, she passed me to Abdul, since she presumably had no authority to go outside the standard new customer sales script. I assume that Adbul has more latitude, but he said quite directly that he could do nothing, that the acquisition strategy came "from Marketing" and that he had no way to offer me that iPod. He also added that a customer-retention campaign is in the works, but wouldn't be coming out until "the spring."
I should also add that, at no time during my seven years of Telus ADSL service have I received a notice offering me similar pricing to what new customers are being offered. What I mean is, unless I actively looked for deals by monitoring advertising campaigns and websites, I would probably still be paying the same high early-adopter rates I started with back in 1998, and thus would have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars more than someone more vigilant—or someone who just signed up.
So Telus takes existing customers for granted, and would rather have expensive, fickle new customers than reliable, cheaper, loyal old ones like me. Someone who's just moved to B.C. and never had a phone or Internet service here gets good pricing and a free iPod. Whereas I, who's had a Telus landline phone of my own for almost 20 years, a Telus mobile phone for eight, and Telus Internet service for nearly that long—and has thus spent in excess of $15,000 on basic services in that time—gets (by default) worse pricing, and no iPod, even if I ask nicely.
Who made this decision?
If I'd been in charge of this offer, I would have done it this way: some time (maybe two months) before offering new customers the free iPod nano, I would have offered existing customers the same deal or, even better, either a better iPod, or the same iPod and better term-limited pricing (say $5 off per month for six months), or some other cool thing (a Sony PlayStation Portable, a free new cell phone if you have Telus cell service, early admittance to Voice-over-IP service, whatever). Importantly, I would not think about making this sort of offer six months later.
I would also regularly make such offers to existing customers: "You've already been with us for two years: just commit to another two and we'll give you discounted monthly pricing and this cool gadget too!" As a customer, I would have signed up right away to that kind of offer. In most competitive markets (restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations), regular customers get the bonuses, not the shaft.
As it is, my conclusion can only be that Telus's sales and marketing strategy is just dumb, operating in the long-gone legacy of a former monopoly. And aside from being cheesed off about new customers being treated better than I am, I don't want to be a customer of a company that misunderstands its business so badly.
Will it be worth it?
So I'm going to talk to Shaw today, to see what kind of offer they can make me. I know the pricing and service will be at least as good as that from Telus, even from the websites alone, and maybe Shaw can sweeten the deal further. Once that's settled, I'll call Telus's friendly phone reps back and arrange to cancel my ADSL service. In the longer term, I'll be looking seriously at replacing my landline phone with VoIP and moving to another mobile carrier when that contract expires too.
Importantly, after hearing from me about this, my wife is looking at moving to another carrier when her Telus mobile phone contract expires soon. My parents are thinking about joining me in moving to VoIP telephone service, maybe not immediately, but not far off. When my daughters are old enough to have their own phones, right now I think I'm unlikely to get Telus service for them.
Had Telus shown instead that it got the new competitive telecommunications landscape, by treating me and my family as valuable customers worth keeping, it would have been in line for tens (or maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars of further revenue from us during the rest of our lifetimes. Now its share of our communications dollars is likely only to decline from that baseline, possibly to zero.
Will that have been worth the $250 savings, I wonder?
Friday, November 11, 2005 - newest items first # 9:31:00 PM:
Tourists to a particular area often do things locals never have. For instance, I live in southwestern coastal British Columbia and have a degree in marine biology, but I've never been whale watching. But one trip I love to take, winter or summer, is the ferry from Tsawwassen south of Vancouver to Swartz Bay near Victoria.
It always provides spectacular scenery, whether a sunset or cloudy silhouette. Sometimes getting to the trip can be a pain, especially on a rainy long weekend with two kids in the back of the station wagon. But that, and the hotel with room service at the other end, is usually well worth it.
Thursday, November 10, 2005 - newest items first # 9:30:00 AM:
Here are the draft results of Peter Chen's podcasting and videoblogging study. Again, while they're interesting, it's hard to say how representative they are, since the participants (me included) were largely self-selected. Chen writes that "The overall margin of error is therefore in the order of 5.08% at the 95% confidence level for the primary survey."
My memory of undergraduate statistics isn't good, so I'll take his word for it. But I'd like to remind people that there is a 5% chance that these results could be way, way off (in several unknowable directions) for the real world. Which is true for many surveys, of course.
In any case, make sure you look at the numbers carefully. Chen lays them out well, and has plenty of wise caveats, but when you're dealing with percentages of very small sample numbers, it's quite possible for some of the results to be skewed. Many of them certainly feel right, for whatever that's worth.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005 - newest items first # 8:21:00 PM:
More than two years ago I tried out Blogger, which I use to update this journal, using the Lynx web browser.
It turns out there's another, very similar (yet not identical) text-only browser for Mac OS X called Links, which I just tried out. Sure enough, both Blogger and Flickr work just fine.
Blogger works well enough that I edited this entry in Links for Mac OS X. On the other hand, of course, trying to use a photo-sharing site like Flickr from a browser that doesn't display any pictures is just a tad odd—both as a user experience, and because I'd even try such a thing.
As Air pointed out yesterday, I've received my first composing-recording commission arising from the free tunes I post to the Penmachine Podcast. In my nearly 17 years as a professional musician, this is the first time I'll be paid any significant sum for an original composition and recording (i.e. more than the occasional $2 or $6 cheque from SOCAN for songs I co-wrote with others), rather than a live performance.
Judd Bagley's Business Jive podcast (subscribe via iTunes or RSS) has used a bunch of my tunes already, but he phoned me yesterday wondering if I'd be interested in writing and recording a custom theme/jingle for his show. We've worked out a framework for a contract, and I'm going to get started right away.
This tune will be different from my others because it will be Judd's to use exclusively—he says you'll be welcome to download and play it, but no one else will be licensed to use it in their podcasts or in other "branded" ways. I'll let you know how the process goes, and when he has it ready on his show, which should be in a couple of weeks.
See? This podsafe music thing can have a (tiny) business model after all.
Speaking of boycotts of music companies that are making enemies of their customers, podcasting co-inventor Adam Curry has purged his MP3 collection so that he's now listening to and podcasting only podsafe music.
Essentially, now that podcasting is starting to reach critical mass, several music organizations based in the Netherlands (where Curry grew up and used to live) have threatened to take him down if he keeps podcasting music they administer the rights to (i.e. non-podsafe, traditional-label music). They also seem to have implied that they'd go after podcasters more generally.
Podcasting could be a lucrative market for musicians and publishers if they'd let it find a market and a business model. But they seem determined not to do that, which is only to the good of podsafe music makers like, well, me.
Monday, November 07, 2005 - newest items first # 4:48:00 PM:
Last week, the enterprising Mark Russinovich discovered that a Sony audio CD that he had bought required him to install an included Sony Windows application to play the songs on his computer (i.e. in order to try to foil him from copying the songs, a regular player like iTunes or Windows Media Player will not play the CD). Mark then found out that not only did the CD have digital restrictions management (DRM) included, but also that the required player program installed hidden monitoring software, known in geek-speak as a rootkit, on his machine.
Further, the rootkit is not only a potential security compromise, it could make Windows computers unstable. And Sony and "First 4 Internet"—the companies responsible for installing undisclosed, hidden, potentially damaging software on people's computers without asking them—don't think they've done anything wrong.
This is yet another, severe manifestation of the problem with today's music industry: it treats its customers as the enemy. Well, okay, Sony, I'll take that up. You're my enemy too. And it's just as well I bought a competitor's headphones last week. I'll keep my old 1992 Sony CD changer, and 2002 Sony headphones, and our 1980s-era Sony boomboxes, but I'm not buying any more Sony hardware, movies, or music for now, till you smarten up. Okay?
Sunday, November 06, 2005 - newest items first # 6:23:00 PM:
My side of the family has severe pack-rat tendencies, keeping and storing suff that has questionable or no value whatsoever (what use would my grade 9 math notes be to anyone?). My wonderful wife has helped disabuse me of that inheritance, and recently I took my own initiative to clean out my office.
The latest phase of that operation was to buy a nice tall four-drawer metal filing cabinet, and start sorting through the old papers, so I can keep what's good in it, and get rid of what's irrelevant. Today was chilly, so I used a whole stack of old bills as fuel for the fireplace, and it was amusing to note that not only were they all too old (more than seven years) for me to need them for tax records or anything, but many of them came from organizations that no longer even exist, or no longer do business where I live. Those include paid bills from:
Clearnet cell phone service (bought by Telus, which was formerly BC Tel, whose old bills I also burned)
Rogers Cable (sold its cable TV business in my region to Shaw several years back)
There were also records from cars long gone, jobs long over, and business relationships long forgotten. They're all ash now. Burning them was quite satisfying. The Eaton's bills flamed out with particular poignancy, like the once-dominant Canadian retailer that sent them to me at the tail end of its long slide into irrelevance.
Also, did you know that the late Paul Winchell, who performed the voice of Tigger in Disney's Winnie the Pooh cartoons, also developed a prototype for the artificial heart? (I sure didn't.) He ran his own website too, until 2004, when he was 82 years old.
The same article notes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle received what is likely one of the world's earliest automobile speeding tickets.
Thursday, November 03, 2005 - newest items first # 9:16:00 PM:
Dave Aton pointed me to I Want To, which points to a whole bunch of cool things you can do online. Some you'll know about already, some you won't. I wish you could edit it wiki-style, since I already have some suggestions.
UPDATE: People on the Editors' Association of Canada email list suggest that Michel Gauthier, listed in the Gomery Report's credits as "Information Technician," is likely the same person who is renowned as a plain-language expert, and thus may have had a role in the unusual clarity of the document. Those same credits also list an editorial and research staff that includes Strategic Editors Tom Gussman and Ian Sadinsky, who would have directed the effort. And of course, the report is available in French too, which makes it all the more amazing.
Whatever your thoughts on the Gomery Inquiry into Canada's federal sponsorship program scandal, the report released today is remarkable, as a government-sponsored document, for the clarity of its language and presentation. Consider:
Unlike most Canadian government departments, the Commission has its own very reasonable web URL: gomery.ca.
More shockingly, the English version of the Phase 1 Report is at (wait for it) gomery.ca/en/phase1report/—and its title is, simply, "Who Is Reponsible?"
Look at the glorious table of contents. Every item has a simple, easy-to-understand title.
Gomery wrote the report itself in the first person, using the active voice in places you'd never expect it. Consider the introductory paragraph alone:
I heard oral arguments at the conclusion of the hearings. They lasted five days and included representations from 21 participants, intervenors and interested parties, all of whom had previously filed written submissions. Fifteen others filed written submissions, but chose not to argue orally.
Those words are well written and beautifully clear.
He avoids the typical use of "allegedly" and "reported to" phraseology in his discussions, even though he does not have the authority to decide civil or criminal liability in this case. That makes his writing stark compared to what we're used to in newspaper and TV reports:
Since [former Canadian Prime Minister] Chrétien chose to run the Program from his own office, and to have his own exempt staff take charge of its direction, he is accountable for the defective manner in which the Sponsorship Program and initiatives were implemented. Mr. Pelletier, for whom Mr. Chrétien was responsible, failed to take the most elementary precautions against mismanagement. There is ample evidence of an appalling lack of preparation for the introduction of a new program involving the discretionary disbursement of millions of dollars of public money by Mr. Guité's organization, without supervision or guidelines.
I'm not sure who edited this document, but I'd suggest nominating them for the Editors' Association of Canada's Tom Fairley Award next year, for prying something so clear from what would typically have been as dry and obscure a topic as imaginable: a government finance scandal.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005 - newest items first # 3:24:00 PM:
As is typical of me before I buy something, in advance of grabbing my Sennheiser HD 280 headphones last week, I did a bunch of web surfing to find out what the best model might be. Noel asked me to relate what I found.
I started with Dan Frakes's old TidBITS articles on the topic, which took me to headphone.com and GoodCans. In the end I narrowed my search down to the HD 280s, similar closed headphones from Sony (MDR-V6 and MDR-7506, which are the same except the 7506 is easier to find and about $50 more expensive), and the Grado SR60s (apparently astounding, but not very noise-isolating). Sennheiser's PX100s (available in white or iPod black) would have been a good option if I didn't already have some comparable Sony MDR-G72 streetstyle portables.
You might think that spending $140 on headphones is crazy, but if you want crazy, how about $1600 for mahogany-housing Grado RS1s and a matching wooden headphone amp? Or some Stax or AKG "earspeakers"? Crazy, man, crazy.
Especially if, like me, you've been playing drums for 17 years and compromised your hearing a bit.
If you're a musician who lives in Canada, trying to buy gear online generally sucks. Yearh, there's eBay, and a few limited online shopping options from places like Tom Lee Music and Axe Music, but more exotic equipment and good prices sometimes send you looking across the border to the U.S.
Alas, most distribution agreements prevent us from buying musical instruments and other gear from Amazon. Now Musician's Friend, a huge music gear megasite, has opened up some of their inventory to Canadian customers. While I still like shopping places like Long & McQuade and Not Just Another Music Shop in person, sometimes the stuff I need (or, ahem, want) for the band or my podcast might be best available across the line.
Pricing is still in U.S. dollars, and only a small fraction of inventory is available to Canadians so far, but at least it's a crack in the armor.