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: October 2006," 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.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006 - newest items first # 9:08:00 PM:
My youngest daughter was only ten months old when I started writing this journal (she was still a newborn when I registered the domain), and she's in grade 1 now. I was still in a five-year hiatus from playing live music with my band. I was still months away from being laid off, then working freelance, then getting a different job three years later.
At the time I simply thought that this Blogger thing was a neat tool Alistair had found. I had no RSS feeds, no podcasts, no Flickr photos, and no ambitions to write more than maybe once every few weeks on this page. It was just an easier way to post news than the old hand-editing method.
In the 2195 days since that first blog post, I've written 2514 more. And now, we're off into another November.
There doesn't seem to be a way to use your own Flickr photos (rather than a random selection) for the mosaic components, nor to pick a Flickr photo to render rather than an uploaded one, but it's still pretty darn cool.
Saturday, October 28, 2006 - newest items first # 9:43:00 PM:
I think I've figured something out. Since I commute my public transit, I see a lot of people wearing headphones. The majority (like most commuters) aren't smiling. They're in their own worlds, on their way to or from work or school. But I've found myself smiling quite a lot with my Sennheisers on, and even occasionally laughing out loud, which probably puzzles a few people.
The reason is that, most of the time, I'm listening not to music, but to podcasts, and a lot of them make me happy, even when they veer at length spectacularly off topic. Maybe especially so.
So if you see someone with the 'phones on laughing, don't worry, they're not insane. Probably.
This guy in the photo is not a bas-relief carving, nor a painting—he's a 250-metre-wide natural eroded rock formation in Alberta, and the picture you're seeing is a satellite photo from Google Maps.
It is not an Apple ad, nor is it any kind of huge intentional sculpture. It's pure fluke. The iPod earbud is an access road to a natural gas wellhead. CBC Radio's show "As It Happens" wants you to vote for a name. I propose "Pod Hair Ken."
In addition to a bunch of other strange design choices, Adobe's interesting new Soundbooth audio editing application has a preference setting I've never seen before:
You can adjust the "user interface brightness" with a slider, as well as specify whether the interface uses gradients or not to look all smooth and swooshy. But if you have a PowerPC-based Mac, you're out of luck.
UPDATE: It looks like PowerPC Mac users will stay out of luck with this application.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - newest items first # 4:24:00 PM:
Tomo at work received these as gifts from visiting Japanese businessmen. I've long known about the legend (and high North American prices) of USB sushi ($100 USD each for those little ebi and futomaki pieces), but I've never before held it in my hands.
Apparently it's the same plastic stuff sushi restaurants use for their display cases, with holes hollowed out for the USB drive portions. So it looks freakishly realistic, and even feels squishy.
Here is an amazing and inspiring (and bizarre) story from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, who, I didn't realize until I read it, has not been able to speak for a year and a half. There's not even a hint of his trademark cynicism in the tale.
Completely unrelated is a new variety of spam I've been dealing with: exhortations to send flowers. I've seen a whole flood of emails, and especially forum and comment spam in the places I administer, saying "Send flowers!" with a ton of the usual spammy links to places that seem to be about ordering flowers online.
While I still hate it, it is an improvement over the usual stock, mortgage, Nigerian money, and sex dreck. Maybe spammers are trying to get their previous victims to apologize to their loved ones for all that money wasted on stock and mortgage scams, fake African millionaires, and various enhancement products?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - newest items first # 4:04:00 PM:
In computing and information technology generally, "more, faster, bigger" (or "smaller," depending on the field) is the received wisdom for future development. Yet that often leads to commoditization of products and services, where competitors leapfrog one another incrementally and profits shrink, while customers wonder whether they are actually gaining any value from the process.
That dynamic is particularly acute in video gaming, and this week Ars Technica profiles how Nintendo is changing the rules with its new Wii game console, which eschews bigger, hotter, faster electronics for small size to fit in well with TVs and other AV components, power efficiency, the ability to update itself when it's not in use, and wildly original controllers. Plus it's hugely cheaper than competing consoles from Microsoft and Sony. I think it's going to be a huge hit, and if it is, could be a business lesson for other technology firms.
I need to move big files—much too big for email—across the Internet frequently. Generally, I use my Apple .Mac iDisk or my own web server, but if you don't have access to those sorts of services, Angela Gunn points to a great list of file-transfer services you can try.
On the latest episode of Inside Home Recording (IHR), which my co-host Paul and I released last night, we mention that we're working with a few other home and project recording shows to put together an informal network. The impetus to start it came in an email last week fom Andrew Brierley of the Home Recording Odyssey podcast.
As part of that process, over the past couple of days Andrew and I put together a basic web page for the new Home Recording Podcast network at homerecordingnetwork.com. The only real purpose of the group right now is to help listeners who are interested in the topic find as many podcasts about it as possible. We have no commercial relationship, so it's more "here are some other shows you might want to check out" than anything else.
The IHR team had talked about a network concept recently, and it was a nice coincidence when Andrew raised the idea and got the ball rolling. We'll see where it goes. In the meantime, listen to IHR episode 26 (in MP3 audio or Enhanced AAC format).
Thursday, October 19, 2006 - newest items first # 2:28:00 PM:
I've said it before, but once again I have to commend the customer support from JaguarPC, my hosting company. They're a hosting provider that seems focused on more technical customers, but that works for me.
The best thing is that whenever I use their online support request system—even late on a Sunday night—I always get a quick reply and action, sometimes in as little as 15 minutes and almost never in more than half an hour. The hosting service has been quite reliable too, and the prices are cheap. Thumbs up.
After speaking to some students at Simon Fraser University last night, I'll be following it up with a talk to the Editors' Association of Canada B.C. branch meeting tonight, October 18, at 7:30 p.m.—I'll be talking about "Writing and Editing in a New Tech World." If you're not an EAC member, the cost is $10, but there's free coffee and goodies.
Ten days before this blog turns six years old, this particular post you are reading marks my 2500th entry here. (I fluked into noticing it last night when I discovered my moon-relic post was #2499.)
I don't have an exact count, but based on when Blogger used to keep track of such things, I've written on the order of 350,000 words in this journal, totally aside from my other articles and such—in print, that would be 1400 pages, almost exactly the length of War and Peace.
I have two reactions:
It's pretty impressive to have written a blog that's as long as War and Peace.
If I had spent six years writing a novel instead, reviewers wouldn't be comparing it favourably to Tolstoy.
So it's just as well that I stuck with the blog. Thanks to everyone who's been reading all this time.
When Kottke pointed to this article in New Scientist wondering what would happen if all humans disappeared tomorrow, it sucked me right in with the line, "Alien visitors coming to Earth 100,000 years hence will find no obvious signs that an advanced civilisation ever lived here."
The piece goes on to explain that there would still be paleontological evidence, but outward signs would be erased by weather and other natural processes.
Yet that's restricted to the Earth. On the Moon, our relics from Apollo landings and various robotic missions will likely remain for millions of years, unrusting and uneroded, just like our geostationary satellites and much of our miscellaneous space junk. Orbiters around other planets might still remain too, with the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft vectoring ever further out of our solar system far away.
So yes, we could disappear from Earth with hardly a trace, but our traces would remain in space. Comforting?
One of the frustrations with instrumental music is that if you have a tune stuck in your head, it's awfully hard to find out what it is if you don't know the title. For the past couple of weeks, I had an incredibly famous, simple jazz riff in my head that I've heard hundreds of times over the years, but never knew the name of:
C-C, C-C C-C, C-F
More than that, I had a particularly quick, swinging version in mind. I asked my daughters' piano teacher, Lorraine, and played her the riff (it's simple enough that even I can play it). She was pretty sure it was called "Duke's Place." Sure enough, Duke Ellington wrote it, and hunting around I found dozens of versions of the tune by him (alone, with his band, with Ella Fitzgerald and with Louis Armstrong) and others, even a YouTube film of Ellington's group playing it in 1942. It was the right tune, but not the recording I was thinking of—all of them were too slow, not quite as staccato as the one I liked.
It turns out that "Duke's Place" is also known as "The C-Jam Blues." So I did some more hunting, and spotted a version by Oscar Peterson. Of course! And there it is, on his "Night Train" album from 1962. Oscar playing Ellington. How could it be anyone else?
No, the red one doesn't cost any more than the other 4 GB iPod nanos. It would, of course, be better to send $200 to an AIDS charity, but if you're going to buy a nano anyway, go for the new colour, I say.
The official name is iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED, by the way, which is very weird, but has to do with the whole joinred.com thing.
How to make high dynamic range (HDR) photos using Photoshop CS2. (Via Cory Krug.) Bascially, you combine three (or more) photos taken in bracketed exposures—one too dark, one normally exposed, one too light—to make a single photo with far greater detail in both the shadows and the highlights than is possible in normal photography.
In the U.S., "flyover country" is a pejorative term for much of that nation, over which the hip jet set flies when shuttling between New York and Los Angeles. But the real flyover country consists of most of my country, the 40% of Canada that lies above the Arctic Circle.
In a recent podcast from UBC, Michael Byers notes that, in jets moving between the various souths of the world, more people fly over that incomprehensibly huge expanse of land and sea and islands every day than live there. He also says that may change, as climate change opens the Northwest Passage and permits a transit of commercial ships between Asia and Europe that is 7000 km shorter than the Panama Canal route.
MSNBC reports that those crazy kids today often never learn proper handwriting. I type a lot (duh!), but I still write cursively when I take paper notes. Regardless of whatever cognitive benefits learning handwriting may have, it's simply faster than printing.
I really learned to write when my English 10 teacher, Mr. Fraser, insisted that we submit a 300-word essay almost every day. I tended to write mine on the bus, longhand, while the lack of a Delete key forced me to think things through before I began them, and as I wrote. I believe that's still a valuable skill, one I hope my kids learn, and one I will encourage them to pursue.
Lots of stuff turned out really wrong of course (more widely distributed rather than concentrated population, lots of atomic and solar power and lighting—"A good deal of thorium is used because uranium 235 is scarce"—food made from sawdust, cleaning your house with a hose, personal helicopters) but some predictions aren't that bad (houses built to last for shorter periods, affordable jet travel for the masses, and microwave ovens—but "Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people?"). And eBay or Amazon is pretty close to "shopping by videophone."
The medical stuff is actually pretty interesting and not badly off the mark, given that in 1950 the structure of DNA was still unknown. Most of the changes are largely technological rather than social: all the women still stay home, while the men work—and they're all white. Ironically, the hypothetical personal helicopter factory is called Orwell Helicopter Corporation. (This was just as 1984 was published too.)
"Automatic electronic inventions that seem to have something like intelligence integrate industrial production so that all the machines in a factory work as units in what is actually a single, colossal organism." Interesting, and to a degree true, but they did not foresee that the organism would be not the factory, but the entire global supply chain, automated by data exchange and just-in-time manufacturing. But then, in this vision of the year 2000, "lights [...] flare up on a board whenever a vacuum tube burns out or there is a short circuit."
My favourite bit: noticing incipient storms in the Atlantic, governments were to dispatch airplanes to spray sheets of oil on the ocean and set them on fire (!) to dissipate the gathering hurricane. Yeah, that would be good.
"Nobody has yet circumnavigated the moon in a rocket space ship," the author writes, "but the idea is not laughed down." Here we are, in 2006, chuckling that people went to the moon and back less than 20 years after that article appeared. And it's been nearly 35 years since anyone has been back.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 - newest items first # 6:54:00 PM:
Meg is talking about food and recipes, but she needn't be:
The current copyright law is excessive and if anything, stifles, rather than promotes, innovation. (Current law grants copyright to an author for the term of her life plus seventy years. If I were to live to 100, what you're reading right now wouldn't enter the public domain until 2142!) You can look all around the creative world, from Disney to the recent troubles with the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, for examples of how copyright has been perverted from the original intent to offer a limited set of protections to "promote the progress of science and useful arts."
I don't know what the statistics say, but Vancouver's summer and early autumn weather in 2006 has been spectacular, by far the least rainy and sunniest I can remember, and I've lived here my whole life. It's nearly unknown to have had only a day or two of rain this late into October. It's bound to end soon, but I've been saying that for weeks, and I'm still biking to work.
Of course this could lead to snowpack and water supply worries next spring, and maybe it's a sign of coming global climate apoclypse, but for now, this year, in this lovely city, it has been a wonderful denouement to the summer season.
The Gore-Tex is waiting; I hope it waits a bit longer.
While I didn't get a single new track out on my Penmachine Podcast of original free podsafe instrumental music in September (merely some old tracks I re-released), I now have two versions of Mighty Mullane, my latest composition.
You can have the full three minute MP3, or a shortened 45 second MP3. Both are kinda funky, synth heavy, and have an Aerosmith beat. And I recorded them in the kitchen, as shown in the photo.
They're completely podsafe, and you can remix, mash up, share, and do what you like with 'em. Just make sure people know I made them, and point them to podcast.penmachine.com when you do. Enjoy!
"I wish I could tell young people today how naive they are. We were like that, too, young and naive. We truly believed that by building [the first atomic] bomb there'd never be another war."
"Professor Jon Erlandson says the maritime capabilities of ancient humans have been greatly underestimated. He has found evidence that early peoples in California pursued a sophisticated seafaring lifestyle 10,000 years ago."
"There have been 75 media employees killed worldwide in 2006, more than in any year since records have been kept and more than were killed in the entire Second World War, according to the World Association of Newspapers."
"When everyone else is looking the same way for inspiration, look somewhere else. The result is a lot more likely to be something singular and fresh."
"But innovating to solve the wrong problem usually fails as a strategy, and the problem we have today, I believe, is not that our climate is changing, per se, but that we have created an unsustainable civilization which is deeply instable."
I saw the ads for Mr. Meaty a few months ago, but I haven't seen the show. Looks hilarious.
Remember the facial-recognition "which celebrities do I resemble?" thing I tried a few weeks ago? And my grudging new respect for John Mayer?
Well, now the two have come together. John Mayer tried the face-recognition tool, and posts on his blog that it thinks he looks more like Jessica Lange than himself. Facial recognition sure is accurate! Thanks to Angela Gunn for the link.
Tim Bray (that's him on the left with the hat on) is worth admiring, not least for his co-invention of XML, which is a major reason my company is in business at all. He's also genuinely personable and writes a great blog.
Okay, enough sucking up. Over there today he has a great short essay today about how he and many others are working on creating an XML-based standard for financial reporting data, so that public companies and government bodies could provide their financial statements in a structured way that can be automatically exchanged and processed by anyone with access to it. Plus it's an essay about accounting that made me laugh out loud, which is pretty hard to do.
Robert Scoble, another nice-guy tech blogger, has a fascinating half-hour interview with Tim over at PodTech too, in which they talk about XML, Atom, and programming in languages like PHP for parallelism and multithreading in newer, power-efficient server architectures for web apps. Sounds like a big yawn, I know, but Tim manages to make it both understandable and interesting—and emphasizes how important power conservation is in the new Internet era. Go listen.
"Sometimes, we need a hole in our wall, so we buy a drill. But we don't need the drill, we need the hole. A system that offered the object on demand when we needed results would provide us with the hole but eliminate having a dusty drill sitting in our toolbox for 20 years. [...] It's one thing to recognize that what we desire is an end result, but another entirely to release our longing to be surrounded by all the means that take us to these ends."
"The issue is not whether we should trust pilots, airplane maintenance technicians or people with clearances. The issue is whether we should trust people who are dressed as pilots, wear airplane-maintenance-tech IDs or claim to have clearances. We have two choices: Either build an infrastructure to verify their claims, or assume that they're false. And with apologies to pilots, maintenance techs and people with clearances, it's cheaper, easier and more secure to search you all."
"Sadly, most of us, no matter what our occupations, don't breathe properly. Years of bad posture, emotional tension, and never having been reminded how to do it naturally lead to chronic bad breathing habits. Computer users need to be aware of this, as a forward slouched posture tends to constrict the diaphragm and inhibit natural and full breathing."
"The Washington Post's Hank Stuever concisely elucidated the 'Scooby worldview' when the first live-action movie came out: 'Kids should meddle, dogs are sweet, life is groovy, and if something scares you, you should confront it.' What needs to be explained about that?"
At work we redesigned our business cards recently. I still have a couple of boxes of the old ones, and aside from letting my kids play with them, I've found another good use: they make great daily to-do lists.
I tend to make such lists for myself, and while I sometimes use the free Ta Da Lists, most of the time I prefer paper. The back of an old business card is just about the right size for a few to-do items, and when they're all crossed off I can recycle it without guilt.
Plus if I need to take the list with me it fits in my wallet without getting all smunched up.
First news: the 25th episode of the Inside Home Recording show is now online, and my co-host Paul and I spent it talking about some of our recording "war stories" from the past decade or two. One includes humping a recording console—but not by either of us.
Second news: my second-favourite headphones are dying. I use my Sennheiser HD 280 "big cans" set for recording and mixing, but when commuting or riding my bike, I've listened to my trusty old set of Sony MDR-G72 "street style" models for years. But now they're dying. The left driver has seemed quieter than the right for a few weeks (I had to try other headphones to be sure it wasn't my drummer's ears), but today it's cutting out periodically, and I doubt anything's worth trying to repair.
I don't buy Sony anymore, and they don't make the G72s any longer anyway. But I like the behind-the-head street style design, even though most street style headphones (like most headphones generally) aren't much good if you're picky about the sound.
When I ran into Darren and Julie at lunch yesterday, he asked me about my headphones, the G72s, and I suggested he check out the Sennheiser PMX100, street style siblings of the well respected PX100 my wife has. The PX100s are everywhere, but the PMX100s are hard to find in Canada, it seems, but might be a good option when you're wearing a hat or helmet or otherwise don't want your hair disturbed.
Jeff Croft wonders how truly professional web designers can sell their value in a market that doesn't understand it:
I think at least part of this misunderstanding comes from people mistaking the tools for the job. This seems to happen in other creative industries, as well. People buy a nice digital SLR and decide they're a photographer. The buy a guitar and call themselves a musician. And, they buy a copy of Photoshop or Dreamweaver and call themselves a web designer. This is a little baffling to me. No one thinks if they have a hammer they've got the skills to be a professional carpenter. No one decides they don't need a doctor if they?ve got a stethoscope of their own. For some reason that I can't seem to figure out, people believe that if they have the same tools as us—a computer and some software—they can do our jobs. And worse, the clients believe that, too.
Any secrets and advice for Jeff and the rest of the industry? Let him know.
What would it be like to listen to every chart-topper in the Billboard Hot 100 over 42 years processed into 37 minutes of ethereal audio? Apparently now you can find out on the album Timelapse by R. Luke DuBois. You can also find out that #1 songs in 1978 were mostly in the key of F.
When Apple released its latest "big" iPod With Video models (nicknamed "5.5G" models) last month, it also unleashed a firmware update for the previous "5G" original video iPods, like mine. Generally it's been a nice upgrade, with some additional features—not including the new search, alas—but I have noticed that scrolling through big lists has slowed down considerably.
It used to be that if I found my way to my long list of podcasts and spun the click wheel, the list would fly by with the built-in clicker tapping along, ditditditditditditdit. Now, after the firmware upgrade, the clicker and list scrolling are out of sync, and the scroll is slower as well, dit... dit... ... dit... ... dit....
I'm guessing it may have something to do with the new letter overlay scroll display (which doesn't operate in the podcast list), but it's a tad annoying. Nothing that throws me seriously off, but the legendary feel of the iPod interface was better before.
Speaking of dark skies, I have seen Pluto once when I was about 12. It was a stargazing trip to Manning Park, a few hours east of Vancouver, with my dad and two of my second cousins, one of whom, Roman, was also an amateur astronomer, and the other, Dennis, roughly my age, tagging along like me.
The night was very, very dark, and the cold was bitter. Dennis and I shivered in the van trying to sleep. But at one point my dad called me out and I looked into the eyepiece of his Celestron telescope. "See that star?" he asked. "Look to the left of it, where you see the fainter star. Then look slightly away, and in your peripheral vision you should catch a very faint dot. That's Pluto."
And I did see it, light from the sun that had traveled out to Pluto, then back to my dad's telescope and into my eye. I was freezing cold, but I don't regret going.
My dad has been a keen amateur astronomer since his childhood in Germany, so while I'm not, I grew up well aware of the light pollution that prevents most modern people from seeing stars, sometimes hardly ever over the course of our lives. When I was a student member of the UBC Board of Governors in the early '90s, I was frustrated that a new campus "safety lighting" plan seemed to ignore that lights shining largely upwards are not only wasteful (they don't help people see better), but also further disrupt the nighttime view of the sky—this on a campus that includes an astronomical observatory, and whose university president at the time used to be NASA's head moon-rock scientist.
So I was pleased to read (via Kottke) that Reykjavik turned out its lights so people could see the sky at night. It wasn't an entirely clear evening, but it would be amazing—as happened during the large-scale blackouts in eastern North American cities fairly recently—for urban dwellers to see the myriad stars and blackness up there. Usually you can only do that by traveling far from a city. (The best sky I've ever seen? Two thousand metres above sea level at Crater Lake in Oregon.)
Coincidentally, the most recent Ideas podcast (MP3 file) from CBC Radio, called "While You Were Out," talks about sleep, and how in the past couple of hundred years we have completely disrupted the natural pattern of human sleep, which seems to be designed to run as two separate nighttime sleep periods, separated by an hour or two of pleasant wakefulness, historically known as "The Watch." (Oddly, that sleep pattern is only sparsely documented, because sleep was so poorly studied for so long.)
A primary culprit for our new sleep patterns is artificial light, the same light that pollutes our view of the stars. I'd like to try natural sleep sometime, but I expect it will be some years before I can take the time to do it.
I feel like a bad Vancouverite. How did I not know until after it happened that they were going to implode all but the original 1903 corner façade of the old Woodward's store, where I spent so much time while growing up? The building went down yesterday, and only a shell remains before new construction begins:
Since we'd been unable to catch it while it played the Vancouver Fringe Festival last month, my wife and I were happy to be able to attend the finale performance of "Bolloxed," the play by Darren Barefoot, last night.
The play does what television shows and movies cannot. In the small studio theatre of the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver, it took advantage of the intimate space. Paul Drexler and Mercedes Dunphy are the only actors (playing the two leads and assorted secondary characters), and there is barely any set to speak of.
It was funny, written well, and skilfully directed. The actors did great work, and in less than an hour took us to modern Dublin to show us around its squares, pubs, museums, trains, sports fields, software cubicles, and medical clinics. And then a few of us went for drinks afterwards.