10 February 2010


Four eyes

Every few years, I get new glasses, not because my prescription has changed (it's been pretty stable for about a decade), but because my old spectacles simply get old and worn out. This year, I took advantage of a two-for-one sale and got one set of new plastic frames (centre below) and one set of metal ones (right):

Glasses old and new

They're not a big change from my old set (left), but I like the new looks, though I'm not sure which of the two I prefer. Back in 2008 when I bought my last set, I wasn't sure I'd survive long enough to need new ones, but here I am. Yay.

Which pair do you prefer?

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01 February 2010


My 13 jobs

This month, February 2010, marks three fricking years since I first went on disability leave for cancer treatment. (And, incidentally, since we got our Nintendo Wii.) This got me thinking about all the jobs I've had in my life, starting back when I was still in high school.

It turns out that I've worked for 13 organizations, if you include my own company when I was freelancing. I did not enjoy every job, but each taught me something:

Year(s) Job Lesson
1985? Graveyard-shift self-serve gas station attendant Don't be a graveyard-shift self-serve gas station attendant. Also, burnt coffee smells really bad.
1988 Park naturalist Science is fun, five-year-olds aren't patient, but summer jobs are a great place to meet your future wife. Also, avoid flipping your canoe.
1989 Science centre floor staff Science is fun, but you'll spend most of your time telling people where the bathrooms are.
1990 Student handbook editor Choose your fonts carefully, and people never get things in on deadline.
1991 Student society admin assistant It's a long way to pick up your printouts across campus when you type them on a mainframe computer.
1991 English conversation coach Japanese girls definitely interested in learning English; Japanese boys (who smoke like chimneys), not so much.
1992–1994 Student issues researcher Creating your own job is great, but it sure would be nice to have an office with a window.
1994–1995 Full-time rock 'n' roll drummer Playing live music onstage is often awesome. Everything offstage, however, usually sucks.
1995–1996 Magazine advertising assistant No matter how nice your co-workers, a bad boss can ruin the whole experience.
1996–2001 Various software company jobs, from developers' assistant to webmaster Even if you know almost nothing about how to do it, when someone asks you if you want to run a website, it's still worthwhile to say "sure!"
2001–2003 Freelance technical writer and editor The paperwork to run your own business is immensely boring.
2001–2003 Semi–full-time rock 'n' roll drummer Rock is more fun when you mostly stay in town and get paid better.
2003–2007 Communications Manager, Navarik Working with friends can be a good thing, especially when they have good ideas. Oh, and a decent extended-health plan is really, really important.

In the late '80s, I also helped my friend Chris install alarm systems in people's homes and businesses, but while I got some money from it, it wasn't quite a job in the same way. It was more like when I helped him repair cars and resell them around the same time. Though in those cases, I did learn that I dislike crawling around in fibreglass-filled attics running wires, and that I'm not too fond of all the grease, gunk, and rust involved in auto work either.

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10 February 2009


Real cutting and pasting

Pre-desktop-publishing nostalgiaGraphic designer Michael Bierut is more than a decade older than me, but still, his article in the New York Times (via Kottke) this week felt familiar. I realized that's because, even though I've only hacked around the edges of the business of design and layout, I've been doing it for more than 30 years in some way or another.

More importantly, I belong to what is probably the last generation to straddle the gap between pre- and post-computer design. In elementary school in the 1970s, we made student newspapers with pens on Gestetner mimeograph paper, reproduced on smeary blue-inked sheets just like our notices and test papers. (More than a decade later, I had a used hand-crank Gestetner in my basement to run off newsletters for my computer club the Apple Alliance—there's some irony, or at least foreshadowing, in that.)

By the mid-1980s I was printing out long columns of dot-matrix type to cut and paste (with actual scissors and glue) onto photocopy masters, while also using Letraset rub-on letter stencils for headlines. That was for student newspapers—but putting together our high school annual still involved typewritten text, printed photos, rubber cement, and grease pencil. The real work of typography and layout was left to the professionals we never met at the printing plant in Winnipeg. We had perhaps two or three choices of typeface.

A few years later, the Science Undergraduate Society at UBC had an IBM PC clone with Ventura Publisher, and then a Mac with PageMaker. The only laser printer available was downtown, so I took floppy disks down and paid several dollars a page to print out 8x10s, which we then lined up to assemble tabloid-style layouts on blue-lined layout sheets. I drove those down to the printer to produce some of the first issues of The 432.

By the early '90s, everything was digital until the presses rolled, and a few years after that even floppies or CD-Rs were passé in favour of email and FTP. This decade I've hardly done anything for print at all: what little design work I do is for the Web, or podcasts, or maybe a PDF file that might get printed. Maybe.

So for me, a desktop, rulers, pica scales, cut and paste, cropping, and so on represent memories of the real physical activities. My kids may do some similar things for art projects, and with their grandmother when creating cards and photo books in her crafting room in Maple Ridge, but I don't expect they ever will for publication. Why would they, when we have six Macs (and two laser printers) in the house?

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03 February 2009


The 25 random narcissistic things meme

Here are 25 random things about me. I was tagged twice for this meme on Facebook, once by an acquaintance currently stationed in Iraq, so I felt obligated. I have to say it was more fun to compile the list than I expected. Now I'm supposed to tag 25 more people (!). Not sure if I'll get to that many. If you're on Facebook and I tag you with this, and you haven't done it already, and if you want to participate—unlike a typical chain letter or meme, I impose no such obligation on you—then read the rules at the bottom of my list here.

  1. I was born three weeks before the first moon landing, and apparently cried through most of the event.
  2. My two daughters and I were born at the same hospital, St. Paul's in downtown Vancouver. My wife was born at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. My mother was born at Vancouver General Hospital. My dad was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1939 (good timing!).
  3. Finnish (which my grandparents spoke) was my first language, but I've totally forgotten it. I never really learned German (my father's first language) either. I picked up French pretty well in school, and was nearly bilingual for awhile, but that has become awfully rusty. Even so, I can still read out words in all those languages with excellent pronunciation, without being able to understand them very well if at all. I also took Latin for two years, briefly studying Russian too. All have been helpful in my day job of being a writer and editor in English, and were also useful during my science degree, with all the Latin and Greek terminology.
  4. The house I now share with my wife and daughters is one half of a duplex; my parents live in the other half. I have lived in this structure, which was built in 1967, for all but four years of my life. A poplar tree I planted in our yard in kindergarten now towers over the house.
  5. My hair was quite blond, with big waves, until I was five or six years old, when it began turning to the straight dark brown it is now. My eyes have always been able to appear either blue or green, depending on the light. If you look closely, you can see that's because I have a dark blue ring around the irises, then mottled green further in, and light brown speckles near the pupils.
  6. When I was a kid, my favourite colour was red. Now I prefer purple, but I don't own many clothes of either colour.
  7. I don't think that I ever believed in a god or gods, even when I was a little boy who did believe in Santa Claus.
  8. We first got a colour television in the early '70s, but I didn't notice a difference, because I had been imagining the colours on the black-and-white set anyway.
  9. Having grown up during Canada's conversion to metric, I instinctively think of speeds in kilometres per hour but fuel economy in miles per gallon, dimensions in inches and feet but volume in millilitres and litres, and temperature in Celsius but weight in pounds.
  10. In grade 5, when I was the same age my older daughter is now, my best friend and I, with our parents' full permission, took several day-long bike trips by ourselves across Greater Vancouver, such as to the airport and back, or to the North Shore. Hard to imagine kids that age doing it now.
  11. I was enough of a nerd in my pre-teens to learn pi to ten decimal places (3.1415926535) and the speed of light to similar precision, in both metric (299,792.458 km/s) and imperial (186,282.397 mi/s) units. I was still able to type those out just now without thinking about them.
  12. I'm pretty sure I've never experienced an outdoor temperature lower than about –20°C. I've visited plenty of places that get cold enough, just not at the times of year I've been there.
  13. I saw Pluto the (former) planet once, at Manning Park in southern central B.C., where I had to look through my dad's telescope, see a star, look for a dimmer star next to it, and then avert my eyes slightly to catch the dim spot of Pluto out of the corner of my eye. I was very, very cold.
  14. When my roommates and I first moved in together in 1987, we had more than one computer per person, but none of us owned an iron.
  15. While I've been a professional musician for close to 20 years, and made my full-time living at it for a while, I never took band class in school. I had four years of private guitar lessons before high school, but I taught myself drums, now my main instrument, when I was 18 and in second-year university.
  16. The big toe on my right foot has lacked a toenail since 1988.
  17. Although I've lived in Canada my whole life, and I've been to many cities around the world, including Melbourne, Las Vegas, Moscow, London, Honolulu, Rome, Los Angeles, Denver, and New York City, I have never visited Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec City, the Maritime provinces, or any of Canada's three northern territories. I have also never set foot in Asia, South America, Africa, or Antarctica.
  18. Most of the guitar solos I ever play on my recordings or when jamming around are based on the generic blues-box scale positions I learned from the September 1990 copy of Guitar World, with Jeff Healey on the cover.
  19. Amusement park rides that spin sideways in any way make me want to throw up, usually within 20 or 30 seconds. Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and the like are no problem, but even something as innocuous as the Tilt-A-Whirl turns me green.
  20. My wife helped me learn to enjoy extra-hot showers and baths, and I helped her learn to enjoy sleeping in.
  21. I keep an old pair of glasses to wear when I go swimming, so the plastic on my newer frames doesn't get dicoloured by the chlorine. No glasses is not an option—my vision is too poor.
  22. One reason I still try to play gigs with my band, despite my current health problems, is that at least once during every gig, often in the green room between sets, something will happen that sets me laughing uncontrollably. For example, on a chilly April morning last year, it was seeing bassist Doug layered up so much in his warm clothes and costume that he looked like this.
  23. I have quite a few scars, almost all of which are, for some reason, on the right side of my body. The vast majority have come from cancer-related surgeries in the past two years. One required more than 25 staples; another looks like a bull's-eye target on my abdomen and is about the diameter of a DVD.
  24. It's not unusual for our house to get an international courier delivery every weekday, usually cosmetic samples from New York for my wife to review on her podcast.
  25. My current sideburns were inspired by Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords, even though he has huge mutton-chops and mine are polite little strips of fuzz like my dad had 35 years ago. Jemaine named his first child Sophocles, but that didn't inspire me at all. Besides, my kids are a decade older.

The rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag back the person who tagged you so they know you've done it. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you, or just because I'm annoying.

To do the tagging, go to Notes (in the Tabs section of your Profile page on Facebook), paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the upper right corner of the Notes app), then click Publish. Or if you import your notes from your blog into Facebook, tag the note once it appears. Have fun.

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03 January 2009


Favourite photos of 2008

Here are my 200+ favourite photos from 2008, posted to my Flickr account. I took most, but not all, of them:

Martin Sikes memorial 25 Martin Sikes memorial 36 Excursionists return to Denny's 1 Edison and Leo - Leo with mouth Hangdog hats Six oranges Sledding at Forglen - 07 Sledding at Forglen - 03 Gone swimmin' - 10 Gone swimmin' - 14 New glasses 2 Mirror prep Little Red Riding Bonham Rock out! Drum solo Mountain view 2 Slushy sledding - 19 Rick's 1966 Fender Jazz Bass - front Simone - 04 Simone - 06 Simone - 08 Chocolate sundae - 1 20 years on Birthday swim - 20 Vac-u-girl Miss M and her pals Science World birthday - 02 Science World birthday - 32 Science World birthday - 48 Moon and Saturn Lunar eclipse - 34 Moon and tree Northern Voice tiki dinner 2008 Northern Voice tiki dinner 2008 Slide pileup MooseCamp 2008 - The Millers Crazy Kingsway - 3 Crazy Kingsway - 7 Northern Voice 2008 Quick 'n' dirty Mullenweg keynote panorama Northern Voice 2008 - Buttons Footie Legs only Mossy 1 Lauren! Happy Easter from M Happy Easter from L Geek spawn Paparazzo Grandpa Ralph and the girls Sticky and Swingy Neurotic Train wheels 1 Toque boy Air and the BlackBerry Pearl Washing the deck 1 Cartwheel Très orange Derek with Artigiano latte Central Park Leaves HDR Test Central Park Leaves HDR Final Jesse Tucker 3 L and her mom at Old Orchard Park Stylin' girls Papa, Mimi, and the girls Two spooners Catch a falling star Georgia Strait solstice sunset - 9:25pm 21 June 2008 English Bay summer solstice 2 - 10:30pm 21 June 2008 Simone at the Millers' 2 Vancouver City Hall Hubcaps for sale Construction Last day of school! 1912 House Downtown Vancouver skyline Lonsdale Quay with fireboat 2 Container cranes Second Narrows 2 Under the Line East Van Mom and Wellington In the fountain! Two smileys Miss L sleeping Miss M The girls Flowers Beach ball Miss L Nikon D50 Derek with Nikon F4 Big roller Cross-processed flowers 8 Summer spray Splash zone Back at the car M portrait L portrait Yes, there was a bear Family above the clouds A and M ready for the mountain Off the peak Leap Wet spin Peach smoothie Little customer At your service Keep runnin' Balloon release 4 Yaletown swings Dizzy and Jeff Yard monsters (4 and 8) Little Miss A Door dawg Stoplights Jeff D. Holloway Lift truck HDR Air and kk+ Air and Ponzi ROSCO at Harmony Arts B&W 15 Never touch my car again Simone - Labour Day weekend Arbutus Club - Daughters and Sticky Fire dancer 18 My cousin T Sleepy M Cry cry cry Misses L and M Burnaby Mountain sunset HDR Metrotown bridge 1 HDR Me Right Now Little BarCamper BarCamp party - Jenn Lowther L's first glasses M's new specs Sticky Neurotic on guitar Liking the new glasses Miss M and Tooth Cottony clouds 2 HDR Basket BlackBerry Car wash 3 Power chord time (faux Polaroid) D.Q. Neurotic 2008 - 3 Trophy girl 2 Autumn front window 2 HDR Fender Princeton Reverb (circa 1978) and MXL990 condenser mic Renaissance HDR Kids on the roof - Coast Mountains behind Crazy living room photo shoot 2 Crazy living room photo shoot 6 Crazy living room photo shoot 9 Crazy living room photo shoot 13 Family Christmas 2 Tracks Leaves 1 Leaves 4 Hat man Sliders Waiting in the waves Station Square roof HDR iPodder Mt. Baker from the Fraser River HDR Derek's crazy mutant post-chemo eyelashes Overpass HDR L and Air Big eyelashes again Tree silhouette HDR Air and Karen Best of 604 - Lip Gloss and Laptops wins Vignette sample - DX crop-frame lens on full-frame camera Navarik kids' Christmas - Princess Navarik kids' Christmas - popular Santa 2 Air and Dizzle B&W Bokeh dots 3 - multi Bokeh dots 4 - Christmas colours Bloedel Conservatory HDR Mount Baker from Queen E Park HDR Lip balm redecorated Santa M Solstice sledding - 03 Solstice sledding - 04 Solstice sledding - 09 Solstice sledding - 11 Solstice sledding - 12 Burrard Station Cathedral Mountain and cloud HDR My dad, mom, cousin Tata, and TJ Miss M White white white white white Christmas New sweater It's a Quatchi Christmas The Balvenie bottle 195 of 350 Big hat M Our front yard light buried in snow Ferry line HDR Daughters in the wind Shutter speed L at Nautical Nellies Fan Tan Alley Active Pass and Ferry HDR Look out below

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