13 June 2009


Blog break

Stairs HDRExcept for the occasional vacation or trip to the hospital, I've written on this blog most days since October 27, 2000 (and more intermittently for three and a half years before that, before it was a blog). Including this post, that's 3446 entries in 3152 days, or an average of 1.09 posts per day, through raising our kids and work and travel and illnesses and treatments galore.

For most of my life I've written compulsively. In the words of Tim Bray and Mark Pilgrim, I write this blog because I "can't not write." Or at least I did. But today it feels forced, an annoyance, something it should not be.

I need a break. So I'm taking one. I don't know how long.

I'll probably still post to Twitter and Facebook, but not as much. I'll be on email too, though I plan to unsubscribe from a lot of lists and notifications that clutter up my inbox, and maybe try to pare down the 1800 messages sitting there. There will be photos on Flickr. Maybe I'll find a way to bring some of that material over here automatically. We'll see.

Other things also won't change. I plan to continue co-hosting with Dave Chick the Inside Home Recording podcast once a month or so. I won't be offline or off the grid. If you subscribe to my RSS feed you'll see when something new appears here, whenever that might be. I'll let you know if there's any big news.

In the meantime, it's almost summer. Go outside. Be with your friends and family. Talk. Love. I plan to.

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01 June 2009


Search Engine moves to TVO

Search Engine old and newLast year, I wrote about CBC's two radio tech shows, "Spark" and "Search Engine", and how they were sometimes hard to tell apart. CBC management felt the same—"Search Engine" was downgraded from a full radio show to a podcast only last year, and recently got cancelled altogether, despite being one of the network's most popular podcasts.

Fortunately, TVOntario picked it up, and host Jesse Brown has now put out two episodes at the podcast's new home. (You can subscribe using the RSS feed or at iTunes.) The Facebook group stays the same, with the new name. If you were a "Search Engine" listener before, I encourage you to subscribe at the new feed.

And I do have to say, Brown's new clean-shaven look is a big improvement over his old scruffy '70s rock star beard.

P.S. "Spark," to which I've occasionally contributed, continues on at CBC, and is growing from a half-hour show to a full hour on the radio in the fall.

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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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08 July 2008


Meet the New Odds, (almost) same as the old Odds, on Facebook

New Odds at Flickr.comBack in the '90s there was a popular Vancouver rock band called The Odds (or just "Odds"). They and their cover-band alter-ego The Dawn Patrol inspired my cover band, The Neurotics, and our former original-band alter-ego, The Flu. And, oddly (ahem), since 2003 bassist Doug Elliott of The Odds has been (as "Swingy Neurotic") one of the rotating cast of yokels who play in The Neurotics.

Anyway, The Odds broke up in 1999 after four albums, tours with The Tragically Hip, and some pretty decent commercial success, but have now returned with a slightly different lineup as The New Odds, releasing a booty-shakin' new album called Cheerleader a few weeks ago. They've been touring across Canada too.

As part of the revival, I just spent a bit of time with Doug setting up a Facebook page for the group. If you're on Facebook and like the band (either in its old Odds or New Odds incarnation), or if you think you might, why not head over and become a fan (the link is on the upper right of the page), so you can find out when they're having shows, what they're up to, and so on? It's way less nasty on your eyes than MySpace, I tell you.

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17 April 2008


Spark me up

Nora on Warbike at Flickr.comCBC Radio has two programs (also available as podcasts) that confuse me a little: "Spark" and "Search Engine." I like them both, but they seem to cover a lot of the same territory of life in the digital age. Sometimes I can't remember which one had a particular segment—was it host Nora Young at "Spark" who interviewed the guy who edits Hillary Clinton's Wikipedia entry? No, it was host Jesse Brown from "Search Engine."

I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm glad there's enough of an audience for my kind of techie social nerdity that CBC has two shows about it. Yay again to Tod for helping the network get on the podcasting train after jump-starting it with the CBC Unplugged show almost three years ago.

Anyway, I'm going to call "Spark" my favourite of the two shows now, because it looks like I'm going to be on it. Nora—that's her on the bike—indirectly heard about my recent talk on life, death, and my blog, and contacted me through Facebook (appropriately enough) to see if I might like to be on "Spark."

One of my weaknesses is appearing in the media. I've always loved seeing my name in print, or being on the radio or TV. So my immediate thought was, "hell yeah!" We'll likely record something next week for the "Spark" episode airing (and podcasting) at the end of the month. More details to follow.

Incidentally, Nora's other podcast, The Sniffer (not affiliated with the CBC), has been on my subscription list for a couple of years now. I recommend it.

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30 November 2007


An end of month mishmash

To honour the end of NaBloPoMo (in which I didn't participate officially), this final post of November will contain a mishmash of nothing in particular:

Cory Doctorow is reasonably digitally paranoid, but he has a point about Facebook: "Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance."

It's worth listening to what Dave Winer has to say about podcasting, since he helped invent it, so when he writes, "I've heard that podcasting didn't achieve its promise," that's worth reading. His response begins: "First, obviously it depends on what you felt was the promise. Second, it depends whether you think there's more to do." He does.

Evel Knievel was an icon during my childhood, the epitome of cool to elementary school boys in the '70s. He died today.

Finally, here's a video of our pal Dizzy the Podcast Puppy licking my daughter on the face, after some prompting:

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05 July 2007


Having surgery, off the grid till mid-July

Tomorrow by this time I'll be at St. Paul's Hospital recovering from my major cancer surgery. My rectum and a chunk of my lower colon will be gone. Depending on how things go, it's also possible that my left kidney will be removed as well, if the surgeons can't reconnect the ureter after removing my tumour. I will either have a temporary ileostomy to let the doctors later hook up my plumbing again, or if that's not feasible, a permanent colostomy. No one knows yet.

Yeah, okay, that freaks me out. But I'm ready, I think.

It's been a strange couple of days. Yesterday my wife and I met with the urologist and the pre-surgical team and went through all the details. By the end of it I was aching and tired, and slept and slept and slept. Today I'm on an all-liquid diet to prepare (Jello is as solid as it gets), and even though I haven't taken my sodium phosphate solution yet, my intestines are purging out in anticipation anyway.

I'll be in the hospital at least ten days. I won't be blogging or Facebooking or reading email. My wife may post some stuff here, and my dad has started a blog that will include updates. See you in mid-July sometime.

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24 June 2007


Facebook Friends Photos screen saver

Facebook Friends Photos screen saver at Flickr.comMy absorption into the Borg that is Facebook is complete.

This morning, via the Macalope, I found the Facebook Friends screensaver for Mac OS X. You can set it so that it displays random photos, random albums, or (my choice) current profile pictures of all or some of your friends on Facebook, in a groovy Apple-style moving field, where the photos snake back and forth across a minimalist digital landscape with reflections.

Crazy crazy.

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12 June 2007


Geek communities then and now

Apple II PlusThe first online community I belonged to was in 1983, when my family got a Hayes Micromodem II for our Apple II computer and I hunted around for a few bulletin board systems (BBSs) to join. I've made and kept in touch with many of my friends via computers ever since—about two-thirds of my life so far.

The vibe of those online communities has changed a lot. BBSs were, by their nature, local. The typical ones I visited consisted of a dedicated Apple II or Commodore 64 or IBM PC in a teenage boy's closet or bedroom, hooked up to an extra dedicated phone line rented as an indulgence by parents or paid for from the sysop's (system operator's) part-time job. (A few even only ran late-night hours on the family phone line.) Because of long-distance charges, pretty much everyone who signed in to a BBS would be from the local Vancouver calling area, and those of us who were members got pretty good at knowing where a system was by the prefix—92x was the North Shore, 22x was the West Side, 43x was Burnaby, etc. Everyone used pseudonyms (mine was The Grodd), not really for any particular anonymity, but just because that was the tradition.

Only one person could be on the board at a time, so interactions were serial: I would set my modem to dial, and if the line was busy (or if the sysop was on the system or performing maintenance), it would retry until it got through. Then I'd check my email and the public message boards, post any replies, and log off. While I was doing that no one else could post anything, since I was using up the only phone line, and that was, in its way, liberating. I knew that while I was on, no one else could barge into a discussion thread.

That limitation even let bunches of us write long, relatively incoherent collaborative novel-length fiction pieces, because when one person was writing, no one else could take the plot off track. Some of us have tried to do the same in the Internet era, with artificial restrictions on whose "turn" it was to write, but it never worked as well.

What anyone raised on broadband Internet would find hard to believe is that our modems worked at 300 bits per second (which was also 300 baud, but let's not go there). When reading email or messages, words would therefore spill out in glowing green or amber on the monitor of my Apple II at a little less than 40 characters per second, which was a decent reading speed. At the time I saw little need for anything faster. Why, after all, would I need a modem that could send text faster than I could read it?

Later most of us upgraded to 1200 bps modems, and that was a major benefit when it came time to swap pirated software. (Yes, youthful indiscretions. I apologize to Brøderbund Software once again for never purchasing a copy of Choplifter.) At 300 bps, using a program like ASCII Express, two Apple II users could connect directly to each other over a phone line and swap software programs, while chatting at the same time. That was worthwhile because a program of only a few hundred kilobytes (like Choplifter) could take hours to exchange.

There were dozens of BBSs in the Vancouver area through the 1980s and into the early '90s, and even as the Internet and took hold, many of us continued to use them until the Web and widespread Internet email made BBSs superfluous. Since we were all local, some of us would meet up on occasion—one of the biggest such get-togethers was at Expo 86, where I met many of the people I'd been conversing with for two or three years in person for the first time.

By 1987 a particular group of us were hanging out together all the time (often at Denny's, late at night), so that the BBS and in-person sides of our relationships complemented each other. We went on camping trips, and often roamed about the city on strange excursions, so we called ourselves the Excursionists. Four of us became roommates, and I still play in a band with one.

When I first thought about writing this post, it came as a bit of a lament: that kind of local BBS-driven geek network couldn't really arise today, I thought. And then I considered groups like those who organize Northern Voice and the agglomerations I'm finding on Facebook, and I realize that they are not so different. Our online communications are less serialized—dozens of people can be on a single IM chat at once, for instance—but there is a very similar feel to the community overall, a sense of shared geekiness than can now encompass the local area, yes, but also people from all over the world of a similar bent.

Maybe I've changed more than the Vancouver online geek communities have. I'm not a teenager now, I'm 38 and a husband and father and cancer patient. But I still have that Ikea desk downstairs, and it still has the stubborn double-sided tape on the underside that used to hold my modem in 1983. Now the desk is part of a podcasting studio.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, I guess.

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10 June 2007


Okay, fine. Fine.

I caved. I am a weak, weak man.

And it was getting to be more work explaining why I wasn't on Facebook than it would be just to join.

So there. Happy now?

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07 June 2007


Peer pressure

My wife reports to me that there are now nearly 50 people on the Facebook group called "Derek K. Miller Should Join Facebook." So far I'm not caving, but I may very well eventually. After all, I gave in on Flickr in time, so there is some precedent.

But that took almost a year, and it's only been a couple of months since the Facebook pestering began. You might have to wait a bit yet.

Now, to distract you: look over there! Chinese writing may have originated as long as 8000 years ago! Neato!

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03 May 2007


I play a Facebook skeptic on the radio

Last week I mentioned that I'm not using Facebook yet, and why. My wife does use it, and likes it. So CBC technology columnist Tod Maffin interviewed both of us about it. You can listen to his mini-documentary (MP3 file) as part of his Todbits podcast, or you might have heard it on CBC radio today.

I have to say that the peer pressure for me to get on Facebook is certainly an order of magnitude stronger than it has been for other social networking sites (except maybe, briefly, Twitter)—but I'm still holding out. I'm busy enough now as it is.

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