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30 June 2007

 

Party tonight, interview posted, rock tomorrow

Happy birthday, walrus! Aww, you shouldn't have. at Flickr.comToday's my 38th birthday. Thank you to everyone who's wished me well, and to everyone who's coming to the party tonight (and to my wife, who's organizing the whole thing). If you insist on a gift, go to my friend Gillian's donation page for the Underwear Affair cancer fundraising run, which takes place next Saturday, July 7, one day after I get my major surgery. Send some money for research on cancers below the waist. That would be good.

If you missed the interview my wife and I had with Paul Grant on CBC Radio yesterday, I've now posted the audio to my podcast (MP3 file). Thanks to my dad for recording it. I think our podcasting experience pays off—we sound pretty good on air.

Also one more reminder that at the HBC Run For Canada tomorrow, my band will be playing at the start/finish zone on Coal Harbour near the north foot of Jervis Street in downtown Vancouver, between 9 a.m. and around noon. With upcoming surgery and stuff, it will be my last performance with the group for some time, so if you're up for some rock 'n' roll in the morning, that's a good chance for a free show and to see me play the drums.

Finally, thank you Alistair for finding the bizarre birthday photo that accompanies this post. I am not a walrus, but do I still get the bucket of fish?

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29 June 2007

 

Happy birthday to me from podcasters, and to Canada from my band

Mark Blevis of the Canadian Podcast Buffet just emailed me an audio file, a happy birthday message (I turn 38 tomorrow) from podcasters all over the place. Holy crap. Thanks everybody, I’m stunned.

Speaking of birthdays, Sunday is Canada Day, and if you're looking for something to do in Vancouver in the morning, my band The Neurotics will be playing near the start/finish line of the HBC Run for Canada down at Coal Harbour. We play from 9 a.m. till noon.

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28 June 2007

 

Gonna be on CBC Radio again on Friday

Speaking of seeking attention, I'll be making my third appearance on CBC Radio's On the Coast afternoon drivetime AM radio show tomorrow (Friday) afternoon after the 5 p.m. news.

If you happen to listen to it on the radio (AM 690 in Vancouver) or via the live online stream, available in high bandwidth (direct file link) or low bandwidth (direct file link) (Windows Media format), and if you get a chance to record it, I'd appreciate a copy. I'm on the air almost as much as Tod these days, although of course he gets paid for it.

My wife will also be joining me on the show for the first time. We'll be talking about my cancer and how the news has just kept getting worse, but I continue to blog about it. Listen in if you can.

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Attention seeker

I've always been a ham, a sucker for attention, someone who wanted his share of fame, and not necessarily fortune. It's a big reason I blog here, and play in a band, give away my music, co-host a podcast, and other such hammy activities.

So I've found some of the attention I seek online over the years, and I've always done some work to stoke that. But just as I wrote that cancer is a lousy way to lose weight, I really wish it wasn't what generated close to 80 comments on my "Dead Man Walking?" post (note the question mark!), and also got me both Scoblezied and called "a leading citizen of Vancouver’s technology scene" by none other than XML co-inventor Tim Bray today.

But hey, I'll take what I can get! Thanks everyone. I have friends in places I didn't even know.

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27 June 2007

 

Let's put it this way

The big picture has not changed since yesterday, but we're moving on. Raging torrents of information continue to flood in from the medical staff. I had an ultrasound probe and met with my surgeon Dr. Phang today. My operation is currently tentatively scheduled for July 13.

It is possible that, in the long run (whatever that means under my current circumstances), I may yet regain some use of my anal sphincter, rather than needing a permanent colostomy bag, but I'll have a temporary one no matter what. It is also possible that one of my kidneys might need to be removed, or maybe my ureter (which has cancer stuck to it) will just be shortened. Those things are the new ideas to me today, although neither is either guaranteed or impossible. So maybe, maybe not. I see a urologist next Tuesday about the kidney thing.

There's a lot of that right now. Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe the guy who just started his lawnmower outside at 8:15 bloody p.m. on a Wednesday night will come to his senses and shut it off. Or maybe not.

Maybe the surgery and future chemotherapy and other treatments will put the cancer cells at bay and I will live another few decades. Or maybe not.

There's a strange clarity in not knowing for sure. We all live that way, I guess, I'm just more directly aware of it than most of you. In many people's lives—and mine too—there are risks. Risks of car crashes and flesh-eating bacteria and falls in the bathtub and deployments to Afghanistan and mountain-climbing accidents and earthquakes and tsunamis and accidental electrocution and choking on chicken bones. And aggressive cancer.

These bodies of ours are fragile things, and amazing things. Here's to keeping my jalopy running for awhile yet.

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26 June 2007

 

Dead man walking?

Cancer Treatment: Day 147 at Flickr.comI now know why I was getting those mixed messages yesterday. Today, Dr. Kennecke, my oncologist at the B.C. Cancer Agency, told me that he looked at my CT scan results from last week, and:

  1. Despite the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the cancer in my rectum has grown, not shrunk.
  2. The spots in my lungs were not artifacts, but multiple further tiny tumours, showing that my cancer has metastasized (i.e. spread beyond its site of origin).
  3. I therefore now officially have stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer.
  4. The surgeons are going to perform my operation as soon as possible, maybe next week.
  5. I will have followup chemotherapy after that to try to address the lung metastases ("mets").
  6. The median survival rate for people in my situation is two years. If the doctors can successfully remove the rectal tumour and address the lung mets, my chances of surviving five years are somewhere under 30%.

To boil it down: my cancer has grown and spread. My goals now are to see the Winter Olympics come to Vancouver in 2010, and beyond that to renew my driver's license when it expires again in five years. But while my medical team and I will do everything to try to make that happen, there is a significant chance I might not live that long, that I might be dead before five years are up.

It's a heavy day. I have cried, and laughed, and shared a drink and nachos with my friend Simon, and hugged my wife and my children and my parents. And I will fight on. It's a fine line between acknowledging and accepting what could happen and denying it. I'm naturally an optimistic guy, but I can't pretend that everything will be just fine, because it already isn't. The future, even the near future, is a mystery, and I must walk into it.

Fuck you again, cancer. Even if you win in the end.

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25 June 2007

 

Mixed messages, again

Back in February, before I had my first, small cancer surgery, as the date approached I started getting a weird set of mixed messages from surgeons, doctors, medical offices, and so on—like they weren't communicating with each other properly, or weren't noticing that they were sending me conflicting information and requests about dates and appointments.

As my planned July 26 major surgery date approaches, it's started happening again. Three days ago I called my surgeon's office quite specifically to see if my wife's planned trip out of town in mid-July could possibly cause a conflict, i.e. would my July 26 date be moved earlier for any reason? They said no. Then this morning they called to say that the date might move forward (I had to remind them about my call on that topic on Friday!), and could I meet with another surgeon on Wednesday? Then this afternoon, a different person from the same office called to say that my original surgeon wanted me to meet with a urologist—on one of the dates the first person had said could be my surgery date.

Once again, WTF? Now I have no idea what the hell is going on. I meet with Dr. Kennecke my oncologist tomorrow, and Dr. Phang, one of the surgeons, on Wednesday. I hope we can sort something out. Fighting cancer has a significant mental component, and right now the confusion and uncertainty are not helping matters. I want to make sure my medical team understands that.

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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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23 June 2007

 

Saving Tod Maffin's bacon via cross-country tech support

Saving Tod Maffin's bacon via cross-country tech support: live! at Flickr.comBecause I'm still recovering from all the radiation and chemotherapy and such, I can't attend the Podcasters Across Borders conference in Kingston, Ontario this weekend.

However, I was able to provide cross-country phone tech support to get Tod Maffin out of a bind when his Mac Finder kept repeatedly crashing right before his 8 p.m. (EDT) presentation. We even delved into some Unix permissions wizardry for good measure.

Good luck Tod!

And yes, I'm feeling better today, so I think it's okay if I gloat a little.

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22 June 2007

 

Generator

On bad days, like today, I feel like nothing but a generator. The only things I generate are pain and shit, and I pour them into the world—as if the world needs more!—spending the rest of my time sleeping, and eating when I can, and in today's case intermittently reading a book while lying cramped up in bed.

It doesn't seem fair. Yesterday was a great day, when I played drums with the band for the first time in six months, and had a wonderful time, and went to bed feeling good. But then today I was a total wreck, unable even to unpack my snare drum from the car, or read my email, or open the mail, or answer the phone. Or maybe that is fair: good day, bad day. But fairness is a human concept, and a disease like my cancer knows nothing of it.

I hope tomorrow is better. It almost has to be.

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21 June 2007

 

Backups mean not having to say you're sorry

DSC_4982 at Flickr.comIt turns out that my dead hard disk is still well under its five-year warranty, and that Seagate, the manufacturer, has an efficient online return system that helped me diagnose and then set up a return merchandise authorization (RMA) for it, including printing a shipping label for me.

So rather than go through the rigamarole of trying to rescue any data from the drive (as far as I can tell, it's not even spinning up), I mailed it off to Ontario a couple of days ago, and Seagate will send me a new replacement that I can drop in its place. In the meantime I'm using the stock MacBook hard disk, and it's working fine.

Because of my backup regimen, I lost so little data that all I've had to do is go through a few pages of my Flickr photos and re-import the missing ones into iPhoto—nothing else critical is missing. At least not that I've discovered so far.

So I should have a new drive to put into the MacBook next week, and I can use the one I have now once again as an external backup. One thing I do need to do is take some of my recent backups offsite, because right now I'm protected against failures, but if we get burglarized or the house burns down, important data could still be at risk.

You should do the same with your backups. You do have backups, don't you?

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20 June 2007

 

See my band on CTV News Thursday night

Neurotics - Last Show of 2006 - 9.jpg at Flickr.comBecause of my cancer treatment, I haven't played with my band The Neurotics since December 2006, but tomorrow, with any luck, I will be in good enough shape to join them again. And you can even see us on TV if you're in B.C.

The event is the first of a series of Tamara's Block Party events run by CTV News, and hosted by weather anchor Tamara Taggart. (I went to school with her husband, guitarist Dave Genn, but that had nothing to do with the booking. Our friend Jill also made their wedding cake.)

Anyway, Tamara will be doing her channel 9 weather forecasts during the evening news on June 21 from a block party in East Vancouver, and we're the entertainment. We have a backup drummer (the excellent Christian a.k.a. Ringo from the Mop Tops) in case I run out of energy, but I'm hoping to play the whole show. The weather looks to be good, and it will be a fun time.

I had a crappy day today, not sleeping most of the night and making up for it almost all day, but the usual pattern these days is that the next day is better. We'll see how it goes. Rock on!

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19 June 2007

 

So how'd we do?

CT Scan Machine at Flickr.comI just had a CT scan at the Cancer Agency (I'm blogging this from one of their public computers).

My doctors will look at it to see how much my cancer has shrunk since we hit it with radiation and chemotherapy starting in April, and use the results to plan my surgery on July 26, as well as any followup chemo in the autumn. I'm supposed to get a copy of the data CD so I can look at the scan myself using some free software that can open DICOM files, but apparently that has to wait until my oncologist Dr. Kennecke looks at it next week.

That means I have to wait, which will be frustrating. So right now I'm going to the post office, and to buy some bagels.

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17 June 2007

 

The curse of the MacBook

SpinRite on MacBook at Flickr.comI thought that a few months ago, when my MacBook laptop finally returned from getting a new heat sink, fan, and battery, it would be stable. But no. Today I was working away, just having uploaded a bunch of photos to Flickr, when the MacBook froze up, which is unusual. I rebooted it.

Click click, said the hard disk. No booting. Grey screen, as if there were no disk inside at all. Not good. This disk is completely invisible to the utilities I own, as if it wasn't even there. I have backups, and very little data on the drive doesn't exist somewhere else, so that's not my worry—I learned my backup lessons years ago.

But it is certainly annoying. The 100 GB, 7200 rpm SATA disk drive is just over a year old: I installed it when I bought the MacBook, putting the stock drive in an external USB housing. It should have lasted much longer than this, but I suspect that all the nasty sudden power shutdowns with the battery problems I had may have damaged it, so that it decided to die today.

I'm typing on the MacBook now, having restarted from my external FireWire backup drive. I've reinstalled the original stock 80 GB, 5400 rpm hard drive and am copying over my data files so that it will work again. It should be in relatively normal shape later tonight.

But I'm not giving up on the bigger, faster drive yet. I don't trust it, but I want to see if I can bring it back to life again. The excellent DOS-based utility SpinRite apparently performs miracles on dead drives like that quite regularly. My dad owns a copy, but it's not intended to run on Macs, and sure enough, when I tried booting his CD on the Intel-based MacBook, it started up fine, but did not recognize the keyboard, so I couldn't do anything.

I'm going to see if I can get a SATA-to-IDE adapter to hook up the disk to one of my dad's Windows PCs, which will run SpinRite and may be able to get the disk working again.

Regardless, I will probably have to get another new internal drive (maybe a bigger one now, 160 GB or 200 GB) as the main one for this machine in the long run. I like this laptop and it has done great work for me, but it's sickly, to be honest.

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Denny's, freight trains, and LED pranks

When I posted my little reminiscence about BBS days of yore a few days ago, I didn't know that the same bunch of my old online friends was setting up a reunion party for this weekend, largely because of my cancer diagnosis. But they did, and we had great time last night. I got home and to bed at 4 a.m. Here are some photos:

Derek, Johan, and Denny's Full House Burger
Steve and Andrew Dave and Paul Brooklyn, Her Boyfriend, and Her Dad View From Balcony
Steve and Paul Steve and Alistair Steve, Richard, and Dave Living Room
Johan and Paul Johan and Mattias 1 Johan and Mattias 2 Johan and Mattias 3
Johan and Mattias 4 Johan and Mattias 5 Richard, Andrew, Dennis, Steve, Paul, and Martin Paul, Martin, Johan, and Alistair
Denny's Mob 1 Denny's Mob 2 Midnight View At the DJ Desk

We all, of course, remain great big nerds. As the night wore on, topics of conversation became more and more obscure, eventually hewing to secret atomic-clock–synchronized LED light shows in the trees of the North Shore, and tales of hopping freight trains, as well as whether 16- or 24-bit digital audio can ever accurately reproduce the subtle phase relationships of analog audio.

Like I said, great big nerds. What a fabulous time.

There were also lasers.

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16 June 2007

 

The story just rolls on

Fake Steve Jobs is supposed to be satire, but sometimes he cuts it so close it hurts:

The big thing to know about the media is that they're not out there "covering stories." The way to think about the media is that it's basically the same as one of those TV soap operas that's been on the air for twenty or thirty years. The story just rolls on, curving and unfurling, no matter who the actors are and no matter who the writers are. The story itself is bigger than the actors or the writers. The filthy hacks at the [Wall Street] Journal are basically no different than the aspiring novelists and screenwriters who take jobs writing for "General Hospital"; they've been hired on to the show for a few years and they're doing their best to keep it entertaining.

On an unrelated but mesmerizing note, if you want to see something roll on beautifully, install the Magnetosphere visualizer plugin for iTunes (via O'Reilly Radar). It's by far the prettiest music visualizer I've seen so far.

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15 June 2007

 

Apple's website redesign, sort of

Apple doesn't redesign its website in a fundamental way very often—the basic buttons and arrangement of apple.com has been much the same for at least six years. But recently Apple re-did the whole thing. Sort of. Apple.com has the makeover...

Apple.com

...but sites outside the U.S.A., such as apple.ca, still have the old look...

Apple.ca

Previously I had thought that Apple's web infrastructure ran all their sites, and that a redesign would change them all at once. Guess not.

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Cancer benefit concerts in Ontario

Over on the other side of Canada, Mark Blevis of the Canadian Podcast Buffet and Sean McGaughey are each performing separate musical gigs in different cities tonight, as part of the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life. They say they're dedicating part of their performances to me and my cancer battle. If you're in Penetanguishene or Stittsville, Ontario (what strange names they give their towns there), why not head down and check 'em out?

Thanks guys!

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I'm an idiot

This morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I did what I've been dreading all week. I cleared out my bowels in preparation for a rectal ultrasound exam at 11:15 at St. Paul's Hospital. That meant that I gave myself a chemical enema from the drugstore that, well, flushed out my system.

I've done it before a couple of times, and that wasn't too bad. But this time was while I'm still having radiation side effects. Everything's very sensitive and inflamed in there. It was excruciating. I was in the bathroom for an hour, either on the toilet or in the bathtub or on the floor—at least when I wasn't marching around our house trying to promote some additional movement in my intestines, and snapping at my wife not to talk to me because I was in so much pain. Awful.

And then we got down to the Ultrasound clinic (the half hour car ride sure was fun) and discovered I had written down the date wrong. I was supposed to be there two days ago—I'd mistranscribed it as the 15th instead of the 13th. We had to reschedule to June 27, when I get to do it all again!

Nothing like torturing yourself for no reason at all, I always say.

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14 June 2007

 

Lab With Leo rockin' guitar photos

No video yet, but here are some photos of my appearance with my co-host Paul Garay on The Lab With Leo yesterday, taken by Sean Carruthers of the show's staff:

Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 1 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 2 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 3
Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 4 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 5 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 6 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 7 Derek and Paul on The Lab With Leo - 8

Paul had better be careful with those heavy metal hand signs—then again, I guess they were appropriate in this case. And yup, that's my new guitar.

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13 June 2007

 

Leomania

Megan Cole - Lab With Leo Backstage - 5 at Flickr.comI've listened to Leo Laporte's many podcasts for some time now, but before he started the This Week In Tech juggernaut, he was well known as a TV and radio host—which is still what he does for a living.

Leo's latest venture is The Lab With Leo, a syndicated technology television program available (so far) on G4 Tech TV in Canada and the How To Channel in Australia. While Leo is based in California, once a month he flies up here to Vancouver to record a batch of new programs.

Even though it started only a few months ago, there are already more than 30 episodes of The Lab, and today my podcast co-host Paul Garay and I were guests on two separate segments, about microphones and digitally recording guitars.

Those will be available online and on air in a few weeks, but if you'd like to see how things work, check out Paul's previous two appearances, courtesy of Google Video:

We also ran into our pal Megan Cole, who was recording a separate segment on the same episode. I'll let you know when the new material appears.

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12 June 2007

 

Radiation side effects last a long time

I called Alison, the friendly radiotherapy support nurse at the B.C. Cancer Agency, today because it's been three weeks since my last radiation treatment, and I'm still on a slow pendulum between painful, aching constipation and painful, gassy cramps and diarrhea. It takes three to four days to go between extremes. The days in the middle of pendulum (like yesterday, or last Thursday) can be pretty good, but the others (like today, or last Saturday) are far from it.

As I suspected—and unfortunately—it's nothing unusual as far as radiation side effects go. My internal tissues are inflamed, and they take a long time to calm down. The radiation is still taking effect and killing cancer cells. So feeling like crap three weeks later is par for the course, and the summary is that I just have to ride it out. I spent the four hours between when my family got home and the kids' bedtime either lying in bed or in sitting the bathroom. I was no help to my wife at all. Luckily I was able to help put the girls to sleep at least.

I'm supposed to make a guest appearance on The Lab With Leo tomorrow. Things are improving somewhat right now, but I hope they improve enough that I can get myself the hell out of the house to get down there.

I hate this. Hate it.

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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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11 June 2007

 

Safari for Windows

While there was neat information about Apple's new Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" operating system, coming in October, there wasn't all that much amazing or unexpected during the company's keynote presentation about it today. No new computers or iPods, for instance.

What was unexpected is the new beta of the Safari browser, which is suddenly available not only for the Mac, but also for Windows XP and Vista for the first time.

UPDATE: Macworld discusses some key features of the new browser. The new Find command is awesome—finally I'm no longer hunting for the result in a sea of text. That and the draggable/tear-offable tabs are worth the upgrade in themselves.

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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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Avoiding free-advice leeches

Here's some decent advice about how to avoid being pestered for free advice about something you're an expert in (via Brian Chin). Some complaints:

Las Vegas poker champion Scott Fischman [...] says that when he's invited to social gatherings, he has to decide: "Do I want to spend four hours answering questions or should I just stay home?"

Lisa Jacobson is founder of Inspirica, a New York tutoring and test-preparation firm. [She] even suspects that some parents of grade-schoolers have befriended her because they hope she'll be an asset when their kids are college-bound.

At a cocktail party, if someone says to a doctor, "I have a medical question," the doctor can always deliver the old line: "Great. Just get undressed." Now, those in newer professions—especially computing—are amassing their own quips.

I don't get hit with this sort of stuff too often, and usually the people who ask me for free advice (most often about computer stuff) are those I've invited to—family and friends whom I've helped when they bought a computer, and so on. But it might be good to keep some one-liners in your back pocket if you're a likely target.

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I love "The Hard Road" by Hilltop Hoods

I'm sure anyone from Australia is sick of "The Hard Road" by the Adelaide-based hip-hop group Hilltop Hoods by now, but since I'm way up here in Canada I just heard it for the first time. Then I played it twice more in a row. None of their material is even available on the Canadian iTunes Store.

Leesa sent me the Triple J 2007 Hottest 100 CD, and "The Hard Road" is #3 on the list (ahead of The Killers and Gnarls Barkley). I have no idea whether it's so overplayed Down Under that it's a joke by now, but I don't care. It's a great tune, just a spectacularly awesome groove. Plus it samples Leon Russell, making it even cooler. Thanks Leesa!

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09 June 2007

 

Small pleasures and pains

I'd just like to say that I really, really like the electric heating pad I received as a family gift a few months ago. And that I miss my wife and daughters, who are at Girl Guide camp all weekend.

It's a little lonely here. I've taken the time to read, and have dinner with my parents, and take the car for an oil change, and sleep.

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08 June 2007

 

How to clean your SLR sensor

Clean your sensorOne problem with digital SLR cameras (DSLRs) is that, because their lenses are interchangeable, and unlike "sealed" point and shoot cameras that most people have, they're prone to accumulating dust on their sensors, which can create spots on the images they take. I actually had to return my first DSLR because it came with such spots, rather than developing them slowly over time as is more normal.

In the old days of film, dust wasn't as much of a problem because every time you changed film, you changed the sensor surface. That's also why film cameras could remain useful for decades—you can use modern, higher-tech film in a 50-year-old camera with good results. With digital photography, to upgrade the sensor surface you have to replace the whole camera. That's one reason extremely expensive digital cameras like the Leica M8 are more fetish items than wise purchases.

Anyway, Macworld has a useful article on some tools to help clean dust from DSLR sensors. That includes magnifying loupes, cleaning solutions and brushes, and so on. It's an iffy process that could void your warranty, so it might be wiser to have a dealer do it rather than trying it yourself. I don't need to yet, so we'll see what I decide when that time comes.

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The Manual by the KLF

Years ago, my friend Tara gave me a copy of The Manual by the KLF, which even then was horribly out of date, completely focused on the U.K., and still pungently accurate as well as funny.

It describes how, in 1988 or so, you could follow a methodical plan to get a #1 single in Britain with no musical talent whatsoever. In the intervening years several people in several countries have modified its instructions to do just that, or come close.

I loaned the book to my other friend Sebastien and never got around to asking for it back, but it turns out the whole text is online anyway, so have at it.

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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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Sometimes I lie

I'll let you in on a secret: sometimes I fake it here. For example, this post from Tuesday, June 5, a couple of days ago, really went up yesterday, and I backdated it just to keep the date flow going on the website. On Tuesday I was way too sick to blog, or do anything else. I was in the bathroom every half hour for 12 hours, starting at 4 a.m., and things didn't really calm down until late at night. In between I did nothing but sleep. Even yesterday I was pretty wiped out.

The Cancer Agency folks did warn me that the radiation effects (PDF) could even get worse for a couple of weeks after the end of treatment. I don't think I quite believed them, but there you go.

What it does tell you is that this blog does reflect what's going on in my life, but not entirely. Sometimes I lie, and things here look better than they are. But today was a good day, honest!

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06 June 2007

 

Adobe and the Polynesians

Remember my big rant last year about the horrible experience of updating Adobe Reader on my computer? Adobe is not improving things. (As John Gruber puts it, "Dear Adobe Reader team: We're laughing at you, not with you.")

More interestingly and completely unrelated, there's now pretty serious evidence that Polynesians reached the Americas before Columbus did (but not before the Vikings), bringing chickens with them. But, since there were already people here, and since Polynesians preferred to settle only uninhabited places, they probably just went home after that.

In any case, it looks like Polynesians crossing the ocean 600 years ago were more on the ball than the people building Adobe's installer software, who should also turn around and go home.

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05 June 2007

 

Here's how to help me out

Last year when Gillian and her Team Thunderpants entered the Underwear Affair, a charity run for "cancers below the waist," I thought it was a cool idea and an interesting opportunity for people of all sorts to parade around in their skivvies. But it wasn't anything I gave much thought to, nor did I donate.

This year, of course, I have one hell of a cancer below the west. So Gillian's run this year is a lot more personal.

Since I found out I had cancer at the beginning of this year, many people have asked me if there's anything they could do. Here's something: donate this year to help raise money that might find a cure, or develop better treatments, or reduce how fucking much it hurts sometimes to have this disease.

And, just in case Gillian's boss does more Google searching (for, say, an editor in Vancouver), I'll avoid posting photos of her in her underwear as Darren did.

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04 June 2007

 

18 years

03 June 2007

 

There's public in that thar public domain

Mona Lisa at Flickr.comIf a piece of art or other work is old enough, it becomes public domain, like Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." That means anyone can reproduce it at no charge—the original creator (who is long dead) no longer holds copyright to it. Nobody owns it anymore, and it is free for anybody to use as they wish, including doing funny things with it.

In Canada, the works of an author generally become public domain 50 years after the end of the year in which he or she dies (sooner, apparently, for music recordings—does that mean early Elvis recordings are free for the taking here now?). So, for instance, the paintings of Emily Carr, who died in 1945, became public domain over a decade ago.

Interestingly, Michael Geist points out that many musems and galleries attempt to assert copyright over reproductions of public domain works, including Emily Carr paintings, and charge significant fees to make those reproductions.

Emily Carr, Blunden Harbour, 1930

But, he argues, court cases are beginning to establish that "while museums are understandably searching for revenue streams, doing so on the basis of misleading copyright claims is not the way to do it." We all need to remember copyright law, like patent and trademark law, is not like a law of physics; rather it is a human invention designed to foster creativity by balancing the rights of creators and the general public.

You'd never know it the way some copyright maniacs behave these days, but it's true.

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02 June 2007

 

Tod Maffin's TodBits.tv premieres

Tod Maffin has posted the premiere episode of TodBits.tv, his new online TV show. It runs live every Friday at 7 p.m. Pacific, 10 p.m. Eastern, and I managed to get on the air (voice only, no video) briefly. If you have an hour to spare, here is the recorded archive:

Nice job Tod, even if the first show was rough around the edges. Hey, so were the Police, and they had two other shows and a bunch of rehearsals beforehand!

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01 June 2007

 

Videos of the Police on May 30, 2007

My wife recorded a couple of videos at the Police show too:

A bit of "Synchronicity II":

A good chunk of "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic":

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Paying the price

Sting 02I'm obviously still suffering radiation side effects fairly strongly. After the Police concert a couple of nights ago, I spent the whole day yesterday in bed, with a slight fever, unable to do much of anything at all. I'm feeling a bit better this morning.

It was worth it, because I had a great time at the show. I even liked that the band messed up quite a bit—missing cues, restarting songs, not quite reading each other's body language right. Most people in the audience surely didn't notice, but as a musician I did (and so did Stewart Copeland—here's his blog post about it), and that made the show more honest and fun and intimate for me.

In a time of prefab Disney-Nickelodeon pop stars singing through pitch-correcting software, with rigorously choreographed concerts, a stage full of backup dancers, songs sequenced and processed to death, and exactly the same set list and timing night after night, it was refreshing to see three guys play an actual rock show with their own instruments. On several occasions, Sting bypassed a chorus and moved into a second verse, and the other two had to switch gears quickly to catch up. And while he was in strong voice, I also noticed a couple of times when he hit a particularly high note and looked surprised at himself that he managed it.

There were a few subtle nods to modernity: the backing track for "Walking in Your Footsteps" was a synthesizer sequence, and some of Copeland's and Andy Summers's background vocals were artifically harmonized. But again, only real musical tech-heads would notice that it sounded like several people were singing backgrounds when only one was. And for most songs, what you heard was what they played, mistakes and all.

I also liked that they roamed all over their catalogue of songs, from the big hits ("Every Breath You Take," "Roxanne," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic") to somewhat obscure album tracks ("Reggatta de Blanc," "The Bed's Too Big Without You"). Often the less-famous songs turned out better, I think. They played the first track on their first album, "Next To You" (with genuine fire, I might add, as their ending encore), and the last track from their final disc, "Murder By Numbers" (which turned out very topical).

Even if the band didn't think so, it was just the kind of concert I wanted to see. I hope they don't get too perfect for the rest of you who will see them throughout the tour.

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