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31 January 2008

 

The looking glass

Spring in Vancouver 020 at Flickr.comnice boots at Flickr.comVancouver's Downtown Eastside is infamous worldwide. Even though it's home to thousands of people from all walks of life, most folks here and elsewhere know it for its poverty and widespread drug use.

When my mother was young, it was our city's main shopping and entertainment district. Her parents often visited for dinner and dancing. Even when I was a kid in the '70s, we went there all the time, to Woodward's, Army and Navy, Gastown, and elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Then, when Woodward's shut down in the early '90s, the area's gradual decline became an implosion.

But it's part of a much bigger picture. The Downtown Eastside is the symbol, but Greater Vancouver's poverty and addiction problems are widespread. There are hotspots of dealing in New Westminster, Surrey, and other places too. Beyond those, the consequences—illness and disease, property crime, street prostitution, violence, despair—are everywhere in my hometown, from the city centre to its most far-flung suburbs.

Yet this is still a delightful place, a wonderful one to live in, beautiful and clean and vibrant and diverse. How can that be?

I've never been an addict, nor poor, nor in danger from addiction or poverty, but I know people who have, some of them very close to me. When they are part of that world it is like they pass through the looking glass, into another realm, a parallel city that is here, beside the rest of us. Or inside, but largely divorced from the green transparent condo towers and the parks and the trendy shops and the well-maintained Vancouver Specials.

In that shadow city, people steal from friends and relatives for money to buy cocaine, booze, heroin, and meth. They and their associates get abused, beaten up, and threatened. They live in crappy apartments or basement suites or rooming houses or run-down hotels or on the street. Or in decent places they fear they could lose in an arbitrary moment. They hang out with gangsters, frequent places I'd rather not know about, flick lighters and burn lips, or tap needles and hunt for veins.

Those of us on the bright side of the glass encounter touches from the other side. Should we believe the rumours: are those 99-cent slices of pizza so cheap because the cheese is fenced by addicts stealing from supermarkets? Should we buy those steel screen doors because our houses have been burglarized and our CD collections stolen once too often? When we see that man or woman begging on the street, or sleeping in a wet mummy bag under the overpass, or standing in line on Welfare Wednesday, can we look them in the eye?

Closer to home, more bitterly, we see people we love, or want to keep loving, drift back and forth across the glass, sometimes healthy and engaged and employed, sometimes ill and disconnected and aimless. We can't tell which version is real, because they both are.

So Vancouver, like many other cities, is amazing and happy and prosperous, not just on the surface, but all the way through. Also all the way through are the other, hollow parts that might be hard to see, or simply hard to look at. The parts intertwine, they interlock, they form the social structure of our city. If you slip through the looking glass into the hollows, it can be hard to find the way back, even when the other side, and your old life, is right there.

I don't have a solution, or even an ending. Smarter people than me are working hard to try to figure things out. But maybe these things resist figuring, resist logic. We are all here, and there. We don't know which road, if any, leads out of the wood.

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30 January 2008

 

Links of interest (2008-01-30):

A bunch of stuff I've been accumulating over the past few months:

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29 January 2008

 

Nikon's new D60 isn't what I expected

Nikon D60 at Flickr.comI was right that Nikon would introduce a new digital SLR soon, but totally wrong about where it would fit in their lineup. The new D60 is an introductory-level camera that doesn't seem to incorporate many of the revolutionary new technologies from Nikon's high end D300 and D3.

No-nonsense photographer Ken Rockwell thinks it's a higher-end machine than I do, with image processing that may give the D80 a run for its money. But to me, the D60 looks like it will replace the D40 and D40x—it uses the same body design, but adds some interesting new features such as a stop-motion movie mode, next-generation sensor dust removal, and a digital rangefinder for focusing lenses manually.

That last item is useful, because like the D40 and D40x, the D60 lacks an autofocus motor in the camera body, so only newer Nikon-mount lenses with the focus motor in the lens (called AF-S and AF-I by Nikon) will focus automatically. Many nice lenses, even ones Nikon still manufactures, such as the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 I use—as well as numerous older lenses, both primes and zooms—can therefore only be focused manually with the D60.

Still, it is a nice camera, and a strong direct competitor to Canon's new Digital Rebel XSi announced a few days ago. Nikon's aging D80, like Canon's EOS 5D, remains in the lineup, and unless both manufacturers have further surprises up their sleeves, that's the way it looks to be for the next little while. Despite the D60's niceties, my D50 (released back in 2005) remains a better camera for my needs, primarily because it still has that autofocus motor for the three of my four lenses that lack their own.

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28 January 2008

 

Help design this year's Northern Voice poster

Northern Voice Poster Draft (NEW UPDATE) at Flickr.comVancouver artist Basco5 is once again designing the fabulous poster for the upcoming fourth annual Northern Voice blogging and social media conference here in town. (Last year the organizers were kind enough to give me one of Basco5's big 2007 posters, which now hangs in our bedroom.)

This year, Basco5 and the NV crew would like your input to help design the poster, so head on over to Flickr and leave a comment if you have ideas or suggestions.

I already like this year's tiki text/"squishy volcano" look.

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26 January 2008

 

Happy 8th birthday, Miss L

L's birthday 25 - conga line 1Cosmic bowling and a birthday party at the bowling alley are an energetic experience with a mob of kids all around age eight. There was even a conga line.

Our youngest has been especially excited to turn eight, as she did today, because now she's allowed to swim in local public pools (including going down the waterslide) by herself—we adults can simply sit at the side for a change. She's been planning today's bowling party for over a month.

The kids had a good time. Hot dogs, cake, chips, pop, presents, and flashy lights and music. Everything an eight-year-old needs.

And, of course, later we had to tackle the inevitable blister-pack packaging. Argh.

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25 January 2008

 

A good place to learn about podcasting

podcastFAQ.com

Todd Cochrane, one of the hardest-working guys in podcasting, and his team at RawVoice have just launched podcastFAQ.com, which looks to be a great one-stop resource to learn about podcasting: what it is, how to find shows, how to make shows, and so on.

As someone involved in three podcasts (Inside Home Recording, Lip Gloss and Laptops, and my Penmachine Podcast), I often get questions about podcasting from both prospective listeners and people interested in making their own shows, so I expect I'll be pointing quite a few people in podcastFAQ's direction.

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Needle boy

I haven't written all that much about my cancer treatment recently, but that's not because things are winding down. Rather, it's simply grinding along as it has since mid-October. Every second Wednesday I go to the B.C. Cancer Agency, take some blood tests, maybe see my oncologist, and then sit in a chair for a few hours while various chemotherapy poisons are fed into my bloodstream. At the end, I'm hooked up through the same IV to a "baby bottle" of 5-FU chemo, which I take home and keep on for 48 hours.

Two days ago was one of those Wednesdays. In a way I'm lucky to have been an insulin-dependent diabetic since 1991. Needles don't bother me. That was good on Wednesday, because in the morning I took two different insulin shots, then had blood drawn for tests, then took some more insulin with brunch, then got plugged into the chemo drip, then had an atropine injection to avoid some side effects, then took more insulin at dinnertime, then took two more insulin shots at bedtime, then finished off with my daily blood thinner needle.

So what's that? Ten needles in one day, some to take fluids out of my body, others to put them in. Whew. And I'm not even counting the finger pricks I do at least four times daily to test my blood glucose. Lots of people don't get that many needles in a year. Today I get the bottle taken off, which is always a relief. (I can't get my chest wet while the chemo is on because of the needle taped to my body, so my Friday post-unhook showers feel amazing.) This will continue until at least late March.

If you met me on the street, other than my increasingly-scraggly hair, you'd be hard-pressed to know I was a cancer patient until I told you. Or unless I let you examine my fingers and inner elbows and chest for all the needle and lancet scars. So it's pretty hard for me to forget what's going on.

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24 January 2008

 

More DSLR competition

UPDATE: Via John Gruber, here's an excellent introductory article on buying a digital SLR camera. I think author Mike Davidson should expand from his emphasis on Nikon and Canon alone, but all his essential advice is good regardless of brand. As you'll see in the rest of my blog post here, though, you might want to see what Nikon announces in the next couple of weeks.

Canon Rebel XSi 450D at Flickr.comIn advance of the upcoming PMA photo tradeshow, camera manufacturers have started spewing out announcements about their new products. I'm most interested in information about digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, because a Nikon D50 SLR is what I use now, and SLRs (film and digital) are what I have used for most of my photo-taking life, which stretches back almost 30 years to when I first started to figure out my dad's old film Pentax with "Asahi Pentax" viewfinder cover.

The DSLR market is especially hot right now—I was amazed at how many pre-Christmas ads were not for the regular point-and-shoot digicams most people still use, but the bulkier yet more powerful and flexible SLRs that enthusiasts prefer. It helps that the DSLRs are a whole lot cheaper than they were even a couple of years ago. Now that digital is the way everyone shoots, it makes sense that a good number of average buyers would be hitting the limits of their little cameras and wanting to take nicer pictures—not to mention that manufacturers get more money out of both the higher-priced cameras and the greater range of lenses and accessories we love to buy for them.

So far I've seen news about new intro-level DSLRs from Sony (who bought out Konica-Minolta's old camera business), Pentax (who also have a new higher-end model), Samsung (almost the same as the Pentax, since the two companies collaborated on the design), Canon, and even an almost-SLR from Fuji, which has a fixed lens but the bonus of a flip-out LCD screen and a movie mode, which true SLRs all lack. Nothing from Olympus, Panasonic, or Nikon yet, but that will come.

Since Canon and Nikon are the heavyweights in this field, Canon's new Rebel XSi (a.k.a. 450D) is the highest-profile of the bunch, though I have to say that Pentax, after languishing for some years, is really coming on strong with their recent DSLR range. The Canon XSi is a descendant of the Rebel XT (350D) my dad owns—Canon's Digital Rebel DSLRs have hugely dominated the market since they first appeared. On Flickr, for instance, it looks like there are more photgraphs taken with the XT and XTi than all other DSLRs combined. (Canon also overwhlems all other point-and-shoot makers too, by the way.)

Since Nikon (and Canon) recently introduced new high-end prosumer and multi-thousand-dollar professional SLRs, I'm wondering whether Nikon might have something less spendy to counter this new Canon model. The low-end D40 and D40x are already a success, and are not especially old either. So while I could see a new introductory Nikon, I think it's much more likely that we could see a successor to the D80, which came out in 2006, around the same time as the XSi's older sibling the XTi (400D).

Features that the D80 doesn't have, but which are becoming common in DSLRs, include dust reduction, live view (like point-and-shoots all have) on a large rear LCD screen, and of course faster-better-more in burst shooting, image quality, and maybe megapixels—although Nikon has been surprisingly smart in not letting the megapixel wars infiltrate their SLR sensors too much.

So, a D90 (or whatever) would be cool to fill in the (rather wide) gap between the D40x and the D300, and once again to fit in nicely among Canon's midrange and pro offerings, which now include the 40D and full-frame 5D—also showing its age, even if it is the current favourite among many professionals.

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Apple's flops

digibarn 028 at Flickr.comWired has a nice list of Apple's most notorious flops, including the Newton, the Macintosh TV, and the Lisa.

It's a short, decent list, but I'd argue that the Apple IIc was actually reasonably successful; why they didn't list the disastrous Apple III (or the thermal-paper SilenType printer that went with it) in its place, I don't know. Maybe the Apple III was so bad that Wired blocked it from memory.

Or PowerCD, anyone?

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23 January 2008

 

North Shore mountains

Oh, how I love the view from our front window on a sunny winter day:

Front window, 22 Jan 2008

The Lions, 22 Jan 2008 Mt. Seymour, 22 Jan 2008
Beyond Lynn Peak, 22 Jan 2008 SFU and tank farm, 22 Jan 2008

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22 January 2008

 

Cooler glasses than yours

New glasses 3 at Flickr.comI'm not the only one in the family who got new glasses this week.

In fact, I think my older daughter's new set may be the funkiest spectacles anyone in our family has ever owned. They're clear and colourless, except for groovy brushed-metal strips on the sides and a "Vogue" brand logo. She loves 'em, and her sister, who doesn't yet need glasses, is a bit jealous.

And she apparently did very well in her Royal Conservatory of Music grade 1 voice exam today (where I took the photo). She didn't seem at all nervous, but still refuses to let the rest of us listen to her practice singing at home, so she does that in the basement.

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21 January 2008

 

Logitech's mm50 speakers may be discontinued, but they're still good

IMG_2421.jpg at Flickr.comA few days ago my wife mused that she'd like something by her bedside to listen to podcasts and music on, so she doesn't have to go to sleep wearing earphones. Gadgety guy that I am, today I went out and found her just such a thing, the Logitech mm50 iPod speaker system. While it has been superseded by Logitech's newer and very similar Pure-Fi Anywhere system, the mm50 is still widely available (for now) in the $100 to $150 range, brand new.

I've had my eye on the mm50 since Adam Curry advertised it on his Daily Source Code podcast a couple of years ago. For our needs it's the right mix of reasonable size (it's about the length of a loaf of bread, and as deep as a thick slice), portability, ease of use, and, most of all, sound quality. The unit I bought was a discounted open-box floor demo from Best Buy, and while there I compared it to a variety of other options. It sounded superior to most of them, and better than pretty much anything in the sub-$200 category, including its newer Pure-Fi sibling.

It's not perfect. While it charges any iPod plugged into its dock connector, and includes adapters for several iPod models, the mm50 doesn't act as a true iPod dock that you can connect to your computer to sync up. (Earlier releases of the mm50 did offer that feature, and it's still noted in the manual, but newer revisions like ours don't have the necessary pass-through dock socket.) Volume control is two buttons, rather than a more sensible knob. There's no bass or treble or other equalization control—although the sound is so good those don't seem necessary, and not having them keeps down the button clutter. The included remote, while useful, doesn't offer as much iPod control as some competing models. The internal battery isn't easily replaceable.

But the mm50 supports both AC power and its internal rechargeable battery, includes a nice zippered and padded carrying case, has smart stabilizing fold-out metal feet, features a regular 1/8" stereo line input for non-iPod devices, and feels remarkably sturdy. There's a two-year warranty. The "3D surround sound" isn't really 3D, but it sounds shockingly good regardless.

I think the mm50 is a good value, especially if you can find it at a reduced price now that it's a discontinued model. My wife sure likes hers.

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20 January 2008

 

Yay for the indoor kids

kerry anne and paris at Flickr.comOur pal Kerry Anne (left) was one of the team of kick-ass bloggers who swept the CBC Test the Nation 21st century trivia game show tonight on national television. Of course, who do you call if you want trivia? Chefs? Flight crews? Celebrity impersonators? Cabbies? Backpackers? No! You call the bloggers!

It was an impressive showing, with a team average of 50 out of 60 questions correct (83%), a blogger (Rick Spence) with the highest individual score (57 of 60, or 95% correct), and the team's celebrity endorsee Samantha Bee (of The Daily Show) also scoring highest among the celebrity panel, with 49 out of 60. You can read more from Miss 604, Calgary Grit, and Mighty God King—and surely dozens of other blogs by now.

UPDATE: Unsweetened.ca has a big ol' list of blog reactions. And the CBC Test the Nation blog and Buzz Bishop have way more.

Nice job, KA and crew. And you didn't even have to wear jumpsuits, chef's whites, or Borat costumes.

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19 January 2008

 

Sledfest '08

For kids who live in Vancouver, snow is a bigger treat than in much of the rest of Canada. While it does snow here every year, it tends to arrive when cold outflow winds from the B.C. Interior get overwhelmed by a warm wet front from the Pacific—so it may very well dump down and then melt almost immediately.

Several times over the past few weeks, therefore, I've planned to take the kids out sledding in the fresh snow, only to have the sky turn to rain and the ground become unpleasantly sloppy before we get the chance. But not today. It was just around freezing, but the snow was pounding down, so we packed up and went.

Sledding at Forglen - 07

We were the first sledders today at our local park, which has slopes as steep as any ski hill. So my daughters were able to get a bunch of good runs in before they were wet and cold and we went home for hot chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Unfortunately, because of my current cancer treatment, blood thinners, ileostomy bag, and all that, I don't think sliding and bumping down the hill is a good idea for me, so I just watched and took photos.

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18 January 2008

 

New specs

These are my first new glasses since 2004. Not too much different, but I like 'em (actually, I was looking at a much weirder blue pair, but both my wife and I agreed these were better). And the soul patch is gone now too:

New specs

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17 January 2008

 

Don't use UPS to ship to Canada

flaming ups truck at Flickr.comWrote this to an online retailer in the U.S. a few minutes ago:

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I was just about to buy one of your products, but backed out when I discovered your only shipping method is UPS. I'm in Canada, and UPS is notorious here for egregious and mysterious "brokerage" fees when clearing customs, and also for slow or mishandled deliveries. See here:

These experiences are not unusual—I have refused, if given any choice, to use UPS as a carrier for the past ten years because of repeated problems and extraordinary fees.

Shipments sent via FedEx (express or ground), regular parcel post, and other services do not generally encounter these issues. If you can provide any alternative shipping method other than UPS, we'd be happy to make a purchase. I'm sure there are many other Canadians who feel the same.

Thanks!

This follows UPS's latest snafu here at our house, attempting to charge us almost $90 in brokerage and other fees for a shipment of cosmetic samples sent to my wife that she didn't purchase and was not going to sell. Under instructions from the manufacturer who shipped it, we refused the delivery and will have it re-sent with another carrier.

Avoid UPS for anything shipped into Canada. Better you know this now than learn it the hard way as I have.

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Come to Northern Voice 2008

Why we blog at Flickr.comI realized recently that I haven't mentioned next month's fourth annual Northern Voice blogging, podcasting, and general Internet fun-time conference here in Vancouver. It takes place just over a month from now, February 22 and 23 (a Friday and Saturday) at the UBC Forestry Sciences Centre.

If you're not normally the sort to attend geeky tech conferences (well, and if you are, for that matter), this is one you should go to, because it's friendly, cheap ($60 Cdn for two days, as opposed to thousands of dollars for some events), and fun. There are always plenty of both new bloggers and experienced types around, from all over the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. It's well organized. Plus, the location is fantastic.

In 2005 and 2006, I both attended and spoke at Northern Voice, but in 2007 I had to miss it because of my first of many cancer surgeries. I'm planning to be there this year, but purely as an attendee who'll take lots of photos.

My wife, who went last year, is more involved this time, helping to organize the Thursday-night gala. You should sign up and come along too.

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15 January 2008

 

Is the MacBook Air for you?

UPDATE: As of February 15, John Gruber has a good analysis of why the MacBook Air is likely to be a big success. My wife (who fits into his typical purchaser category) really wants one despite loving her smaller 12" iBook, but is likely to wait until the 1.0 bugs are worked out.

Apple's new MacBook Air is, as usual and expected, a pretty sexy laptop computer. It'll sell well. But those who've been waiting two years for a replacement for the 12-inch PowerBook or iBook, it may not be quite the thing.

My wife has a 12-inch iBook, and I know several people who still hold on to their little PowerBooks, because up till now the regular-size MacBook like I have is bigger than they'd prefer. The thing is, not many people in the 12" laptop camp think the old MacBook is too thick—they think it's too wide, and the new MacBook Air is exactly the same width (32.5 cm) and depth (22.7 cm). Sure, it's almost a kilogram lighter and close to half the thickness, so it's easier to carry, but the MacBook Air isn't really a subnotebook computer.

It has other limitations too, aside from the lack of FireWire, CD/DVD drive, analog audio in, or included wired Ethernet. While the battery life is surely impressive (especially if you spring the extra $1000 for the solid-state disk instead of the regular hard drive), you can't swap out the battery at all: it's sealed inside, like an iPod's. Since batteries are one of the first things to wear out in a laptop, it's good that Apple will swap a new one for just the price of the battery, no installation fee, but if you're on the road and would normally swap in a new battery during a long day without a power plug, you're out of luck.

So if you like thin and light and sexy and agree with Apple that (a) widescreen is still the way to go but (b) it would be cool if you could slide it into a manila envelope, then this is the computer for you. If you want genuinely small like its old PowerBook and iBook predecessors, perhaps not.

Oh, and what's with the $100 price premium in Canada, and more cost for the solid-state disk too? (The external optical drive is $100 in both the U.S. and Canada.) It's 2008, Apple, the Year of Dollar Parity!

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14 January 2008

 

A night

IMGP7133-7251 at Flickr.comToday's weather was as unpleasant as Vancouver winter gets: just above freezing, windy, with driving rain. Water sluiced down the gutters, and even brief jaunts outside, from the house to the car, or standing at the gas pump, felt bitter. Having something of a chemotherapy hangover from last week didn't help. I slept for four hours this afternoon in a grey funk.

The kids had trouble getting to sleep, in part because the house was creaking in the wind. I imagined what it must have been like to live in this climate in a Salish or Haida village 150 or 200 years ago—despite the richness of our landscape, surely even those First Nations people would have huddled inside their homes in weather like this too.

Then, tonight, around 11:30, I was getting ready for bed and looked out our front window. The wind had died down, the streets were dry, and the sky was clear; I could see stars and, in the klieg lights of the ski slopes, fresh snow on the North Shore mountains. It was quiet, and beautiful.

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13 January 2008

 

Photos of the "Edison and Leo" stop-motion movie set

Edison and Leo - Edison and the towerFor a good chunk of the past year, several dozen animators have been working in a former native residential school near Mission, B.C., rented out to them by the current owners the Sto:lo Nation, on what looks to be a fascinating movie, Edison and Leo, which should come out later this year.

It's the first feature-length stop-motion film made in Canada, which is suprising considering this country's long history of innovative animation projects. I visited the set last week with my friend Jeff, who is working on publicity for the project.

Edison and Leo has a dark, retro, steam-punk look (it's set in the 19th century), and when production was at its peak late in 2007, there were as many as 14 sets in use simultaneously. Now that the main shooting process is winding down, there are only a few sets left, but it's still a strange experience if you've ever visited a movie set before.

Unlike computer or traditional animation, stop-motion has actual sets, with all the wiring, lighting, and construction that entails. However, the sets are at a strange scale, built for characters a few inches high. And while live-action sets require absolute silence and very careful tiptoeing around, with Edison and Leo Jeff and I were able to wander about, say hi to people as they worked, take photos, and generally feel at ease—because each animator produces, on average, less than 10 seconds of footage a day, one frame at a time. Take a look:

Edison and Leo - table set Edison and Leo - stagecoach Edison and Leo - friendly! Edison and Leo - pies Edison and Leo - title card Edison and Leo - holding the head Edison and Leo - Edison head Edison and Leo - hands Edison and Leo - train and gate Edison and Leo - train Edison and Leo - blurry gate Edison and Leo - compound set Edison and Leo - Vancouver Sun article Edison and Leo - editing Edison and Leo - Xserves and drives Edison and Leo - computer control Edison and Leo - hallway Edison and Leo - head sketches Edison and Leo - idea sketches 1 Edison and Leo - idea sketches 2 Edison and Leo - former residential school Edison and Leo - field outside Edison and Leo - library set Edison and Leo - Edison and the tower Edison and Leo - Edison onscreen Edison and Leo - sauna set Edison and Leo - storyboards Edison and Leo - parts bins Edison and Leo - little body parts Edison and Leo - attaching mouth Edison and Leo - big gloves Edison and Leo - body part station Edison and Leo - Leo with no mouth Edison and Leo - Leo with mouth Edison and Leo - storyboard Edison and Leo - discussion Edison and Leo - view of Fraser Valley Edison and Leo - school front Edison and Leo - trailers

There were some neat details. "Filming" actually takes place with modern Canon digital still cameras, hooked up (oddly) to old manual-focus Nikon lenses. They're connected into computers next to each set, which the animators can use to check their work, and then through a jury-rigged fibre-optic cable network run through the old school to a set of storage servers, and also to a room where the movie can be edited on the fly.

The production facility is almost completely self-contained: all the sets, costumes, and characters are built on site, which gives the team a lot of flexibility and also keeps costs down. (Most of the staff are from other parts of Canada, and have been living in trailers on the property.) Other than the sets themselves, the building still looks like a school, which is pretty creepy considering its history.

If you'd like to read up on the project, check The Province, the Victoria Times-Colonist, the Deadwood blog, the MTV Movies blog, Playback, Telefilm Canada, and IMDB.

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10 January 2008

 

Praise cheesus

Speaking of food, three words: Mmm, cheese podcast.

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Food Network vs. nausea

Iron Chef America Taping 10.06.06 at Flickr.comFor some reason, when the chemo starts hitting me, I often find myself watching Iron Chef America on the Food Network. Although I'm usually nauseated, somehow the expertly prepared gourmet food still looks wonderfully appetizing. A recent Kobe Beef episode was particularly scrumptious (probably because I'm a bit anemic and have been craving red meat).

Semi-related to that, I don't often write songs with words, but every once in a while something comes to me. Here's what the Food Network led me to write last evening:

Sometimes I feel like I've been drinking
Even when I haven't beem drinking
Baby, I swear I haven't been thinking
Of anyone but you
And Nigella Lawson
In the kitchen
With a spatula
And a blowtorch
For the crème brulée

We'll see where that goes.

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09 January 2008

 

NetNewsWire is now free

I've used NetNewsWire as my RSS reader on the Mac for years. It's the best program of its kind, in my opinion. And now it no longer costs money. I sat for lunch with developer Brent Simmons and his wife Sheila a few years ago, and he is not only a smart programmer, but a nice guy.

If you read a lot of websites and blogs and would like to get the latest without constantly hopping from site to site, RSS is the way to go, and NetNewsWire is the way to get it if you have a Mac. Go download it.

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08 January 2008

 

A year of sometimes salty language

Today's the one year anniversary of the day I first heard my cancer diagnosis. Back then I thought that, even though it was cancer, it was likely early stage and relatively easy to treat.

That was wrong, as I discovered quickly. While today marks one year since my diagnosis, I started counting my treatment last January 31, which means I'm at something like Day 341 now, and far from completing even this round of chemo and other drugs. Whew. I thought I might be away from work for two months—it's now been eleven.

Still, the news has recently been encouraging, since my metastatic lung tumours seem to be responding reasonably to my current chemotherapy. My doctors and my efforts to look at my cancer both optimistically and pragmatically, as well as amazing support from my wife and kids and others in my life, have kept me alive for a year.

Even though I've received gifts of lots of very fine scotch whisky this year, right now I can't drink any alcohol without feeling like crap, so that stuff will have to keep.

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07 January 2008

 

Less who we were

Martin Sikes memorial 32The profound shame about yesterday's memorial event for my late friend Martin Sikes is that many of us who spoke and sang and laughed and cried there didn't take the chance to tell him why he was important to us while he was still alive.

I was glad that I both spoke and played drums at the event—being busy helped distract me a bit so I didn't cry the whole time. I certainly had to clutch my wife's hand for support.

Martin Sikes memorial 30Martin was, by any measure, an extraordinary man. Otherwise there wouldn't have been 400 people—from relatives to co-workers to high school and university chums to those who only knew him from the parties he organized—out to remember him on a sleety January Sunday afternoon. More than one person told me they were quite surprised at how many different directions, into what they thought were completely unrelated groups of their acquaintances, they discovered his influence had reached.

Martin Sikes memorial 25To find out why, you can take a look at the memorial page I set up for him, which also includes notes from several of the eulogies spoken in West Vancouver yesterday. I learned a lot about Martin from those talks, especially about his life as a kid before I knew him, and his career and pastimes over the past decade or so, when I saw him only sporadically.

I expect some of his more recent friends and acquaintances might have learned stuff too. For example, his first commercial software success, the Blue Board software he sold as a teenager from his parents' house. Or that he, as a comfortably out gay man, had a girlfriend 20 years ago. (Any of them who'd ever met his adult daughter might have deduced that, of course.) My friend Sebastien summed Martin up best by saying that he was always trying not just to have fun, but to invent fun.

Excursionists return to Denny's 1After the memorial, a bunch of Martin's old modemer Excursionist friends, including his daughter and her mom, gathered at Denny's on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver, one of our frequent hangouts in the mid- and late 1980s. I think Martin's death hit us all harder than we might have expected. (I'm still bursting into tears at unpredictable moments today.) Like Dave wrote, we miss him more than we realized, for a panoply of reasons.

And we spoke of getting together more frequently too—some of us had not seen each other in 15 years or more. We figured out that the things we miss about Martin are also things we miss about each other. Teenage and early adult years are formative for anyone. But those of us who were part of Vancouver's early BBS community have an additional kinship of having been geeks before it was cool, and of having lived and loved and made friends (not to mention mistakes) online 10 or 20 years before the whole rest of the world started doing it.

I've said before that I have the technology and privacy instincts of a modern 17-year-old (search for me online, and you can find out almost anything you need to know, and probably more than you want). That's because when my friends and I were 17, we were already keeping in touch by flinging bits. However, perhaps uniquely, while we remember a time before email and the Internet, they were still critical components of how we grew up.

Martin Sikes memorial 54Many of us have remained in technical fields, yet have drifted in different directions. Still, when we do meet, the connection is immediate, and not merely nostalgic. At dinner, we still finished one another's sentences, even on topics (Facebook, climate change, the habits of our children) that didn't exist in our university days. After our greasy meal, I drove Larry, Bob, and Richard home across the eastern suburbs of Vancouver, and had tea at Richard's place before heading home myself. We spoke a bit about old times, but also nerded out about wireless data, servers, rebuilding houses, and fish tanks.

Who we were is also who we are. Martin was part of that, but he isn't anymore, which is one reason why losing him made us so sad. Despite his many successes, and much more than the rest of us, he had chosen to stay (or perhaps couldn't avoid remaining) the tinkering, pranking, inventing, train-obsessed, silly, party-throwing, risk-taking person he was when we were growing up together. Who we are can't be as much who we were without him.

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05 January 2008

 

Martin Sikes memorial tomorrow 4 p.m.

Friends and relatives of Martin Sikes have organized a celebration of his life tomorrow, Sunday, January 6, at 4:00 p.m., at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Here are a couple of articles about him from the Vancouver Sun this past week:

NOTE: I've now set up a memorial page for Martin, including links to articles about him, copies of the notes from his eulogy speakers, and photos from his memorial event on January 6, 2008.

Martin Sikes obituary - Vancouver Sun, 2 Jan 2008 Martin Sikes article - Vancouver Sun, 8 Jan 2008

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04 January 2008

 

Grey band

I got my haircut yesterday in the midst of my cancer rollercoaster, so I was away from home all day. My daughters stayed at my parents the whole time, and when I got home, my oldest said, "Daddy, did you lose all your hair in one day?!"

I told her no, it wasn't from chemotherapy. I just got a haircut. But I have noticed that there is now a band of grey hair across the back of my head, from temple to temple, that wasn't there last time I got a short haircut a few months ago:

Grey band

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03 January 2008

 

Rollercoaster

Short hair againHere's what I wrote, hurriedly, on Facebook and Twitter earlier today:

CT scan good: lung tumours either stable or "noticeably smaller." Alas, small blood clot in lungs, must take blood thinner needle daily now.

Let me explain that. This morning, I talked to a social worker in the patient counselling department at the B.C. Cancer Agency, as I do about once a month, just to get things off my chest. I was having a CT scan later in the day, which would be the first test in several months to see whether my current chemotherapy round is actually killing my cancer. I felt mixed about that, not knowing what path my life would take in the next few months, even more so as I prepared to give a speech at my friend Martin's memorial service on Sunday.

The scan itself was uneventful, and I didn't expect to hear any results until Tuesday, when I next see my oncologist Dr. Kennecke. So my wife and I drove back to Burnaby. The chemotherapy has started to thin my hair, which isn't falling out in clumps, but is shedding some in the shower, so I decided to get a short haircut again in case that gets any more pronounced. After that, my wife went to find some shoes and I had a snack at the food court.

While I sat at the table, my phone rang. I expected my wife, but it was Dr. Gill, another oncologist from the Cancer Agency.

"The CT scan found an incidental blood clot in your lung," she said.

Oh shit, I thought.

"Are you having any trouble breathing, or chest pain?"

I wasn't.

"That's good. We'd still like you to come back to the Agency this afternoon, so we can start you on some blood thinners. How soon can you be here?"

It was 3:45. I said around 4:30.

"I'll see you as soon as you arrive."

I called my wife. She freaked out a little. I called my dad, who was watching the kids. He sounded calm, but I knew he'd also be freaking out a little. Back into the car, through traffic, at the Cancer Agency by 4:30.

A nurse immediately took us aside. "Take this form up to the lab for some blood tests right now. You can also take this prescription to the pharmacy down the street and get it filled immediately. Then come back here to Station C and Dr. Gill will see you." In a flash we were back at the elevator, blinking and stunned, my wife to go the pharmacy and me for my blood tests. We were both back within 20 minutes, when Dr. Gill met us and explained what was going on.

Some of the chemotherapy agents I'm taking, particularly Avastin, can lead to bleeding and blood clotting. I've noticed that in places like my nose. Turns out it's happening in my right lung too.

So now we have a new drug in our cupboard, a series of syringes of anticoagulant (blood thinner), which I must inject subcutaneously, the same as I have done with insulin for the past 17 years. I'll do that once each day for the next six months or so. The drug will help prevent the clot I have from growing, and should help keep new ones from forming. I will also bleed and bruise more easily as a consequence.

The good news is that Dr. Gill also told us about the main result of the CT scan, which is that the metastatic tumours in my lungs have not grown. Indeed, some are stable, while others are "noticeably smaller." So the chemo is doing something, which is the whole damn point. While obscured by our alarm about the blood clot, that is the kind of news I've been waiting to get for a whole year.

The nurse who came to show me how to administer the blood thinner (it's so similar to insulin injections that I was very comfortable with the procedure right away) also listed off some of the possible side effects, but said, "These probably won't be a worry for you, because you're young and healthy."

I laughed. People like me with stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer don't apply the word "healthy" to ourselves too often. But that was also good to hear.

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02 January 2008

 

Magnetic kerfuffle

Recently, pioneering web developer Dave Winer became upset with Apple because he took in his laptop for warranty service, the Apple Store replaced his hard drive, and then the store wouldn't return his old drive to him, even when he offered to pay for it. After complaining enough to Apple and on his blog, he eventually got the drive back.

The reason he was upset was that his old drive contained a lot of his property, including source code, personal information, and so on. He was worried that Apple's keeping the drive risked that data, because they planned to refurbish it. There could be a security problem from that, including the possibility of identity theft if anyone ends up getting at the information on the disk:

What if the data on the drive can be recovered? What if there are credit card numbers and other personal information on the drive? Source code? Trade secrets?

Now, as I've noted before, Mr. Winer can be a cranky sort, so when he complains, it's wise to look at the problem carefully before deciding whether you agree with him. Some, including Matt Deatheredge (via John Gruber), initially argued that:

If the computer that needs to be repaired has sensitive information on it, I back it up and wipe the hard drive, restoring the default system on it.

Many people, including me, emailed Matt with variations of this point: If you take your drive to Apple (or anyone else) because it's died from hardware failure (which is presumably what would be covered under warranty), you might not be able to erase it. And if you take superhuman security efforts as some recommend on a dead drive (big magnets, drilling holes in the platters), Apple is going to say, "We won't cover this—you destroyed the disk."

Now, the risk of people poking around on your dead hard disk is mostly theoretical, although it is possible and has happened. And no one is yet sure whether Winer's disk was actually dead, or could have been resurrected enough for him to erase it before he sent it for repair. As Deatheredge notes in a big update to his post:

What happens if the drive is so damaged that you can't erase it at all? This case [...] seems genuinely problematic.

The real solution, other than for Apple to offer to give you your drive back (even for a fee), would be to encrypt anything important on your disk, or the whole thing, but few people do that. I have done it for some of my information, but not all, and when my MacBook drive died last year and I sent it back to Seagate, I was unable to erase it first. I'm not worried, but if I were paranoid, I might have eschewed a warranty repair, bought a new disk, and destroyed the old one myself.

But I didn't. Ooh, living on the edge.

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01 January 2008

 

One words for 2008

Let's start off the year with one of those taggy blog post things. I stumbled across it at Jen's site last night, which is when I filled it out:

  • Your last meal: appies
  • Something on your desk/work area: microphones
  • Your New Year’s Eve plans: family
  • The smallest gift you received this year: adenocarcinoma
  • The largest gift you received this year: life
  • Something you wish you hadn’t eaten so much of during the holidays: nuts
  • On your feet: callouses
  • Your hair: greying
  • How many other countries you’ve traveled to: nine
  • One country you dream of visiting: Antarctica
  • A hobby you’d like to take up/revisit this year: cycling
  • A hobby of yours that died (aww, buh-bye) this past year: bass
  • A publication you subscribe to (print): Wired
  • The most embarrassing subscription in your feed reader (if you have one): egofeeds
  • One of your favorite stores to window shop dreamily in: L&M
  • One of your favorite online stores to window shop dreamily on: cameracanada.com
  • A color you love to wear: purple
  • Your bed pillow: doubled
  • The color of your kitchen counter: 1967oleum
  • What you plan to do when you get up from the computer: sleep

Why not try your own, either in the comments here, at Jen's post, or on your own blog? The rules: answer all questions with one word only; you may need to get creative if, for instance, your favourite store is more than one word. This will be strictly enforced, in a scary way that shall not be revealed unless necessary.

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