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31 July 2009

 

Escaping the Vancouver heatwave

The past two days were the hottest ever recorded in Vancouver: over 34°C (94 Fahrenheit) at the airport at sea level, and at least 40°C (104 F) at our house a little bit inland. Since that kind of weather is so unusual in Vancouver, very few people have air conditioning (we don't), and our home was becoming unbearably hot, except for some of the basement. We chose what turned into a wise alternative:

Vancouver Convention Centre HDR

That was the view from the pool deck at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver, where my wife and I stayed with our two daughters—with full air conditioning—for the past two nights. We returned home (by public transit) this afternoon, after the worst of the heatwave broke, to a house that is now a much more tolerable temperature.

Our tropical fish in the aquarium at home seem to have survived just fine.

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28 July 2009

 

Making stories, showing off (for Raul's Blogathon)

This is a re-post of the guest entry I wrote for Raul's Blogathon on Saturday.


Derek 1974 vs. Derek 2007Here's a story. Two years ago this week, I weighed 145 pounds, about 70 pounds less than I do now. I looked like I'd been in a PoW camp, pale and skeletal. I'd just left St. Paul's Hospital, where I'd been for close to a month after major cancer surgery and an intestinal blockage.

By October I'd gained back 30 of those pounds. Within a year I'd taken a bunch more chemotherapy, lost my hair and grown it back, and had terrible chemo-induced acne. A year after that, the cancer is still here, but I'm fighting it, and I feel pretty good. End of story, for now.

We all grow up making stories—when we're kids, we call it playing, whether it's using an infant mobile or a video camera. And our stories are best when we make them for others, or with them. Unfortunately, many of us become unused to playing, thinking it childish. We grow up terrified of giving speeches, or we write our thoughts only in diaries instead of for reading. We become shy.

For whatever reason, that didn't happen to me. I've been passionate about many things in my 40 years—computers, photography, public speaking, music, making websites, writing and language, science and space, commuting by bicycle, building a life with my wife and family—but when I took at them all, each one is really about making stories for others. Or, as my wife succinctly pointed out, about showing off. I'll admit to that.

Some examples, in no real order:

  • Helping put together a school newspaper in sixth grade (or high school, or university).
  • Donning a smoking jacket and hand prosthetic to play Captain Hook on the elementary school stage.
  • Setting my daughters up with blogs and email addresses before they each turned ten.
  • Posting photographs to MacDesktops in the late '90s and photo.net a few years later.
  • Playing in a band in crappy bars or luxury New York hotels.
  • Editing my high school yearbook (with others) and the UBC student handbook (by myself).
  • Teaching courses about Microsoft Word.
  • Talking about my cancer on the radio.
  • Talking about geeky stuff on TV.
  • Recording songs and giving them away for free.
  • Helping my wife Air put together her podcast.
  • Uploading thousands of pictures and videos to Flickr.
  • Crafting obscure technical documents to make them understandable.
  • And of course blogging and blogging and blogging for close to nine years.

I've done many of these things for no money (and some for lots of money), but for almost all of them, I wanted other people to know.

Okay, yes, I wanted to show off. Is that healthy?

For me, on balance, I think so. Whether for my jobs or my hobbies, being a ham and wanting others to see and appreciate what I do prods me to make those stories good, and useful. Humans are natural tellers of stories, and we enjoy anything presented in a story-like way. So I've tried to make all of those things in the form of a story. Whether a discussion of evolutionary biology, a fun rockabilly instrumental, a bunch of rants about PowerPoint, or a pretty photograph (or yes, even the instruction manual to install a wireless cellular modem in a police car), I want it to generate a story in your mind.

Stories don't always have an obvious structure. They don't necessarily go in predictable directions, or have a moral or meaning. I certainly didn't see it coming when all this cancer stuff from the past two and a half years happened. But I've been able to make it a story that other people can read, understand, and maybe find helpful. So too with my other passions.

So whatever you're trying to do, whatever hobby or job or habit you have, if you want to share it with others, try to craft it like a story—short or long, visual or auditory, but something that flows. Show it off. That, it seems, is what I like to do.


Derek K. Miller is a writer, editor, web guy, drummer, photographer, and dad. Not in that order. He's been blogging at penmachine.com since 2000, and has been on medical leave from his position as Communications Manager at Navarik Corp. since 2007. His wife and two daughters have put up with his show-offishness way longer than that.

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27 July 2009

 

Booze, smokes, girls, advertising

Here's what I'd look like if I were on the TV show Mad Men, set at the turn of the smokin', drinkin', womanizin' 1960s of Manhattan advertising men:

Derek "Mad Men" scene

Image made using the Mad Men Yourself tool (via Kottke). My wife and I are making our way through the Season 2 DVDs right now, and I feel like I'm getting second-hand smoke through the television.

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26 July 2009

 

My new Crumpler man purse

On the way down to Workspace to visit the Blogathon crew yesterday, my daughters and I passed by the Crumpler store at the edge of Gastown in downtown Vancouver. After nearly losing my wallet on a chairlift in Whistler earlier in the month (I did drop a snack bar), I realized that my old Hedgren shoulder bag/man purse, at least five years old, needs replacing.

I've been searching for something that can hold all the stuff I haul with me (insulin, blood glucose meter, Leatherman tool, wallet, emergency sugar, mobile phone, etc.), plus my monster DSLR camera and whatever extras I might grab for a particular day. Something bigger than I had been carrying, in other words:

Hedgren bag and Crumpler Barney Rustle Blanket bag
Old Hedgren bag on the left, new Crumpler bag on the right.

Since I sling my bag over my shoulder everywhere I go, I know what I need. I like my bags, and have blogged about them a couple of times before. But none of my current other bags would do the job. I had no luck finding a replacement along Vancouver's outdoor-gear row on Broadway near Cambie Street, but Crumpler had something I liked: the Barney Rustle Blanket shoulder bag.

Yes, Crumpler has pretty weird names for its products. Check out the names of the various bags John Biehler has bought over the years, for instance. You can pick up the Barney Rustle in green on Amazon for $125 USD, or some other colours for less, but even Crumpler's own site doesn't offer prices as good as the real-world store. I got my Barney Rustle for $89 Canadian, plus tax.

Yeah, it's a lot bigger than my old bag. I could stuff my SLR into the old bag, but it was then completely full, and prone to unzipping and falling open. The new one takes the camera with a big lens, plus my flash, with room to spare. I could drop a laptop inside if needed. The thing is built like a medieval fortress in nylon. I'm still figuring out just how I prefer to pack it, but I definitely like it so far.

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25 July 2009

 

Zap: Vancouver's July 2009 lightning storm

We had a bit of a lightning storm in Vancouver tonight, which is unusual around here.

Lightning 8

My photo was featured on the website for The Province newspaper this evening too. Thanks to my wife Air for suggesting I send it to them.

UPDATE JULY 26: While my photo above was one of the first posted on Flickr (and on a newspaper website), many other more spectacular shots appeared once people got home from the Celebration of Light fireworks and so on, especially with pictures taken as sunset cast the sky a Martian red. Check out some of the lightning images I found from happygilmore_s_d, drlube, gordzilla68, danfairchildphotography, weaktight, andy6white, another from andy6white, shiftybatter, one more from shiftybatter, cisley, and an extra from cisley, bobbybobbydigi, An Eagle in Your Mind, c-a, lenlangevin, n8brophy, Fleeting Light, uncle_buddha, melodiedawn, treygeiger, cazasco, chrissyshome, mystify, vitrain, kingtoast, and realaworld.

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Blogathon

UPDATE 11:50 p.m.: Guest posts for Blogathon on Raul's site by my wife and by me are now online. The Blogathoners have a little over six hours left. Go go go!

Blogathon 2009 by Rebecca BollwittWords change. Marathon was originally (and still is) a plain in Greece, but after a battle there between Athenians and Persians in 490 BC, legend says that messenger Pheidippides ran a little over 26 miles to relay the result, and died from heat and exhaustion. More than two thousand years later, his distance was established for races at the Olympics and elsewhere, now called marathons. Deaths, fortunately, are now rare.

Over time, marathon also came to mean anything that took a long time and a lot of effort. After the invention of television, we got the telethon: fundraisers broadcast on TV over many hours or days, focused on a particular charity or cause. Many of us raised in the 1970s don't think of Jerry Lewis as a movie star, but as the guy who ran the telethon.

Now we have blogathon, where numerous bloggers (close to 200 this year from across North America and beyond) post something every half hour for 24 hours. This year's event began at 6 a.m. today, and runs till the same time tomorrow morning. Each participant can choose his or own charity, so there are lots of options. Here in Vancouver, we have quite a few friends doing the blogathon:

  • Raul is blogging for the B.C. Cancer Foundation (donate here), and will be publishing guest posts both from my wife and from me later today.
  • Rebecca, Jen, Lorraine, Duane, and Beth are also in on the action.
  • Numerous others in town, listed on Rebecca's page, are blogathoning today too.

Many of the blogathoners are at Workspace in Gastown today, and I plan to drop in with my kids sometime this afternoon to cheer them on for a bit. Visit their blogs and choose a worthy cause for a donation, why don't you?

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24 July 2009

 

Splashdown

Today we mark 40 years since the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia splashed down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred kilometres from the now-closed Johnston Island naval base:

Apollo 11 in the water

Our first (and sixth last!) trip to the surface of the Moon was over. The seared, beaten Columbia (weighing less than 6,000 kg, and which had remained shiny and pristine until its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere), with its passengers, was the only part of the titanic Saturn V rocket (3 million kg) to return home after a little over one week away. Every other component had been designed to burn up during launch or return, to stay on the Moon's surface (where those parts remain), to smash into the Moon, or to drift in its own orbit around the Sun.

Lifting Columbia

All three astronauts returned safely, and suffered no ill effects, despite being quarantined for two and a half weeks, until August 10, 1969, when I was six weeks old.

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21 July 2009

 

Going home

Just before noon today, Pacific Time, marks exactly 40 years since Neil armstrong and Buzz Aldrin launched their Lunar Module Eagle and left the surface of the Moon, to rendezvous with their colleague Michael Collins in lunar orbit:

Leaving the Moon

They were on their way home to Earth, though it would take a few days to get back here.

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My daughters made a Star Trek movie

Speaking of space stuff, you might enjoy this video my kids made (with a little of my editing help) this week:

Drama! Excitement! Evil croissants!

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20 July 2009

 

Today was the day

The beginnings of human calendars are arbitrary. We're using a Christian one right now, though the start date is probably wrong, and the monks who created it didn't assign a Year Zero. Chinese, Mayan, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and other calendars begin on different dates.

If we were to decide to start over with a new Year Zero, I think the choice would be easy. The dividing line would be 40 years ago today, what we call July 16, 1969. That's when the first humans—the first creatures from Earth of any kind, since life began here a few billion years ago—walked on another world, our own Moon:

Buzz on the Moon

They landed their vehicle, the ungainly Eagle, at 1:17 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (the time of my post here). Just before 8 PDT, Neil Armstrong put his boot on the soil. That was the moment. All three of the men who went there, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, are almost 80 now, but they are still alive, like the rest of the relatively small slice of humanity that was here when it happened (I was three weeks old).

If the sky is clear tonight, look up carefully for the Moon: it's just a sliver right now. Although it's our closest neighbour in space, you can cover it up with your thumb. People have been there, and when the Apollo astronauts walked on its dust, they could look up and cover the Earth with a gesture too—the place where everyone except themselves had ever lived and died. Every other achievement, every great undertaking, every pointless war—all fought over something that could be blotted out with a thumb.

Even if it doesn't start a new calendar (not yet), today should at least be a holiday, to commemorate the event, the most amazing and important thing we've ever done. Make it one yourself, and remember. Today was the day.

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16 July 2009

 

Launch day

Forty years ago today. July 16, 1969, 9:32 a.m. EDT, Launch Complex 39A, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Three nearly hairless apes—human beings in pressure suits—left for the Moon:

Apollo 11 liftoff

They were aboard the world's greatest machine, which put out about 175 million horsepower during launch. Less than three hours later, they exited Earth orbit and were on their way.

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14 July 2009

 

Links of interest 2006-07-05 to 2006-07-13

Yup, still on a blog break. So, more of my selected Twitter posts, newest first:

  • Vancouver to Whistler in one minute (okay, I cheated):


  • We're in the mountains, but in a civilized way. Pool/hot tub, grocery store across the street, Wi-Fi. But, uh, there is mountain weather.
  • Super-duper stop-motion movie with 60,000 photo prints (ad for Olympus, via Lisa Bettany and Photojojo). Chris Atherton points out that this follows Wolf and Pig.
  • Okay camera nerds, here's some rangefinder pr0n for you.
  • The stereotypically blingtastic (and boobtastic) video diminishes Karl Wolf's tolerable version of Toto's "Africa." (And I'm no Toto fan.) It's like a live-action Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Yes, the choirboy harmonies are actually kind of charming, but he's going P-Diddy on it in the end.
  • In the storage closet, my kids found something of mine from 1976 that is EVEN GEEKIER than my U.S.S. Enterprise belt buckle:
    Aye Captain!
    Red shirts were available back then, as well as the blue Mr. Spock style, but I chose Kirk. Of course.

  • The only sounds I can hear right now: the dishwasher, the fan in the hallway, and the birds in the trees outside the window.
  • During my biology degree, Platyhelminthes was a favourite organism name. Now there's a plush toy! (With 2 heads!!)
  • When I used to busk with the band, our biggest victories were scaring away the holy rollers across the street (we got applause).
  • Neat. When a ship is built, here are the differences between milestones: keel laying, christening, commissioning, etc.
  • AutoTune the News #6. Even more awesome.
  • Picked up kids from Aldergrove camp. Sadly, there was a terrible accident on the Port Mann Bridge. We took a long Langley/Surrey/New Westminster detour.
  • Google's changing culture. Point: Google now has more employees than Microsoft did at launch of Windows 95.
  • Time lapse: 8 hours from my front window in about 1 min 30 sec, made with my new Nikon D90 and free Sofortbild capture software (and iMovie):

    Something like John Biehler's Nikon Coolpix P6000 is better for timelapse long term; the D90's mechanical shutter, which is rated for 100,000 uses, would wear out in less than 6 months if used for time lapse every day. P.S. Andy Gagliano pointed to a useful Macworld podcast about making time-lapse movies.

  • Depressing: most Internet Explorer 6 users use it at work, because they're not allowed to use another browser.
  • These Christopher Walken impressions are way funnier than I expected.
  • The way monkeys peel a banana shows us we've all been doing it the needlessly hard way all these years.
  • Um... hot!
  • Most appropriate Flash cartoon ever?
  • Drinking whisky and Diet Dr. Pepper, watching MythBusters. Pretty mellow.
  • A good photo is "not about the details or the subject. It's what your subconscious pulls out of it all without thinking."
  • Just picked up another month's supply of horrible, nasty, vile, wonderful, beautiful, lifesaving anti-cancer pills. Thanks, Big Pharma Man.
  • My wife tells me she's discovered a sure-fire tip for a gal to attract quality guys in public: carry a huge SLR camera over your shoulder.
  • "For the great majority [...] blogging is a social activity, not an aspiration to mass-media stardom."
  • Just talked to younger daughter (9) for first time after three days at summer camp. She's a little homesick, but having fun.
  • I took a flight over a remote landscape:


  • The 50 worst cars of all time (e.g. "The Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint").
  • I haven't seen either Transformers movie, but that's okay, I saw this.
  • Dan Savage: cheating on your spouse should now be known as "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Good point in the article too.
  • You can still buy a station wagon with fake wood paneling!
  • Train vs. tornado. It does not end well. Watch without fast-forward/scrubbing for maximum tension.
  • Just lucked into a parking spot on Granville Island. Time for some lunch.
  • Sent the kids off for a week of horse-riding camp today. Wife Air and I had sparkling wine in the garden. Vewwy vewwy quiet around here.
  • Just sorted a bunch of CDs. Still several discs missing cases, and cases missing discs. I feel like a total '90s throwback.
  • Rules of photography (via Alastair Bird).
  • When did the standard Booth Babe uniform become cropped T-shirt and too-short schoolgirl kilt?
  • Listening to "Kind of Blue." It's been awhile.
  • "A two-year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it." - Jerry Seinfeld (via Ryan).

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05 July 2009

 

Links of interest 2006-06-28 to 2006-07-04

Once again, while I'm on my blog break, my edited Twitter posts from the past week, newest first:

  • Photo of Obama picking up his infamous housefly victim.
  • Guess that U2 iPod is never coming back.
  • And now: "Ant and Buttercup," my debut HD macro closeup movie from our summer garden:


  • My first experiments with off-camera flash during close-up photography:
    Veins 1 Veins 2 Veins 3 Veins 4 Veins 5
    Veins 6 Veins 7 Veins 8 Veins 10 Veins 9

  • If I'm passed at high speed by someone with a Washington plate BOKEH, I now know who it is. He says he'll wave.
  • Mammals will play, even between species, even when you'd never expect it—wild polar bear and huskies (slide show via Dave Winer).
  • A couple of crows are nesting nearby; they keep landing in our birdbath and on the house and lamp stands, looking ominous. Too smart, crows.
  • Sitting in a B.C. garden
    No waiting for the sun
  • CompuServe finally shuts down.
  • Just in case you're looking for a $2.1 million convertible.
  • Congratulations to Buzz Bishop, Jen, and Zacharie.
  • I presume this tiny USB-driven monitor screen is Windows-only, because of drivers? Looks pretty swell. (Via Neal Campbell.)
  • Definitive proof I'm not afraid of heights: I love this idea.
  • Via John Biehler, I found that as well as MythBuster Adam Savage, his co-workers Grant Imahara and narrator Robert Lee are also on Twitter.
  • When I had my first Nikon 25 years ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd ever own one (a D90) with 66 pages of the manual (out of a couple hundred total, in a 16 MB PDF file) just for menu options. Then again, 25 years ago, a friend showed me a shoulder-mounted Betamax camera from Hong Kong, and it was the latest in high tech video too.
  • That's the funkiest beat I've ever heard a marching band play (via Jared Spool). Maybe some James Brown next?
  • Has anyone pinpointed the exact day that Victoria Beckham stopped being able to smile? Angus Wilson speculates, "whatever day she began to look less like a hot English babe and more like a velociraptor."
  • Meg Fowler: "Sarah Palin's quitting politics like Ann Coulter's quitting evil."
  • As the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches, some fabulous photos from the missions, via Bad Astronomy.
  • From Ben Englert: "Thank you, gdgt, for institutionalizing the arduous task of dick-measuring by figuring out who has more toys."
  • Ten best uses of classical music in classic cartoons.
  • Our fridge magnet: "I love not camping."
    Our favourite fridge magnet

  • How did I manage to bite the inside of my upper lip while eating a peach? If this were high school, the guys would say, "Each much?"
  • Back to short hair for summer. And now I realize that it's Colbert hair.
  • I think my guts have calmed down now. Time for bed. In the meantime, enjoy a naked Air New Zealand flight crew.
  • In case you'd like to watch Jeff Goldblum reporting on his own "death," on Colbert Monday: links for Canada and the U.S.A. (sorry if you're elsewhere!).
  • Didn't attend various Canada Day parties because of tired family and my usual intestinal side effects. Hope you had fun in my stead. Managed to avoid intestinal chemo side effects for a few days, but they're back with a vengeance. Could be a looooong night. (And it was. At 2 a.m., my chemo side effects were "over" and I went to bed. Bzzt! Wrong! Finally got to sleep at 9 a.m., woke up at 1 the next afternoon. As Alfred E. Neuman says, Yecch.)
  • Whatever you think of the 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver, VANOC is doing a good job with graphic design.
  • I, too, welcome our new ant overlords.
  • I had no alcohol on my birthday yesterday, but still had a Canada Day headache on July 1. Here's my new free instrumental.
  • Inside Home Recording #72 is out: Winners, Studio Move, Synth 101, Suckage! AAC enhanced and MP3 audio-only versions.
  • Normally I really like our car dealer's service dept, but today the steering wheel came back oh-so-slightly to the left. They had to re-fix it.
  • World's geekiest pillows (via Chris Pirillo). My guess: they didn't license the Apple icons. Get the pillows while you can.
  • Officially made it to 40. Thanks everybody for the birthday wishes. Most people are bit melancholy to reach 40, but I am extremely glad to have made it.
  • Just returned from a Deluxe Chuck Wagon burger (with cheese) at the resurrected Wally's Burgers in Cates Park, North Vancouver:
    Derek Wally's burger 2

  • From Rob Cottingham: "The hell with putting a ring on it. If you liked it, you shoulda made a secure offsite backup."
  • Info about recording old vinyl records into a computer: You need a proper grounded phono preamp, with good hot signals into an audio interface or other analog-to-digital converter. A new needle might be wise if yours is old, but the real phono preamp (w/RIAA curve) is the most necessary bit after that. Route it thru an old stereo tuner if needed! See my old post from 2006 at Inside Home Recording.
  • Myth confirmed: Baby girl evidence (named Stella) shows MythBusters' Kari Byron actually was pregnant.
  • My new Twitter background image is the view we saw at sunset during my birthday party on Saturday. (I've since replaced it again.)
  • Back from another fun sunny summer BBQ at Paul Garay's new house—it's been a burgers-n-beer weekend.
  • Photos from my 40th birthday party now posted (please use tag "penmachinebirthday" if you post some).

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