Journal: News & Comment

This is " November 2000," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Wednesday, November 29, 2000 - newest items first
# 12:02:00 AM:

"Well, that was easy," say Canadians

With the Americans still dithering over whether they've elected a president, Canada managed to get our election over with in record time.

Of course, almost nothing changed. The Liberals under Jean Chrétien are still in power (with a few more seats), the Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform party) is still the opposition (with a few more seats), and the remaining parties -- the Bloc Québecois, the New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservatives -- all continue in Parliament (but they all lost seats).

Chrétien has now won three elections in a row as leader of the Liberals. Perhaps more impressive, he has been elected in his riding in Québec eleven times -- in every election since 1963.


Wednesday, November 22, 2000 - newest items first
# 5:12:00 PM:

The ultimate in Web design

As someone to whom words are generally more important than design, I tend to prefer Web sites that are built simply. But this one is ridiculous.


Saturday, November 18, 2000 - newest items first
# 9:53:00 PM:

The next big step

Today, my wife took our oldest daughter, who will be three years old in February, to see her first movie. It was Rugrats in Paris. Apparently the little one was very civilized, but about two-thirds of the way through the film she said it was "time to go," so they went.

My first movie was Star Wars, in 1977. I still find it hard to believe that my parents didn't take me to a movie until I was eight, but it seemed normal at the time. The again, I think my parents have probably seen less than five movies in a theatre in the intervening 23 years. They are not much of a moviegoing couple -- they prefer to dance.


Friday, November 17, 2000 - newest items first
# 4:26:00 PM:

Wrestling with words -- in winterwear

I just discovered that CBC News has a cool sub-site dedicated to arguments about words -- something I obviously enjoy -- and with a Canadian perspective, too. Give it a browse.


# 11:37:00 AM:

Free photos from me to your desktop

Inspired by a link on to a site run by a former coworker of mine, who now lives in Australia, I thought I'd note that I have made a number of my photographs available at the MacDesktops site. You can download them for free and use them as computer desktop backgrounds, or whatever you prefer. (Please avoid trying to make money from them, though. They're mine.)

In case you care, the most popular one so far is the Puffer Fish, which I photographed at the Vancouver Aquarium this summer with a 50mm lens, ISO 200 Agfa film, and some surprisingly steady hands.

As Mister Rogers says, "Fish. I wonder if fish think."

Have fun.


# 12:44:00 AM:

Happy birthday, Harriet

Okay, I missed it by a few days, but last week Harriet the Tortoise, who lives at a zoo in Australia, celebrated her birthday.


Well, Harriet was collected from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin.

Yes, that Charles Darwin, who scooped her up in 1835. Last week, Harriet turned 170.

My grandmother turns 90 next month. When she was born in 1910, Harriet the Tortoise was already 80 years old. (80 years is about the life expectancy for an average North American woman today.) Many think Harriet is the oldest animal on earth -- she's lived about 48 years longer than the oldest human did, and is still chugging away. Some of Canada's own bowhead whales might be older -- maybe much older -- but Harriet's age is confirmed, and she's certainly the oldest land creature ever known.


Wednesday, November 15, 2000 - newest items first
# 12:26:00 PM:

More updates at Multiactive

At long, long last, we on the Web Team at Multiactive Software have jettisoned almost all of the old, legacy Web pages that have been hanging around in various guises since 1995, through five different Web site managers (including me) and more come-and-gone members of the Web Team itself than I can count. Our new, fresh, almost-cohesive site includes everything about our major product lines:


# 11:51:00 AM:

Netscape 6 arrives -- but does anyone care?

Several years overdue, AOL/Netscape has finally released an official version of the Netscape 6 Web browser. (The last version was Netscape Communicator 4.7 -- they skipped 5 altogether.) It's an interesting product, completely different from its predecessors, very customizable, and apparently very good at adhering to Web standards.

Unfortunately, it kind of sucks on my Mac. Older Macs in particular (that is, anything released before 1999) run it rather slowly, and anything before Mac OS 9 has problems because of how many files Netscape 6 keeps open in the background. Some features are very un-Mac-like -- which is to be expected, since the browser is essentially identical in its Mac, Windows, and Linux/Unix versions. Some keyboard shortcuts don't work. And it has colour-handling problems on systems with more than one monitor that run at different colour depths.

From what I've seen on the Windows computer I use at work, Netscape 6 is better there. The rendering engine (called "Gecko") that actually displays Web pages is very fast on any platform, however. And since it is open source -- meaning anyone can access, use, and modify it -- I expect Gecko to appear in all sorts of other products. Netscape may never dominate Web browsers over Internet Explorer as it once did, but it's not going away anytime soon.

In short, Netscape 6 is usable, but so far isn't up to Internet Explorer, older versions of Netscape, or upstart browsers like iCab and Opera.


Friday, November 10, 2000 - newest items first
# 9:50:00 AM:

Usability problems lead to chaos, and eBay benefits

Scott Rosenberg of Salon magazine has a good column on how usability problems with some ballots in Florida may end up costing Al Gore the presidential election. Usability is more commonly applied to Web design these days, but in all disciplines, it's the extreme situations (like elections in which a few hundred votes make a difference among tens of millions) where tiny usability issues can have enormous consequences.

Perhaps a result of those ballot usability bugs, and though the papers' editors probably dislike the infamy, early press-run copies of a number of newspapers that prematurely announced George W. Bush as the definitive winner of this week's U.S. presidential election (and then issued revised headlines later in their press runs) are now for auction on eBay. Shades of "Dewey Defeats Truman," the false headline which arose in part because, decades ago, a newspaper's non-union staff was rushing to try to get out an election-night issue while many unionized staff were on strike.


Thursday, November 09, 2000 - newest items first
# 10:06:00 AM:

Better the phone than the evil weed

British researchers have correlated a sharp decline in teen smoking in the U.K. with increased use of mobile phones, speculating that "mobile phones may satisfy the same teenage needs as smoking -- offering adult style and aspiration, individuality, sociability, rebellion, and peer group bonding."

That's a good thing. Then again, maybe in forty years someone will make a movie like The Insider about how mobile phones really were a significant cause of brain cancer...


Wednesday, November 08, 2000 - newest items first
# 10:21:00 AM:

Is Microsoft Word useful for writers?

It seems like a silly question, but the world's most popular word processor, Microsoft Word, has a lot of poorly designed features and outright bugs that annoy people who write for a living. I helped start a discussion on the topic at the online magazine TidBITS, and it became very wide-ranging, including writers like me who've been driven away from Word, and Microsoft employees working on Microsoft Office 2001 for Macintosh.

I'm one of the Word defectors. I write using three other programs:

  • BBEdit, an extraordinary text editor from Bare Bones Software.
  • Nisus Writer, a quirky but powerful word processor from Nisus Software.
  • The editing window of Microsoft's own Outlook Express for Mac -- my e-mail program.

It says something (both about Word and about me) that I prefer Microsoft's e-mail program to their word processor for writing. The last version of Word I liked was 5.1a for the Mac, released in 1992. I still have it installed and use it on occasion.


# 8:05:00 AM:

Then again...

Yesterday, I wrote "The outcome of the American election is much less clear. We'll all know tonight."

Well, maybe not.

As I write, Florida is re-counting its deciding ballots, with the difference between Bush and Gore at less than 1700 votes -- so something like 0.002% of the American nationwide vote will decide the contest. Is that good sign or a bad sign for democracy? Every vote counts, obviously, but are the candidates so alike and is the U.S.A. so split along party lines that whoever wins hardly has a mandate?

As the curse goes, "May you live in interesting times."


Tuesday, November 07, 2000 - newest items first
# 11:13:00 AM:

Elections - one down, one to go

Today is the U.S. national election. We have one here in Canada on November 27. Whatever its flaws, Canada's parliamentary system has two obvious benefits over the U.S. model:

  1. We have a multitude of parties -- in this election, five major ones that already have seats in Parliament.

  2. Campaigns don't drag on forever. Our November 27 election was called (on the Prime Minister's whim, but that's another debate) a little over a week ago, so the whole campaign lasts slightly over a month. Since the U.S. has regularly scheduled elections every four years, the campaigns seem to start about half way through the term, and last 18 interminable months, or longer.

Right now, there seems little doubt that Jean Chretien will win his third term as Canada's Prime Minister. The outcome of the American election is much less clear. We'll all know tonight.


Monday, November 06, 2000 - newest items first
# 11:46:00 PM:

Freelancers ask, "Just what are we selling, anyway?"

Freelance writers and the New York Times (as well as some other publications) have long held a simmering dispute about what the NYT is allowed to do with articles sold to it by freelance writers -- people like me (well, okay, I've never been in the Times). Now, the argument is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Essentially, the writers say that when they sell an article for publication, it is only for print, and that if the publisher wants to add it to an electronic database or publish it on a Web site, the writer should get additional payment. The publishers disagree, saying that databasing an article is the kind of "revision" copyright law allows.

I'm not sure where I stand on this one. Certainly, it's nice if freelancers get paid for each different medium their work appears in -- as a freelancer, I'd certainly like the money. On the other hand, having the complete archives of the New York Times available, even years later, in electronic form, is certainly handy for people in general -- including other writers doing research.

The lawsuit apparently deals with articles written between 1990 and 1993. I hope that by now the publishers and freelancers have worked out their contract language so the status of database and Web archives is clear. If not, someone's been spending too much time in court and not enough writing.

Incidentally, in case you didn't know, the reason this kerfuffle involves only freelancers is because copyright law -- not just in the United States, but in most jurisdictions worldwide -- clearly dictates that any writing work done by an employee or contractor is the property of the publisher, not the person who did the writing.

The most interesting recent example of that law at work is the famous column-turned-speech (turned-pop-song) "Wear Sunscreen." Originally written by Chicago Tribune staffer Mary Schmich in 1997, it became an Internet urban legend when falsely attributed to author Kurt Vonnegut as a commencement speech at MIT (he's never given one there -- Schmich's or anyone else's). Later, the column was transformed into a hit song, but Schmich wasn't entitled to any songwriting royalties. Those belong to the Tribune, which had no obligation to share them with her, since it had paid her staffer's salary when she wrote the piece originally.

The lesson? Working freelance is risky and frustrating and involves a lot of paperwork -- but you maintain ultimate control of your work. In my case, freelance pieces I create then then sell after I work on them are mine. Anything I write for my day-job employer or as part of a contract assignment belongs to whoever hired me. Worth keeping in mind for me. Maybe for you too.


Wednesday, November 01, 2000 - newest items first
# 12:56:00 PM:

Should it be E-mail, e-mail, email, or eMail?

Wired News, which long ago pioneered the use of the word "email" as a single word, without a hyphen, recently changed their minds. I've always preferred the "e-mail" spelling they now use, and it's especially useful now that there are so many other "e-" (and "m-" etc.) words to go with it.

It may seem trivial, but Wired News's change is actually rather unusual. In English, words tend to go from separate ("electronic mail") to hyphenated ("e-mail") to one word ("email") -- almost never the other way. No one is likely to start using "to-night" again, for instance.

No standard has yet appeared in English for "e-mail" (and "e-commerce," and "e-business," and "m-commerce"...). In our language, nobody's in charge, so it will simply take some time for a canonical spelling to coalesce. I'm hoping for "e-mail," but if I had to bet money, I'd expect "email" will eventually be the way to go. All the other weird variants, such as "E-mail" with an always-capital E, and "eMail," will simply disappear along with the hyphenated one.

How long will it take for the change to be final? Maybe by the time "tonite" and "thru" are the official spellings of those words. Maybe sooner.


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