Journal: News & Comment

This is " March 2002," 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.

Sunday, March 31, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:30:00 PM:

How to determine the age of your house

James Lileks has a cool tip to help you figure out the age of any older house you might live in or be visiting:

If the toilet's the original item, flip over the tank lid and look for the date stamp. I don't know where I learned that, or why they did it -- they don't seem to do it much anymore, but old toilet lids bore the month, date and year of manufacture.

I'm going to check ours shortly. I wonder if toilet makers were still dating their works in 1967?

Update: Yes they were. Our toilet was made on May 23, 1966. It must have been in storage until they built our house the next year.


Saturday, March 30, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:59:00 AM:

Leaving on a jet plane

Most computers are too noisy. The generic Windows PC we have upstairs (and on which I'm typing this) has a fan with a solid, constant whine. The hard disk and CD-ROM drive add to the problem. Whenever I turn it off I'm shocked at how quiet the room becomes.

Computer noise is more than an annoyance: it can lower productivity and contribute to health problems and stress. If you've ever taken a long trip on a jet airplane, you've probably noticed that the persistent white noise can be irritating and prevent you from resting. Although jet cabin noise is around 75 dB and computers are rarely louder than 50 dB, most of us (other than pilots and cabin crew) don't spend hours a day every day in aircraft -- while we do that with computers.

Quieter computer parts aren't that expensive, but until recently noise reduction hasn't been much of a design factor for our workstations. Apple Computer changed that with their first fanless iMacs a couple of years ago, as well as the discontinued Power Mac G4 Cube. (In truth, the original Apple II and earliest Macintosh computers were even quieter -- they had no fans, and their only moving parts at all were in the floppy disk drives). Their more recent designs require fans, but the company has made an effort to use the quietest possible parts.

In time, noise levels may become a general concern with computers, as they have with cars. I'd like that. I see little evidence so far, however.


Friday, March 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:30:00 PM:

War of the leukocytes

In the middle of my head there's a war going on. I can feel it. When the tide of battle turns in my body's favour, I'm okay. A few minutes later, my nose is running, I'm sneezing and coughing, and there are sharp, goopy pains behind my eyes, just beneath my brain in the centre of my skull.

Time to lie down and read a good book. (Before my youngest daughter wakes up, anyway.)


Thursday, March 28, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:13:00 AM:

Are you the enemy?

Some companies think so. Some don't. Who will win?

Nearly a year and a half ago, computer sales guy Bob Moriarty wrote an article about failed computer hardware maker Newer Technology that included this piece of wisdom:

You can have truly superior products and unlimited demand and still fail. All you have to do is consider your customers the enemy.

Making enemies

Through courts and lobbying of legislators in the United States, the large conglomerates of the entertainment industry have made it clear that they consider us the enemy.

I think Moriarty was right, and that attempts to lock down music and movies and software and other products will fail -- because anti-"piracy" schemes for digital content always inconvenience legitimate buyers while people who want to get a free ride find ways around the copy protection. But the failure may take some time, and it will get ugly in the meantime.

Ahoy there!

By the way, "piracy" is a lousy word for copying software or movies or music without paying for it. I think it's certainly problematic, but real piracy involves destroying property and hurting or killing people.

I think the term "software piracy" arose both because early software crackers liked the rogue "ahoy there, me hearties" image of pirates, and because many software and media companies wanted -- and still want -- to portray unlicensed users in as bad a light as possible. But using software you don't pay for, while not nice (if the makers want you to pay for it, of course), is different from cutting someone's throat and leaving them to die on the open ocean. That's what actual pirates do.

If a group of maniacs stormed Adobe headquarters, killed the staff, took the entire inventory to Iraq, and somehow started selling Photoshop to the "Axis of Evil," that would be real software piracy.

I only hope no one tries to call people who copy digital media "software terrorists."

Costs and benefits

Stories of the costs of unlicensed use appear all the time. But remember that while the figures are cited (and inevitably reported by media) as "[company] estimates that it loses [some huge number of dollars] every year to piracy," those aren't so much dollars lost as sales that weren't made -- and wild guesses, at that. There are two key things that make a difference between losses and unmade sales:

  1. How many of those "lost" sales would the company have made if there were no way to obtain the products illegally?
  2. What is the cost to the producer of each "lost" unit?

The vast majority of illegal software copying takes place in low-income countries. In some of them, the $400 cost of a piece of typical office software might be a month's (or even a year's) wages. Many other "pirate" users in the industrialized nations don't actually use the products enough to justify their cost, so wouldn't buy them anyway. Still, there is a huge amount of unlicensed use that could be converted into income.

However, is it worthwhile to do so? Once a media or software company has invested in producing something -- a software package, a movie, or an album -- the incremental cost of making each new box, or CD, or DVD, is trivial, from a few cents to a few dollars. Even more important, those who copy such materials don't actually cost the producer anything, since they don't take any media or packaging. They simply don't give the producer any extra money for the data. (Again, these are undefined sales not made, not actual material losses.)

That can work to the producer's advantage. Some theorize, for instance, that Microsoft gained from all the unlicensed copies of Office that floated around and helped it become the standard at the expense of WordPerfect and others. Only once those competitors had been effectively eliminated did Microsoft start trying to prevent copying more actively.

The convert

Here's a personal example. When I was a teenager and poor student, I copied a lot of software. Now I pay for the software I use, because I make a decent living, appreciate the effort behind the products, and like having packaging, manuals, upgrades, and technical support.

But which products do I use? The ones I used to "pirate." I use Adobe PageMaker because I used to use a cracked copy in the late '80s. I never used QuarkXPress because their copy-protection schemes and general attitude towards customers were nasty. So I never learned it. When I could have used it in my business years later, I never bought it either, even though it is the industry standard page layout application. So Quark gets nothing from me.

Similarly, I'm unlikely to get to like any musician whose CDs are copy-protected, because I can't convert tracks to MP3s for my computer, where I listen to most tunes while my CDs sit in a rack upstairs. So I won't buy their CDs, and certainly won't go listen to or buy any new albums from that artist. Imagine if I couldn't even borrow an album from a friend to see if I like it? (That's the way digital "rights management" technology is going.)

Another approach

Back in the early '80s, a company called Beagle Bros. confounded their competitors by not copy-protecting their Apple II computer software -- almost everyone else did -- as well as by charging ridiculously low prices (by the standards of the day), and by including cool manuals, tip sheets, and other goodies with their programs. Guess what? People bought Beagle Bros. software instead of copying it, because it was a better value to pay the money.

Better yet, those customers raved to their friends about Beagle Bros. and what a great company it was. What was that worth, I wonder?


Tuesday, March 26, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:44:00 PM:

How's the economy up there?

On average, if you're tall, you make more money than people who aren't. More puzzling, if you're tall in high school, the more money you make when you become an adult, even if you're not taller than average by the time you grow up.


# 12:39:00 PM:

Cool idea. Needs more people.

Where's Willy? (for Canada) and Where's George? (for the U.S.A.) are Web sites that let you track the movements of dollar bills (and other bills) as they circulate.

To be genuinely interesting, they need more participants. For instance, the Canadian $5 bill with the most "hops" hasn't even left Ontario yet, while its American $1 equivalent has shuffled all the way from Ohio through Kansas to Missouri. And all three Canadian fives I tried were making their first appearance in the system when I tried them. Woo-woo.


# 12:19:00 PM:


Last year a guy named Todd was one of those brief Internet fads with his extremely funny little animated movie, Laid Off. He's done a few more things since -- his Daily Fact I Learned from the TV being perhaps the best part of the site.

It helps if you watch the original video first so you can imagine him reading the Daily Fact in that same gravelly voice.


Monday, March 25, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:44:00 AM:


There was something slightly disturbing about the Academy Awards last night. I couldn't put my finger on it as I watched, but I think Cintra Wilson of Salon figured it out. The show was trying too hard to be Important, and instead came off as cynically self-congratulatory. I know it's always like that, but in recent years the show had been subliminally aware that it really is about trivialities in a world of much more significant things. Whoopi Goldberg didn't help much, since her attempts to be earthy and hip generally fell flat. I much preferred Steve Martin last year.

Sidney Poitier, however, blew everyone else out of the water with his command over the language in his honorary Oscar acceptance speech. He made Robert Redford's similar speech seem pedestrian, and Halle Berry's later meltdown simply embarrassing. Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller were quite funny. And after shunning the Oscars for decades, Woody Allen even showed up to tell people to make films in New York (which hardly seems necessary to suggest, even now) and to talk almost entirely about himself -- yet he was still amusing, pointed, endearing, and real. Today's digital special effects may seem like magic, but they're just amazing digital technology. What I wonder is, how does Woody do that?


Sunday, March 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:44:00 PM:

Teach your kids about the Web

What the Web is For is an online book by David Weinberger, aimed at explaining a theory of the World Wide Web to kids in mid to late elementary school.

What if those kids already understand it better than we do, though? No matter: the site explains Weinberger's theory of the Web to the rest of us too, perhaps more straightforwardly than the grown-up book he wrote about it.


# 11:12:00 AM:

Camcorder video shooting tips

Corrie Anderson, a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics in Seattle, asked me some followup questions to my video editing article this morning. He wrote in an e-mail:

I am taping surgeries at a hospital and family events for lectures and personal use respectively. One of my biggest problems is taping the kids soccer games. The audience gets dizzy with my moving the camera back and forth to follow the action. Any suggestions of a resource on better movie taking techniques?

Somehow after making one video (which I didn't even shoot!) and writing an article, I've become an expert. Well, I'm not, but I can use Google and I've read tips from others. So I replied as if I'd been doing this for years.

For soccer games, I would suggest watching some sports telecasts to see what they do. Don't watch the game, but watch how the camera follows the game. I know a lot of TV broadcasts use multiple cameras, which is not an option for you, but focus on the main wide-field camera, of which there is usually one (or maybe two on opposite sides of the field). And then think about what the extra cameras do, and see if you can emulate that when appropriate.

Try watching a hockey game, for instance. Action there is much faster than in soccer, yet it's not dizzying. Why? I hardly watch any TV sports, but I've watched how they're filmed. Here are my guesses:
  • Wide field. Our first instinct is to zoom in on the action and follow it closely with the camera, but think of how you view a game from the bleachers -- you can see the whole field, yet your eyes follow the small chunk of action. Let your TV viewers do the same, don't follow for them (that's like forcing someone to watch a whole game through binoculars, which prevents them from getting any context). In TV broadcasts, the camera stays back to take in a good chunk of the play surface at a time. People can still follow the action because the ball or puck contrasts with the ice or field, so even if it's small, you can see it. Plus the movements of the players lead your eye. Wide-field shooting also reduces how much you need to move the camera, which helps avoid the dizziness. Zoom back way farther than you think you should.

  • Pan either slowly or very fast. With a wide view, you can usually pan the camera very slowly to follow the action, just like people do when moving their heads. Watch TV broadcasts for that. If you have to follow the action very quickly (say a player kicks a ball the length of the field), then don't follow it -- whip the camera as fast as you can to the destination (the opposing net, for instance) and wait for the action (the ball) to come to meet your new view. That has the effect of a cut instead of a pan -- things go by too fast to follow, so viewers don't even bother to try. As a trick, when you're editing later, you can even slice out the fast pan and make it a true cut!

  • Don't zoom while recording. Keep the camera at the same wide zoom all the time. Then people don't have to adjust to things getting bigger and smaller. Professional filmmakers and TV people almost never zoom while filming because it's so distracting.

  • Stop for closeups. If you do want to zoom in on something, make it static action, like the ref talking to a player, or the coach and players conversing between plays, or a shot of the audience. When you record that, stop the camera, zoom in on the action, then record. Keep the "same zoom" rule here too -- as long as you're recording a single shot or event, don't use the zoom control. Think again of TV broadcasts -- alternate cameras that show closeups don't zoom either, and often don't move at all. They show the view from behind the net, or a particular event at the sidelines. Take their cue.

  • Use a tripod (or a monopod if that won't fit, but that's a fairly hefty compromise). Handheld shooting is always herky-jerky, so get a good video tripod and plonk it right in front of you in the bleachers or at the sidelines. Video tripods let you set their tension so you can move the camera left and right and up and down freely and quickly, yet still move smoothly and keep the camera the same distance off the ground. If you need to move the camera, stop shooting, pick up the tripod, set it down in your new spot, and start again. Most locations at a soccer game can see anything in the action, so you shouldn't need to move much.

  • Shoot extra footage, then cut it out later. Don't try to catch the highlights as you shoot. Just record as much as you can, then use your computer to find and excise the best bits, and put them together compellingly. Again, watch TV sports, especially highlight reels and instant replays. Few people are likely to want to (or have the time to) watch a whole soccer game again unless the team is analyzing its game for self-criticism, but 5 or 10 minutes of highlights can be wonderful even years down the road. Remember that 90-minute documentaries often come from 100 HOURS or more of footage, and music videos often have even more ridiculous amounts of original footage cut. Don't be afraid to nuke stuff that isn't interesting. Also, if you're filming something in particular, such as an awards presentation, leave "leader" footage at either end so you get everything important. Then cut out the leaders and chop out intermediate uninteresting parts in editing.
Even surgeries could take some of this advice, unless part of the point of the tape is to show students how long they take. Even then, it might be worth making a "highlight reel" of the important stages of the surgery, without having to detail each and every stitch -- show how one suture is done, but not the whole stitching up of an incision. Think of how surgeries are shown on the medical shows on Discovery Channel and TLC, for instance: demonstrate key bits, but cut out the tedium. Who has time to watch it all? Don't people fast-forward when watching anyway? Why not do the fast-forwarding for them, and make the transitions quicker and easier on the eyes?

As for resources, here's what a Google search turned up:


# 8:57:00 AM:

The thumbs have it

Kids who've grown up playing video games and typing instant messages on mobile phone keypads have developed unusual dexterity in their thumbs, researchers in England have discovered. Rather than hunting and pecking with their fingers when dialing numbers, as people like me (who adopted GameBoys and cell phones after puberty) tend to do, those a generation younger have trained themselves to touch-type ambidextrously with both their thumbs. They don't even need to look at what they're doing.

Note, however, that this is not some sort of evolutionary development -- we're not going to see a population of mega-thumbed youngsters take over the world. For that to happen, thumb-typists would have to be better at attracting mates and having more children, who would then type better and have still more children than non-thumb-typists for several generations.

First of all, I doubt that being able to type on a mobile phone is that much of an advantage -- at least for being able to reproduce. Second, phone keypads and GameBoys probably won't still be common several generations down the road. Instead, thumb-typists show that most of us don't take advantage of the abilities our thumbs already have -- just as those who speak several languages show what the brain can learn if we start early enough.

It's not as if the world has been overrun with people who have evolved long, spindly, super-springy fingers to touch-type on traditional keyboards, after all. And we've had over a century for that to happen.


Saturday, March 23, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 PM:

Boiling diesels

Most of the world doesn't know it, but after Midnight Oil peaked in popularity around 1991 (just before Nirvana blew the doors off), they kept making music -- two live discs, three studio albums, a greatest hits collection, and now a new CD called Capricornia, which deserves to be a comeback of sorts.

Midnight Oil were around before The Police formed. They were legends in Australia before U2 or R.E.M. made an album. They've been my favourite band since university (where most people determine their long-term favourite bands, I suppose), and I've always aspired to make my drumming as good as Rob Hirst's. Yet somehow, I was completely unaware when they played here in Vancouver last fall. They're coming again May 11, and I won't make that mistake again.

If you like real power in your live rock 'n' roll, you won't either.


Friday, March 22, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:44:00 PM:

You are a toy

The Buzz Lightyear Blowout last night at our local Disney Store led me to pick up a half-price Interstellar Buzz Lightyear "Ultimate Talking Action Figure" for $20 (tax included) for my daughters, who are Buzz fans.

The strange thing is, since the original Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story movies was designed as a computer-generated version of a toy, the actual toy is the same size and has the same surface texture, so it looks frighteningly like the original -- much as if the R2-D2 toys from my childhood had been actual size and made of metal. It was enough that when I left Buzz posed standing on the stove, I walked into the kitchen and expected him to start walking around and talking like Tim Allen.


Wednesday, March 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:20:00 AM:

Video editing followup

In my recent digital movie article, I mentioned that I used Apple's iMovie, even though I have other software that is more powerful. Today, David Coursey of ZDNet explains why iMovie is better for most people.


Tuesday, March 19, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:02:00 PM:

Recently added

My lists of links and other weblogs have some new additions, including the Institute of Official Cheer, the SF Gate Morning Fix, the Red Rock Eater News Service, James Lileks's Bleat, and Doc Searls.


Monday, March 18, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:03:00 PM:

Hi, TidBITS readers

If you've come here after reading my video editing article in the March 18 issue of TidBITS, you might want to check out:

  • The Neurotics video I was talking about, and the site for my band that it appears on.
  • The original version of the article as it appeared here and on the TidBITS Talk mailing list.
  • My January post about Vancouver webcams, so you can see what this city looks like (the "downtown" cam is particularly good) -- and note that it snowed here today at the beginning of Spring Break.

Otherwise, feel free to browse around (here's the site index). If you have any questions, e-mail me. Have fun.


# 12:08:00 PM:


Life a hundred years ago differed in innumerable ways from what we know today. Here's a small example.

I spent the last half an hour in the kitchen with a simple, sharp knife, a cutting board, and a bowl. I sliced, peeled, and mixed. The result combined apples from B.C. and Washington state, strawberries from California, pineapple from Hawaii, oranges from Florida, and grapes from Chile -- all fresh, not canned or preserved.

Now I'm spooning the little jewels of fruit salad into my mouth as I look out the window. And the snow comes down.


# 10:29:00 AM:

Following your own advice

These pages (via attractively outline DeBono's "simplicity principles" (which I'd never heard of before). Unfortunately, the opening page has this big tagline:

An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.

A good sentiment. But it would be shorter and easier to understand as:

An expert is someone who makes decisions simpler by knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.

Even better:

An expert makes decisions simpler by knowing what's important and what isn't.

Simple. See?


Friday, March 15, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:45:00 PM:

Three? What is wrong with you?

I have three screens connected to my Power Mac: a 17" monitor in the middle and two smaller ones on either side. Why?

Two days ago I was writing an article. On my main screen I had -- surprise -- the article, which I was composing in a text editor. On the smallest screen, to my right, I had a few stacked windows containing various e-mails and other documents I'd accumulated while doing research. On the left, I had a Web browser. I was able to read my research notes, surf for background material, and write, all without moving windows around or bringing different programs in front of others.

Even when I'm not working, I use the same strategy. E-mail in the middle, browser on the left, instant messaging and MP3 program on the right. It's addictive.

If you use one monitor and find it feels too small with today's newer software, try getting yourself a new screen (maybe an LCD flat panel these days), then pick up a cheap video card and use it to run your old monitor as a second display. You'll like the big fat expanse of your new desktop.

Or you could just get one of these instead.


# 9:24:00 AM:

Always room for improvement

The re-release of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial apparently contains some modifications, à la the Star Wars: Special Edition re-releases of 1997.

Some of the changes to Star Wars were supremely lame: for instance, making Greedo the bounty hunter shoot first -- very unconvincingly -- before Han Solo blasts him in the cantina, presumably in order to make Han look more chivalrous. Others were okay but unnecessary: the realistic lizards the stormtroopers ride while looking for C-3PO and R2-D2 are neat, but not nearly as ominous as the single one looming motionless on the horizon in the original. Sometimes, first tries and the limits of low budgets make better films, never mind the special effects improvements.

E.T. will apparently lose some of the guns, a reference to a terrorist, and maybe even the phrase "penis breath," which so many kids liked so much at the time.

Slate has some excellent suggestions for fixes Steven Spielberg could make to his other films.


Thursday, March 14, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:34:00 AM:

More links

In addition to updating my list of links and other weblogs in the right column of this page today, I've also added a directory of some of my most popular posts to this site, as determined by search engines. It makes for strange reading.


Wednesday, March 13, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:37:00 AM:

The best hotels in southwestern B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Traveling in British Columbia, Washington, or Oregon soon? I've been living and vacationing around here for some time, and here are a few of my hotel recommendations. Some are relatively inexpensive, but others aren't cheap at all:

  • Victoria - Bedford Regency Hotel, Harbour Towers, or Best Western Inner Harbour—as well as the Hotel Grand Pacific, added to this list in mid-2003

    The Bedford Regency is easy to miss, although it's right on Government Street with all the tourist shops, above Murchie's Coffees & Teas, which is always busy. My wife and I discovered it in 1997. It features stupendous down comforters on the beds, fireplaces (with real chopped firewood!) in the rooms, and deep spa-jetted soaker tubs with French doors. Not a place to take your kids (so we haven't been there since ours were born -- but once they're old enough to stay overnight with the grandparents...), it is luxuriously relaxing, and walking distance to everything in Victoria.

    Harbour Towers is large, and was recently renovated. We stayed there just before New Year's 2001/2002. It features good prices, some rooms with kitchenettes, a top-floor spa, an Internet studio in the basement, an indoor swimming pool and fitness room, and great views. Family friendly (there's even a playroom near the pool), and close to downtown attractions.

    The Best Western I mean (Victoria has more than one) is right across the street from Harbour Towers. It's a little smaller and less fully featured than its neighbour (no restaurant, the pool is outdoors), but rooms all have kitchenettes, and it's reasonably priced.

  • Vancouver (my home town) - Sylvia Hotel, Wedgewood Hotel, Bayshore Resort, Wall Centre, or Le Soleil Hotel

    The Sylvia is one of the oldest hotels in the city (though there is a newer tower addition now). It's quaint, not too expensive (at least for this city), and has a fabulous location on English Bay near Stanley Park, looking southwest at some of the greatest sunsets around.

    Right downtown, around the corner from the Robson Street shopping district, is the Wedgewood. It reminds me of Victoria's Bedford Regency (above) in that it's hidden in plain sight. The Bacchus restaurant in the lobby is renowned, the accommodations are European in style, and the rooms look out over the garden-style terraces of the Arthur Erickson-designed courthouse complex -- a pleasant alternative to the towers, streets, and rooftops visible from most other downtown hotels (even the five-star ones).

    Of Vancouver's big guns (and we have more top-flight hotels than any other city on North America), the Bayshore is my favourite because instead of being packed in with the other downtown buildings, it's on the Coal Harbour waterfront near Stanley Park (almost directly north, on the opposite site of the downtown isthmus, from the Sylvia), with some of the best views you could imagine of mountains, sailboats, trees, and sky. Plus all the usual resort hotel amenities, a conference centre, boat moorage, and a waterside walkway. The Wall Centre is a close second because it sits on the highest point of land downtown, is sleek and modern, and has floor-to-ceiling windows with great views on any side of the building, especially from higher floors.

    I've never stayed at the Le Soleil Hotel, but even though it is packed in with all those downtown towers, I sure want to.

  • Whistler - Pan Pacific Lodge or Chauteau Whistler Resort

    Everything in Whistler is expensive, so be prepared. The Pan Pacific Whistler feels smaller than it is, and the rooms are modern yet homey, with little balconies and strange alpine angles to the walls. Right in the heart of the Village too.

    The Chateau Whistler is simply the most luxurious-feeling hotel I've ever been in outside a big city. Especially in the hallways, which are dark, gabled, and opulent in a European ski resort kind of way. Prices are high, but you feel like you're getting your money's worth. (Luckily, my one stay there was paid for by a client.)

  • La Conner and Whidbey Island, Washington - La Conner Channel Lodge and Coachman Inn

    La Conner is a cute antiques-focused tourist town midway between Vancouver and Seattle. The Lodge is right on the waterfront. It's lovely. I recommend reading a book next to the huge stone fireplace in the lobby.

    My wife and I found the Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island (not far from La Conner) one rainy night in 1995 when we had been planning to drive to Oregon, but got turned off by the lousy weather and decided to stay somewhere closer instead. Neither the hotel nor the town (the commercial hub of Whidbey Island) is anything spectacular, but it's a fun little getaway that still has a 24-hour supermarket and decent Mexican restaurant nearby. Plus free breakfast.

  • Seattle - Doubletree Inn Bellevue Center, Silver Cloud Inn Mukilteo, or Mayflower Park Hotel

    The first two are outside Seattle proper, but close enough by car. The Doubletree is one of two by that name in Bellevue, just east of the city across Lake Washington -- the one I prefer is the smaller, motel-style hotel. It's been a favourite for over a decade, since I used to travel to Seattle with my fellow tech-geek roommates in search of CD-ROMs. It's also good now for a family with kids. The outdoor pool and hot tub are fun, and you get free cookies with your stay.

    Like the La Conner Lodge, the Silver Cloud at Mukilteo Landing (a short haul north of the city, on the Puget Sound waterfront) is built on pilings and is quite new. Very nautical, free continental breakfast downstairs, and it's next to our favourite Ivar's seafood restaurant, as well as the Whidbey Island ferry terminal.

    Attached to the interconnected mall network smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, the Mayflower Park tower is recently renovated but really quite old: it was built in 1927. It now combines its charming age and excellent location with modern luxury amenities. We had a great time there with our daughter when she was just a year old.

  • Florence, Oregon - Riverhouse Motel

    Florence has a delightful Old Town right on the riverfront, and though the Riverhouse Motel looks like nothing special, the rooms on the riverside offer fantastic southern exposure balconies right on the river bank. Traffic noise from the nearby metal bridge can be distracting, but the view is beautiful and calming. I recommend it as a stop on the Oregon coast. Walk into Old Town proper and have some steamed crab fresh from the fishing boats that pull in.


Tuesday, March 12, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:29:00 AM:

Why is Google so good?

The vast majority of all the search engine links to my site come from Google. People use it because it gives good results. Ever wondered why it's so much better than its predecessors?


Monday, March 11, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:52:00 PM:

Joy in perfection

Salon's ongoing "Masterpiece" article series hasn't been running long, but it's excellent. So far I've learned the most from the Chrysler Building feature.

I also recommend Salon's "Brilliant Careers" series. And you should subscribe to Salon Premium too.


# 8:48:00 PM:

Let's compare

Earlier I pointed out some flaws with a list of "economically free" countries. Let's check that list against some others.

The world's top ten most livable cities are:
  1. Zurich
  2. Vienna and Vancouver - tie
  3. Sydney and Geneva - tie
  4. Frankfurt, Helsinki, Auckland, and Copenhagen - tie
  5. Bern
The world's top ten most livable countries are:
  1. Norway
  2. Australia
  3. Canada
  4. Sweden
  5. Belgium
  6. U.S.A.
  7. Iceland
  8. Netherlands
  9. Japan
  10. Finland
The world's top ten most economically free countries are:
  1. Hong Kong
  2. Singapore
  3. New Zealand
  4. Great Britain
  5. U.S.A.
  6. Australia
  7. Ireland
  8. Switzerland
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Netherlands

Notice that only three nations appear in both country lists: Australia, the U.S.A., and the Netherlands. So economic freedom and quality of life don't go hand in hand. Oddly, Switzerland has three municipalities in the "most livable cities" list, while it does not appear in the "most livable countries" list. So the precise criteria for ordering the lists (each of which is from a different source) are probably fairly arbitrary.


# 11:21:00 AM:

Behavioral economics

The Fraser Institute's annual report on economic freedom lists the top ten "economically free" countries in the world as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, the U.K., the U.S.A., Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Canada is number 13, Germany 15, Japan 20, Italy 24, France 34, and Taiwan 38.

But Hong Kong is not a good place to be poor. Singapore completely bans the import, sale, and possession of chewing gum -- and if you possess enough marijuana, you'll get a mandatory death sentence. New Zealand has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world. Even Ireland may be free economically -- but not socially.

Some, like the Fraser Institute, hold up unrestricted free-market capitalism as the best possible way of organizing society. (Never mind Enron.) Then there are behavioral economists.

Orthodox economics says that we're supremely rational beings -- self-interested agents in a perfectly efficient market. We buy and sell because it's in our interest to buy and sell. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their self-interest," wrote Adam Smith in "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776.

Back in the real world, however, a different kind of logic prevails. We buy things we shouldn't, we spend money we don't have, we get caught up in sales. "Real humans, even when they know what is best, sometimes fail to choose [what is best] for self-control reasons..."

Unfortunately, the idealism of a perfectly well informed, perfectly rational populace falls down in reality. That's why governments, social programs -- and left-leaning types like me -- still exist.

I'm okay with number 13.


Friday, March 08, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:47:00 PM:


Craig Northey is a fine guitar player and singer, and he writes good songs with clever lyrics. But his online journal is consistently funny. I get a laugh almost every day.

I also like that his Web page colour scheme is almost the same as mine.


Thursday, March 07, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:47:00 AM:

Weights and measures

I have a large bottle of Joigel hair gel in the bathroom. I just noticed this morning that it is a 1 kg container. By contrast, the bottle of shampoo in our shower is a 400 mL package. The two substances (gel and shampoo) are roughly the same consistency, and they're both for hair. One is measured by weight, the other by volume. Why is that?

Canadian government regulations specify that:

the declaration of net quantity of a prepackaged product shall show the quantity of the product

(a) by volume, when the product is a liquid or gas or is viscous, or

(b) by weight, when the product is solid,

unless it is the established trade practice to show the net quantity of the product in some other manner, in which case the declaration shall be in accordance with the established trade practice. SOR/78-171, s. 1.

Both products seem "viscous" to me, and so should be measured by volume. But perhaps "established trade practice" in the hair products industry puts the line between solid and liquid directly between the solidy liquidness of shampoo and the liquidy solidness of gel.


Monday, March 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:47:00 PM:

Hello? Hello?

Compared to this, even the farthest satellite-bounced telephone call on Earth can't be called "long distance."

But consider: the Pioneer 10 space probe has been moving away from us at thousands of kilometres per hour for thirty years. It is now about twelve billion kilometres away, twice as far from us as Pluto, the farthest planet in our solar system. The message NASA sent took a little over eleven hours to reach it, and the spacecraft's response also took eleven hours to return. (Imagine a phone call: "Are you still there?" Wait roughly one day. "Yes.")

Pioneer 10 is the ball in the longest throw humans have ever made, and yet, if it were headed to the nearest star (which it isn't), it would still only be 0.03% of the way there -- the whole trip would take more than a hundred thousand years. As it is, Pioneer won't reach another star in the direction it's actually heading for at least a couple of million years. Our longest throw isn't even a nudge.


# 7:54:00 PM:

Rockin', dude

A decade later, I still have (and wear) a light purple "Crew" T-shirt from Lollapalooza 1992. That's like someone wearing a Woodstock shirt to a Clash concert in 1979, which (a) would have marked the wearer as hopelessly old, and (b) would not have been a wise move.


Sunday, March 03, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:02:00 AM:

We expect so little of our computers

You know we have low expectations for personal computers when a rave review of a new system includes the sentence "I put the iMac through its paces and everything worked." (My emphasis.)

I think the new iMac is cool, but would the ability to work even be worth discussing with any other sort of product?

  • "I put some food in the oven, and it actually heated up."
  • "I put the hammer through its paces, and it did hammer nails."
  • "I turned the key, and the engine started. Driving around, I was surprised that the steering wheel let me turn corners. The car accelerated predictably, and even stopped when I pressed the brake pedal."
  • "The shirt came complete with a hole for my head, one for each arm, and another at the bottom for my torso. Not only were all the necessary holes there, but there were no extra ones for extremities I don't have."


Friday, March 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:55:00 PM:

Nitpicker's paradise

The Economist publishes an excellent online style guide. If you're a hotshot at English writing, try the quiz before you even read the guide. I managed 11 out of 12 on the quiz, but I should have had 100% -- my gut instinct on question eleven was correct, even if I chose the wrong answer in the end. Oh well.

The Economist Style Guide is also available as a book, and I've now added it to my Amazon Wish List. Hint hint.


# 7:57:00 AM:

Hand crafted Web goodness

I don't make very much of my living from building Web sites, but I have created a few. I have also been doing it for some time.

I've made each one with rudimentary tools -- a text editor to hand-code the HTML and some graphics programs to make the pictures -- plus a few of the many free Web services, such as Blogger, Extreme Tracking, Apple iTools, and Atomz Search, that make Web site building much easier than it used to be.

I have two strong opinions about Web sites:

  1. They should be viewable on as wide a variety of devices as possible (different types of computers, operating systems, handheld devices). You can never predict how people will look at your work on the Internet, especially in the future.
  2. They should always be changing. An "under construction" sign is pointless, because a good site is always under construction.

I try to take my own advice there. This page is tolerably readable on a Palm handheld, for instance, and I've even edited this journal entry three times since I first posted it half an hour ago.


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