I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
My dad has worked with vending machines for something like forty years. When he started, most were cigarette machines. Now he specializes in the electronics that allow photocopiers to accept prepaid debit cards.
Last year, my friend Sebastien pointed me to VistaPrint, an online company that prints custom colour business cards inexpensively. You can choose from a number of different designs and enter the information you want printed via your Web browser.
Even though there are dozens of business card printers near my home in Vancouver, I ordered from VistaPrint instead, because 250 colour cards cost only $13 US (about $20 Canadian) -- though the cost has gone up a dollar this year.
VistaPrint calls these cards "free," describing the charges as "shipping and handling." Whatever. The price is still good. They put a small VistaPrint ad on the back, which is fine by me. For more money, you can remove that ad, get more options for what your card looks like, add your own logo, and so on.
I like the business cards they made. I'm unaffiliated with VistaPrint, so I get nothing for recommending them to you. But I do anyway.
I own a Nintendo 64 that I don't use much. In game console terms, it's a generation old -- released in 1996. Today there are three major similar consoles: Nintendo's GameCube, Sony's PlayStation 2, and Microsoft's Xbox. Sony and especially Nintendo have been in this arena a long time, while Microsoft is new.
People see Microsoft as a pretty savvy company, and the Xbox is a heavier-duty machine (both physically and electronically) than the GameCube or PlayStation. But that capability comes at a price, and that price may be too high for the Xbox to survive.
In the last week, Time, USA Today, and CNN all reported that accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui asked his Minnesota flight instructors to teach him how to steer a 747 but not take off or land. [But] the facts are just the opposite: Moussaoui told his Eagan, Minn., instructors he wanted to learn only how to take off and land.
Like folk etymology, sometimes news reports spread in absence of, or even in direct opposition to, the facts, because they better fit what we want to believe. That supposedly respectable news organizations would spread such "folk news" is disappointing and sad, though.
After many years, I have now spoken to and shaken the hands of people I've previously known only from their writing: Tom Negrino of Macworld, Tonya and Adam Engst of TidBITS, and Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software, for instance.
Thank you to them, and the other eight of us who are somewhat (or drastically) less famous in the world of computing, for coming to lunch at Vancouver's Spaghetti Factory yesterday before embarking on the Mac Geek Cruise to Alaska. (No, I'm not going.)
My wife and I saw Attack of the Clones Saturday night. Summary: better than Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace, not as good as Empire Strikes Back or the original Star Wars. In other words, pretty good.
The new movies sorely miss Han Solo (or Lando Calrissian, for that matter) -- a key character who is outside the political and mystical machinations of the main plotline, and who has some attitude. Even Boba Fett turns out to be way more crucially involved in the whole building-the-Empire thing than anyone would have guessed.
There are funny and creepy bits, spectacular digital spectacles -- and a very few that are beautiful because they aren't digital at all. What's best about the new film is that a whole lot of things are pretty topsy-turvy. People and things you thought were bad guys weren't always, and good guys aren't so good, or so wise. Plus Yoda kicks some butt.
Ben Burtt, legendary sound effects designer (with the perfect sound effects designer name) for the Star Wars films, among many others
Way too much detail about the original movie (for example "Listen to the sound of the sandpeople dropping Luke on the ground. I swear it's the same sound that Charlie Brown makes when he misses the football being held by Lucy.")
Stephen Jay Gould died yesterday of cancer. He was only 60, yet in his time he accomplished enough visionary and stupendous things for several lives. He became one of the world's foremost (and best selling) writers about science, a professor at two of America's top universities, a key player in our understanding of biological evolution, a huge baseball fan, and perhaps the world's greatest authority on fossil land snails of the Bahamas and Bermuda.
For those who have never read his work, I'd recommend in particular:
The Mismeasure of Man, an excellent 1982 critique of IQ testing, phrenology, and all the various ways humans have misunderstood intelligence, race, and a multitude of other things about ourselves.
Wonderful Life, the definitive explanation of how fossils hundreds of millions of years old, high up in the mountains in British Columbia's Burgess Shale, demonstrate how arbitrary evolution (and our own appearance on earth) is. It also shows how Burgess Shale organisms, though earthly, are far more alien than anything dreamed up in science fiction.
I Have Landed, the last set of his monthly essays in Natural History magazine, completing 300 written from 1974 to 2001. He never missed a month, and compilations of some of these essays made up most of his bestselling books.
And if you'd like to dive right into the deep end:
The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, his last, massive work, discussing -- well, what the title says. Perhaps a bit heavier going than most of his other books, but likely worth the effort.
My youngest daughter has taught me that, when you're two, the lack of a blanket for five or ten seconds, or having to wear black sandals instead of pink slip-ons, is cause for the kind of panic and hysteria reserved for an adult claustrophobic who's been trapped in a dark elevator for several hours.
Hey Jo, at the end of a long blog, asks: "By the way, why do they call them cel phones anyway? Other countries refer to them as 'mobiles', which is a much better descriptor. Cellular, digital, whatever -- they're mobile."
They're called cell(ular) phones because the radio network they work on is broken up into cells (often represented as interlocking honeycombs in diagrams, but roughly round on flat ground in reality), and that makes them different from other kinds of mobile phones. Each transmitter antenna on a building or tower is the base station, or hub, at the centre of a cell. A city has hundreds or thousands of these invisible cells mapped across it.
The reason the network is set up that way is simple: there's only so much radio spectrum (so many "channels") to go around, and breaking a given land area into small cells means:
that the individual base stations can be relatively low power, since they don't have to send their signals very far, and
that base stations a few cells apart can reuse the same radio frequencies for different calls, permitting tens or hundreds of thousands of simultaneous transmissions across a city using only a few hundred different radio channels. (That explains why phone companies have trouble at the Olympics or other big stadium sporting events, when so many people are packed into an area covered by only one or two cells.)
If you're moving (in a bus or car, or walking), your cell phone moves between cells as you talk, and your phone and the transmitters on the network seamlessly "hand you off" from cell to cell, even switching radio channels on the fly, in order to keep the conversation connected, sort of like a trapeze artist grabbing a new rope before letting go of the old one.
Before cell phones, there were mobile phones, but they were expensive and limited, because there were only one or two big transmitters in a city, so only a few dozen people could possibly use that kind of phone at the same time. Plus they were single-duplex -- only one side of the conversation could talk at a time, like CB radio, so you had to say "over" and such to end a statement.
So, calling them cellular phones serves a useful distinction: they are a particular type of mobile phone using a cellular-style radio network. But no one sees much of the other style anymore, unless you're on a boat and use marine radiophones. For that matter, in theory, cordless phones are mobile too, just not very far, while satellite phones are super-mobile but super-expensive.
Finally, digital and analog cellular phones use the same kinds of networks, but with different technology. They're both cellular (and there are a few different kinds of digital service). Analog is more expensive, has slightly better sound quality when reception is good, and is more widespread because it's been around longer. Digital is cheaper and more flexible. Some phones do both, so you can use them in areas without digital coverage.
I have not yet seen the new Star Wars movie, but I'm not one of those who refuses to read anything about it beforehand. I had fun watching The Phantom Menace three years ago, but it was disappointing in retrospect, since it left little impression on me afterwards. The original Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre, so my 1999 experience was quite a letdown -- but then again, so was Return of the Jedi.
Yet I remain optimistic, and even before seeing Attack of the Clones, I suspect Rene Rodriguez of the San Jose Mercury News has probably hit the nail on the head: "Some early reviews of Clones have dismissed the film as a hollow showcase for special effects, which is like saying the only good thing about an opera was the singing."
Yesterday I took my two daughters (ages two and four) to Cypress Falls Park in West Vancouver. It's a beautiful and strange wild zone, deep and dark and misty, smelling of cedar.
Cypress Creek runs from the ski area at the top of the mountain down to the ocean, a distance of 9 km. The park is just above the Upper Levels Highway, midway down the course of the creek -- so close to civilization that we grabbed sandwiches at the Caulfeild Subway before our trip, and coffee and lollipops at Starbucks afterward.
There are no signs leading to the trail, which begins at the end of a cul-de-sac, next to a small baseball diamond. A few minutes along the rock-and-dirt path (through tall trees reminiscent of Lynn Canyon a few kilometres east) brought us to a thundering waterfall at least thirty feet high. The kids were impressed. I was too.
John Lennon once complained that jazz was useless -- "Never goes anywhere, never does anything," he said. One of the reasons jazz is so marginalized today is that, while Lennon's complaint probably wasn't true when he said it in the sixties, it is today, at least as far as the jazz any common person hears.
Jazz developed as innovative, dangerous music, and got more innovative and dangerous as it grew. But now it has an establishment, one that complains when players don't play "real jazz."
So, many people today associate jazz with Diana Krall (who's good, but a throwback to fifty years ago) or, worse, "smooth jazz" like Kenny G and his ilk. No wonder rockers, techno-heads, and hip-hoppers hate jazz now -- even while they're using jazz techniques in their sampling, recycling, improvising, and experimenting. Too bad.
A great rock 'n' roll band doesn't just have a great rhythm section -- they are a great rhythm section, and Midnight Oil proved it last night here in Vancouver.
Over their 25-year career, the Oils have learned to be one big, fat, thundering rhythm machine, like a Down Under post-British Invasion version of James Brown's JBs. Lead vocalist Peter Garrett isn't much of a singer, but he can scream and croak and rant incomprehensibly better than anyone. When he bent his towering bald frame down at the front of the Commodore stage on Saturday night, wailing out a psychotic babble while his four bandmates unleashed a sustained explosion behind and over him, you couldn't ask for much more in a rock show.
These guys aren't youngsters -- they're as old or older than Sting, the guys in U2, or the members of R.E.M. They reached back twenty years to play songs like "Read About It" that still ring true today ("The rich get richer/The poor get the picture/The bombs never hit you/When you're down so low"). Yet they also managed to make new tracks from their Capricornia album like "Say Your Prayers" and "Luritja Way" roar with the same train-running-off-the-rails intensity -- even when they were playing acoustically with drummer Rob Hirst standing up at a mini-kit at the edge of the stage.
They played pretty melodies ("Tin Legs and Tin Mines" from the early '80s) and harsh, atonal punk-metal ("Concrete," from 1998). They sweated and leaped around the stage with enough energy to put bands three decades younger to shame. They played hits and obscurities.
Think of the best rock performances, the ones that carry you away:
...and on. Each one is propulsive, and somewhere each one fuses guitars, bass, drums, and voice into a single rhythm.
Midnight Oil have a whole bunch of songs like that. At the end of the night, for their second encore, after they'd already played "Beds are Burning" and seemed to have exhausted any possibility of going out on a higher note, they let the lid off of "Sometimes," the last track on 1988's Diesel and Dust album ("Sometimes you're beaten to the floor/Sometimes you're taken to the wall/But you don't give in"). The pedal was on the floor. Garrett was frightening. They were loud, tight, blazing, full bore. Couldn't get any better, I thought.
And then they kicked in the afterburners, like the final, desperate self-destruction of a fireworks display. Boom. Wow.
Organizations such as Project Censored and NewsWatch Canada try to track news that doesn't get covered by major media outlets, albeit from a left-wing bias. Here are a couple of stories I just heard about that might fit:
Microsoft, the company that actually invented the definition for the crime, was convicted of software piracy last September -- but, as the friend who forwarded the story to me noted, "this happened last year, but it seems that this week is when the North American news has heard about it and reporting it."
In 2000 and 2001, mysterious groups of young people, claiming to be "art students" from Israel (sometimes from schools that turned out not to exist), appeared at hundreds of offices and other facilities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) -- and even at agents' homes -- supposedly trying to sell artwork. Their real motive seemed to be some sort of surveillance, perhaps espionage, perhaps as part of an ecstasy drug network. Yet major newspapers and TV networks in the U.S. essentially ignored the story (the full story at this link requires paid subscription), despite its implications of either Israeli espionage or large-scale surveillance operations by organized crime, and (just possibly) some sort of foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks that eventually came on September 11, 2001.
The owners, publishers, and editors of different sorts of news media inevitably have biases. But when media such as television, radio, and newspapers are owned by a small number of people, there is little opportunity for biases to compete with one another, and thus to show us a fuller picture of the world.
What's more worrying is that the greater diversity of opinion and analysis on the Internet somehow missed the Microsoft conviction, perhaps because of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, which happened a mere couple of weeks beforehand.
In my teeny slivers of spare time, I've been designing and building a Web site for the Adam Woodall Band (Adam plays guitar and harmonica in The Neurotics, where I'm the drummer). The A.W. Band site is still pretty rough, but I made some progress today. I expect it will be reasonably complete within a week or two.
Other sites and pages I've contributed to include this one (of course), the Shagadelics' movie page, Navarik's corporate site (I wrote much of the text), and the site at Multiactive Software, where I was Web Guy about four years ago.
Disclaimer (added May 2004): While I now work for Navarik Corp., this site is my own, and doesn't represent the company's position on anything.
The review as the father of the man: Baby Trend Sit-N-Stand LX
If Amazon.com had existed to put end-user reviews online ten years ago, I would have been posting stuff about mountain bikes, computers, clothes, and cameras.
So what's my latest review, now that it's 2002? A baby stroller.
Baby Trend's Sit-N-Stand LX stroller may be one of a kind -- and it's a good stroller that could have been much better. I've yet to encounter the perfect double stroller (this isn't it yet), which is funny, since most parents would seem to need one for at least a short time if they have more than one child.
I couldn't find another model with a standard stroller seat in front and something that let the child in the back sit or stand. (A similar Cosco model has been recalled because it's prone to collapse.) In theory, and some of the time in practice, this is the perfect buggy for our two- and four-year-old daughters. Yet it annoys me for a number of reasons too, and my wife finds it almost unusable outdoors.
If you have two kids -- either twins or of differing toddler/preschooler ages, the Sit-N-Stand is worth considering. But try it out on some sloped or rough ground and know what you're getting into. You might prefer a more traditional double stroller, or a jog stroller -- or maybe your oldest should walk. This stroller is not suitable for infants who can't yet sit up, and I would recommend it only for kids at least 18 months old in most circumstances.
Good points (quite a number)
Mostly metal construction, solid, but with some flex. The design seems odd at first, but it generally works.
A flexible restraint system. Either child can safely ride either belted or not. In addition to standard child lap belts, there is a soft roll bar and crotch strap in the front and a neat clip-strap across the rear, which a child can lean against while standing to keep from falling off the back. My youngest even occasionally falls asleep in the rear facing backwards, with her head leaning against this strap, padded by a blanket.
The bottom bin is decently big and simple to access when the front seat is up, by sliding the plastic rear seat back to reveal the top of the bin.
The front wheels lock for gravel or rough pavement, or unlock for tight spaces in stores or malls.
The short wheelbase makes it about the same size as many single strollers -- good for tight store aisles and the trunk of the car.
Even with the front seat leaned back for a sleeping toddler, the child on the back can still stand (though not sit).
The grab handles on the sides at the back help kids steady themselves, and also make a great place to hang diaper bags, groceries, etc.
The kids can climb in or out of either seat easily. The back is particularly nice: just a low step.
With either seat empty, or with the kids "reversed" (oldest in front, youngest in back) the stroller is still well balanced, although lifting up onto a curb with a four-year-old in front takes some strength.
The handle is a good height, even for a 6'1" guy like me.
Once you get the hang of it (undo two strong metal clips, then grab the handle and front bar, closing the stroller like a book), folding and unfolding the stroller is super-fast and very easy. Just don't forget the clips afterwards, or a folded stroller may pop open -- and worse, an un-clipped one may try to fold up with kids inside.
In Canada, where I live, these strollers are pretty rare, and people ask about them all the time, so the resale value seems very good because of the Sit-N-Stand's uniqueness.
Bad points (few, but possible showstoppers)
Steering is horrible. The wheels seem too small for the design, and even when the front ones are locked, the stroller drifts to one side or the other on even the slightest grade or rough sidewalk. The flex in the frame is good for the stroller's strength, but makes steering a test of your own power. One-handed strollering (while holding a drink or a phone, or reaching for a wet wipe) puts noticeable strain on my wrist, while two hands are manageable but still sometimes painful, and I'm a professional drummer with strong arms. My wife won't take this stroller anywhere outside -- it works fine on flat smooth surfaces in the mall, but on even a new sidewalk with any sort of hill, she hates it because of how it torques her arms and (bad) back.
The front foot-flap is too small, with not enough of a horizontal platform. My two year old is not a big girl, but if she falls asleep her feet dangle off the front of the stroller, whether she's belted or not, laid back or sitting up. On a number of occasions I've caught her feet under the front of the buggy while doing something as gentle as pushing the stroller down into a driveway cut in the sidewalk, waking her up crying and holding her feet. At even a mild speed (jogging for a Walk sign, for instance) she might even get a significant ankle injury. I have to watch carefully now at any slope or obstacle if I have a sleepy toddler in there.
The cover is a mere arch, with no rear flap or ability to fold down over the front seat, so I sometimes flop a blanket over top to shield my youngest. There is no easy way to shield the back seat fron the sun or rain. When it's wet, I simply give each kid an umbrella rather than try to wrestle with a plastic tarp.
With both kids seated, getting at the bin to retrieve a sweater or pack some groceries is a pain -- you have to stretch down the mesh side and worm your way in.
I haven't yet tried to wash the fabric, so I'm not sure if it's all removable. If not, that's bad. If so, that's good!
How it could improve
Two things would make this a vastly better stroller (a 4 or 5 on the scale):
Bigger wheels that steer better, or at least stay straight. I'd prefer a rock-solid pram-style non-steerable axle with dinner-plate wheels on each end to the wandering sloppiness there now.
A better front foot flap that keeps a sleeping kid's feet from getting mangled.
My other quibbles are minor.
Would I buy this stroller again? Probably -- only because there's nothing else quite like it -- but my wife wouldn't. If there were a functional alternative at a similar price that addressed the two issues above, I'd buy that instead in a second.
Apple computer deserves its reputation for making computers easier to use, but the company has never been able to stick to a sensible plug for connecting its machines to display screens. So now, after fifteen years of hemming and hawing, there is this nasty result.
Yet Apple's hardware designers still haven't learned, and just released anothercable adapter last week!
There is great truth in saying that John Denver was "quite possibly the only man made cooler by Muppet collaborations," or in describing the Proclaimers' music as "catchy marching orders delivered by nerdy Scottish drill sergeants."
Earlier today, someone walked up to Pim Fortuyn, a bizarre nationalist politician in the Netherlands who was both anti-immigrant and openly gay (as well as on track to gain significant power in next week's Dutch elections), and shot him dead. On my side of the globe, someone fire-bombed the high-school office of Nancy Campbell, a Vancouver vice-principal who is married to the current premier, Gordon Campbell.
I dislike the policies of both Mr. Fortuyn and Mr. Campbell, and probably wouldn't like either man personally either. But avoiding assassinations and Molotov cocktails is what distinguishes kinder societies such as the Netherlands and Canada from brutal regimes worldwide, whether ostensibly democratic like Kenya, defiantly dictatorial like Burma, or even democratic but caught in the throes of history, like Spain or Israel.
Both stories shocked and dismayed me. Pim Fortuyn and Gordon Campbell may each have different sorts of reprehensible ideas. Yet Fortuyn still did not deserve to die, and the staff and students at Churchill Secondary should not face the risk of having their school torched. I'm ashamed that such things could happen in our countries.
Last week (after dinner at the excellent but tiny Tio Pepe's) my wife and I got some cappuccinos at the Café Roma on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. Near the washrooms (probably where, decades ago, the cigarette machine used to be) were two table-top videogames, including a Pac-Man console. I hadn't seen one in a long time.
Now I discover that someone has taken a Ms. Pac-Man table-top console and rigged it up with a full-fledged PC inside. Neat.