Journal: News & Comment

This is " July 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.

Monday, July 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:02:00 PM:


I live in British Columbia, which is, on the whole, beautiful. So is the state of New Mexico, in a very different way, and here is a site with a different New Mexico photo every day (via Scott Rosenberg of Salon).


# 10:15:00 PM:

Flared pants and Star Command

Talking to Air (dig that coffee) found a delicious pleasure: the '70s Live Action Kid Vid site, which appeals to people precisely our age, who "remember Shazam!, Isis, Land of the Lost, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl or Ark II."

A few weeks ago I had been frustrated by not being able to remember the title of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and Air wondered if I recalled The Bugaloos. (I didn't, and, strangely, still don't. How did I miss that awesome car?) But I do recall other shows that ran for as few as eight episodes nearly 30 years ago. Yikes.

If not for the Web, how would we ever find this stuff? No wonder I enjoy The Powepuff Girls (with occasional appearances from the Justice Friends), Dexter's Lab, and other shows my daughters like, but which are made by people who grew up on these same '70s kid-vid programs.

P.S. Here are the Super Friends.


# 12:38:00 PM:

Stay on the scene

A few days ago, I wrote about James Brown's stupendous song "Sex Machine" (which I thought was from 1971, but is apparently a 1970 recording). I was listening to it again a minute ago, and just after the bridge, there's a little bit of drumming genius.

Right after Brown calls out "Hit it like you did on the top? Hit it now!", the band pumps out ba-dap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap, and the drummer, John "Jabo" Starks, does a tiny one-handed press roll on the snare drum before they drop back into the main groove (it's around 2:48 on the track -- give it a listen). It's the only time he does it in the song. You can hardly hear it, but it holds the bridge out just a fraction longer, stretches it before the song locks back into the verse. It's like releasing the clutch on a manual car transmission at the exact moment you crest a hill and snap into gear. Perfection.


Saturday, July 27, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:37:00 PM:

Hello, large one

Today, as most parents with children do, we went to the zoo. Here's who we met there.

My friend Alistair, as many other people do, went to the Vancouver Folk Fest last week, and there he captured this lovely thing.


Wednesday, July 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:33:00 PM:

Ugliness as marketing ploy

Something bothered me about the current ad campaign for Subway sandwich shops -- the one with the obnoxious and arrogant man of indeterminate age and his similarly indeterminate pals who enjoy making fun of people who don't "get" Subway. I wasn't sure quite what was so bothersome about it -- other than the obvious obnoxiousness, of course. There are limitless numbers of obnoxious ads, though. Why did this set grate so much?

Rock critic Greil Marcus nailed it in Salon, as number three in his regular "Real Life Rock Top Ten" column:

...finally, George W. Bush is making himself felt in culture. The commercial takes Bush's sense of entitlement -- which derives from his lifelong insulation from anything most people eat, talk about, want or fear, and which is acted out by treating whatever does not conform to his insulation as an irritant -- and makes it into a story that tries to be ordinary. But the story as the commercial tells it is too cruel, its dramatization of the class divisions Bush has made into law too apparent. The man smugly laughing over embarrassing a kid is precisely Bush in Paris attempting to embarrass a French-speaking American reporter for having the temerity to demonstrate that he knew something Bush didn't. (Real Americans don't speak French.)...

The man in the ad even has Bush's smirk down. Bleah. I'll be avoiding Subway for awhile.


# 9:44:00 AM:


Air conditioning made its first appearance one hundred summers ago, in 1902. We could use some now where I live in Burnaby, B.C., where the temperature in our house has been over 30 degrees Celsius for the past few days.


Saturday, July 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:16:00 PM:

Changing habits

Owning a digital camera has fundamentally changed the way I take pictures. When shooting on film, I used to be pretty judicious, taking photos I expected would be good, and then finding out only days or weeks later after getting the prints how things turned out.

Now I just fire away, sometimes randomly, and delete photos I don't like on the fly. But I keep a lot too, and only print out (or get printed at a photo store) a very few. From yesterday alone I have 48 pictures and three little movies on my camera's memory card, and that doesn't include the ones I erased just after taking them. Not a single one has made it to paper yet.


Thursday, July 18, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:05:00 PM:

Spam as a commons problem

Over at the TidBITS discussion list, to which I belong, there's a good discussion about the scourge of spam in e-mail. It has come around to Garrett Hardin's classic 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons." He wrote about the planet's growing population and the nuclear arms race, but his ideas apply just as well to the Internet, and to spam. Here's one excerpt:

Recall the game of tick-tack-toe. Consider the problem, "How can I win the game of tick-tack-toe?" It is well known that I cannot, if I assume (in keeping with the conventions of game theory) that my opponent understands the game perfectly. Put another way, there is no "technical solution" to the problem. I can win only by giving a radical meaning to the word "win." I can hit my opponent over the head; or I can drug him; or I can falsify the records. Every way in which I "win" involves, in some sense, an abandonment of the game, as we intuitively understand it. (I can also, of course, openly abandon the game -- refuse to play it. This is what most adults do.)

Edward Reid, one of the TidBITS Talk participants, notes that:

...the global email system is currently set up as a commons. [Hardin] argues convincingly that a commons can never be stable indefinitely; the instabilities are intrinsic. The email commons must be restructured into some form other than a commons to continue to be useful. We need to keep this in mind while we pursue our defense of what little commons we have left today. Because email is a commons, spam falls in the category of problems which have no technical solution.

So there is no technical solution while e-mail remains a commons, but being a commons is one big reason why it's been so successful. And then Chris Page, who heads the Mac software group at handheld maker Palm, Inc., had a neat idea:

A digitally signed promise to pay a fixed amount of money is sent with each [e-mail] message. [...] let's say it's a dollar. At the recipient's discretion that dollar can be collected or returned to the sender. If a given message is unwanted by the recipient, they claim the dollar.

Read his full message for details. Sure, it's open to some abuse, and it does change the way Internet e-mail operates fundamentally, so that it's not really a commons anymore (which, I guess, is why it might work). But it's a cool idea all right.


# 12:42:00 AM:

Driving weirdly

The new Honda Civic Hybrid is a major step for hybrid gas-electric low-emission cars. The tech Web site Ars Technica has just reviewed it. If you wonder what it's like to drive one of these new types of automobiles, this might sum it up:

Our other car is a Subaru Outback (great car). When I drive it now my heart sinks a little when I apply the brakes. Nothing happens. The car just stops. The batteries didn?t charge. The car didn?t turn itself off.

For some people, it takes a new hot-rod rocket or monster SUV to make their old cars seem disappointing. For others, neat fuel-saving technology does the same thing. My family will be interested to see where hybrids and other low-emission vehicles are in eight or ten years, when we next need a new one.


Wednesday, July 17, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:05:00 PM:

Get on up

I suspect that James Brown's 1971 track "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" is the most irresistible groove in the history of music.

And wrongheaded American legislators have decided that you'll have more and more trouble listening to anything that funky (or anything at all) from U.S.-based Internet radio stations.


# 10:51:00 AM:

Love the products. The company, though...

I'm a long-time Mac guy, and before that I was an Apple II guy. Macintosh computers and the Mac OS are genuinely cool. Apple Computer, the company, however, is often arrogant and sometimes makes stupid decisions. Like today.

Among a bunch of nifty announcements of new iMacs and iPods and operating system software, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the company's up-to-now free iTools e-mail, Internet storage, and Web page service will be replaced by ".mac", a pay-only $100 (U.S., so $150+ for me in Canada) per year subscription service. Old iTools accounts will be deactivated at the end of September.

Dumb dumb dumb. Here's what I wrote to Apple:

I've been using Apple computers for twenty years. I've had an iTools account since they were first available. I've recommended them to my friends and colleagues, and taken good advantage of iDisk and HomePage services. Replacing iTools with the paid .mac service is a mistake. Nothing Apple has ever done (including ignoring "Apple II Forever," ditching the clone makers, crippling processor upgrades, and erasing hard drives with an iTunes installer) has been so annoying.

I have no issue with making $100 (or $50) per year .mac services available to those who want them. I could even understand preventing anyone from creating new iTools accounts, but giving those who already have them (even if they were set up two days ago) less than three months to pay up or lose the services you provided and advertised as free is bad public relations, and not smart.

For those of us who only use the e-mail and HomePage portions, for instance, the pricing is prohibitive -- most particularly if the asinine mail filtering and HomePage bandwidth limitations remain in place. I'll simply have to find a way to move my HomePage sites somewhere else. There is insufficient value in .mac for me to pay what you're asking. Apple will lose a lot of goodwill over this decision -- unless you change it.

At the very least, Apple should provide a way to redirect e-mail and HomePage sites to other locations. This decision is going to make a lot of work for me, but I'd rather do it than pay Apple for their stupid decision.

I expect (and hope) that the uproar from users and the press will be sufficiently nasty that Apple will have to reconsider. They'll come out smelling bad no matter what, though. And I'll certainly be figuring out how to migrate to another host for the movies and photo galleries I've had posted at iTools up to now.


Tuesday, July 16, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:40:00 PM:

Get it over with

Missed a few movies? Why not catch up quickly?


Monday, July 15, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:41:00 PM:

Read on, write on

David Strom's Web Informant has been going strong since 1996, but I only just discovered it. You should take a look, and maybe subscribe.

Another old thing that's relatively new to me is Mariner Write, a solid and streamlined $80 (U.S.) word processor for the Macintosh (now Mac OS X native too) that should fill the needs of almost anyone who needs to write -- never mind spending hundreds of dollars more for Microsoft Word. Mariner Software has also released the free and open-source DocDrop, which automatically converts Word documents into the more universal Rich Text Format (RTF). If you're on a Mac, try them out.


Sunday, July 14, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:59:00 AM:

Konica KD-300Z photo samples

I've had a few days to play with my tiny new digicam, so I've posted some sample photos at, as well as a comment on Philip Greenspun's generally negative review of the camera, which is also known as the Kyocera/Yashica Finecam S3. (Scroll to the bottom of that page to see my piece, or try this other page.)


Friday, July 12, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:10:00 PM:


I like this shirt.

Meanwhile, here is some interesting and useful information about using personal electronics on commercial aircraft.


Wednesday, July 10, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:10:00 PM:

Join the crowd

[Konica Digital Revio]

After putting it off for years, for the love of my Nikon SLR, I finally bought a digital camera -- a 3-megapixel Konica Digital Revio, which is a slightly restyled Kyocera Finecam. It is ridiculously small -- it will fit in the palm of my hand -- yet it takes very good photos.

The decision was much easier because of a wealth of information on the Web. If you're looking into a digital camera, try the DC Resource Page (my personal favourite of all the sites), DP Review (the most comprehensive), (based here in Vancouver, and available in English and French), Steve's Digicams (a bit chatty and not especially informative), Imaging Resource (solid reviews, with some good product shots), and (focused on higher-end products, brutally honest, but a bit snobby).

I still bought the camera in a store, and, perhaps surprisingly, the most knowledgeable staff were not at a dedicated camera store, but at London Drugs, which was where I spent my money. They also had by far the best price -- $529 Canadian this week, but they're going fast.


Tuesday, July 09, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:06:00 AM:

Killing e-mail: a simple plan

People have long feared the bureaucratization, regulation, and censorship of the Internet, though it seems to be designed to prevent those sorts of heavy-handed methods from ever working. However, e-mail may be dying anyway, as an unintentional consequence of fighting spam.

How? Well, if a significant chunk of e-mail never gets through because it's arbitrarily rejected, we have a problem.


Sunday, July 07, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:31:00 PM:

How to become a writer

A visitor to this site, age 13, asked today how to get into writing (as others have asked in the past), wondering how somebody gets a column published. Here's how I answered:

Nobody gives you a column to write. You get one for yourself.

I find the best way to get published, or get involved in the industry, is to volunteer somewhere. I started with my high school annual and student newspaper, and moved on to similar publications at university. Eventually, after having done a lot of writing and editing for free, I managed to find a summer job doing it, and kept on that way until it's what I do today. At every stage I gained skills, and that helped me move on.

Another approach (and you can and should do both) is to volunteer as an intern at a local magazine, book publisher, or community newspaper. (I don't know where you live, but there must be something in your area.) They often need help with proofreading and fact checking, and while doing that doesn't get you published yourself, it helps you develop your editorial skills -- something every writer needs.

Take pride in your work.

You must learn to be merciless with yourself. Everyone makes mistakes in spelling, grammar, style, and punctuation, but if you manage to let one or more slip through when you submit something for publication, you should be embarrassed about it -- just as master woodworkers would be to see their cabinets in a store with scratches or a misaligned hinge. A writer is self-critical, and you must learn to find the mistakes in your drafts and eliminate them. It's a rare writer who is so stupendous that editors will forgive his or her sloppiness.

Learn to have an editor's eye for everything.

You should spell-check and read over everything you write, even e-mails. Strive to have even your least formal writing be the best it could be. The discipline will pay off down the road when you don't have to think about it intensively on the job.

Look at writing around you and see if you could improve it. How would you write a newspaper headline differently? Would a sign be easier to understand another way? Is there a spelling or usage mistake in an ad in a magazine you're reading? Notice how things are written: did you ever discover that newspaper articles are written so that you can chop off sentences or paragraphs from the bottom up to shorten them, and they still make sense? Magazine pieces don't tend to be that way. If you read the way a TV newscast was written on paper, it would be very different from a newspaper piece on the same subject. Why? What are the differences?

Read and write.

Read. Read read read. Find topics or areas or authors or styles you like, and try to understand why you like them. Learn to refine your writing, to re-read it and examine it with a fresh eye, to remove unnecessary words, and to make your meaning clear. The people who get published are those who write well. If you love to write, be good at it and you can find something to do with that skill.

Write. Write write write. No writing is ever wasted. If you've written two books, that's great, even if they never get published. Understand and accept that they probably never will, in fact -- how many of the world's most famous writers had anything published in their mid-teens? Or their first two tries as an adult? Not many. But that doesn't mean the work wasn't worth doing.

Everything you write teaches you to write better, especially if you look over it and improve it. If you write something and your computer crashes and you lose it, sure, scream and yell, but then try rewriting what you wrote. Chances are the second try will be better than the first one anyway.

Meet writers.

Join a local writers' organization. Try to find a writer you admire, who does what you'd like to do, and see if he or she will mentor you. Maybe learn something about another language (even badly), like Spanish, French, Russian, Latin, or Chinese. Discovering how other languages work helps you understand your own better.

Being a columnist is a sort of dream job for a writer: write about whatever you want, maybe do little or no research, and let the Letters to the Editor handle the complaints. But columnists don't get there by magic, and there are very few of them. Almost all the ones you see published have slogged their way through less glamorous writing assignments, sometimes for decades, first.

Write for real.

Find out if real writing that can get you a job -- the kind that requires research, discipline, the ability to hear and use criticism, and a willingness to write even about things you're not interested in -- is something you want to do. Could you write instructions for a microwave oven? A garden sprinkler? A kid's toy? More importantly, could you write the best ever instructions for a microwave oven? Would you be willing to try? People pay well for that.

To be a good writer, you need to love the process too. If you like words for their own sake, that will go a long way.

One more thing: I find that having a weblog is a great way to get writing out into the world every day, with minimal effort. I use Blogger and I find it to be a good service. The neat thing about weblogs is that if you write interesting, well researched, and original material, people tend to find and link to you. And there's no publisher to hassle with!

I hope I haven't been discouraging. If you can look at all the obstacles I've pointed out and say, "yeah, I'm up for that challenge," then you're looking at the right business.


# 12:28:00 AM:

Back to the anxiety closet

In the '80s there was a tremendously popular comic strip called Bloom County. Its creator, Berkeley Breathed (where did he get a name like that?) has a pretty decent Web site, which includes lots of drawings of his most famous character, Opus the long-suffering penguin.

In March 1987, someone stole the large stuffed Opus toy I brought as a decoration for the Last Class Bash, which I had helped organize for the Science Undergraduate Society of UBC (Bloom County was big with the college crowd). I've never quite forgiven whoever took my Opus.


Saturday, July 06, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:05:00 AM:

There's high speed, and then there's high speed

I've had an ADSL high-speed Internet connection since 1998, and I'm profoundly addicted to it. I've never switched to cable modem service, despite attractive offers from my local cable company, because something about the way the cable network works struck me as not quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Then the fine people at the O'Reilly Network (via Doc Searls) cleared things up for me, noting that "cable modems, wonderful as they are for what they offer, distort the market for Internet access." Read more of Andy Oram's article to find out why.


Friday, July 05, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:46:00 PM:

That's Joan

Brenda Christensen, a former co-worker of mine, now runs a vintage clothing store in the L.A. area known as Vintage Diva. The cover photo alone (of Joan Crawford) makes the site worth visiting.


# 12:27:00 PM:

Paper or plastic?

Despite the Web publishing revolution, seeing your work in print is still especially satisfying, particularly when it's accompanied by good design and excellent illustrations, on nice glossy paper. LINK magazine, published by computer peripheral maker D-Link Networks, has just put out its Summer 2002 issue in print (not yet on the Web). It includes my article "The Ultrawide, Roll-Up, Mind Control Future." If you can track a copy down, LINK is well worth a read.

I'll post a link to the electronic version of the issue once it's online, but the Acrobat PDF never quite does justice to the printed version. There's a reason we continue to keep stuff on paper.


# 2:36:00 AM:

Fame, such as it is

I've been listed as as one of the "blogs we've liked" by The Guardian, one of the U.K.'s best newspapers, which also publishes what may be the world's best online version of a newspaper.

So far 17 people have visited. Welcome. Please visit my archive and site map, or use the Search box on this page -- they'll get you roaming around quickly.

After working on it for a month, I have just completed a major milestone in documenting a stupefyingly dull set of more than a hundred AT commands for wireless modems. I hope I can get them out of my head as I try to sleep.


Thursday, July 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:03:00 AM:

In all seriousness

We've posted a bunch of photos from our Canada Day shows over at the Neurotics site.


Monday, July 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 6:57:00 AM:

CanadaHappy Canada Day

Here's a map. Don't forget to come see the band.


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