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...
This is "Penmachine.com: September 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.
Six months ago I published an essay here about companies that make enemies of their customers, in which I wrote:
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.
Now it appears that, in markets where they do not yet dominate, Microsoft may again let unlicensed copying go on for the same reason, because, according to one researcher:
...in developing markets, companies stand to make more money if they view each new illegal user as one more mouthpiece for the software and one less customer for the competition.
Or, as The Register put it: "'Steal all the software you want, so long as it's ours."
I do not have blonde hair, although I did until I was about five years old. My hair is brown, and even my skin is pretty dark, for a Caucasian. One of my daughters is blonde, at least for now, and also has blue eyes. Some speculate that, because fair hair requires blondness on both sides of a person's family in the grandparents' generation, it will die out within 200 years, with the last stragglers being from Finland, which has the world's highest proportion of the flaxen-headed.
Half of my ancestors (and thus a quarter of my daughters') were from Finland, but not that many were actually blonde. My dad (born in Germany) was -- before he went grey -- and has blue eyes. My wife has blue eyes, dark blonde (or light brown) hair, and the freckled complexion of a redhead. Will any of my descendants, other than my older daughter, have blonde hair? Chances are not. Not that it matters -- if ozone depletion continues, being blonde is probably a disadvantage anyway. Being anything other than black-haired and brown-eyed has always been rare among humans, and it's only becoming more so.
Monday, September 30, is the day all those formerly free "iTools" e-mail and online disk space accounts from Apple Computer turn back into pumpkins. When the company announced in July that iTools would become .mac (pronounced "dot mac") and cost $100 US per year ($50 initially for iTools members), I was pretty darn cheesed off. Yet, a couple of weeks ago, I went and paid for a subscription. Why?
Well, Apple made it worth my money, that's why. There are the 100 4x6 photo prints from my digital files, a game (Alchemy Deluxe), a half-decent backup program -- called, reasonably enough, Backup -- that's useful for automated offsite storage
of my e-mail, Virex anti-virus software with updates, and 100 MB of online storage (which I use for those backups I mentioned). I don't use the e-mail address.
I had set up seven other free iTools accounts, however, for everything from hosting videos to holding files from Web sites I designed for other people. I'm letting those ones expire.
Saturday, September 28, 2002 - newest items first # 1:13:00 AM:
A number of people have asked me about digital cameras in the last while, since I did some research before I bought my own in July and have been keeping up with the market somewhat. Here are my opinions of the four best values -- from lowest to highest resolution and price -- in the current market for consumer point-and-shoot digicams:
2 megapixel - the Canon PowerShot A40. Canon's Digital ELPH models -- the S200 (about $550 Canadian) and 330 ($675) -- get more hype, but unless you need their steel bodies and small size, the A40 ($425) provides far better bang for the buck.
3 megapixel - the Fuji FinePix F601Z. A cool vertical shape (which I like, but others might not), excellent movie mode, good picture quality (using Fuji's SuperCCD imaging chip), small size, fast picture-taking, and durable body make this a great little camera, if a bit pricey at $900 Canadian. Some call the F601 a "6 megapixel" camera, but that's only because it can perform internal interpolation using the SuperCCD sensor and do a not-bad job of enlarging the 3 MP image -- it's not really higher resolution, but large prints apparently turn out well. Try to find the F601 with the docking/charging cradle included. Its predecessors, the FinePix 6800 and 2 megapixel 4700, are worth looking for used. Canon's PowerShot S30 ($725) and new S230 (about $750 when it's available) are larger and smaller respectively, and are also worth considering.
4 megapixel - the Canon PowerShot G2. This camera simply takes excellent and detailed photographs. The fast, quality lens, easy-to-use controls ranging from full automatic to full manual, extra-long battery life, and incredibly useful swing-and-pivot LCD display make the G2 a top pick of many reviewers, me included. While the G3 will soon be available (for around $1300), and likely will take its place on my list, a clearance G2 ($1000-1100, maybe less) would be an excellent deal. As with many technology products, the best prices come when replacement models are introduced. A used G1 (the G2's 3 megapixel ancestor), while hard to find, is also a good bet. If the G2's price is still too steep, the Minolta DiMAGE F100 (a steal at $800) or Canon S40 ($850) should do the job for you.
5 megapixel - the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707. While it's soon to be supplanted by the F717 ($1500), I still recommend the F707 (around $1250 right now) for the same reason I think the Canon G2 is a better value than the G3 at the moment -- you'll get a good price while retailers clear out the old for the new. Both cameras look bizarre, with their huge pivoting zoom lenses, and they're big overall, but they take lovely pictures (even in low light) and have great battery life. Anyone shelling out for 5 megapixels probably deserves the kind of flexibility and control only a larger camera with a long zoom can provide. I find competing models from Nikon, Olympus, and Minolta even more ungainly-looking, and Fuji's "5 megapixel" models (see my second choice above) are really lower-resolution ones that interpolate upwards, so the photo quality is not what the pixel count would indicate.
It seems it's hard to go wrong with a Canon digicam, perhaps because the company often waits to introduce a new model until they have it well thought out.
Prices have come down enough that I think cameras with 1 megapixel or less resolution, since they won't let you make nice prints any bigger than about 4x6 inches, aren't worth it -- unless all you're doing is posting photos to the Web or eBay. There are plenty of good ones for little money these days, however. Models at 6 megapixels and above are limited to extremely expensive semi-pro and pro single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, which few but enthusiasts with fat wallets would look at. If you're seriously considering those, you probably know more than I do.
Whichever model and resolution you buy, you'll need to get a big memory card (96 MB or larger), since the manufacturers all provide pretty skimpy ones, no matter how expensive the camera. The range of digicam choices out there is vast, and your particular needs might make a different model best for you -- for instance, I own none of the cameras I recommend here, because I bought a 3 megapixel Konica that isn't as good as the Fuji, but cost me almost $300 less. At the prices and resolutions I mention, however, no one who buys one of my recommended cameras should be disappointed. Until a better one at half the price comes out in a few weeks, of course.
Being Daddy notes that we parents usually delude ourselves before our kids are born and when they are infants. We think we can mould them into liking what we like. Somehow, our kids will be the ones who enjoy Bach or Rage Against the Machine instead of Barney and the Wiggles, for instance.
We're wrong, of course. Kids' shows and songs exist for a reason. But the "grown-up" music my kids like is nevertheless instructive, because they do like some. They demonstrate the universal appeal of the Beatles, for instance. But that's not because the Beatles' rock songs were so good (which, of course, they are), but because the band did everything. My daughters prefer "Blackbird" (a lullaby) and "Yellow Submarine" (a kids' song if there ever was one) to anything else in the Fabs' catalogue. They sing along to Nellie Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird," with its stuck-in-your head chorus and simple, direct words ("I'm like a bird/I only fly away"), for the same reason so many teens and adults couldn't resist it -- it's somehow primal.
So perhaps the way to get yourself a hit is to write a great kids' song, and then disguise it as something for older people. It certainly explains why I and so many others (sometimes secretly) love tunes that are, by any intellectual standard, mindless pap -- from the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" to Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head."
And we shouldn't expect our kids to like Bob Dylan, Outkast, or Midnight Oil anytime soon, if ever.
On another note, my wife, who is a high school teacher, just admitted that this week was the first school dance she's attended where she hated the music. And she wore earplugs.
Only now that my daughters are old enough (two and four) to amuse themselves for ten or fifteen minutes without my direct attention do I fully appreciate being able to take a shower undisturbed. Or to read a book. Or to eat dinner without a little kid squirming on my lap and trying to mooch my food.
Before the kids were born, I never knew what great joy I was having when I did those boring things.
Thursday, September 26, 2002 - newest items first # 8:19:00 PM:
If you're interesting in seeing stuff at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, check out Hey Jo's site first. She has well-researched opinions and pointed reviews -- and she's taking her vacation to see as many of the VIFF movies as she can. (A few years ago, that was 99 films in two weeks!)
An old high-school cohort of mine recently tracked down my e-mail address, and in updating what he'd been up to in the last sixteen years, noted that he managed to sum up his current life in a single sentence. I thought I'd give it a try too:
"While my wife teaches math, I stay at home in Burnaby most weekdays with my two young daughters, and make some money on the side by writing, editing, and playing the drums."
Not bad. As I told him, I should dispense with all the other crap on this Web site -- that sentence sums it up nicely.
Monday, September 23, 2002 - newest items first # 7:16:00 AM:
I sometimes get the idea that people show up for the flamefests as a form of entertainment. It is not entertaining for me. In one of the threads I asked if people really cared. No one said they did. Now I know some people will attack me for saying this. So be it. I'm going to keep working and creating as long as it makes sense to. But if it gets too heavy I'll stop working altogether, permanently. I'm too good to be wasted as a form of entertainment.
I have a pretty good idea why Jon Postel died at such a young age. And why Douglas Adams did. The pressure of living a creative life is enormous. When that intersects with the Internet the pressure can increase to an unsustainable level. If other people doubt that lives are at stake, I don't.
Back in June, Winer had bypass surgery, and he remains quite weak (though still a non-smoker!) 100 days later. He is 47 years old.
Seb -- one of the guitarists in my fab band -- shares a recording studio/rehearsal space with Tara, who makes part of her living as a recording engineer. (Ten years ago, all three of us were roommates.)
The space, in the basement of an old office tower at the edge of downtown, is no longer worth renting for them, since they use it so rarely, so they're moving their stuff. I helped today by schlepping out Seb's drum kit and a few other items (stands, speakers, amplifiers).
Unfortunately, the drum kit, while of decent quality, was set up directly underneath a leak in the ceiling. The big ride cymbal has a massive green copper-corrosion splash stain, and much of the rest of the kit is coated with a fine layer of leached white precipitate from the water (which goes through the sidewalk and sub-street above before getting into the building), as well as significant amount of nubbly rust on most of the metal parts.
I spent some of this afternoon disassembling the big bass drum and the various stands, then spraying WD-40 and Windex liberally to try to clean things up a tad. When I have time, I'll tackle the rest of the drums. Apparently, one of the best ways to remove rust from chrome is to polish it with some aluminum foil dipped in water (or, some say, Coca-Cola). It makes sense from an electrolytic perspective. I'll try it.
By the way, I know nothing about Paul Ark. Someone came to this site from his at 4:34 in the afternoon today, and the only way I could figure out how (since my site doesn't appear anywhere as a link on his) is from a link he had to other random weblogs. So it's essentially pure chance that I found his site, and thus the Forbes story. This Web can be a weird thing.
As the lambasting of sliding-into-retirement Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien continues, the founding editor of Slate makes a good argument for the kinds of analysis our PM (with whom I disagree on a number of other issues) is making about the campaign against terrorism, and against saying that terrorists are just evil, evil, evil all the time:
There are many people, unfortunately, who would be happy to hijack four airplanes, fly them into crowded buildings, and kill 3,000 Americans. In terms of malign intent, they all are evil. But only one of them managed to actually do it. [...] If the great essential truth about terrorism is that some people just hate the United States, the obvious next question is, Why? But that is precisely the question that offends the All-About-Evil crowd, because it leads in [...] unacceptable directions.
Just fighting evil isn't going to do it, because to fight it you must understand it, unpalatable and complicated as that might be.
Friday, September 20, 2002 - newest items first # 4:39:00 PM:
Most Web designers would consider trying to support Netscape 3, from the mid-'90s, a waste of time, but according to my tracker, I've had more than 140 visits from Netscape 3 users, and even two visits from Netscape 2, of all things. I don't like to turn anyone away.
Today, for the second time in a week, I ordered a coffee at McDonald's. It appears that the chain has phased out its once-trademark long, tiny-ended plastic coffee spoons in favour of standard brown coffee stir sticks. It's the end of an era, I guess, right up there with Kentucky Fried Chicken's doing away with the spork several years ago.
In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, large media, recording, film, and music organizations have hijacked the debate about file sharing, downloading, Internet broadcasting, and so-called intellectual property. Finally, someone with some serious clout (noted by Dan Gillmor) is refuting the specious arguments those organizations (including the musicians' union to which I somewhat reluctantly belong) make. He is Gary Shapiro, CEO and president of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group representing the multi-billion dollar electronics manufacturing industry. He said:
To make downloading immoral, you have to accept that copyrighted products are governed by the same moral and legal principles as real property. But the fact is that real and intellectual property are different and are governed by different principles. Downloading a copyrighted product does not diminish the product, as would be the case of taking and using tangible property such as a dress.
Real property can be owned forever. A copyright can be owned only for a limited period of time. Copyright law must [allow] people to use a copyrighted product without the permission of the copyright owner. This concern contributes to the statutory and judicial concept of "fair use."
Exactly right. Combined with economic arguments that file sharing actually benefits the music industry (contrary to the industry's claims) and the inevitable intellectual bankruptcy of the idea that making customers your enemies can be beneficial to a business, online file sharing of many types will eventually win. It's up to the copyright cartels to get their act together and see if they can benefit from it in some way, or get annihilated.
The October issue of PC Magazine includes a thorough review of almost two dozen low- to mid-range digital cameras. (Here's the whole thing on one page, so it's less annoying to read online.) It's done well, but since it had to go through several weeks of preparation for the print magazine, it's already well out of date.
For instance, the magazine recommends the Fuji FinePix F601 over the Canon PowerShot S330, but Canon has just introduced the S230, which, confusingly enough, is probably a better camera than either in everything but zoom power. Other manufacturers have also introduced new models since the article was written. Still, the overall guidelines are good, and it's a reasonable overview of the consumer snapshot digicam market right now -- or a few months ago, anyway.
For up-to-date reviews, I recommend the Digital Camera Resource Page and other similar sites. Today's news bulletin at DCRP alone, for example, lists five new cameras from manufacturers in PC Mag's review.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002 - newest items first # 2:07:00 PM:
Surely you have received the Nigerian scam e-mail. I've gotten it hundreds of times, in various incarnations (it dates back as far as the 1920s, as an ostensibly Spanish mail scam). Believe it or not, most of the current e-mails do actually seem to originate in Nigeria, as well as a few other African countries.
A software developer at Haxial decided to have some fun with a couple of the scammers, eventually inviting both of them to wear yellow outfits and hop up and down in public places in Amsterdam and Lagos. The story is ongoing -- so we'll see if the hopping actually happens.
I just spent a few hours editing a document for my friend Bill Dobie, who heads a company called Navarik. He e-mailed it to me out of the blue, hoping I could get him a revision by mid-afternoon, which I did. I made some initial edits, sent them, and he sent back some changes. I finalized what I had and e-mailed it to him less than an hour ago, then he mailed back his thanks.
Only then did I remember that he's in Norway this week. I had less conversation with my parents today, and they live next door.
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.
[In the Cold War,] because the United States did not attack the Soviet Union, space was left for an anti-Soviet Russian democratic populism under former president Boris Yeltsin. This also played a central part in the Soviet Union's collapse.
If, by contrast, the US had been seen by ordinary Russians to threaten Russia itself, there would have been a tendency for nationalists to rally behind the Soviet state, with disastrous consequences.
Today, we are told that the US wishes to bring democracy to the Arab world, which is a worthy goal. But does anyone really think a successful democracy can be imposed on the Arabs by armed force, especially when most Arabs see US strategy as guided by Israel, a state whose policies they regard with loathing?
[...] the truly crazy aspect of Bush administration policy [is that the] three forces targeted as enemies have all fought ferocious conflicts with each other. The Sunni fundamentalism represented by Osama bin Laden, the Shiah religious nationalism of the Iranians and the radical secular Arab nationalism of Saddam Hussein are not allies but natural enemies. To bring them together requires something approaching suicidal genius on the part of the US administration.
The article also mentions the Marshall Plan, which reminded me of the current controversy over Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's comments about the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Here's what he said:
I do think that the Western world is getting to be too rich in relation to the poor world. And necessarily, you know, we're looked upon us as being arrogant, self-satisfying, greedy, and with no limits. And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize that even more.
Some politicians, commentators, and relatives of 9/11 victims have excoriated Chrétien for that statement. Others, sometimes surprisingly, defended Chrétien, notably former Prime Minister Joe Clark of the Conservatives:
There is a direct relation between the roots of terror and the existence of poverty and despair. I don't think there's much disputing that.
Stephen Harper, leader of the opposition Canadian Alliance, was vehement that the prime minister should apologize, saying that his:
[...] comments [...] blaming the victim are shameful. What was behind the events of September 11 are the forces of evil and hatred. These must be resisted by free and democratic societies and their leaders. [...] There is no western responsibility here.
I think Harper's opinion, in particular, is a dangerous one. Yes, of course, the terrorists were evil and full of hate, and we must resist them. But that's too simplistic, and cuts off real thinking about the issue. Instead, let's go back 83 years, to the Treaty of Versailles, which established the terms of settlement after World War I. (Run with me here, this will make sense.)
Although its terms were not as extreme as some wanted, Versailles landed fierce punishments upon Germany, the loser of the War. The resulting gutting of German industry and the country's economy led to widespread unrest, poverty, and great resentment. One of those convinced that Germany had been stabbed in the back was Adolf Hitler. He resolved to do something about it, and the result was the deaths of tens of millions of people two decades later.
Few would have predicted that outcome, but the Allies learned their profound and bitter lesson after World War II. Instead of squeezing Germany and Japan, the losers this time, as punishment for their misdeeds, the U.S. helped rebuild their economies. The Marshall Plan in Europe included Germany, and Occupied Japan also received assistance. And now we have Audi, Lexus, Volkswagen, Toyota, Zeiss, Nikon, Grundig, and Sony.
While the situation in the Middle East and Central Asia is certainly different (some would say too different), the rationale behind post-WWII reconstruction was sound.
We cannot forget that. The U.S. is not to blame for September 11, any more than the Allies at Versailles were to blame for Hitler's genocidal Jew-hating and Aryan expansionism. Neither could have been predicted in advance. History is contingent, yes, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from it. The best way to fight terrorism is to drain the swamp -- to help alleviate the feelings of powerlessness, despair, and resentment that come from corruption, decay, and oppression and lead to indiscriminate ideological killing. Had Germany been rebuilt in 1919 instead of 1947, things might have been very different.
Jean Chrétien was not blaming the victim. Like all of us, he was asking, Why did this happen? What can we do to stop it from happening again? The answers are not simple. There may have been no direct western responsibility for the September 11 attacks. But that doesn't mean we have no responsibilities now. We had them before too, and we neglected them. Now it's time to pay attention.
Sunday, September 15, 2002 - newest items first # 8:43:00 PM:
I spent a good portion of this afternoon wedged up in the attic of our house, running wires back and forth for our rearranged TVs and computers. (No, I don't have a wireless network yet.) The house is a duplex version of a Vancouver special, with a very shallow attic, so moving around up there is a bit of a contortionist act, with fibreglass insulation as a bonus.
It reminded me of a day some fifteen years ago when I was working with my childhood friend Chris, who ran his own burglar alarm installation company. One day during a summer heat wave, Alistair and I went with Chris on a job to install alarm wiring in the newly built headquarters of the B.C. Wildlife Rescue Association. Outside it was over thirty degrees Celsius. In the attic, full of blown-in fibreglass insulation, it must have reached forty. I had to go in for close to an hour, wearing head-to-toe coveralls and a face-mask filter.
When I finished, we drove to the 7-Eleven nearby. I drank a full Super Big Gulp in less than two minutes.
An amateur astronomer has spotted what is apparently a piece of the Apollo 12 moon rocket, which was supposed to have been swung out into its own orbit around the Sun in 1969. Errors in NASA calculations back then meant that it stayed in orbit around Earth, then drifted slowly into a solar orbit long after it was supposed to.
This last spring, Earth grabbed it back into its own orbit again, and it circles us about twice as far as the Moon. Now there is a 20% chance it will smack into the Moon, and a 3% chance it will burn up in our atmosphere.
Doesn't "moon rocket" sound quaint and out of date now? Of course, if we needed to go to the Moon tomorrow, we couldn't.
Friday, September 13, 2002 - newest items first # 8:40:00 AM:
Online archaeologists recently confirmed that Scott E. Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University invented the "smiley" -- you know, this thing :-). It happened almost exactly twenty years ago, in 1982, and smileys didn't take long to spread around the world, even a decade before Internet access became common and most people online (like me) were just phoning local bulletin board systems (BBSs).
They became so widespread, in fact, that only a few years later the sysop (system operator) of my favourite local board, Steve Hillman of the Twilight Zone, was so sick of them that he wrote a little program for his BBS, called the "smiley nuker," to get rid of them.
At the time, the only way to enter text into a BBS message system was to dial up to the (usually single) phone line and use a terminal program to write into whatever text-input mechanism the sysop had set up. That meant all the text processing was happening at the BBS end -- what we'd now call the server -- instead of on the user's local machine (the client), as we usually do now with e-mail software and even Web browser text-entry fields. (Even chat software worked that way -- instead of typing a line or two and then sending it off as we do now with instant messaging, your co-chatter would see every letter you typed onscreen, as well as every typo, backspace, or other error, live.)
So the BBS computer saw every character that went by as you typed it. Steve wrote his software so that if it saw anything that looked like a smiley or any then-known variant of it, your cursor would back up right over it -- quite visibly at 300 bps -- so you couldn't post it. This had three consequences, only one intended:
As Steve wanted, it discouraged people from using smileys willy-nilly all over their BBS postings.
It created an ever-escalating arms race, as TZ users determined to use smileys started trying all sorts of tricks (adding extra spaces, using new characters such as letters and periods, inventing new smileys and other emoticons) and Steve responded by adding the various permutations to the smiley nuker.
As the list of banned character combinations grew, it erased anything that looked like a smiley, even if it was actually a legitimate use of punctuation.
It was a good lesson in software development: when trying to squelch a problem, beware of the unintended effects of your solution.
I am leery of an attack on Iraq. But as an international military strategist, I'm pretty hopeless -- I was also leery of an attack on Afghanistan, and boy I was wrong about that one.
Those who make the most sense when arguing for attacking Iraq do so obliquely, as William Saletan did today in Slate while analyzing President Bush's speech to the U.N.:
...when introduced into a larger context -- the conflict between Saddam and the U.N. -- Bush's belligerence becomes logical and salutary. Saddam's history with the U.N. is a joke. [...] By now nearly everyone has forgotten that the alternative Saddam avoided by making his initial promises in 1991 was military destruction. By any logical standard, that's the alternative to which U.N. must now turn. [...]
For years, the U.N. has avoided this unpleasant duty, preferring negotiations. Hawks have rightly called this a policy of appeasement. But complaining about appeasement is as impotent as appeasement itself. The more effective remedy is to give the appeaser someone new to appease: yourself. That's the beautiful, if accidental, logic of Bush's war preparations.
Yet in a world full of monsters, why target this one, Saddam Hussein, now? To finish the job? To prove a point? To do something? I think we need better reasons to bomb and shoot and kill than that. But I could be wrong.
I have diabetes, so I only consume pure sugar or non-diet pop in an emergency, to counteract a hypoglycemic episode brought on by too much insulin or not enough food. I'm used to the flavour of artificial sweeteners in coffee, soda, and gum, and on top of pancakes, oatmeal, and so on.
Surprisingly, a non-diabetic food connoisseur for Slate magazine discovered that she preferred Splenda, a relatively new artificial sweetener, to anything else, including real sugar, in a blind taste test of iced tea. More amazing, real sugar was last on her list. On the other hand, real sugar baked by far the best muffins in her tests, with last place going to Equal, another new-ish sweetener, tied for last with raw cane sugar, whose crystals were apparently too big to bake in properly.
These days, however, I'm drinking club soda, which has no sweetener in it at all. But that's because my kids hate it, and thus don't mooch it from me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 - newest items first # 1:25:00 PM:
You may think you've had some bad customer service experiences, but when you're really determined to have things set right, a big company can go on longer than you can imagine in making things worse for you.
Martin followed up on my post yesterday about the upcoming demise of the original Macintosh operating system.
Where I had written that "Everyone using a computer with a mouse and icons today -- whether Windows, Mac, Linux, or something else -- owes [the Mac OS] a debt, for showing the way," Martin countered that "Hey, let's not forget Xerox PARC, where the graphical user interface actually originated."
While Xerox developed the first GUI, and computing pioneer Douglas Englebart invented the mouse long before that, Apple was the first to bring icons, windows, and the mouse together in a product that people actually bought in significant numbers. (Apple itself had brought them together in the Lisa too, in 1982-83, but it made little impact on the lives of regular computer users.)
Bruce Horn worked at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1973 to 1981. After that he worked at Apple. Here's what he had to say on the subject. There's another perspective from Jef Raskin, who initiated the Macintosh project.
The point is, there's a substantial difference between inventing something and making it viable. Only rich tinkerers could afford an automobile before Henry Ford developed an assembly line to make cars cheap and reliable enough for everyone. The Model T was the revolution, not the the work of Markus, de Rochas, and Benz.
As this Stanford University page says, underlying (true) claims that Xerox invented the graphical user interface "is the belief that commercialization is technically trivial: whatever work the Macintosh team did, it couldn't have been as important as the basic research done in Douglas Engelbart's Augmentation Research Center and PARC's Computer Science Laboratory."
Apple did not invent the mouse. Nor did it invent windows and icons. But Apple made the Mac, made it so people could buy it, so programmers could create programs for it, and so it didn't break. Those are the reason we all use mice, windows, and icons today.
A year ago I thought about evil, as we all did. We're thinking about evil again, but it is too easy to think of it as something beyond us. It's not. In Salon:
There is a tendency [...] to talk about figures like Hitler and bin Laden as beyond human understanding, as a dark force that just sprang full-born into the world. [But] evil has nuances -- it doesn't just emerge in its full nightmarish quality instantly, it develops day by day, it has its own evolution. That makes it more horrific. Because if evil were something absolute and distinct, it could be removed from human experience. But it's not, which means we must come to terms with how it arises.
It's easier for me to sleep at night if I think that perpetrators of genocide and mass killing are lunatics or insane or only found in cultures like Germany. I don't blame people for jumping to those explanations. But for me it begins with the issue of numbers. [...] If you want to say that the only people who do this are lunatics or insecure, then I just don't know if you can round up that many people like that in a given society to commit the scale of atrocity that we see in genocide. You simply can't rely on the fringes of society to do that. A lot of ordinary people are going to have to be recruited into that effort as well.
That does not make evil excusable or justifiable. Of course it doesn't. But it means we must remain vigilant not just against some indefinable "other" evil out there somewhere, but also against the evil within ourselves, because it's always there, beneath the surface, somewhere in the world. Because ordinary people can do evil things, it may be something we can prevent -- at least sometimes.
The Economist, as it also did last year, sums it up best: "September 11th changed the world. But not enough."
I'm a musician, and I profoundly disagree with the attitude the major record labels are taking against music sharing and downloading on the Internet. That's not just because I like to download music -- I do -- but also because I know that the music establishment (whether a recording cartel or a musicians' union) has opposed every innovation in our field, from printed sheet music, to phonographs, to radio, to television, to synthesizers, to cassette tapes, to VCRs, saying that they would "kill the industry" and hurt musicians and other performers.
They've been wrong every time. Every time. This one is no different, as Dan Bricklin (who invented the first computer spreadsheet program) shows, and Janis Ian articulates well.
P.S. Ms. Ian also wrote a great memorial piece for Chet Atkins last year. Read it too. Maybe download some of his songs.
In 1984, Apple Computer released the first Macintosh. In the ensuing eighteen years, the original operating system for that machine has been vastly extended, modified, hacked, and bloated. In 1987, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs started NeXT after being pushed out from Apple, creating a new type of computer from scratch, and basing its operating system on the BSD variant of Unix.
Ten years later, Jobs returned to Apple, bringing his NeXT cohorts with him, and in the ensuing five years they have reinvigorated the company and slowly, methodically replaced the original Macintosh OS with the NeXT OS, absorbing and then modifying a good chunk of the Macintosh user interface (but very little of the underlying guts) in the process.
Today, Apple announced that as of the beginning of 2003, their computers will start up only using the new operating system, Mac OS X, and not Mac OS 9.2, the last incarnation of the old Mac OS (or any previous version, for that matter). The only way to run old-style applications that haven't been optimized for the new OS is to use "Classic" mode, which runs Mac OS 9 inside Mac OS X.
In the long run, that's a good thing. I already run Mac OS X pretty much all the time, except to support some old hardware I should really replace anyway. But the old Mac OS was a nice ride in its time. Steve Wozniak, the other co-founder of Apple, said that "We won. Every computer in the world is basically a Macintosh now." Everyone using a computer with a mouse and icons today -- whether Windows, Mac, Linux, or something else -- owes that solid old piece of software a debt, for showing the way.
Monday, September 09, 2002 - newest items first # 9:12:00 AM:
Last week I pointed to a page describing how much disk space digital video takes up. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, a fine gentleman named Mark Delfs has written a tiny Mac OS X application to do the calculations for you. Logically enough, it's called VideoCalc.
Recently I've been posting here more often, and more voluminously, so I've increased the number of entries that appear on the home page at www.penmachine.com before they scroll off into the archive. Before there were 12, now there are 20.
I'm not sure if that's a good sign or not.
P.S. Note also that the little orange badges for this site's RSS news feed now appear in the right column, and that I've refreshed my writing samples page with a couple of summer updates.
Activists in the U.S. are launching a constitutional challenge against the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (yes, it's that Sonny Bono who died not too long ago, from when he was an elected official instead of a singer or TV host). They have chose a wonderful name for their crusade: Free the Mouse.
It gets that name because one thing the Sonny Bono Act did by extending copyrights by 20 years was to prevent Mickey Mouse from becoming a public domain character, whom anyone could use and adapt -- thus permitting the Walt Disney company to make several more kajillion dollars from it without anyone else being able to do the same.
While riding my Kyoto Protocol hobby horse this month, I've repeatedly talked about how reducing greenhouse gas emissions should spur the development of new energy technologies. I wasn't counting on something as massive as an enormous one-kilometre-high, seven-kilometre-wide solar convection generator project being planned in Australia, but there it is:
"We developed the solar tower prototype in Spain after the oil crises of the early '80s," says [engineer] Wolfgang Schiel. "But we didn't get a chance to develop the system because everybody thought oil would go up to $36 a barrel and actually it dropped to $15 and everybody lost interest."
Until now. The prospect of climate change and the demand for carbon emissions control has given new impetus and financial feasibility to the tower.
Unrelated, and on a smaller scale, Reuters reports that students returning to school are bringing back their old computers rather than buying new ones. It makes sense: most people today (me included) spend their computing time browsing the Web, sending e-mail, writing documents, and maybe wrestling with their digital photo collection. That sums up most of my time, and my five-year-old 266 MHz Power Mac G3 and three-year-old 400 MHz Celeron PC do all those things just fine.
Any computer purchased in the last year or two is more than adequate for anyone who doesn't play a lot of cutting-edge games, work intensively with digital video, or do processor-intensive work for money, such as mapping genomes, editing big files (audio, video, images), animation, or GIS. Laptops, which take a beating and aren't very upgradeable, don't last as long as desktop machines, and they also demand a price premium -- those are two reasons why manufacturers push them more than they used to.
As technology matures, people eventually settle into a regular buying cycle. Many replace their cars every five to seven years, while some lease and "trade up" every two or three, and others try to stretch their auto lifespans as long as possible. Computers may be coming into a similar, if shorter, average lifespan. My last primary computer, a Macintosh Centris 660AV, lasted five years before it seemed dog slow and started getting unreliable.
My G3 will reach that age early next year. And I've already been through two cell phones since I bought it; they seem to be getting more, not less, disposable.
The necessary changes don't affect Tiger very much: move the setting from pre-modern China to A Long Time Ago in A Galaxy Far Far Away, make some of the characters not Chinese, call the various landscapes different planets (with short spaceship scenes in between), add some nifty background technology (a landspeeder here instead of a horse, a droid there instead of an extra), morph the swords into light sabres (or maybe the Jade Sword is the first one?), and make the two young runaways the future parents of Darth Vader, perhaps. Oh, and I guess everyone would have to speak English instead of Mandarin.
But leave the plot, the dialogue, the acting, the direction, most of the production design, and the stunts exactly as they are. Hell, keep Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh in the leads, and make sure Ang Lee directs. Jedis scampering across slate rooftops, battling in treetops, and warding off hails of poison darts, plus a strong feminist undertone, would have been far better than all those flabby Gungans and desert-dry speechifying in the actual Episode I. Find a way for a Yoda and Obi-Wan cameo, and you're set.
My friend Seb reminded me a few weeks ago that George Lucas's Star Wars movies have now coasted for three middling to poor films (Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones) on the reputation of two great ones (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back).
It could have been different. The next time you rent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, imagine you're watching a Star Wars prequel. Just watch the trailer and do that, actually. Looks like a pretty good Star Wars movie, doesn't it?
(One warning: whatever you do, do not watch this other trailer first, unless you turn the sound off. You won't be able to take the Crouching Tiger one seriously anymore.)
Tom Negrino and Dori Smith are two very smart people who are married to each other and live in California. My wife and I met them and Dori's son here in Vancouver a few months back. I can't believe it took me this long to add their collective weblog, Backup Brain, to my blogroll. But there it is now.
[...] students' educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building (and) outside the direction of teachers [...] The most Internet-savvy students complained that `"teachers don't use the Internet in class or create assignments that exploit great Web material."
Most kids are digital, and most adults are analog. [...] for most teachers I've spoken with, the Internet is a tool, not a lifestyle. [...] For students it's much more. It isn't a machine at the library, it is the library. It's almost a matter of instinct. Ask a teacher or parent to look up a phone number and, chances are, they'll find a phone book. Ask a kid and they'll go to Switchboard.com or another directory Web page.
While true, it's a temporary phenomenon. When my wife started teaching high-school math ten years ago, she was 23. She's now the most senior math teacher at her school, and she looks up phone numbers both in the book and online, depending on where she is when she needs the information. Anyone starting a teaching job at 23 today will likely have had six or seven or eight years of Internet experience, not to mention a similar amount of mobile phone experience, and probably a lifetime's personal computer experience. It won't be long before those digital kids are the teachers -- it's already happening -- and this particular worry will go away.
Besides, my dad spends almost as much time online as I or these digital kids do, and he'll reach theoretical retirement age in less than two years.
The sign of an intelligent mind is when you can't predict what someone's going to say simply by determining their political persuasion. I think Andrew Coyne (whose personal site needs updating) is the best newspaper columnist in Canada. I admit I haven't read every writer, but it takes talent for a conservative like Coyne to have someone like me (who'd be called a social democrat in most countries, but we don't use that term much in Canada) regularly nodding along, somewhat surprised, thinking, "yeah, he's got it right."
In the past couple of days Coyne has addressed the Kyoto Protocol, and once again he frames the debate differently than most, finding ways to support it from a conservative, free-market, follow-the-money perspective. Here's a bit from his September 4 piece:
A study for the Alberta government [...] put the cost of [Kyoto] ratification [at up to] $40-billion annually. Forty billion dollars! Kerrangg!
Er, wait a minute. This is a $1.1-trillion economy. In 10 years' time, it will probably be at least [...] $1.5-trillion, without Kyoto. With Kyoto, it only grows to $1.46-trillion. That enormous, devastating, death-knell-sounding $40-billion, in other words, is essentially a rounding error, a paltry 2.6% of GDP, or about as much as the economy churns out every nine days. Instead of a 33% national pay raise, we'd have to settle for a lousy 30%. [...]
Maybe 10 years from now, with the benefit of better science, we'll decide it was all a false alarm. On the other hand, maybe by then it will be clear that the threat is real. I'm not a betting man, but either way, it seems a small enough ante to keep us at the table.
He extends that argument today (in a column that doesn't yet seem to be online, called "The Skeptic's Case for Kyoto") by comparing the Kyoto agreement to insurance. Most of us buy life insurance in case we are hit by a bus or otherwise unexpectedly smitten, even though, individually, fatal accidents are relatively rare. So:
...the chances that the many distinguished scientists who predict an impending climatological catastrophe will prove to be right must be considerably greater than the chances I will be run over by a bus tomorrow. Or at any rate, they are greater than zero. In which case, would it not be prudent to take out some insurance against the event? [...]
Suppose you think there is a one-in-three chance that global warming is real, and you put the costs, whether in terms of adapting to climate change or simply enduring it, at $120 billion a year -- about 10% of present-day GDP. In that case, you should be willing to pay as much as $40 billion a year in insurance, which is the upper limit of most estimates of what it would cost the country to comply with Kyoto. To put that in perspective, that's about $100 a month, per person.
Not cheap. But plenty of people spend close to that for a single tank of gas for their SUVs. I agree with Coyne's analysis, but there are two difficulties:
We can usually choose, individually, whether to buy insurance, and thus pay the price either in "wasting" our money on it (if we do, and don't need it) or in the financial consequences of a disaster (if we don't, and do need it). Even in situations where we're "forced" to buy insurance -- such as to register and drive a car -- we usually do have a choice. You don't have to own or drive a vehicle, but it is convenient for most people, so we pay. Kyoto does not give us that kind of choice. We either all pay, or we don't, and we all suffer -- one way or the other -- or we don't, depending on our collective luck and that of our environment.
Unless the insurance company goes bankrupt (not common -- can you get insurance against that?), insurance pays out if the insured event occurs, i.e. if you get accidentally hit by a bus and die, your family gets some money. The Kyoto Protocol, on the other hand, may not actually save our butts, or it may be implemented so poorly that bureaucracies make a whole bunch of rules that make no sense, we don't meet the emissions targets, and we just screw up the economy for no real benefit. That's what some fear.
That's a good argument for trying to make emissions reductions market-based, by setting high-level rules on how commerce is conducted so environmental effects are part of the accounting, but letting smart and self-interested people figure out a whole bunch of different and competing ways for how to make the changes happen -- like the various alternative power options I mentioned yesterday.
Hey, I said I was a social democrat, not a Bolshevik.
I tried to import some images from my digicam to my Mac today, and found out there was no room. Time to buy a new hard disk soon. However, thanks to a posting at the TidBITS-Talk discussion list, I found out about a lovely little utility for Mac OS X called Monolingual, which strips away all the unnecessary (for me) multi-language resources (Swedish, Japanese, etc.) from the operating system to save space in the meantime.
It saved me more than 400 MB. Yow. And, as neat way to pay for free software, it's sponsored by what looks like a pretty groovy café in San Francisco: Frjtz Fries. I plan to visit next time I'm there. Of course, last time I was in San Francisco was seven years ago, so who knows when that might be...
And he's right. What surprises me is that no one seems to be touting a particular set of benefits Kyoto (or something, at least) can bring: a ratified treaty would finally prod us all in the butt enough to try actually using the energy-saving technologies that have existed for decades. I mean solar cells on the roof, electric or hybrid cars, proper mass transit, fuel cells, and so on.
Climate change shows us that energy costs us more than we're paying. The deficit isn't monetary, yet, but we'll have to stop using fossil fuels the way we do now, eventually. May as well get started.
John Siracusa's technical Mac reviews at Ars Technica are probably the best around. He has just published his Mac OS 10.2 ("Jaguar") review. If you're a Mac user, you should read it, despite its length. You'll learn lots.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002 - newest items first # 2:33:00 PM:
If what you want is to dress up funny and bond with a lot of other people in front of a great light show, well, you don't need the Nazis to do it anymore -- even in Berlin. Since Elvis, the bonding-and-catharsis element of mass media has expanded to outdo anything that any politician can deliver. We describe an especially popular politician today as looking "like a rock star," rather than the other way around, after all. (Could there be a worse insult than describing a rock musician as looking "like a Congressman?" I can't think of one.)
And, in keeping with a strange theme I've unintentionally developed this week, the piece even mentions Iran at the end.
That's a pretty provocative title, but "Why Arabs Lose Wars," a December 2000 article -- via the Red Rock Eater news service -- by retired U.S. Colonel Norvell B. De Atkine (there's a mouthful of a name), explains the topic lucidly and without jingoism. It's a sobering read, and goes a long way to explain how Israel survives surrounded by enemies, and how Iraq could lose a war with Iran (not an Arab country, by the way) even when the latter nation was in chaos following its 1979 revolution.
Ever since I wrote an article about bare-bones digital video production a few months back, people have been asking me questions about the topic. One thing that's handy to know is how much disk space digital video takes up.
[UPDATE September 9, 2002: There's now a little program to do these calculations for you.]
Apple Computer provides a nice reference to answer that question, including this good summary:
To determine the amount of digital video you can save on your computer's hard disk:
Divide the hard disk capacity by 3.68 MB, which is the amount of space required to save a single second of digital video.
Divide that result by 60 to convert from seconds to minutes.
For example, a 60 GB hard disk can hold about 271 minutes of NTSC digital video. (60 000 MB � 3.68 MB = 16 304.35 seconds � 60 = 271.73 minutes.)
This is talking about raw DV Stream video, the kind that comes out of a digital video camera. Things change when you convert to QuickTime or another video format. Still, it helps you figure out whether you have enough space for any given chunk of video, and lets you know that a single cheap 60-minute DV tape from the electronics store actually holds about as much information as a 13 GB hard disk.
Over at the Adam Woodall
Band site, which I've been building bit by bit over the summer, things are finally getting
to where I want them.
I've been trying for some time to make it easy for the members of the band (instead
of me) to edit their News and
Shows page themselves, but my early design decision meant I couldn't do that
until I figured out how to use Server Side Includes (SSIs), a Web server software trick
that lets a single Web document suck up the contents of another and display them together
as a single Web page. Somehow I had previously avoided learning about SSIs in the five
years I've been making Web sites.
Like most Web things, they're pretty simple, but -- also like most Web things -- can cause
relentless aggravation if even one little thing (in this case, Unix file permissions) is wrong.
It's 1:30 in the morning and I'll probably be up in five hours or so, but I've just had quite a laugh reading Cary Tennis's advice column at Salon, and you should read it too. He's not always right, but "Since You Asked" is always a good read.
And now -- now -- I am going to bed.
Monday, September 02, 2002 - newest items first # 6:33:00 PM:
This one is blogroll, invented to describe the list of other recommended weblogs common at most sites like this one. Mine was getting out of hand, so I just set up an account at Blogrolling.com, a service that, like Blogger Pro (which helps me manage the stuff I write here), wrangles your blogroll list from a Web browser, from anywhere you can get an Internet connection.
I'm going to have to start keeping official track of all the external services I use to run my Web site. They're getting out of hand too.
One reason English is so successful is that it has no qualms about new words, whether taken from other languages (like caftan, bikini, or karaoke) or freshly coined (dot-bomb, nanotechnology, or crufty -- and its newest incarnation, cruft force).
Perhaps the newest addition applies to weblogs: permalink, just defined nicely by Dave Winer of Userland Software. On my site, you click on the time-stamp for each entry (at the top of this message, 9:06:00 AM) to access the permalink, which, in this case, is:
I've never been to Iran, but the country interests me. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution there, many Iranians have moved to greater Vancouver, where I live, concentrating in the City of North Vancouver. The forces that drove them from their huge, diverse, and spectacular homeland are shifting, and we may see other great changes there as we watch from the other side of the world.
Today's New York Times Magazine feature article by Tim Judah, "The Sullen Majority" (free subscription required), discusses the impact of the massive baby boom unleashed by the revolution, when contraception was banned:
Today, two-thirds of Iran's 66 million people are under 30. But many members of the generation that was conceived as warriors for the ayatollah are now chafing under his restrictive laws, more interested in checking their e-mail than in dying for Islam.
[...] widespread [Internet] access has allowed many young Iranians to follow political or cultural developments anywhere on the planet. But even more significant, perhaps, it has allowed people to talk to one another. The computer has become particularly important in the lives of urban girls, often confined at home by traditionalist parents who, by the same token, have absolutely no clue what their daughters are doing online.
A lot of what they're doing, it turns out, is blogging.
People who study human populations often claim that "demography is destiny," and while that may be an overstatement (in this case, Internet access helps), demography did assist in toppling the despotic shah two decades ago, and may now bode ill for the aging revolutionaries trying to maintain control of today's Iran.