Journal: News & Comment

This is " November 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.

Saturday, November 30, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:41:00 PM:

We put up the tree

The house lights were up last week. Now the tree is too, with its own lights and everything. It feels very cozy around here, so don't bother telling me it's too early.


Friday, November 29, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:17:00 PM:

I guess I'm finally official

[ SuperPages listing]


# 12:00:00 AM:

Meaningless megapixels

Sigma's new SD9 digital SLR camera is the first to use a new type of digital light sensor, the Foveon X3. Lots of buzzwords there. But here's the proof in the pudding: the photos on the left are markedly sharper than the ones on the right. The sharper ones are from the new Sigma camera, which is a 3.4 megapixel model. The blurrier ones on the right are from a 6 megapixel Canon digital SLR, using an identical lens but a traditional digital light sensor, like those in every other digital camera on the market.

Read the rest of the review to find out more. Foveon's sensor technology is measurably superior to the previous types, and if the company can get up to the 10 and 14 megapixel resolutions of the current top-of-the-line digital SLRs quickly enough, they could own the market with a superior product.

Foveon's innovations mean that "megapixels" is going to become as meaningless as MHz is in computer processors. And, for most photography applications, from grandma's snapshots to news and even art photography, film's days are numbered.


Thursday, November 28, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:57:00 PM:

Whoops! My 15 minutes are up.

A little over a week ago I talked to Alan Neal of CBC Radio in Ottawa. I thought there might be a bit of delay before the show was broadcast, but it went on the air in Ottawa the next day.

Here's the page where the piece is featured (scroll down to November 19), and here is the audio link itself (about ten minutes long, RealPlayer required). I'll try to get an MP3 version on the site here soon so you can download it if you like. I'm only one of the people interviewed, and I'm on for about a minute near the end (7 min 50 sec to 8 min 50 sec or so), where I talk about the Jetsons.


# 9:46:00 AM:

Missing the point on course changes

The Vancouver Sun's editorial writers' recent piece on Simon Fraser University's laudable changes to its course requirements misplaces the blame when it says that:

You might think that students should have mastered [writing and numeracy] before they entered university -- and you'd be right. So, in a move that should give our high school administrators pause [my emphasis - D.], SFU is also considering entrance exams to ensure that incoming students have adequate math and writing skills.

School administrators, and, implicitly, the teachers they work with, face pressure from government, parents, businesses, universities, and others to inflate student marks, improve their survey rankings (happily published by the Sun), and run more standardized tests -- in short, to generate "better" numbers. Universities have some of the same pressures.

But what good are the numbers? University admissions that required a C+ or B average a decade ago now need straight A's. Meanwhile, SFU finds that many students meeting those standards still have poor literacy and numeracy -- both before and after their degrees. So the students' numbers don't reflect a sufficiently well-rounded education at either level. And yet the public, media, and governments advocate more standardized testing. Testing, testing, testing, while funds wane for arts, music, and history (which apparently help math scores too), as well as for the increasing numbers of ESL and disabled students.

Maybe we should focus less on making our elementary, secondary, and university students into test-taking, marks-generating machines, and more on actually educating them. You know, teaching them how to understand math and statistics, to read and write (more than one language too), to know our history and geography, to handle money and be literate about media. I think schools would like to do that. It's unfortunate the rest of us, fixated on the numbers, won't allow it.


Wednesday, November 27, 2002 - newest items first
# 3:29:00 PM:

Power surfing

Visit Lots of neat little browser thingies there.

Macworld has a good face-off of current Mac browsers. Turns out most are pretty good, with Internet Explorer edging out the rest in their review. I prefer Mozilla, but they all (for the most part) do the job. If you want to go really old school, try Lynx.

A couple of months back Macworld also reviewed e-mail clients, recommending Eudora and Microsoft Entourage, which is what I use. Apple's free Mail (included in Mac OS X) and Bare Bones's Mailsmith are also good for totally different types of users -- light e-mailers and heavy searchers who prefer plain text, respectively -- while there are many other options out there worth examining.

Thanks to the contributors to the EAC and TidBITS mailing lists for the pointers.


Tuesday, November 26, 2002 - newest items first
# 6:30:00 PM:

It's your thing

Today I went by bus to a meeting. I do that often enough, but this meeting was in central Richmond, B.C., somewhere I hadn't bused before. In checking out route alternatives online, I discovered the wonderful TransLink Route #410, which involved some strange backtracking using our SkyTrain rapid transit line via 22nd Street Station, but was remarkably fast and efficient.

I've lived in the Vancouver area all my life, but I still like discovering new ways to get around it.


# 10:25:00 AM:

Me and my big mouth. I mean keyboard.

I quote the weird spam I received, and now most of the people coming to my site are searching for "dimensional warp generator" or something related.

I don't have one! Really!


# 12:25:00 AM:

Checking out the big zooms

Until now I haven't generally been a fan of Hewlett-Packard's digital cameras. Like Kodak's consumer models, most have been aimed at beginning photographers, and so have had limitations in their features, unnecessarily large sizes, ugly industrial designs, and fragile-feeling construction. The new Photosmart 850, however, not only looks sharper than previous HP cameras, it also appears to be an excellent camera (8X optical zoom, 4-megapixel resolution, and a good range of controls) for the money ($500 U.S., or about $800 Canadian).

However, if you're looking at big-zoom digicams, keep the Olympus C-730 and Fuji 3800 in mind. If you can afford more money, the Fuji S602, the ungainly Nikon Coolpix 5700 and Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, and the Sony DSC-F717 are worth a look. And don't forget the Canon G3, which, while it has only a 4X zoom, still may take the best pictures of any prosumer digicam model.


Monday, November 25, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:31:00 PM:

Jungle boogie

Even though I make a pretty decent living as a drummer, and thus must have some sense of rhythm, I'm a crappy dancer. Especially in contrast to my parents, who, when they dance together, tend to create one of those clear-a-space-these-people-know-what-they're-doing voids in a dance floor so others can watch. I'm too self-conscious when dancing, which is weird, since I spend my musical career making a complete fool of myself, and enjoying it.

Maybe I could learn from this guy (via Randy).


# 9:16:00 AM:

Across the north

[Small photo of mountain panorama]

Despite some heavy precipitation last week, our dry September and October meant that only now are Vancouver's North Shore mountains getting any snow (the photo is from my front window, looking north-northwest).

Sometimes the ski hills are open by this time in November. Not this year.


Sunday, November 24, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:39:00 PM:

Good luck, sir!

Here is the complete text of an e-mail I received this morning. It is now my weirdest piece of spam ever:

Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 05:22:07 +0530
Subject: Dimensional Warp Generator needed! Wwyg

If you are a Time Traveler I am going to need
the following:

1. A modified mind warping Dimensional Warp
Generator # 52 4350a series wrist watch with
memory adapter.

2. Reliable carbon based, or silicon based time
transducing capacitor.

I need a reliable source!! Please only reply if you
are reliable. Send a (SEPARATE) email to me at:


Below is the result of your feedback form. It was
submitted by ( on Sunday,
November 24, 2002 at 05:22:07

pjXpoxnnUE27701: Fgb SrA sxxlwos


So, you know, if anyone can help Mikey out, feel free.


Saturday, November 23, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:55:00 PM:

Add an X

However you build a Web site, it consists fundamentally of pages of text, marked up with other text in <brackets like this> that tells Web browsers what the text should look like, how it should be arranged on the page, what it links to, and how any images fit in. The stuff in brackets is called hypertext markup language, or HTML.

Back in August, my friend Alistair began a project to convert his site from a spaghetti of six-year-old HTML code to the newer, more formalized XHTML (extensible HTML) standard. So far he hasn't made too much progress, but it's a big job, and he's had far more important things on his mind.

Luckily for me, I totally redesigned this site in June 2000, three months after registering the domain, and tried to stick as closely to the HTML 4.0 Transitional specification as I could. XHTML is not too far from HTML 4, so when I decide to move to XHTML, it shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

With that in mind, I bought a big fat book in the remainder bin at Save-On Foods to help me learn more about XHTML. That I find it interesting reading, as I do some dictionaries and style guides, tells me I'm at least in the right business when people pay me for Web work.


# 12:03:00 AM:

At last

Someone who can write about software and still be understood.


# 12:01:00 AM:

How to find new things to read online

  1. Go to Recommended Reading.
  2. Enter the Web address of a page you like to read. You can even use your own, if you have one.
  3. In the resulting list, click "Already Reading" or "Not Interested" as appropriate.
  4. Repeat that last step until you've filled your list with places you've never been to before on the Web.
  5. Start clicking links.

Don't forget to sleep.


Friday, November 22, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:24:00 PM:

A miracle on the cheap

People like to complain about flying -- cramped seats, lousy food, deep-vein thrombosis. But pilot Patrick Smith makes a good point:

On a plane in the 1930s or 1940s, of course, you'd have had a big fat reclining chair, a sleeping berth, five-course meals served by a tuxedoed steward, and maybe an onboard lounge where you could sit and read the New York Times. But in 1939 aboard Pan Am's Dixie Clipper, it cost $375 to fly each way between New York and France.

The one-way flight, before jets, took a whole day too, not six hours as it does now. Smith is also talking about 1939 dollars -- $750 round trip, U.S. funds. In those days, the average income for an entire U.S. family was between $2000 and $3000, for the whole year. In today's terms, a round-trip cross-Atlantic plane ticket should therefore cost about $10,000 U.S. Even the Concorde only costs about $7000 U.S. for that trip, and it's both luxurious and twice as fast again as a regular jet.

I still love to fly, and when I get the chance, I don't complain. Well, except for that time the whole band got airsick in turbulence on the first leg of our trip to Australia in 1995. But then we cursed the weather, not the airline; the flight attendants were just as green in the face as we were.


# 3:33:00 PM:

Pretty wise for fifteen

Ellen Feiss stumbled into being this year's Internet celebrity, 2002's equivalent to Mahir or that guy who wasn't on top of the World Trade Center.

Now she's finally given an interview (text version), and she's a pretty smart cookie. Two samples:

Supposedly [...] my agent is "floating my image," quote unquote. I don't know what the hell that means.
I went to Macworld in July. [...] I got shuttled down to New York, and I got VIP seating, and I was like, "Wow, I'm at the Oscars or something," but then I was like, "No, I'm at Macworld." I met Steve Jobs. He called me by my first name -- clever, huh? It was brief.

More interesting than Ben Affleck in People magazine, I tell you.


# 2:23:00 PM:

Go with the old

I mentioned yesterday that in January I'll be giving a presentation to my fellow editors about Web sites. Though I plan to use a laptop and projector, I will not employ Microsoft PowerPoint. Doc Searls explained why four years ago.

Okay, actually, he didn't. He showed how you could use PowerPoint effectively by not doing what it tells you to do. But I think you could do just as good a job with some Web pages called up in a browser, or an Acrobat PDF file generated from a graphics program. And those files would be a lot smaller -- you could probably carry them on a floppy disk or even put them on a Web server so you don't have to bring them with you.

In January, if I need to have any of my own stuff onscreen, I'll either make some Web pages for it, create a PDF, or (maybe best) use an overhead projector and a pen.


Thursday, November 21, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:04:00 AM:

Give it away now

I'm a member of the Editors' Association of Canada, and have recently been part of discussions on our e-mail list and at last night's B.C. branch meeting about how much of our currently internal material (newsletters, lists of recommended reference books, etc.) should be available freely online to anyone who's interested.

You can probably predict my position on the matter from how much stuff you can read on this site without paying for it. In January, I'll be giving a presentation at the EAC B.C. branch meeting, focusing on how freelance editors can make their Web sites more effective, and one of my themes will be that giving stuff away helps bring in more business.

What should be free?

True, not everything should be free (it would be pretty hard to make a living as a writer and editor then), but I think our instinct is to make less free than we should. Whether for a profit-aiming company or a non-profit organization, it might be a bad business model to give stuff away, but that would depend on what you were actually selling. When talking about whether the EAC should put its newsletter, Active Voice, online freely, I wrote:

I would like to see Active Voice on the Web site and available to all.

Twelve years on the Internet (and a total of nearly twenty years online) has convinced me that making the newsletter widely and quickly available will be far more useful than restricting it in any way. My reasons are:
  1. In my mind, the primary benefits of EAC membership are in networking, job postings, and the professionalism membership implies (certification [currently being developed] will be a big part of that too).

  2. Active Voice is an excellent resource, but I don't think we would do ourselves any favours by keeping it under wraps. Those non-members who might read it are the very people we'd like to attract as members sooner or later. If they want to read it online, great.

  3. As an extra benefit, Google will index the PDF files, so when people search for topics covered in Active Voice, they might end up at the EAC site. The best sites have regularly updated, useful content rather than just promotional material, and posting Active Voice on the EAC site would be an easy way for us to accomplish that.

I'd also be inclined to make our recently-compiled list of recommended reference works (dictionaries, style guides, etc.) public, although I would restrict contributions and online comments to EAC members only. We are a professional organization, and membership only gains value when we demonstrate publicly that we know what we're talking about. The EAC is not in the business of selling Web content -- we are in the business of advocating for editors, and of making those who are members more worth hiring, both in reality and in perception.

Transparency, or Google can't find what's hidden

If people want to find a list of good editing resource books, what could be better for the Editors' Association than if they typed in "list of good style guides" into Google and ended up on the EAC Web site? I think it would bring more potential members from Canada to the site, and would also enhance the EAC's reputation among people (Canadian or not) who might hire our members.

Even as far as some internal EAC business goes, I believe transparency does no harm, which is the same reason I write about some of my personal life here on my site. Admitting, for example, that the EAC needs to change the way we are organized is no worse than an author admitting that recasting a sentence would make it clearer. Making that admission public is simply honest, and shows that we as an organization are not only willing to change to meet the times, but also willing to show how it's done. It's the same reason I admire Wired News for posting detailed information about its recent site redesign: they're talking about what was wrong before, and how they went about fixing it.

Maybe I advocate for this sort of position because I come into the EAC as both an editor and a long-time Internet guy. I've seen the benefits of the open nature of Internet technology and the "information wants to be free" (in the free speech, not necessarily free beer, sense) ethos.

As a personal example, I do a lot of writing and editing for free (on my Web site, for quality free online publications, etc.), and I find that free work brings me a lot of paid work from people who are impressed by what they can read for free, and from people who find me because they've searched for something I've written about online -- Google brings them to me.

Keeping some things private

In the EAC or any organization (or personal life), there are things that should remain internal -- lists of slow-paying clients, for instance, or debates about how much it's appropriate for someone to charge for their work. Being able to find those things easily would give clients too much of an advantage. On the other hand, general, edited information about how much clients should expect to pay wouldn't be much use without being public.

Discussions reflect one of the greatest benefits of membership in any organization: the sense of community and like-mindedness that is so hard to find for the many people in fields like editing who work alone. That's worth most of my membership fee right there, and I'd pay more for that alone. Sure, job postings, networking get-togethers, local branch meetings, seminars, courses, and book discounts are worth paying for too. However, things we can post freely on the Web that enhance our reputations, directly or indirectly, are probably worth much more when given away.


Wednesday, November 20, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:37:00 AM:

Friendly errors

I just discovered how to customize the error pages on this site. So, as a preview, check out:

I hope you never have to encounter any of them for real.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002 - newest items first
# 8:59:00 PM:

More cleanup

I have updated my writing samples page to include some recent material and a few things I forgot to post earlier this year.


# 3:35:00 PM:

Being more ourselves

My radio talk this morning with Alan Neal of CBC Ottawa (broadcast date still to be determined) turned into a wide-ranging discussion of the social aspects of the Internet, jumping off from the FlyLady daily-cleaning-tip Web site.

[Derek in Gore-Tex]I've come to think that as it becomes more ubiquitous, the Net also becomes more transparent, letting us be our human selves and get into chatty little groups that just happen to bring people together from all over the world instead of just being local.

I commented to Alan that, with the weather as it's been this past week in Vancouver, we're less like a city by the sea than a city under the sea. That's why I had to dress in my full Gore-Tex® regalia (shown in the picture) today.

Oh, and I've finally made my April 2001 Vancouver Sun article available here, although only as a scanned picture. All the links listed are still in my regular visting rotation, and are in my links list in the right column of this page.


# 12:10:00 AM:

My pretty radio face

Later this morning I'll be heading into downtown Vancouver, to the wedge-like Hamilton Street radio studio building, to record a brief interview for Alan Neal of CBC Ottawa, on Internet topics or something like that. I'll let you know when it will be broadcast. If it goes on the air only in Ottawa, you'll still be able to find it online, I'm sure.


Monday, November 18, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:53:00 PM:

Stand up to the content cartel

I've written here before about the problems with copy protection of movies, music, and other materials, but never as lucidly as Adam Engst just did in the latest issue of TidBITS. Read his article and follow the links. Even if you don't live in the U.S. (I'm in Canada), similar forces are at work.


# 6:41:00 PM:

Cleanup time

At my older daughter's preschool, they sing "Clean up, clean up/Everybody everyone" at cleanup time. In that spirit, I've updated and tidied up my expertise/FAQ and clients pages today.


Sunday, November 17, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:35:00 AM:

Better video

More than a year ago, British Columbia's educational TV station, the Knowledge Network, broadcast an interview with me as part of its show "Planet Education." I've just modified my interview video page here so that the two downloadable versions display more cleanly and start faster when you view them. The larger (12 MB) video also now features better sound and an improved frame rate.


Saturday, November 16, 2002 - newest items first
# 12:03:00 AM:

Voting in Burnaby, 2002

Today is civic and municipal election day across British Columbia, including in Burnaby, the Vancouver suburb where I have lived since age two. In contrast to the scrap and probable political upheaval in Vancouver itself, Burnaby has had a relatively quiet campaign, largely because the incumbent Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) has run the city pretty well over the last decade and a half, preserving lots of parkland, attracting high-tech industry, and even completely eliminating Burnaby's debt. Current mayor Doug Drummond is returning to life as a full-time math teacher (he taught part-time while mayor, something some people disliked), so council member Derek Corrigan is shooting for the mayor's job, against contenders Jim Dixon and Brian Bonney.

Some might think the budget surplus strange, since the BCA is a left-leaning party affiliated with the provincial NDP, who were notorious during their reign in the '90s for white-elephant megaprojects and large deficits. Of course, the current provincial Liberals (actually more the result of a reverse takeover by the long-dead but formerly dominant Social Credit party), while elected to be fiscally responsible, are projecting a bigger deficit than any the NDP managed, largely because of an irresponsible tax cut when they entered office just as the economy started tanking.

Back to the subject. The opposing parties, TEAM Burnaby and the Burnaby Voters' Non-Partisan Association, seem to have made most of their platforms out of ineffectively bashing the BCA or its candidates. Although they have some good ideas, and the BCA certainly deserves some criticism on issues it has not handled well, I personally see no reason why either organization would run the city better than the BCA has. Additionally, the BCA school trustees have at least said they oppose the kind of cost-cutting and half-thought-out educational restructuring being imposed by the provincial government, even if they haven't done much about it. Several of the TEAM and BVNPA candidates appear more on-side with the B.C. Liberals, something I cannot support.

Finally, independent city council candidates Parvin Chami and Kit Nichols have made a good impression during the campaign, while school board candidates Kimberly Flick and Tony Svorinic seem willing to deal with some difficult questions in an intelligent way. I'll likely mark my ballots for them, as well as a couple of TEAM and BVNPA candidates who I know are good people, with the balance of my votes supporting the BCA.

Last election, Burnaby experimented with machine-scanned (rather than hand-counted) paper ballots, which seemed to work well. At least we here in Canada have not gone down the hellish road of over-automation seen in the U.S.


Friday, November 15, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:07:00 PM:

I wanna grow up to be a weapons inspector

When I was on the Board of Governors of the University of B.C. ten years ago (as elected student rep), then-UBC president David Strangway told me that when he was in university in the '50s, the job he eventually landed -- Chief of Geophysics for NASA, responsible for designing experiments to take place on the moon -- didn't even exist. That ended up being true for me too, in a much less spectacular way: when I graduated with a B.Sc. in Marine Biology in 1990, I could never have known that I would make my living for a time as a Web designer, since there was no Web then.

So now we ask (and Slate answers): how do UN weapons inspectors going to Iraq get the qualifications for the job?

Bonus neat (and totally unrelated) explanation: in 1973, people in Iceland used five months of constant spraying with water to stop a lava flow from blocking a harbour.


Thursday, November 14, 2002 - newest items first
# 10:36:00 PM:

Math, Bills, Crazy Eric, and Campbells

• My wife is a math teacher, so I know teaching is hard. It doesn't need to be made harder by things like this: "[A]n academic review has found the statistics chapter [in a new math textbook for schools in Atlantic Canada] is so inaccurate that it is unusable. [...] It took three math professors 43 pages to list all the errors they spotted in the textbook."

• Bill Wyman or Bill Wyman? Tough choice.

• I'll never feel silly again for carrying keys, wallet, Leatherman tool, cell phone, and PalmPilot all at once.

• Check the time.

• In Saturday's Vancouver civic election, former provincial chief coroner Larry Campbell is expected to win the race for mayor. If he does, he will be the third Mayor Campbell of the city in my lifetime. His predecessors were notorious hippie-hater Tom Campbell, at the turn of the '70s, and current B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, in the '80s and early '90s.

It goes further. Former prime minister Kim Campbell once sat on the Vancouver School Board. Vern Campbell is currently running for Vancouver city council, and has been endorsed by nightclub owner Vance Campbell, who was rumoured months ago to be thinking of running for mayor himself.

Finally, the lead character in the excellent Vancouver-filmed CBC drama Da Vinci's Inquest, city coroner Dominic Da Vinci, is based on Larry Campbell -- who served as a consultant on the show. Da Vinci is played by...Nicholas Campbell.


# 8:56:00 PM:

The silent genius

Roger Ebert's latest essay is about Buster Keaton. We don't often see his silent movies today -- the most recent one I stumbled across was The General, on TV a few years ago. Keaton's films are tremendously funny, and supremely daring physically. Ebert writes:

[N]o silent star did more dangerous stunts than Buster Keaton. Instead of using doubles, he himself doubled for some of his actors, doing their stunts as well as his own. [...]

Keaton is famous for a shot in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," where he stands in front of a house during a cyclone, and a wall falls on top of him; he is saved because he happens to be exactly where the window is. There was scant clearance on either side, and you can see his shoulders tighten a little just as the wall lands. He refused to rehearse the stunt because, he explained, he trusted his set-up, so why waste a wall?

Now I suddenly want the box set.


# 9:12:00 AM:

The year I got old

While turning my CD collection into MP3s (which is taking a lot longer than I thought), I determined that I grew up sometime in 1995, the year I turned 26. That was also the year I got married and quit my band -- though I've since re-joined the band now that we travel less and make way more money.

But my CD collection told me for sure because 1995 was the last year when I bought a lot of music from new artists. I still do that, but only occasionally. In the early '90s I grabbed albums from Juliana Hatfield, Midnight Oil, Nirvana, Joan Osborne, Rage Against the Machine, Crowded House, Green Day, Junior Brown, Cracker, the Tragically Hip, and other artists who were then in the bloom of their careers. Now, I'm still buying albums from many of those same artists and their descendants (plus older music, like that of the Beatles and the Nuggets '60s collection), and hardly any from anyone who's emerged in the last two or three or five years.

I don't own a single Radiohead CD, for instance, even though they were around and had some minor hits a decade ago, because they broke big after 1995. Had ok computer or Kid A happened in 1994, I'd own them.

In retrospect, I should have realized what was happening in late 1995, when I read a magazine article that asked various stars what their favourite summer music was. Gwyneth Paltrow replied that she liked Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever album, from 1988, the year I entered my third year of university. In the article, Paltrow mentioned that she'd been a junior in high school when it came out, and I recall thinking, "Jeez, she's just a kid!"


Tuesday, November 12, 2002 - newest items first
# 2:41:00 PM:

Looking through the desktop

National Geographic's Best Wildlife Photos page includes some wonderful desktop pictures. If you want some others, check out MacDesktops (you don't need a Mac, actually), which includes some of mine.

UPDATE November 13, 9:15:26 AM: If you came from my photo at MacDesktops today, here's a bonus desktop picture for you. (The largest version is only 1024x682 pixels, alas.)


# 12:16:00 PM:

Brain and hands

I'm not a classical music aficionado. Heck, I'm only a marginally competent post-Ringo rock drummer who lucked into making a living at it.

Anyway, whether you know much about classical music is irrelevant to this: listen to the two versions (bottom of the page, requires RealPlayer) of Glenn Gould playing one of Bach's Goldberg variations, recorded 26 years apart. One is only two seconds longer than the other, so he played them at roughly the same average tempo, but they sound like different compositions.

The first, from Gould's debut (!) 1955 mono recording at age 22, is ferocious and seems to move at 200 miles an hour. The second, from his 1981 stereo re-examination at age 48, sounds like you'd expect from Bach, more mathematically predictable and fluid. In both cases you can hardly believe a human being could play the piece so precisely. Or that he died so young.


# 11:22:00 AM:

What is the Internet?

Is the Internet a medium or a place? How you answer that question determines a lot about how you might see it evolving. Doc Searls expands:

[Some people talk] about a medium here. So does Hollywood. So does [the U.S.] Congress. So does the FCC.

Some of us also talk about the Web as a place. Different metaphor. Radically different, in fact.

One sees the Net as a distribution system for content that is addressed for delivery by downloading or streaming to an end user or a consumer.

The other sees the Net as a commons with locations and sites with adresses, where people connect when they link or point or talk or blog or surf or post or put something up -- all of which one does when one is located somewhere.

The prepositions are the give-aways. By one metaphor, the Net is something you go through. By the other metaphor, the Net is something you go on.

Of course, both apply. Both are true. Most subjects are understood in terms of many different metaphors. What we need to remember is that we never stop thinking and talking in terms of them. Every metphor brings its own vocabulary, even its own morality.

I think as time goes on, and more people who've grown up with the Net spread out into the power roles in society, we'll all understand it more as a place than a medium. While e-mail goes through the Internet to get from me in Vancouver to my friends and relatives in all sorts of other places, I never think of the Web as something to go through. It's always a place to be on, or in. When I'm instant-messaging with someone, even my wife when she's at work, we seem to be sharing a virtual place that is neither here nor there, but of itself.

That's why the old "information superhighway" metaphor seems out of date now. Highways aren't places you hang out. For those of us who use the Internet all the time, it's more like a village (or sometimes, sadly, a mall), or a city, or a country or continent. There are parts of it that we know intimately, like the streets we rode our bikes on as kids, and other parts that are unfamiliar and foreign, and sometimes scary or repulsive. We tend to stay near home, but most of us go off on an adventure sometimes.


Monday, November 11, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:00:00 AM:

1914-1918, 1939-1945, 1950-1953, 1990-1991, and 2002


Sunday, November 10, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:34:00 PM:

The floating laptop

Griffin's iCurve is a smart and simple idea -- it's about time someone did that properly.


Saturday, November 09, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:31:00 PM:

And he strikes!

My band played a James Bond theme party last night, and in preparing for it I assembled some appropriate background theme music. In the process, I determined that:

  1. The original John Barry arrangement of the James Bond theme by Monty Norman is a perfect blend of Duane Eddy/surf twang guitar (courtesy of guitarist Vic Flick -- what a great name), Martin Denny exotica lounge music, and big band swing. I don't know why the producers of the Bond movies have bothered having it re-recorded. They should have stuck with what they had in 1962.

  2. Tom Jones's 1965 rendition of the theme for Thunderball is possibly the most bombastic song ever recorded. It's fantastic.

  3. Shirley Bassey's singing of the Goldfinger theme a year earlier set the standard against which all other Bond tunes must be measured. Tom came close, but didn't quite better it.

  4. As pure songcraft, the theme for You Only Live Twice is by far the best of the bunch, and probably the most worthy thing Nancy Sinatra ever recorded.

  5. Paul McCartney and Wings' Live and Let Die theme sounds rather too much like Genesis at its art-rock peak, as Sebastien, our guitarist, pointed out.

  6. None of the Bond themes since the '60s really hits the suave/cheesy sweet spot, though Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me is at least decent.

  7. Austin Powers is now way cooler than James Bond.


Friday, November 08, 2002 - newest items first
# 9:45:00 AM:

Life symbols

I've used the same briefcase, a semi-anonymous "Morzo" brand (left, below), for about two years. It was pretty cheap, so it's showing its age, and the zippers are failing. I had been thinking of buying another when my wise wife suggested that I convert our Eddie Bauer document bag (right) for my own use instead.

[Two briefcases]

We've had the Eddie Bauer bag at least twice as long as my briefcase, and it's put up with more abuse. That's because, until this week, it was our kids' diaper bag. But neither of them has needed diapers for at least a year. So my new briefcase is an ex-diaper bag, which is a good symbol for how things are in my life.


Thursday, November 07, 2002 - newest items first
# 11:43:00 AM:

Revenge of the sea creatures

Some months ago, I thought the Hot Wheels Shark Playset was an especially effective distillation of the id of young boys. Well, now there is the Octoblast, which takes it to yet another level:

This action-packed track set has stunts, exploding crash zones and a wild octopus with kid-controlled tentacles. Kids power up the high-speed, four-way booster for a fast-paced race through the twisted tentacles of the octopus. [...] Sure, in the real world your commute can seem a bit harrowing. But at least there isn't an enormous green octopus trying to destroy your car.

I thought the Shark Playset was stupid, but, perversely, I think the Octoblast is pretty cool. I'm at a loss to say why.


Wednesday, November 06, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:02:00 PM:

Why do you want blue?

Here's why blue lights on electronics are desirable -- it's a combination of rarity (because of expense) and a historical quirk from 1923 at the German audio company Blaupunkt ("blue dot"). And it may not stay that way for much longer. Link via Gizmodo.


# 8:07:00 AM:

Why writing is still important

Gerry McGovern writes wisely about words on the Web today:

You can't automate the creation of quality content. Someone, somewhere, has to write the stuff. If she's not good at her job, the process becomes not only redundant but also counter-productive. [...] It's not unusual to find organizations that have given little to no consideration as to who might actually read what's on their Web sites. Forget your reader and you can forget success. This holds true for an intranet, an extranet, or a public Web site.

That's one big reason why weblogs, even though individual ones tend to have small audiences, are so popular and useful as a whole.


Tuesday, November 05, 2002 - newest items first
# 5:54:00 PM:

Making (a little) money online

Since TidBITS published my article yesterday, I've received over $30 US from readers who liked the piece and donated through TidBITS's new PayBITS donation/tip jar system. And that's for an article that doesn't actually help anyone do very much, just tells a story about how I did some things.

I'm quite shocked. Thank you to those who donated. I'll be sure to turn the money around and send some to people and sites I find helpful.

The TidBITS article has also boosted traffic to this site from an average of 50 visits a day to over 650 since the issue was published about 24 hours ago. So far, eight people have decided that what they read was worth giving me some money. Of course, TidBITS has thousands of readers, so the donation rate is far lower than the 1.2% that implies -- but then again, I didn't expect anything at all.

As an added bonus, setting up a PayPal account properly to accept PayBITS donations now lets me accept credit cards, which is quite neat.


Monday, November 04, 2002 - newest items first
# 7:00:00 PM:

Welcome, TidBITS readers

My latest article in TidBITS is Doing Three People's Work with One Mac. If you came here from there, I hope you found it useful. Have a look around -- you never know, there might be more useful stuff.

My previous articles at TidBITS were a review of Palm OS word processors and a description of how to make digital video cheaply. Mac Web surfers worldwide also just voted TidBITS the best Mac site of 2002.


# 6:45:00 PM:

Reputation machines

When you're building a Web site, keep in mind Jakob Nielsen's law of the Web user experience: People spend almost all their time at other Web sites. So you should try to make your site broadly navigable (and searchable via Google) by people who are used to the way other sites work.

That's not an unnecessary restriction on your creativity -- as a writer, I have to acknowledge that people spend almost all their time reading other writers. I can't make up my own grammar, spelling, and typography and expect them to understand me. I'm not James Joyce, and not many people actually read him anyway. But I still manage to write with only 26 letters and some symbols, saying the things I want to say, and people know it's me.

Web sites are reputation machines. If your site shows that you know what you're talking about, and aren't afraid to point to others who also know what they're talking about, it will be more successful. Generally, sites that aim for amorphous, arm-wavy marketing concepts like "branding," restrict outside links, value appearance over content, and try to force users into a particular navigational path, fail, because people find them uninteresting and not worth re-visiting.

If you're looking at Ford cars, for instance, is much less useful than Edmunds or MSN CarPoint, because those latter sites actually talk about cars the way people interested in cars do -- not the way the company wants them to think. On the Web, the user rules.


# 9:30:00 AM:

Best hotels in B.C., redux

[View of B.C. Legislature at night]In our first trip out of town without our two preschoolers, my wife and I spent Saturday night at the Bedford Regency Hotel in Victoria, which I had listed in my article here on the best hotels in the region.

The Bedford, thankfully, hasn't changed much in the five and a half years since we last visited. It still has quaint rooms with fireplaces, fluffy down comforters, and jetted soaker tubs. But now you can get wireless Internet access in your room too, or use the free Web kiosk in the lobby. Cool.

By the way, the photo is not of our hotel, but of the B.C. Legislature buildings just after dinner Saturday night.


Friday, November 01, 2002 - newest items first
# 1:24:00 PM:

The only FTP client that's any fun at all

Transmit 2 is new, and about the best Internet file-transfer program out there if you use Mac OS X. Plus the Web site and documentation are funny, which is often a good sign. Check out the Beagle Bros. tribute too.


# 9:54:00 AM:


[Jack-o-lanterns at night]When my kids and I went trick-or-treating last night, we brought along Nina, my parents' 20-year-old houseguest from Germany.

I noted to her that Halloween is the only time of year I speak to many of my neighbours, some of whom I've known since they were the parents of kids who went to elementary school with me. She thought it a bit strange that the one time we do say hello, our houses look like they should be scaring people away.

Were the fireworks cheaper this year? There seemed to be many more, and from our panoramic front window, we could see them shooting into the sky all across the city.


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