Journal: News & Comment

This is " January 2003," 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.

Friday, January 31, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:41:00 AM:


Last week I determined one of the reasons why raising young children can be so stressful: little, trivial tense events throughout the day. For instance, I'll say "Please go to the bathroom before we get in the car." I never know whether my kids will just say, "Okay," and go do it, or if one or both of them will throw a screaming, foot stomping tantrum. That low-level tension tires me out by the end of the day.


# 7:51:00 AM:

Google isn't good at everything, and AOL isn't good at much

Via David Galbraith:

Search for the band 'The The': On Google. On AltaVista. See, AltaVista wins.

Via Doc Searls:

The masses want broadband, and AOL is what they're leaving to get it.

Worse, they don't want broadband so they can watch Warner Brothers pictures or listen to Warner Music recordings. Worse than that, they actually want broadband so they can share their own movies, records and pictures with each other. Freely. For no money.

Pretty soon, they'll want to serve their own stuff from their own machines, in their own homes. And why not? The Net was built for fat, symmetrical, end-to-end sharing of everything, with no value-adding intermediator in the middle. It wasn't built so big dumb companies could use it as a one-way sluice for their own "content." Yeah, the Net'll support that, but that's not what users want it for.

Sadly, AOL never came up with a broadband strategy worthy of the label, and that's what will finally do them in.

Finally, three weird ones via BoingBoing et. al.: inflight video from a model rocket, using perfect pitch to detect cheating car racers, and a teenager in a car accident who ended up suspended from power lines.


Thursday, January 30, 2003 - newest items first
# 5:53:00 PM:

Coming up on a billion

I've written about personal computer market share before, but I sure wish I'd had these stats at the time. Interesting deductions:

  • As late as 1982, computers that had nothing to do with IBM, Apple, Atari, or Commodore still made up nearly half the market for PCs.
  • Within three years, they were all gone.
  • Also in 1982, the Apple II (279,000 sold) outsold the year-old IBM PC design (240,000 -- still roughly the size of the entire industry four years earlier). Atari sold more than both combined: 600,000 computers (and that's not counting videogame consoles).
  • It took three years after the Macintosh's introduction in 1984 before it outsold the Apple II, its predecessor. By then, IBM, Compaq, and other cloners were selling five times as much as both Apple designs combined.
  • Macintosh share of the market peaked in 1992, at 12%. Apple sold about 2.5 million machines that year (and Commodore had sold that number of Commodore 64s in 1984, 1985, and 1986!). A decade later Apple's Mac sales had increased 20%, to 3 million or so. But that represented less than 3% of the vastly expanded PC marketplace. Commodore was long bankrupt.
  • Apple has never sold more than 4.5 million computers in a year, which it did selling Macs in 1995. Other platform peaks include 1 million for the Apple II (1984), 1 million for Commodore's Amiga (1991), Atari's 600,000 (1984), the C64's 2.5 million (1984-86), and Radio Shack's TRS-80 at 300,000 (also in 1982).
  • IBM PC clones, whether running DOS, Windows, OS/2, Linux, or something else, peaked at 133.5 million units sold (and 97% market share) in 2000, the last year of the tech boom. They've dropped a bit since, but their share is nevertheless a fraction higher.
  • Apple's Macintosh designs remain the only other significant hardware platform in personal computers. (Operating systems -- not covered in the charts -- are diversifying a bit, with Linux coming up fast.)
  • In 2002, the personal computer industry sold about 50 times the number of machines as it did in 1982.
  • Pretty soon (in the next two or three years, maybe sooner), someone will sell the one billionth personal computer.


# 12:42:00 PM:

On the one

When people hear that I'm a drummer -- and one who makes a living at it, as long as I wear a wig -- they usually ask me who my favourite other drummers are, or which ones most influenced my playing. Here's my list.


Tuesday, January 28, 2003 - newest items first
# 4:11:00 PM:

Rise of the blog

My friends (and clients) at Navarik have just re-done their home page into a news-based, weblog-driven format. (I helped a bit.) More companies should do that—as I see it, the more up-to-date and informative a home page is, the more likely people are to come back, which is usually the whole point of a Web site.

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.


# 12:05:00 AM:

Old school

Ten years ago, I was the old-timer computer expert (age 23) and student issues researcher for the student government at the University of British Columbia. We held a conference for other student leaders from across Canada in Whistler, B.C. that summer, and I gave a talk on this new-fangled Internet thing.

I'd almost forgotten about that talk until I stumbled across a copy of the essay I printed out and distributed to the attendees. So, newly formatted for the Web, here it is. It's not nearly as out of date as I would have expected.

And here, in contrast, is something brand new. Much more entertaining.


Monday, January 27, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:15:00 PM:

Not good enough

Joel writes about why even proper backups don't really work -- something I have, fortunately, not yet had to learn. (Though I did learn about backups themselves the hard way, twice.)

The lesson: "Notice that I had a very respectable backup strategy, everything was backed up daily, offsite. In fact I believe this is the third time that a hard drive failure has led to a series of mishaps that wasted days. Conclusion: backups aren't good enough." There are more lessons: "Much as I hate to encourage [monopolies], the only thing worse than dealing with [one] directly is dealing with another idiot bureaucratic company who themselves have no choice but to deal with the [monopoly]." And finally:

Weak systems may appear perfectly healthy until neighboring systems break down. People with allergies and back problems may go for months without suffering from either one, but suddenly an attack of hayfever makes them sneeze hard enough to throw out their back. You see this in systems administration all the time. Use these opportunities to fix all the problems at once.

Wise advice. I probably won't follow it, though, out of sheer laziness.


Sunday, January 26, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:21:00 PM:

Cool as always

[Lolo at 3]

She has curlier hair this year, her eyes are greener, she talks a lot more, and she's nearly ready for swimming lessons and preschool, but she's the same character.

She's my youngest daughter, and she was born three years ago today. Happy birthday.


Saturday, January 25, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:02:00 PM:

Feeling Gord-o-riffic

Red wine gives my wife headaches, so tonight when we opened a bottle it was all for me. I've had three glasses. There is no possible way I would even consider driving a car. By his own admission, two weeks ago B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell had at least what I've just had, plus three strong martinis. And maybe more. Then he tried to drive.

He's lucky to be alive, and so is anyone else who was on the road with him.


# 7:56:00 PM:

Megapixel is a lousy word

Jamie Zawinski has a point about how digital cameras are advertised.


# 7:56:00 PM:

On the other hand...

"Getting good placement in Google may be absolutely pointless unless your site is optimized for the people you are seeking to attract." - Elwyn Jenkins (via Dave Winer)


Friday, January 24, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:16:00 AM:

How to submit your site to search engines

People often ask me, in my role as Web guy, how to submit a new site to search engines. It's a lot easier than it used to be, since you can cover 80-90% of all searches with three steps:

  1. Make sure the <title> and <meta> description tags in your Web page (the sets that make the text at the top of the Web page window and summarize its content) say the most important things about your site, and include a 25-word (or less) summary of what your site is about. Mine look like this:
    <title>Derek K. Miller, Writer & Editor,
         Vancouver, Canada -</title>
    <meta name="description" content="Welcome to
    , the Web site of Derek K. Miller,
         Freelance Writer and Editor, Vancouver, B.C.,
         Canada. Writing, editing, proofreading, design,
         HTML, drumming." />
    (You can safely forget about the old "keywords" tag, by the way. Thanks to Lee Potts for the pointer.)

  2. Let Google know that your site exists. That's the most important.

  3. Go to Yahoo! and the Open Directory (a.k.a. Pick an appropriate category for your site, then add it by following Yahoo!'s or DMOZ's instructions. Use your 25-word description, or something like it, when submitting.

That's it. You can do more, but that should cover it. The hard part is making your site interesting and relevant to other people, which will make it popular enough that you'll turn up as a search result.


# 9:25:00 AM:

More PowerPoint bashing

The case against Microsoft PowerPoint continues:

I'm not totally opposed to PowerPoint and other presentation software, just the ways of doing things they force on you. It's quite possible to make an effective presentation with PowerPoint, but you often have to fight against it to do so, and to keep your event as the conversation it should be: you ought to be talking with your audience instead of at them.


# 12:31:00 AM:

Do yourself a favour

Go subscribe to Salon's Premium service. You can get rid of the ads. They deserve your money, and the payback is good stuff to read every day.


Thursday, January 23, 2003 - newest items first
# 3:03:00 PM:

Who we are

Big news this week in the changing demographics of Canada and the United States. In essence, both countries' populations continue to move away from their European and largely English-speaking (and, in Canada, French-speaking) pasts -- but in wildly different directions.

In Canada, while immigrants half a century ago were largely from Europe, now they are from Asia. In the U.S., Hispanics (those of any race who identify themselves as being from a Spanish-speaking -- and largely Latin-American -- culture) are now the largest minority group, surpassing blacks in number by a thin margin. If anyone wonders how Canada and the U.S. are distinct, these shifts show it: Canada is becoming a nation influenced as much by China and India as the British Isles and anything fran´┐Żais (i.e. more Asian), while America is pulled as strongly by Mexico and Central America as by the legacies of Ellis Island and the slave trade (i.e. more Latin American).

Vancouver, my home town, has seen some of the most dramatic changes -- and over the past couple of centuries, perhaps the largest population shifts of any place in the world. Two hundred years ago, there were maybe a few thousand people in this area in scattered native villages. They were overwhelmed by Europeans, their technology, and their diseases during the next hundred years. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the European influence solidified and built out roads and suburbs; since the 1970s the shift has been to Asians, and to glass skyscrapers. Today Greater Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities anywhere, with some of the youngest buildings (on average) and, in parts, highest population densities.

I live in an unremarkable (except for the view) suburb, and from my house I can easily walk to buy excellent -- and cheap -- sushi, pad Thai, burgers, bubble tea, fish and chips, falafels, or lamb karai. (There's not much good Mexican or soul food available nearby, which might not be a surprise -- but they're easy to find elsewhere in the city.) The food alone is worth my living here.


Wednesday, January 22, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:15:00 PM:

Internet time

Five years ago today, Netscape made a big desperate move. Unfortunately, it didn't work.


# 10:08:00 AM:

The karma of effective presentations

Surely it's coincidence, but David Coursey of ZDNet's Anchordesk discusses presentation software today, just as I did last week. He writes that "if you don't use Microsoft software, you'll have to present from your own machine anyway. But at many events, organizers have a single machine from which they run all the presentations. That means you need to bring a copy of yours on a disk of some sort." Avoiding that is a key advantage of the HTML-based approach I was talking about.

Coursey emphasizes the most important aspect of presentations, thankfully:

The software and hardware are secondary. The primary ingredient is the speaker -- you. [...]

My feeling is that fewer slides are better. Video or audio can be good things, but animation for its own sake takes away from the speaker. Plus, the latter is usually handled so clumsily, it's not worth the bother. [...]

No matter how good your hardware, no matter how clever your patter, no presentation is worth the audience's time if you don't have something important to say and have the ability to present it in an engaging manner.

Some of the best speakers use no visual aids at all, and are compelling even on radio. You don't have to be that good, but it's worth a try.


# 12:32:00 AM:

Changing fortunes

When I named the Penmachine Media Company back in 2001, I chose "Media Company" because I expected to gain income from writing, editing, computer and Web work, music, layout, and photography. Rather a mix. That year, I made 80% of my money from writing and editing (mostly technical editing), 18% from music, and only 2% from pure technical work like helping people design Web pages and get their computers working.

I just did my accounts for 2002, and the proportions have shifted: 60.5% writing and editing, 38.5% music, and only 1% techie stuff. Of course, there's a lot of techie stuff in the other work -- I run the band's Web site and created our promotional video on my computer, do a lot of desktop publishing and image manipulation in my technical writing and editing, and so on. I also offer plenty of free technical advice to my friends, family, editing colleagues, and clients for other projects. Still, it would be pretty hard to include "computer consultant" on my business card at this rate. I should probably add the "drummer" part on there, though.


Tuesday, January 21, 2003 - newest items first
# 3:14:00 PM:

Which will be better?

The Wikipedia (via JWalk) is an online encyclopedia that anyone (you too) can edit or write for -- no application process required. Just click on over, find a topic, and start modifying. It's a good-quality resource, evidence that the open-source approach works for more than just computer programs.

NuPedia is a similar idea, but it is less of a free-for-all in that there is a peer review process. I wonder which encyclopedia will end up being better.


# 10:49:00 AM:

Railing against ourselves

Webloggers are getting all self-reflective (and I guess that includes me now). Dennis Mahoney writes that "I was spending time thinking about branding and mission statements for my personal site, when I should have been writing about lighthouses."

My opinion is that what makes Web sites valuable is interesting content, whether text, pictures, movies, sounds, whatever. What it means is interesting to you, if you have a site. No trick to it. Just do what you like, and try to be good at it by whatever standards you use. Even if I talk about the same stuff as a whole bunch of other people (and so what?), that's what I try to do here.

Why do I do it? That's complicated. Whatever.


# 12:47:00 AM:

Why Gordon Campbell should have resigned, but why it's good he didn't

Don argues strenuously that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is right not to have resigned after he was caught driving (quite) drunk in Hawaii recently, especially when compared to his elected predecessor, Glen Clark, who did resign when under investigation for corruption charges (which he later beat, though I'm not sure he should have).

My take is that Glen Clark should have resigned, and did. So should Gordon Campbell, but he didn't. They made very different poor judgments, with significantly different implications -- indeed, I think comparing them is pointless. On his own misdemeanor's terms, it dismays me how many people say "Campbell made a mistake, it could have been anyone." No, it could not. Maybe thirty years ago, when drunk driving wasn't treated seriously. (Incidentally, it was also okay to be whipped with a cane by a schoolteacher then.) I do not claim that anyone with a DUI charge should lose his or her job. Nor should anyone whose neighbours build them a deck to try to curry favour. Position is important, and elected authority especially so.

At a blood alcohol reading of 0.149, Mr. Campbell was not too much farther from taking someone's life (or his own) than if he'd, say:

  1. gotten drunk (legal on its own).
  2. taken a cab to a firing range (also legal).
  3. grabbed his legally registered rifle (also legal, again on its own).
  4. been so plastered that he started firing it at the other patrons rather than the targets -- but been lucky enough not to hit anyone.

Poor judgment, yes. Excusable? No. Yes, a firing a gun wantonly is a much more serious crime, but a multi-tonne vehicle moving at highway speeds is just as potentially lethal.

Mr. Campbell's stringent standards in opposition -- calling for government members to step aside for misdeeds of almost any magnitude, personal or professional -- only reinforce the point.

Had he resigned the Sunday after his offence, I would have admired him. Perhaps he could even have called for a leadership review and stepped aside as premier in the meantime, likely regaining his position in the end. But his inaction, despite his genuine remorse, sends the message to everyone that drunk driving and other alcohol-related problems -- despite the carnage they cause, and even despite his own father's alcohol-fueled suicide decades ago -- are no big deal.

He is remorseful because he got caught -- maybe because it made him realize how foolish he had been. But no doubt he would not be remorseful had he not been nabbed. No one, himself included, would ever have known that he had committed a crime. Mr. Campbell judged poorly, well in advance of drinking anything, that he knew what he was doing when he drove where he could serve himself a slew of martinis and glasses of wine. He misjudged again (and misunderstood physiology) when he thought a few glasses of water in the last hours of his stay would sober him up. And again when he convinced himself and his hosts that he could drive home. He lost his gamble in the luckiest possible way, by getting arrested rather than killed. And because of his good luck at the end of a string of disastrous decisions, he thinks he should keep his job as chief decision-maker in B.C. That's what the public and, most sadly, other potential drunk drivers will see.

Nevertheless, I think the result will be good for B.C., at least from the perspective of people like me who disagree with Mr. Campbell's approach. First, his offence speeds the probably-inevitable fission of the Liberal coalition, likely moderating some of its more extreme policy positions. Second, having a leader who has pleaded no contest to a crime will almost certainly improve the opposition's chances in the next election, if they can only get their act together. Pragmatically, and since Mr. Campbell injured or killed no one, I have come to think that his DUI charge is, on balance, a good thing, however twisted that sounds.


# 12:00:00 AM:

Speaking of old technology

A few minutes ago I sent my first facsimile transmission in eight months -- using my Mac's fax modem and my voice phone line, because I ditched my old fax line last summer for lack of use. Like warchalking, fax machines were a good idea at the time, but when I can send or receive documents by e-mail or on the Web, faxes are unnecessary. On the rare occasion someone insists on sending me a fax, I have it go to my dad, who still maintains a line for his fax modem. He e-mails me the result.

On a similar note, I'm writing this from trusty old Mac OS 9, which I have to use to run my ancient fax modem. Although it's a bit zippier in some respects than my usual Mac OS X, 9 feels weird and clunky now. Familiar, yes, but substandard, like going back to drive the old clunker of a car you used to own before you could finally afford something brand new. Your muscle memory still tells you to ease up on the gas pedal just so to keep it from stalling at a red light, something you'd never tolerate in your new vehicle. Having an application hog my whole computer when I want to do something else is just wrong. I don't know how I put up with it for so many years.


Monday, January 20, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:40:00 AM:

The king is dead, long live the king

Warchalking was a cool idea, but it looks like it's going to die for the best possible reason: it will be unnecessary.

I guess I should go wireless one of these days. I guess that means I should get a laptop one of these days.


Sunday, January 19, 2003 - newest items first
# 12:13:00 PM:

More on how Web pages can be better than PowerPoint

My Friday post on avoiding PowerPoint for presentations brought in a fair bit of traffic and a number of responses.

Here's a nice long rant from Matthew Thomas, who proposes that software makers "develop presentation software which not only lets people choose between a pie graph and a line graph, but also helps them make the right frigging choice." Another two interesting points came from Lee Potts:

I wonder if [Derek] considered adding CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] to the mix.

What if you abandoned the slide, next slide model that [PowerPoint] has the world locked into and developed a presentation delivery style that was based on scrolling through content instead.

Cascading Style Sheets in presentations

I did use CSS to a limited extent in my presentation, just for colour and font control. Even then, they were useful because I could easily adjust for different font sizes and screen gammas (colour and brightness balance) on Windows and Mac systems by tweaking the style sheet. One change, rather than 20!

Certainly, with more advanced CSS/DHTML, you could even do some of the moving text and layering that some PowerPoint users like. My point in my original post, however, was that all that fancy stuff (as with Flash and many other techniques) is only really good in the hands of someone who knows what they're doing -- which isn't most people, and certainly not me. Generally, simple visual aids are better, to focus on the content and the story rather than the technique.

My father-in-law, an experienced dentist, has been called to do his first computer-based presentation, a few months from now. He was worried about having to learn PowerPoint so he didn't look out of the loop. I suggested he just focus on what he wanted to say and what visuals might help that, then we'd figure out the best technology later. He was relieved.

Here's another way to think of it: My wife (his daughter) has been a high school teacher for over a decade. Essentially, she's doing interactive presentations -- teaching classes -- all day every day, and children's schooling and future lives are at stake in what she does, not just next quarter's sales figures. She knows how to use PowerPoint. But what does she use in class? An overhead projector and coloured pens. Most of her colleagues are the same, even the ones who always have the latest techie toys, or are keen to try new teaching techniques. That says something.

The "scrolling model" alternative

Until Lee mentioned it, I hadn't really thought of taking advantage of page scrolling in presentations -- which shows how much the slide-based approach (derived from the old technology of film slides, and needlessly limited by it) has infiltrated our consciousness. Why did the first presentation programs, then PowerPoint, choose a slide-based moel rather than something else? I'm not sure. Why did it persist as the only apparent model? Just momentum, probably.

Just off the top of my head, scrolling would allow many things. At one extreme, the whole presentation could be one big scrolling page, in an overhead-roll model like the real one my wife uses, and we could scroll back and forth to discuss sections we've already covered -- with the added benefit of in-page markers (on the same page, another page, or another monitor) to click back or forward even in a long page. In other ways, you could have a large-scale, vertical-orientation photograph or diagram and scroll up and down it. Surely there are all sorts of other possibilities I've not thought of.

I remember my (now just retired) grade 9 math teacher Mr. Ujimoto with his long, long acetate roll of math notes. If he came upon a topic one day that we'd talked about before, sometimes he'd roll roll roll back until he arrived at the notes from the original lesson, to re-make a point he made the first time. Why not do that with linked Web pages for presentations too? If you had a live Internet connection and posted everything to a site, as I did with my last set of slides, you could even go back to your archive of last year's presentation on the spur of the moment if someone had a relevant question. Neat.

And, again, not something PowerPoint or Keynote does internally. Like so many other things in computing and technology, we need to force ourselves to think not so much about what presentation software is good at, but what it's good for.


Friday, January 17, 2003 - newest items first
# 4:35:00 PM:

A sprightly senior

As a writer, I shouldn't even admit that until today I'd never read George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language," only the famous excerpt where he mangles a passage from the Bible by turning it into modern jargon. Scott Rosenberg of Salon suggests reading the essay once a year, much as I recommend doing with Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Orwell proclaims:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

The essay is approaching age 60 -- Orwell wrote it in 1946 -- yet it is as fresh as ever, and especially relevant in our time of war-that-isn't-war and other political obfuscations. Read it yourself.


# 12:08:00 PM:

Useful sites for new Web site builders

I've just I've posted a list of useful links for people new to building Web sites. I'll add to it.


# 12:35:00 AM:

Why PowerPoint is like a sauna in a Saab

[UPDATE: I posted some followup material on January 19, following good responses from my readers.]

Sometimes people do strange and difficult things just because they're strange and difficult -- like converting an old Saab car into a portable sauna with hood barbecue (via Barc). Yeah sure, it's cool, but I hope it was fun, because you couldn't call it especially productive.

Presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint (and now, Apple's Keynote) isn't much different. People get so caught up with the software that they forget about the presentation -- or the audience, which is the most important thing.

I'm certainly pleased that Apple has finally wrought a credible competitor for PowerPoint, so many years after Aldus Persuasion (or even the MORE outliner/presentation app) evaporated. Heck, Apple should make a Windows (and Linux!) version, even if it lacks some of the whizzy effects, just to defibrillate the presentation marketplace. I might even buy it.

What dismays me is the continuing emphasis on presentation software in itself, instead of on the actual presentations and the people making them. I've previously noted "It's the Story, Stupid," a Doc Searls piece on this topic from nearly five years ago, which was subtitled "Don't Let Presentation Software Keep You From Getting Your Story Across." Key points:

Presentations are as much about slides as poetry is about handwriting.

More often than not, all anybody remembers -- including the speaker -- is that a bunch of slides got shown.

It's not your presentation. It's your version of a PowerPoint [or Keynote, or Steve Jobs] presentation.

In this context, nothing has changed in five years. Longer, really.

I haven't seen Keynote myself, but in my dreams the whizzy effects (3D slide transitions etc.) would be secondary to some sort of storyboarding that could help even the inexperienced presenter put the flow (not the bullet points, but the story) of a presentation together, press for simplicity in the slides, encourage the speaker to move around and look at people, and prompt for interaction from the audience. Being able to take notes and jot marginalia onto the presentation slides on the fly would be excellent. And small file size would be nice, though I assume an export to Acrobat PDF might take care of some of that.

No one has mentioned those sorts of features, so I assume they're not there. Of course, Keynote was "built for Steve Jobs" (he apparently used it for a year before its public release), and he is a legendary public speaker who's even had the term "reality distortion field" coined for his speaking charisma. He doesn't need any coaching in how to speak well, and he doesn't take suggestions from the crowd at Macworld, so why would my new features be there? It wasn't "built for Derek." But it would help if there were some real innovations in presentation software.

Here's how I've recently avoided Microsoft dependency: I gave a 90-minute presentation last night, but I made up all 21 of my slides in HTML using the BBEdit text editor and a graphics program. Never mind fancy transitions and animation effects -- I made the slides under Mac OS X (testing using Safari) and displayed 'em on a Windows XP laptop (using Internet Explorer) a few hours later.

I could have fit two or three of the slide sets on a floppy disk, though I used a USB card reader to move them instead. And I posted them on my Web site as a backup, so I could have done the presentation from any Net-connected computer. The slides on this site are exactly what I used for my talk, not some converted version from PowerPoint or anything else. I spoke from notes printed on paper. Oh, and I popped over to use the basic WordPad word processor occasionally mid-talk, to type down notes and suggestions from the audience on the screen as we went along (which I could then save for later follow-up).

Maybe other people demand more from their presentation software than I do, but sometimes I wish people would demand less. Or different, at least. Heck, I wish most presenters would use a simple onscreen slide show, or old-style film slides, or an overhead projector, or a whiteboard or flipchart! It's the person doing the presenting that matters, not the screen.

That would really help everyone see that the Microsoft way ("To create presentations, you write and design slides") is not the only way. Maybe when we went to meetings and conferences, we'd get presentations that were better saunas, too, rather than a whole bunch of converted Saabs.


Thursday, January 16, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:41:00 AM:

Two things I should add to this site

Things I should have here on the site, but don't yet:

  1. An outline of how much I charge.
  2. Testimonials from clients.

I've also added Clay Shirky to the links list in the right column. Read this and this for some of his excellent material.

There's always room for improvement.


# 7:59:00 AM:

Know why you're working for free

Via Backup Brain, here's a post from James Duncan Davidson on why people work for free, as I did last night. (Well, okay, I didn't -- the Editors' Association would have given me a bit of cash, but I chose a nice book instead, so maybe it doesn't quite apply.)

"If you are speaking or writing, quit working for free already!" writes Davidson. "Unless of course you are trying to push a technology, product, or yourself. And in that case, know why you are working for free."


# 7:44:00 AM:

Thanks for coming down

We had a nearly full room at last night's Editors' Association meeting. Thank you to everyone who showed up for my talk.

I had far too good a time.

Alas, the YWCA didn't get the Internet connection set up as we had requested, so we spent 90 minutes talking about Web sites without being able to look at any real ones. Those of you who want to see some of the links I mentioned can check out my slides and click around. I'll post some followup materials and further links over the next few days.


Wednesday, January 15, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:09:00 PM:

Tonight's talk

As I put them together, I'm uploading the slides for my presentation this evening to the Editors' Association meeting. They're not yet complete, and may not make much sense on their own, but there you go!


Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:14:00 AM:

The broken music market

Vin Crosbie of distills the essentials of the broken online music market -- which I've rambled on about before -- into a wonderful, cogent essay. The key bit:

The online market is malfunctioning because the difference between the price at which the music companies are offering to sell downloads and the price at which consumers can download from other people is so vast there's no agreement between buyers and sellers. No price equilibrium means no market.

Some recording executives claim there can never be a functioning market as long as people rip CDs and offer music files for free. Some even claim the price consumers will ultimately pay for free sharing will be the collapse of the music industry and the end of music recording.

Neither statement is true. Consumers do pay for free music. That price is poor quality. The sound quality of files ripped from CDs is mediocre at best. The quality of downloadable files offered by recording companies is far superior.

Quality has value. The trouble is that value isn't $9.95 to $24.95 per month, plus restrictions.

Sound quality isn't the only issue, and that one will be easily surmounted anyway, but Crosbie's point is otherwise correct. Peer-to-peer file sharing is notoriously bad at actually finding the music (or movies, or whatever) you want, even with something as simple as a name -- never mind chart status or anything more obliquely relevant. As I wrote recently, "Demand, meet supply. Please."


# 12:05:00 AM:

Reminder: Derek gives a talk Wednesday

Tomorrow, Wednesday, 15 January 2003, I will give my "thoughts and insights on 'making an editor's Web site and making it worth the work'" at the Editors' Association of Canada B.C. branch meeting in Vancouver. Everyone is welcome, though those who aren't members of the EAC pay a $5 fee.

Everything happens at 7:30 p.m. in the Welch Room on the 4th floor of the YWCA Health and Wellness Centre, 535 Hornby Street (just north of Dunsmuir) in downtown Vancouver. That's one block northeast of Burrard SkyTrain station, two blocks west of Granville Street. Parking for the evening is available across the street for $3.00 from 6:00 p.m. Hornby Street runs one way north.

I'll be posting followup material here after the event. And I promise not to use PowerPoint.


Monday, January 13, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:22:00 PM:

Serious geek humour

This post makes no sense until you read this other one from Jason Kottke, which came earlier. It's satire with a very, very limited audience.

I laughed. I'm very limited.


# 12:57:00 PM:

It's a pity

What lovely photos (via Fazal Majid). It's a shame the photographers died in a plane crash last year.


# 12:15:00 PM:

Capitalism with too much capital

Here's a thought-provoking essay (via Doc Searls). Some key quotes:

Leaders [as opposed to managers] are people who know how to do what is done by the people they lead. Leaders expose themselves to the inconvenience of proceeding in front of the troops.

Each age defines itself by its dominant scarcity. The age of agriculture arose when agriculture was less usual than hunting and gathering. The Industrial Age was notable when mass production was novel rather than routine. Industrialism's handmaiden, Capitalism, became our defining modality when there wasn't enough capital available to fund all the useful industrial possibilities. [...] But it's the 21st century [and] capital is free, Capitalism is passé.

Like any age, we're focused on the problem that we started with, not the one in front of us. Our economic problem is obvious: we don't know how to inspire and deploy the energy and skill of our work force, so instead, we're trying to put more money into the hands of the wealthy so they'll invest it in enterprises which will be better equipped to do more of what already isn't working.

People are managed because they have a job, and holding that job is their profession. Productivity is something else.

I may not agree entirely, because I do think that people with new ideas need money to make them work in our society, and right now that money tends to come from other, richer people. Wanting to be richer is not an entirely bad impulse either. But thinking that capital markets are the only way to improve life looks more and more naïve as time goes on.


Sunday, January 12, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:56:00 PM:

Back to normal

To some it may be the least interesting set of photos ever uploaded to the Web, but if you want to see how the beard came off, take a look.

[Derek shaves 1][Derek shaves 2][Derek shaves 3]


Saturday, January 11, 2003 - newest items first
# 2:42:00 PM:


Two weblogs I read regularly, Don Hitchen's and Being Daddy, talked about possessions this week, the first because he got rid of his (broken) first car and the second because his family is moving clear across America. Both guys realized that it's the context of the things we own -- where they are, our history with them -- that gives them emotional resonance, not the things themselves. As Being Daddy noted:

"Everything feels blurry, like our stuff isn't real," my wife said. [...]

[...] I'm looking in moving boxes and the stuff's all out of place. And it's like looking at someone else's belongings, like being at an estate sale or a thrift store.

Don put it this way:

It's not the goods but the memories of pleasant life experiences that are attached to those goods that create the emotion.

Logically then, perhaps, the less stuff you have, the more meaning each thing probably has for you.


# 1:29:00 PM:

The speed of embarrassment

Talking to Air's latest photo was created last night by my former UBC colleague Jason Brett here in Vancouver, only a few hours after news broke that Premier Gordon Campbell of B.C. had been arrested in Hawaii for impaired driving. It shows how fast news moves these days.


# 12:30:00 AM:

Summer sisters

[Two daughters in a lawn chair, summer 2002]To no one's surprise at all, many of the more than 3000 digital photos stored on my computer are pictures of my two daughters.

This is my favourite, even if the focus is a bit soft.

I took it last summer in my parents' lawn chair in our tiny, concrete-covered back yard, but you'd never know it.


Friday, January 10, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:06:00 PM:

A great list of techie books...

...recommended by the folks at Boxes and Arrows.


# 2:07:00 AM:

With me, yeah me, with me...

I just returned from a gig with my band, and I can never sleep right away, since I stay wired up for about an hour after I get home. So I surfed and found...

Safari Enhancer (via, which lets you do a few cool hidden things with Apple's new Safari browser: specify a minimum font size (good, since Safari currently shows many fonts too small), import bookmarks from other browsers (though it didn't work from Mozilla for me), and activate the developer's Debug menu. The most useful things I found there were a means to make Safari pretend it's another Web browser ("user agent"), and a menu link to the keyboard shortcuts listing, which is here on your Mac if you have Safari installed:


The user agent trick seems to let me post and publish to Blogger from Safari (it's how I created this journal entry), but for some reason posting without publishing closes the current Safari window, while posting and publishing doesn't. Odd.

The trick will let you get at Hotmail too -- otherwise the site reports some sort of "lack of proper JavaScript support" error, which appears to be a false claim.


Thursday, January 09, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:21:00 AM:

Your information is what really matters

Dave Winer's essay about the two-way Web discusses two important things on the way to a third:

  1. Weblogs are just the latest development in making the Web, and communication in general, easier for a wider variety of people.
  2. Open file formats and accessible information are far more important than open source code in software -- essentially because everyone wants to be able to read their work in one or ten or fifty years, but not many people actually write programs.

His third, derived point is that giving regular people power over their own information is what makes the Internet different from media like television, radio, print, movies, and so on. So for people who do write programs, he argues:

I strongly believe there are ethical rules [of being a software developer], we just have never written them down or even discussed them. It involves not locking users in. Giving them choice. Telling them what the risks are in using the software. [...]

[...] much more important than having access to the source of the program, a program must give you complete control of your content, and for that, you must be able to get a copy. And you must be able to use some other piece of software to read it, that's why interchange formats and protocols are so important.

I think the companies that really understand that point, from giants like Apple to small firms like my friends at Navarik, will be in a better position than their competitors down the road. Preventing people from moving their own information around makes your customers your enemies. The way to make them your friends is to build better tools to work with that information, their way.

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.


# 12:02:00 AM:


The DayPop Top 40 is a good measure of buzz in the blogging techie community. As of 11:40 p.m., fully 19 of the top 40 news items (and 7 of the top 10) were about Apple's recent Macworld product announcements or closely related technologies, like the KHTML rendering engine in the new Safari browser.

I've never seen such a heavy weighting for one set of topics at DayPop, but I think it's because Apple's announcements hit a broad audience: hardware types (the new big and small PowerBooks), open-source advocates (Safari/KHTML and the new X11 application), snowboarders (the Burton jacket), Microsoft-bashers (Safari goes head-to-head with Internet Explorer, and Keynote guns for PowerPoint), wireless enthusiasts (Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme/802.11g), freebie-chasers (iPhoto 2, iMovie 3, and iTunes 3), video editors (Final Cut Express), and so on.

I guess market share isn't everything.


Wednesday, January 08, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:33:00 PM:

Another approach

I've noticed from the shows my kids watch that children's entertainers dress badly. Way too many Hawaiian shirts, frumpy dresses, cheesy vests, stretch pantsuits, mullets, and general '80s leftovers. If I ever moved into kids' music, I'd wear a three-piece suit, or maybe a tuxedo.


# 3:57:00 PM:

Long and fun

If you write HTML code for Web pages by hand, as I do, here's a handy reference from VisiBone, which you can also buy in printed form.


# 7:01:00 AM:

My talk on making your Web site worthwhile - January 15

One week from today, I'll be making a presentation to the B.C. Branch of the Editors' Association of Canada, which I joined last year, at the January meeting. Here is their writeup:

Making an Editor's Web Site Worth the Work It Takes
January 15, 2003

Special Note: Our meetings are now being held at the YWCA Health and Wellness Centre, 535 Hornby Street, Vancouver.

The Editors' Association, B.C. Branch, is pleased to welcome Derek K. Miller as guest presenter at our next meeting on January 15, 2003. Derek is a member of the B.C. Branch. He will offer his thoughts and insights on "making an editor's Web site and making it worth the work." He will also happily entertain questions and comments from the floor. See his first thoughts on the topic in last month's West Coast Editor [December 2002].

Derek lives in Burnaby, and has worked as a writer and editor for over fifteen years, specializing in technical and scientific subjects. On-line since 1983, he has used the Internet since 1990, when he also started making part of his living as a drummer and singer.

Derek has a B.Sc. in Marine Biology and a diploma in Applied Creative Non-Fiction Writing from UBC. He started the Penmachine Media Company in early 2001 after working for a software company and a gardening magazine. He currently manages and maintains four Web sites, including his own. When it launched in 1997, his site had a long and messy Web address, but since 2000 it has lived at

If you have any particular topics you'd like Derek to address at the meeting, please e-mail him at -- or just ask him on the 15th.

We now meet in the Welch Room on the 4th floor of the YWCA Health and Wellness Centre, 535 Hornby Street (just north of Dunsmuir) in downtown Vancouver. This is one block northeast of Burrard SkyTrain station OR two blocks west of Granville Street. Parking for the evening is available across the street for $3.00 from 6:00 p.m. Hornby Street runs one way north.

Please join us for our first meeting of 2003 to learn more about making an editor's Web site and to network with other editors. Guests are welcome ($5 fee). See you at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 15, 2003!


Tuesday, January 07, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:11:00 PM:


Apple Computer knows how to hype. Here's a great ad. The new Safari Web browser is also an excellent product, especially for a pre-release. Who knew?

And for no reason at all (via Jason Kottke), compare the famous and brilliant schematic map of the London Underground to the way the trains really line up. (Here's what a small chunk of that area looks like visually.)


# 7:51:00 AM:

Tools tools tools

Right now, people who write weblogs tend to use Blogger (like me), UserLand Radio or Manila, or Movable Type.

It looks like we can soon add Dean Allen's Textpattern to the list.


# 12:04:00 AM:

Advice please

The decision ultimately rests with my wife, daughters, and me, but perhaps some of you more distant people have an opinion:

  • Should I keep the beard, which I started growing very early in 2002? (More photos here, here, here, and here.)


  • Should I shave it off and have my face as it's been all my life (except for some brief bearded periods in 1988, 1990, 1994, and the past year)? Check out this, this (top middle), and this for more beardless views.

E-mail me your opinions, please. (They may be ignored. You've been warned.)


# 12:02:00 AM:

So what's a few orders of magnitude?

Looks like I exaggerated rather severely yesterday morning when I said that some big Web sites get 20,000 visitors each second. According to CNET, Google (which is about as big as it gets) receives something like 8.3 million visits a day. That's about 96 per second -- or 0.5% of my estimate.

Still, to reach the 20,000 visitors I had during 2002, Google still only needs three and a half minutes. It's some 150,000 times as popular as, in other words. Still, that's better than 30 million times as popular, right?


Monday, January 06, 2003 - newest items first
# 3:22:00 PM:

Wrestling with words

As I wanted to, I've reorganized my monster archive and index page to make it easier to find things on this site. You can now browse the site by month, topic, and popularity (for selected articles), as well as search. The archive page is also now valid XHTML code.

I've tweaked the template of the home page too, to include the Creative Commons license that now permits anyone to reuse material from this site, as long as they do so non-commercially and give me credit.

My goal here is not just to have geeky fun -- although that's the main motivation -- but also to make the site easier to use. If you have any other suggestions, you can always e-mail me and send them along.


# 9:17:00 AM:

Thanks for the visits

One year ago tomorrow I started tracking how many people come to this site. In that year, I've had over 20,000 unique visits. There's no way to know many people that represents, since most are no doubt regulars, but thanks for reading anyway.

My busiest single day (in November) had nearly 600 visits, after I published an article in TidBITS. Things are slowest on weekends, and between 3 and 4 in the morning in the Pacific time zone.

For perspective, there are plenty of big sites that get more than 20,000 visits each second.

[UPDATE: Scratch that! Even Google takes more than three whole minutes to get 20,000 visits.]


Saturday, January 04, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:28:00 PM:

Not a trade

Bill and Ryan both reacted to my post from yesterday. I wrote the end of it -- "On the other hand, I think I'm a better dad than my young self expected I would be" -- because the rest seemed kind of a downer, even though I don't feel it should.

We're all born with near-infinite potential, and over our lives that steadily declines, replaced by something far better: what we've really done. Twenty years ago I imagined I might be a famous novelist, or a scientist. More recently I thought perhaps a famous musician or magazine writer. The common thread was famous, which is something I no longer expect.

Or maybe I just enjoy fame in a more limited way. I was somewhat famous between 1984 and 1994, when I wrote "Dik Miller, Private Eye," a series of silly stories in a series of student newspapers. (One of these years, I'll put the archives online here. They're still pretty funny.) Today, I'm surprised at the diversity of people who read this weblog, even if their numbers are small. More than one of them even claims to have it as their home page -- something neither I nor any of my family members do.

I've also done things I never dreamed of. I went to Russia at the beginning of glasnost and felt the paranoia and suspicion in the air, before the socialist-realism statues and rooftop slogans were toppled to make room for the same stores and billboards I see in Vancouver. I played drums in a 40-degree February heat wave before a crowd of thousands on an Australian beach. I rode a mountain bike down a trail on the west side of Howe Sound, looking into the startled eyes of a deer who was running beside me, wondering how I could keep up.

I drove a big ugly station wagon 6000 miles through the western U.S. one summer with two friends (one of whom I haven't seen in person since), visiting caves, canyons, extinct volcanoes, motels, and Las Vegas. I jumped out of a plane and, after a brief free fall, saw clouds beneath my feet as my opening parachute kicked me up into the sky. A sea lion cruised by me as I breathed compressed air ten metres under the surface of the sea near Victoria. I felt skin-cracking cold in a tent near Whistler and on a bridge in Leningrad, and sauna-like heat in Melbourne, Australia and Philo, California.

I discovered that I liked differential calculus well enough, but not the integral kind. I had to find out how to measure my blood glucose and dose myself with insulin. I learned to write better than most. I became an expert at some things, but almost by accident, because they are things I find fun. I fell in love more than once. On two successive perfect San Diego summer nights, I rode a roller coaster between Mission Bay and the ocean, and ate fresh-bagged pistachios on the sand near the Hotel del Coronado, both with the woman to whom I'd said my wedding vows near the shore of Deer Lake in Burnaby, and meant every word.

Bill wrote that "if all that remained was being a parent I can't think of anything else more worthy of being great at," while Ryan wondered "Is being a good father a great thing in itself, and worth the trade?" Neither Bill nor Ryan has any kids yet, so I could give them the platitude answer, which would be of course, it's the greatest thing in the world, my kids are everything blah de blah.

It's messier than that, however. Being a parent is noble and difficult, rewarding and frustrating, and far more complicated than it's possible to understand before you are. When I was a kid, my parents did things that, at the time, made no sense, and I resolved never to do them. Now I've forgotten what most of those things were, but I'm sure I'm doing them. (Except one: no matter how dirty my kids' faces get, I have still resisted using my spit to clean them.)

Sometimes I think nostalgically of our earlier life, when we could go to bed or wake up, watch TV (or not), read, bathe, go for a walk or ride or drive, stay out late, or take a spontaneous trip pretty much when and where we wanted. When we could leave a candle safely on the coffee table. When each trip to the grocery store didn't require picking up six jugs of milk. But if I still lived that life, it might be pretty dull by now.

I do lots of things besides the parenting that takes up most of my days. I write, I edit, I play drums, I sing, I ride my bike, I read, I tinker with computers, I take photos. My wife and I try to squeeze time in there for each other too. We have to or we'd go crazy, and I think it's an unacknowledged truth for most parents that kids, despite how desperately we love them, will drain the life out of you if you let them.

Yet they are amazing -- little people, becoming bigger, with distinct personalities, ideas, and habits, who would still not exist without me.

Here are some other things I didn't expect to do: I saw both my children born, stupefied by the effort it took my wife to bring them out. Then I helped them learn to crawl, walk, talk, fly kites, write letters, swim, use the phone, double-click icons, and make up excuses for why they should get another piece of chocolate. The oldest isn't even five yet, and I'm still young too.

The infinite potential is theirs now. That's why they're "worth the trade," though I doubt a trade is what it is. Because now we all -- my family -- make our remaining potentials real together.


Friday, January 03, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:40:00 PM:

Past the fork

As we age, all the great things we could have been drop off, one by one, and now I know my latest loss. While reading The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, I realized that I would love to translate books. The novel is translated from Spanish (La carta esférica), and I found myself imagining ways to improve the translated version.

But I'm 33 now—too old to learn another language well enough to be a good translator. In high school, my French was passable, yet never good enough to translate in either direction with English, and it has deteriorated horribly from disuse. Finnish was my first tongue when I was a toddler, but I've forgotten it all (though I can still pronounce it excellently, without a clue of what I'm saying). My Oma taught me some German, but it never stuck. I took Latin, but never spoke it, for obvious reasons.

While my mildly multilingual past certainly helps my appreciation and understanding of English, some things are only for kids. Learning languages seamlessly, as a true native speaker, is one. On the other hand, I think I'm a better dad than my young self expected I would be.


Thursday, January 02, 2003 - newest items first
# 4:32:00 PM:

Another way to organize my content

The archives of this weblog, stretching back into late 2000, are becoming unbrowseable by their sheer size. So I'm beginning a new project: organizing my weblog posts by topic area. (The topics are arbitrary -- I just decided them as I assembled the page.)

The current version is very preliminary, including only the last month's posts, and with a bare-minimum page design. I'll enhance it as time goes on, but I'll bet it takes longer than I expect. Yes, I will include direct topic links and other goodies later. Maybe someday I'll even automate it somehow.

In the meantime, I want to update my archives and site map page, and put "2003" on everything. It would be nice if I got paid for this, wouldn't it?


# 2:54:00 PM:

Things take longer

Back in the middle of October, I guessed that converting my CDs into MP3s might take me a couple of weeks. It's almost three months later, and I'm up to artists beginning with W. I haven't started on the compilations or soundtracks yet. There are more than 5000 songs, consuming over 20 GB, so far.

I've also spent the last few days trying to consolidate the more than 500 contacts I have in two different e-mail programs, on my PalmPilot, and synced to the Palm Desktop on two different computers. That's taken me hours and hours, and I've just finished the letter M. I'm not even sure that the end result will synchronize cleanly with my Palm again, but I'll only know once I'm done. However long that takes.


Wednesday, January 01, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:00:00 PM:

Not a New Year's post

Here's something not relevant at all right now (following a conversation with Mark F.): the reason why the U.S. and Canada celebrate Thanksgiving at different times (November in the States, October up here). I had always thought it was one of our British holdovers (like Boxing Day), but apparently it was much more political than that.

Okay, okay, Happy New Year!


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