Journal: News & Comment

This is " June 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.

Monday, June 30, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:41:00 AM:

Informavores and info-foraging

Today is my 34th birthday. I've had a personal computer in my house since 1980, when I was 10, and been online in some form or another for 20 years now, since I was 14. I've been using the Internet since 1990, and have worked on websites for more than six years, since I was 27.

In that time I haven't gained that much technical skill. I know very little about computer programming, for instance, even JavaScript, but I've tried to learn about what makes a useful website. I was pleased to read today about treating web visitors as informavores—foragers for information—and about this advice:

The two main strategies [for attracting people to a site] are to make your content look like a nutritious meal and signal that it's an easy catch. These strategies must be used in combination: users will leave if the content is good but hard to find, or if it's easy to find but offers only empty calories.

This dual strategy is the reason I recommend that you showcase sample content on the homepage (appear nutritious) and prominently display navigation and search features (demonstrate that users can easily find what they're looking for).

I think these strategies are key reasons why weblogs like this one are so effective: the home page is the main course, and when properly set up, a weblog site is relatively easy to search, and the results of those searches are relevant and useful.

It's also why I've set up multiple ways of finding things here (even if some of them are broken and incomplete), why I and other webloggers are always tweaking our sites, and why, for instance, I just converted my site syndication feed to include the full contents of my recent journal postings, instead of just summaries.

All that work for a tiny little backwater site like Yeah. It's a learning process, and learning just goes on and on and on.


Sunday, June 29, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:39:00 PM:

Substance in style

In 1986, when she was nearly 80, the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave Katharine Hepburn an award for lifetime achievement. Hepburn was not a fashion designer, but in the 1930s she made pants (long considered unladylike) acceptable, and then fashionable, for women. My wife wears skirts often enough, but like Hepburn she generally prefers pants. She and other women who do can thank the actress for giving them the choice.

Hepburn is the prototype for the modern, independent, no-B.S. woman in control of her own destiny—the kind of woman I'd like my two daughters to become. Being that way wasn't always easy for others to accept, as Hepburn said herself:

I strike people as peculiar in some way, although I don't quite understand why. Of course, I have an angular face, an angular body and, I suppose, an angular personality, which jabs into people.

Katharine Hepburn died today at 96.


# 4:12:00 PM:


Yesterday night it was 30°C outside my house, and it was pretty close to that this afternoon too. But the clouds have come in, and just now as I looked out my front window a visible wall of rain swept from northwest to southeast across the mountains, and now it is raining here.

It's still 25 degrees on the covered back deck, so we'll have dinner out there. Despite the rain, it's a beautiful night.


Saturday, June 28, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:16:00 PM:

Selling out to The Man

Yikes! There are ads on my site!

It's okay. I agreed to put them there.


# 9:32:00 AM:

Rock out Canada Day morning, baby

Those of you looking for something to do in downtown Vancouver on the morning of Canada Day may want to check out the free concert by my band, The Neurotics, on the plaza of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, on Georgia Street just across from the main library. We'll be playing from 9 till noon or so for the participants in the annual Post-2-Post 10 K run.


Friday, June 27, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:13:00 PM:

And so it is decided

Why have I not posted to this journal in two days? Because I have spent the time coming to a momentous decision. One that required considerable thought, canvassing the opinions of others, and a fundamental alteration in my world view.

Yes, from now on I shall spell website, not Web site.

That is the way the word has been heading since it was invented, lo, more than a decade ago, and now website is sufficiently widespread that I must submit to general usage and eschew the logic that led me to prefer Web site for all these many years.

I cannot, however, bring myself to use email instead of e-mail quite yet, but the time will come, I am sure.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.


Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:41:00 AM:

When editor-client relations go bad

For those of us working as freelance editors (or freelancers of any sort), any client relationship has the potential to fall apart for any number of reasons, so it's crucial that we sign a written contract—especially with clients we haven't worked with before. The contract should be signed before any substantial amount of work gets done, and must have some sort of provision for either party bailing out for any reason at all—usually, there is a requirement for notice (sometimes immediate, especially on short projects), and payment only for work completed (satisfactorily, by some reasonable standard!) so far.

I don't know the legalities, but I expect that any informal verbal contract would implicitly include something similar. Nevertheless, a written contract is much more likely to be unambiguous, and isn't subject to selective memory from either party.

It's pretty darn unusual—I've never encountered it—for any freelancer to expect full payment for work that was not fully completed, regardless of who ends the project. It's also, in my experience, rare to get, for instance, a 50% deposit that is completely non-refundable on anything but very small projects. Maybe others have different experiences.

Avoiding bad client relationships

The potential of not getting the full amount for a project is one of the hazards of freelancing, and a key reason why we need to:

  1. develop a sixth sense for potential flaky clients (or those who simply have work that we're honestly not ready or qualified to do), whom we can then avoid.

  2. determine exactly what the client wants and needs (and not what we as editors want or need to do) and ensure that we have or can quickly learn the skills necessary for that.

  3. have a contract that spells out not just the work, but how it might end.

  4. do good work, always.

This job, more than the loner-freelancer image would suggest, requires people skills as much as language skills. We have to be able to put ourselves in our clients' places, and understand what they are trying to accomplish, or what they should be trying to accomplish. We need to support them and work with them, because they usually have a lot more invested in the project and its successful outcome than we do.

That means that, if at all possible, we should accommodate how clients want us to work with them on a job, or refuse to take it if we cannot. If they want us to edit using Microsoft Word's Track Changes command, while we prefer to work on paper, then we should bite the bullet and use Word. If they want to use American spellings and we prefer British, that's their choice unless we have a good professional reason to suggest otherwise, and can convince them.

Trying to fit clients' projects into the mold of our skills is often a bad recipe, because in the end, their names (usually) are on the line, not ours. If putting ourselves in a client's place helps us see that he or she is a flake, or that our skills aren't suited to this job, so much the better.

Regardless of clients' flakiness, they are still the ones hiring us, so it is their decision whether they are comfortable with the quality, speed, and techniques of our work—at any stage of the project. Similarly, as freelancers we have (and must occasionally take) the option not to accept clients, or to use our contractual freedom to end a project as well if things are heading in the wrong direction.

Knowing our own limitations

While we as freelancers should expect to be paid—and probably to be backed up by a court—if we have done a substantial amount of quality work for a client, regularly having to go to collections or threaten clients with legal action is worse than a waste of time: it eats up what could be our own income-generating energy, and corrodes our attitudes to our other potential clients and our own work. Having that happen frequently is a sign that something is wrong with the types of clients we're accepting, or the way we're approaching their projects, or the set of skills we're bringing to bear on them.

That does not mean that there is necessarily something inherently wrong with the clients, or with us—maybe other editors could have a successful relationship with them, as we might with some clients those editors could not. (Still, I guess an editor who can work with a wider variety of clients will have a broader pool to choose from, and thus to reject from.)

I would not, in any case, be comfortable taking a large indexing job, or project-managing a book, or obtaining a huge raft of permissions for illustrations, or acting as the liaison between an author and a book publisher. I have not done enough of those things before, and would prefer to learn something about them before taking money from a client. I'd also be uncomfortable with editing subjects to which I have some strong philosophical or moral disagreement. But if someone wants proofreading, or substantive editing of a short or long technical document, or rewriting, or Web site content, I'm there.

Our limitations are hard things to accept, and some of these decisions are also hard, especially when we're desperate for income, but that's also why many of us have had other, secondary jobs while we're getting established (or, like me, even now). I might sound negative here, but I'm really not. I love my work, but to get to the point where I love it I have had to learn which kinds of work I don't love, and which ones I'm not good at, so I don't do them.

Having a written termination clause

The flakiest clients are the most apt to bail out of a project, and so are the ones for whom we most need a written termination clause in our contracts. Better to have something written down so both the editor and client are clear on what's supposed to happen then. It's also a better basis on which to settle a dispute, or to take to an outside body to resolve—or to dissuade either party from bailing out, since there is an obvious cost written down for doing so.

Otherwise, the client might think they owe the editor nothing, while the editor might think the client owes everything, i.e. they're as far apart as they could possibly be in their assumptions, so the situation could hardly be worse. When a termination clause is included in a contract, it's usually pretty clear who owes what, or at least what a good starting point should be.

For example, the Editors' Association of Canada Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement has this boilerplate:


This agreement may be terminated by either party

in the event of material change of circumstance,

with _____ days' notice sent in writing to the

other party at the address shown below. If the

Editor terminates the agreement, the Editor will

be paid by the Client for work done up to the

date of termination. If the Client terminates

the agreement, the Editor will be paid by the

Client for the work done until termination or

_____, whichever amount is greater.

How we fill in the blanks depends on the size and nature of the project, what we're charging, and what both the editor and client agree in advance is fair. Once the blanks are filled in, each party knows where he or she stands.

Learning to swim in a rushing river

One of the benefits for clients of hiring contractors instead of employees is that we're on essentially permanent probation: they can let us go for reasons as vague as "it doesn't feel like it's working out," or as specific as "our financing fell through and we can't afford to keep paying you." A good contract with a termination clause at least makes it less likely to turn into "...and we won't be paying you at all."

Leaping right into making your whole living as a freelance editor from a standing start is like jumping into a rushing river without a lifeline: it's usually a struggle to keep your head above water. We need to build our swimming skills first. If we're unfortunate enough to be pushed in, we shouldn't let go of the lifeline until we can scope out where the whirlpools, rocks, and safe calm eddies are—and just as important, know when we're strong and skilled enough to ride the rapids without drowning.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:35:00 PM:

Why won't the videophone die?

Futurists and other people have been predicting the advent of videophones for decades. It never happens, although various usable technologies have also been around for decades. And, as Ryan says, video chat won't succeed wildly either, even if Apple is the latest company to push it.

Think about it. Who are the biggest users of instant messaging? Teenagers. If you've ever watched a teen on IM, you've noticed that she or he might have three or four or seven or ten conversations going on simultaneously, maybe in a chat room, maybe in a single IM session, maybe in multiple windows sprayed across the desktop. Try doing that with video, or even audio. Doesn't work.

Secondly, what makes instant messaging great is that, like a phone or personal conversation, it happens in real time, but like e-mail, you don't have to be constantly on, participating in the exchange at all times, especially when several people are involved. No one is insulted if you take a few extra seconds (or even minutes) to respond in an IM chat, but if they can see you working on something else, or hear you talking to someone else, instead of answering the question, it might be different. Never mind picking your nose or making weird faces when someone disagrees with you.

So, iChat AV: neat, but not earth-shattering. It's nice to have the option of using video and audio, but I suspect most people will give it a pass most of the time, once the novelty wears off.


# 12:01:00 AM:

The chaos of the $2000 car

Phil Greenspun makes a good case for cheap cars from China changing many things in the world. There are not yet such cheap cars from China, but not many years ago there weren't cheap consumer electronics or household appliances from China either.


Monday, June 23, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:07:00 PM:


Some father-son teams go fishing or hunting together, or fix cars, or watch the game. Today, just after I gave him a PalmPilot I'd scored from eBay, just for the hell of it, my dad and I spent half an hour troubleshooting DHCP problems on a wireless network.

And together we fixed them. Arrrr. Manly.


Sunday, June 22, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:00:00 PM:

More good reasons to have a Web site

Three weeks ago I received this e-mail:

My name is Glenda Ott and I am principal flutist in the Paradise (California) Symphony Orchestra. I am also on the Symphony Board of Directors and as such, one of my jobs is designing the Season Brochure introducing our new concert season. I am writing to request permission to use Picture #23 of your August 3, 2002 Vancouver fireworks pictures on the cover of our Symphony Brochure.

I was quite happy to give her permission, even though she didn't need it, because the Creative Commons license I apply to my original content on this site permits anyone (like Ms. Ott) to reuse material I've created without having to ask my permission, as long as they're not trying to make money with it, and as long as I get credit.

However, since she was kind enough to ask, she got a better, higher-resolution version of the photo direct from my digital camera as a bonus. I'll be interested to see what the brochure looks like.


Saturday, June 21, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:48:00 PM:

Stuff for students

My wife teaches math to high-school kids at a public school in a rich West Side Vancouver neighbourhood. The school was completely rebuilt a couple of years ago (good thing—the old one was seismically unsafe), and has a hefty supply of high-quality learning materials, computers, overhead projectors, office supplies, and so on, not to mention desks in good repair, lovely big picture windows, and drinking fountains that dispense potable water.

Other places aren't so lucky. While Canadian public schools in low-income areas are often better off than their American counterparts, because of our more socialist school-tax system, many are still chronically short of such basics as pencils and textbooks. My wife's school has periodically set up small-scale donation systems for such supplies, to send them to a poorer school in the city.

On a larger scale, my wife just pointed out Donors Choose, a New York State charity Web site that lets teachers write proposals and donors fund them directly, by choosing those they think most worth supporting. She wrote:

Some schools have so little, like 2 overhead projectors for 20 teachers! At [my school], we each have our own overhead, TV, VCR, and computers up the ying-yang. I think we take it all for granted most days.

Marketplace IGA, a supermarket chain here in British Columbia, does something worthwhile with its points card system: on selected products (usually the IGA house brands), part of the proceeds go to help buy computers for local schools, and each customer can choose which school to send his or her portion to.


Friday, June 20, 2003 - newest items first
# 5:46:00 PM:

Four spiffy Mac OS X utilities

Image in a Hurry browses and exports images from your iPhoto picture library—way faster than iPhoto can do it.

Fetch Art for iTunes magically finds album art at for the current song or album in iTunes 4, then copies it into the MP3 file so you can view the art while the song plays.

PDF Browser Plugin displays Portable Document Format files (like those from Adobe Acrobat) in the browser window in Safari, using Mac OS X's built-in PDF display technologies.

Show Desktop shows the desktop, while hiding everything else. Useful. (Thanks to Bill for the pointer.)


Thursday, June 19, 2003 - newest items first
# 1:12:00 PM:

Killing the fish and whales

A year and a half ago, I wondered what bad news would come about marine life around the world.

Well, it hasn't been long, and the news has only gotten worse and worse.

These aren't just scare tactics. In many places, the fish just aren't there anymore, and everyone from those on fishing vessels to scientists know it. So how can I justify still eating sushi—a lot? Denial. That's the problem, all around the world.


# 10:49:00 AM:

How to give a fixed-price editing estimate

Editors and other freelancers prefer to charge by the hour, while many companies and individuals hiring us prefer to pay a flat rate. A colleague asked me today about a quote she was asked to give:

They want me to quote a fixed price. I was going to charge them an hourly rate with an estimate of how long I thought it was going to be. But it sounds like they only want to pay one lump sum and that's it.
  • Do you think this is a wise venture and
  • Is it normal practise?

It's not at all unusual for companies or individual clients to ask for a flat rate—even if they end up paying a bit more—because it gives them a predictable budget to work with. Some tips on setting a flat rate:

  • You can only decide if it's wise to take a contract if you think you'll get enough money to justify the time it will take from other things you might do. If you need the income, that might lean you more to doing it that if it's just nice bonus money. (On the other hand, if you have something you've been saving up for and want to consider this a good way to save up all at once, that's a nice way to think of it too.)

  • If the client will only pay cheap, consider whether you'd rather enjoy the weather, or do less work for someone else who pays more, than stress out about something that turns out to be $12 an hour or something. In other words, don't do it just because you can or because they'd like you to. It's a business decision.

  • Even though you may know the client, get a written contract anyway. The Standard Freelance Agreement from the Editors' Association of Canada (EAC) is a good start.

  • Build in a bit of buffer to your estimate in case you don't estimate all that well.

  • A typical technique is to do your best to try to figure out how many hours it might take you, then multiply by a fair hourly rate (at least $35—I charge $50), then add 15%-20% for admin time, discussion, and overflow. If the result is higher than you think they'll pay, offer it anyway. If they balk, then shave it down a bit—no sense bidding yourself down before they even know about it.

  • Remember revision and proofreading time, maybe multiple instances.

  • Don't forget that if this is a product you know a lot about, you'll be much faster (and probably better) than someone new to it, so if you charge a higher rate, that's only fair for the efficiency the client is getting. Low price isn't everything.

  • Note that Canadian Goods and Services Tax (GST) or any other value-added tax in your jurisdiction is extra—if you charge it.

  • Include a cap on your working hours in the contract if you can, with a set hourly rate or additional flat fee if you go over, so if things go way overboard, you have something to fall back on. Don't invoke that if you're over the cap just a bit, but have it ready in case, for instance, the client goes and changes things on you radically when you've already done half the work, making you have to re-do everything. Even if you never charge them, the possibility of extra fees makes your clients think harder about loading you with tons of work or changing their minds part-way through.

  • Alternatively, use a different technique to estimate: Try to determine the value to your client (how much they'd have to pay internally, including staff salary, office space, computers, benefits, etc.), and charge them that plus a 15% margin. Or figure out the total number of possible free hours you could spend on this project if you has to use them all up between now and the deadline. For example, if you have other projects on the go, this one might have 6 hours a day, 3 days a week on average, for 4 weeks, times $35: about $2500. If that's in the range, quote it. If they go for it, you don't have to worry that you'll be lowballing.

  • Finally, track your hours anyway. Then you'll know whether you estimated well. If you're over your estimate, you can let your client know in your invoice (with an appropriate discount to your regular hourly rate applied so that you reach your agreed flat rate), so next time if you estimate higher, both you and they will know why.

The May issue (450 K Acrobat PDF file) of the EAC's West Coast Editor has a useful cover story on estimating, by Naomi Pauls.


Wednesday, June 18, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:47:00 PM:

Wrong over right

If I told you that the first real computer "bug" (a moth caught in a relay) happened in 1945, a quick Net search would back me up. But it would also be wrong. It was 1947.

How many other questions would yield more wrong answers on the Web than right ones? And how can you tell them apart?


# 5:08:00 PM:

Show, don't tell

I hate PowerPoint. It's no secret. Edward Tufte is a big expert guy on information and how to present it. He hates PowerPoint too. Here's an example of why.


# 10:15:00 AM:

Groovy, baby

[Final Vinyl manual cover]Griffin Technology's Final Vinyl has the best-looking manual I've seen in a long time. (That's a picture of the cover—the rest is in the same style.)

It's a pity it doesn't come in a printed version. Or maybe it does, if you buy Griffin's audio hardware, which is also required to use the program. It almost makes me want to buy one of their devices just to find out.

So far, none of my clients has requested—nor have I suggested—making a manual that's anything like it. Maybe people would actually read them if we did.

Pretty far out, man.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - newest items first
# 3:15:00 PM:

Money and grades

Dave Winer writes:

[My father's] students are cheating, and when he catches them, they fight about it, instead of being shamed. Being a professor seems pointless to him in this context. Makes sense. What's the point of teaching when people just want the grade, not the education.

In business and government these days, it seems that it's all about money. In school, it's all about grades. They're related.


Monday, June 16, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:29:00 PM:

The end of Internet Explorer

Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) has confirmed that it will no longer actively develop Internet Explorer for Mac, either for Mac OS X or "Classic" Mac OS.

As many of you already know, this past Friday we confirmed that the MacBU would no longer develop future versions of Internet Explorer for Mac. We will, however, continue to support IE 5 and are sharing our compiled understanding of customer requirements with Apple's Safari team, who is working to meet Mac users' future browser needs.

There are minor bug-fix updates coming for the Mac OS X 5.2.x and Mac OS "Classic" 5.1.x versions of IE, but that's it. So IE anywhere but Windows is history.

Combined with recent news that MS will no probably no longer make IE available separately from Windows itself (i.e.—no pun intended— no separate IE 7 installation for Win 98, Me, 2000, XP or other older versions), things should continue to stagnate in the Windows browser world for most people.

The Mac version of Internet Explorer has not been significantly updated in at least a couple of years, since the first Mac OS X version came out, and even that was essentially a direct port of the previous 5.x version from Mac OS 9. While it was innovative and interesting when 5.0 first came out some time before that (back when Netscape 4 was still current), IE Mac has stood still while competing browsers from Netscape and Mozilla, iCab, Opera, Omni, Apple itself, and IE's Windows counterpart (now past version 6) have introduced many useful features, including tabbed browsing, popup blocking, snapback, faster rendering, more customizability, and better standards support.

IE Mac is now just a tolerable browser, one people use more because of inertia or because they have to (as I do in Mac OS 9, since Mozilla uses too much memory for my PowerBook). Just as well it dies quietly now, I guess.


# 11:14:00 AM:

Tap, not tap-tap

Here are eight good reasons why not to type two spaces after a period.

NOTE: Some of the links above lead to Acrobat PDF files. Thanks to Cheri Frazer and others on the Editors' Association list for the references.


# 10:16:00 AM:

The true measure of geekdom

What did I do with the few hours of Father's Day leisure time my wife and daughters kindly allowed me yesterday? Play golf? Nope, don't do that. Go for a walk? No. Sleep? Nah. Do some paying work, with deadlines looming? No way.

I finished moving to a new Web server and then rejigged the downloads and contact pages.

Sometimes I wonder whether, left to my own devices, I'd ever get out of the house, or even away from the computer. At least I had a shower.


Sunday, June 15, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:06:00 AM:

TV nation

Bhutan, the tiny country in the Himalayas, first allowed television in 1998. Find out what happened.


Saturday, June 14, 2003 - newest items first
# 6:04:00 PM:

Gadget boys (and girls)

Today, at McDonald's, I saw another father sitting at the sidelines, reading his PalmPilot while his kids played, as I often do. I've never seen a mother do that. A book, a cell phone maybe, but not a PalmPilot. They seem to continue to be gadget-boy devices. Digital cameras, on the other hand, know no gender boundaries. A number of the moms of kids in my daughter's playschool class brought them to the petting zoo this week, and when we traveled to Victoria to see the Dragon Bones exhibit a couple of weeks ago, it was the first occasion where I saw more digital cameras than film cameras, in the hands of men and women alike.


Friday, June 13, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 PM:

Friendly Surrey

The Vancouver suburb of Surrey is a large city, growing quickly enough that its population may soon exceed that of the City of Vancouver itself. But Surrey has an image problem, and has been the butt of jokes for decades. Its school board isn't helping matters.

Surrey has high rates of auto theft, its Whalley and Newton neighbourhoods are renowned for their drug trade and dilapidated houses with rusting cars in the yards, and the term Surrey girl is not generally meant as a compliment. As I said, it's a large city, so many other parts of it are very nice indeed. Yet the reputation is so strong that some people in south Surrey claim to live in neighbouring White Rock, or mention their Crescent Beach neighbourhood rather than the actual city it's part of, to avoid the taint.

Anyway, six years after it originally banned three books about same-sex parents from its kindergarten and other elementary classrooms, the Surrey School Board has banned them again. However, this time the board claims that the ban is now not because of the books' subject, but, in one book's case (and here's my angle), because it was poorly edited!

"This story has problems with punctuation and grammar throughout. The spelling of 'favourite' is inconsistent, switching from the Canadian to the American," said board chair Mary Polak about Asha's Mums.

The board's reasons for continuing to ban the other two books are similarly, er, incongruous. That's because a previous Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the topic of same-sex parents—which, the court noted, reflects the reality that such family arrangements do exist—was not a valid reason to ban the books. So the school board decided to find another set of unrelated reasons, which "coincidentally" hit all three of the books under consideration.

So far indications are that no other books have been subject to similar scrutiny. While many of us editors might relish the thought that books might be banned for inconsistent spelling (how that would increase the market for our work!), it seems pretty obvious that's not the real reason at all.

Incidentally, I'd be pretty happy if my daughter, who begins kindergarten in the fall, were able to spell "favourite" in a form that appears in any dictionary at all. She can spell her name, but not much else at the moment.

The case is going back to court. The Surrey School Board will likely lose, again, as it deserves to. In the meantime, gay couples marrying in Ontario and wanting to move west are unlikely to contribute much to Surrey's population growth.


Thursday, June 12, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:24:00 AM:

Blue skies

In my 15 years as a working musician, I've played many shows like the one I did last weekend in Cache Creek, B.C., which is about four hours northeast of Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway. That sort of travel was the reason I quit the band for five years, and I only came back because we don't go out of town nearly as often as we used to.

Now that they are infrequent, however, band trips can be a blast. My first voyage after I returned as drummer for The Neurotics in late 2000 was a one-nighter to New York City. (We didn't visit the World Trade Center—maybe next time, we said.)

This past weekend wasn't that exotic, but driving through the Fraser Canyon on a blazing 35-degree day reminded me of the beauty of this part of the world. Kicking out the classic-rock tunes to a crowd of retro-car fanatics was just the right combination, and it was great to have Doug Elliott (a.k.a. "Don G. Swinger"/"Swingy Neurotic") as a guest bass player. His wife, baby son, and two dogs even came along for the trip.

I hope our next road trip is as much fun. And that it's at least a few months away.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:45:00 AM:

How fast does an editor go?

When I talk to prospective editing clients, they often ask how fast I edit—how many pages or words per hour can I process? The answer depends on the state of the document, what I need to do to it, and how my client wants to receive the results.

Sometimes, I can go as fast as 8-10 pages per hour (at roughly 250 words per page), but that is not typical unless all I do is proofreading and light copyediting. And I'm reasonably quick.

So, 8-10 pages per hour is a decent way to make an estimate for marking up a printed paper manuscript with a red pen, when the work needs no reorganization or other substantive or structural editing, and no serious rewriting. I can make a printed manuscript a sea of little red marks at that rate—if it is generally well written but contains simple typos, spelling mistakes, and usage and punctuation problems—but if it requires onscreen editing in Word, or any more substantial changes, the page rate slows down drastically.

I find that good way to make a more accurate estimate is to acquire a portion of the manuscript and run through it for half an hour or a few pages (as you prefer), to see how quickly I go.

In a separate matter, those of you desperate for the return of The Neurotics Web site can now rejoice. Our server problems there are over for now.


Tuesday, June 10, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:01:00 AM:

Good idea, bad result

Personally, the word webinar bugs me. It's a useful word for "Web seminar," but somehow the result is ugly.

It reminds me of all of those lousy made-up company names (of which Terasen—formerly B.C. Gas, a much better and more useful name—is the latest abomination). They came in earnest in the wake of Lucent, which was the only neonym that really worked. Real words still have some power.

UPDATE: My former UBC colleague Alastair (no, not Alistair) and I discussed this topic a bit, and agreed that Telus (the name for the amalgam of B.C. Tel and Alberta's Telus) is a good name, even though it is (to use his term) a "frankenword." Perhaps these new words only work if they're two syllables or less? Nah, Scient and Livent still suck.

One we both despise is PricewaterhouseCoopers. Hello? This is English here, not German with its massive compound nouns. And a capital C but no capital W? Frankenword indeed.

FURTHER UPDATE: Hey look, I complained about webinar before, and didn't even remember.


Monday, June 09, 2003 - newest items first
# 7:34:00 AM:

Wireless article fully updated

My article on putting an old PowerBook on an 802.11b wireless network is finally finished (as much as anything ever is on the Web). I added some important material on Wi-Fi encryption. The article now also covers the full range of old wireless-capable PowerBooks, including the 520 and 540, 5300, 1400, 2400, 3400, and G3 models.

Anyone with a new PowerBook or iBook can use Apple's AirPort technology to go wireless, but it's nice to know that older machines can join in too.


Friday, June 06, 2003 - newest items first
# 8:28:00 AM:

Age and wisdom

When you're young, old people are incomprehensible (and, I'm sure, vice versa): why do they move so slowly sometimes, why are they so often set in their ways, why don't thet get it?

Bill (whose "new" company just turned three years old—Google is only five) is, like me, no longer all that young. He wrote about his mom's new high-speed Internet access, and it made me think about technology and the older people in my family.

My in-laws had almost never used a personal computer when they bought an iMac with my assistance in the summer of 2000. Before that, I had loaned them one of my older Macs, and they were even unfamiliar with how a mouse works. Today, they remain in the let-me-write-down-the-exact-steps phase with most tasks and applications. Still, they saw the benefits of high-speed Internet within months of their purchase and got it as soon as it was available in their neighbourhood, and they're online all the time.

Yet they're far from technophobic—it just takes longer to get used to some things as you age. Or maybe not—maybe it depends on what you know already. I realized that fully when I helped my father-in-law, who has been a dentist for decades, set up a presentation about dental technology. He was flying through terminology, evaluating the smallest details about complicated devices whose very purpose I could barely understand, other than that they sure looked neat. I'd certainly rather have him wielding a dental laser than me.

My dad, on the other hand, has been a computer geek way longer than I have. He has at least seven computers running in his little den (which often smells of solder) at any time, not to mention various printers and other electronic devices. In the 1970s, he brought me down to check out the mainframe computers on which he was learning FORTRAN programming, and I tried playing Wumpus without much success while he ran his processing jobs. In the early '80s he hand-built an interface and motor system between his Apple II and his Celestron telescope, so that he could program where it would point in the sky, and that was unusual enough at the time that it got him on the cover of our community newspaper.

He's also the kind of guy who knows exactly which wires in a high-voltage circuit you can touch safely without killing yourself, which is always an impressive skill. Yet he's never bothered to learn HTML, something I use every day and know pretty well. (I'm glad there's finally something I'm better at than he is.)

My mom intentionally avoids online time-sinks like eBay, but she's still the fastest typist I know. I think I recall her telling me that, back in the days of mechanical typing tests, she was faster than the machine could record. She has been frustrated over the years at why computers, which are so fast, frequently can't keep up with her fingers. I trundle along at 40-60 words per minute because I never learned to touch-type properly: I use all my fingers, but in a haphazard way that has my right hand drifting all over the keyboard and my left rarely reaching further right than the F key.

But these are all toy techniques anyway, perhaps glorified versions of knowing the button combinations to execute a complicate move in one of those virtual fighting games. Understanding life isn't about knowing technology, though it's interesting how often truly wise people also try to keep up, because they want to stay involved in the world, and technology is a big part of how many of us live today.


Thursday, June 05, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:04:00 PM:

Photorescue lives up to its name

A corrupted flash memory card is the digital equivalent of accidentally popping open the back of your film camera in bright sunlight. Luckily, Photorescue, a $30 USD program, just saved me a bunch of pictures from Victoria that I thought I had lost to the dreaded CARD ERROR on my digicam. Plus I now have a tip for you on corrupt cards.

Photorescue works on Windows and Mac OS X (I used the Mac version), and if you download the demo, it will tantalize you with tiny thumbnail images of the pictures it can recover—but not actually save them until you buy the full version. Smart selling, that.

The utilitarian interface is a bit odd, neither truly Mac-like nor very Windows-like, but it does the job, which is what counts. Especially when dedicated picture-recovery services charge three times the price or more to do a single job.

The tip: if Photorescue can't get to your photos on the first attempt, try actually reformatting (i.e. erasing) the card in your camera and give the program another crack at it. My "wiped" card was easier for Photorescue to process than the card as it was right after the error.

On an unrelated note, "Mr. Bean Can't Stay Awake in Church," which my kids watched today, remains one of the funniest things in the history of, well, funny things.


# 12:00:00 AM:

Mr. Wheelie

My friend Alistair rented a Segway over the weekend. Two years ago he was complaining about his haircut.


Wednesday, June 04, 2003 - newest items first
# 9:51:00 PM:

Things only kids can get away with

"Dad!" "Just a minute, please." "Dad!!" "I'm busy with the laundry. I'll be there as soon as I can." "Dad!!! Now! I have to tell you something!" "What is it?" "Dad! Come here!" "Okay, okay, just a second!"

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

"What do you need to tell me?"

"Dad, I need to tell you that I want to be by myself right now."


# 10:25:00 AM:

The Neurotics shall return!

If you've come here after a Web search for The Neurotics, my wacky retro-sixties band, well, our Web host decided to move servers and things without warning us in advance, so is down for now.

It's supposed to be back soon. If you want to know, our next public performances are likely to be at the Post-2-Post 10K run, on the plaza of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in downtown Vancouver, on the morning of Canada Day, July 1, and later that day at Canada Place for the Canada Day celebrations there. More details will appear once The Neurotics site is back up.


Monday, June 02, 2003 - newest items first
# 10:53:00 AM:

Words from Gates, Jobs, Whitman, and Diller

The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" meeting features interviews with tech luminaries in front of a live audience, some members of which are just as luminary. Journalists attending are supposed to keep the proceedings off the record, but bloggers are under no such constraint. So:

  • Bill Gates (of Microsoft) - some relevant comments about XML and Web services.
  • Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Computer) - he, Whitman, and Gates all mention biotech as something they'd be interested in if they were 17 again.
  • Meg Whitman and Barry Diller (currently of eBay and formerly of Universal/Fox, respectively) - 26% of eBay transactions are "buy it now"/fixed price, and 80% of users are still dialup.

There's nothing earth-shattering there, but it's nice to see these people give actual yes-or-no answers to some questions, and—especially in Jobs's case—honest appraisals of their companies' missteps. More coming at Bag and Baggage.


Sunday, June 01, 2003 - newest items first
# 11:05:00 PM:

More statistics

Recently, I have received, on average, 4.33 spam e-mails per hour. Were that rate to continue for a full year, I would receive close to 38,000 pieces of spam.

Sadly, given the rate of increase in spam, I'll probably get more than that.


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