Journal: News & Comment

This is " January 2004," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Saturday, January 31, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:23:00 AM:

Birdie irony

Here are some words of wisdom from Craig Northey:

"Have you heard about this show American Idol? They turn on a karaoke machine and play Phil Collins and Michael Bolton songs and little le Chateau shoppers pretend to be 'in the moment.' Its sort of like Anson Williams as Potsie Webber singing 'Hound Dog' on 'Happy Days' only more late 90's."

"Wait til you hear what I think of that bad man Saddam Hussein. I hope they catch him one day. That would make for great TV as well! I think they should humiliate him just like they do with the auditions on American Idol. They should get that Simon guy to tell him that he looks weird and that moustaches are out of style. That will teach him. CNN Idol."

"Car heater warm. That is its own claustrophobic type of warmth. It doesn't have the longer throw of house warmth. It comes on faster and leaves even more quickly."

"Four budgies died for my sense of irony."


Friday, January 30, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:12:00 PM:


This morning I read Splorp's link to a list of alternative web font choices from Jeff Croft. I liked what I saw, so I took his advice. Now, if you have the proper fonts on your machine, you might see headlines in one of these:

Myriad Bold

Gill Sans Bold

If not, you'll see one of the plain old options:

Arial Bold

Helvetica Bold

Let me know if you find what you see annoying. (By the way, Myriad Bold has always been the font in the logo.)


Thursday, January 29, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:00:00 PM:

Missing musical manuals, mastering MIDI, and making marvelous (i)mages

David Pogue's Missing Manuals site now has a free download of the iLife '04 Mini Manual (1.5 MB PDF), which covers Apple's newest suite of iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand.

The link comes from MacJams, which made a name for itself with its piano keyboards for GarageBand shootout, and has all sorts of good musical information for Mac-heads. This week, there is an overview of MIDI (the Musical Instrument Digital Interface standard), which is how modern keyboards, samplers, synths, and computers communicate with one another.

For the non-musically inclined, O'Reilly Network has two good articles on the ideal workflow for digital photography (via Mac Net Journal).


# 8:27:00 AM:

It's got personality

People compliment me on this website. "Great site!" they say (and here's the important bit...). "Lots of interesting stuff there."

This site isn't much to look at, because I have no real design skill. It's not even all that easy to navigate, because most of the material has just accreted over the past seven years. But, as my visitors say, there's lots of interesting stuff—as well as a fair share of boring stuff. Lots of stuff, anyway, and lots of links to other stuff in other places. The Web is about stuff, and about links: about the content of websites.

A site's appearance is important, sure, but primarily as a way to frame the text, and maybe sometimes the photos and sound and movies. But most of the time it's text. That's what Google cares about, even when it's helping you search for images (you don't draw your search terms, after all). That's what you care about when you search for a writer and editor in Canada or information about the Aerolatte milk foamer or Ikea's Jerker desk and end up here.

Gerry McGovern has written a piece on why ad agencies generally design terrible websites (via D. Keith Robertson, who was via Tom Coates), and identifies it as a look-vs.-content problem:

What was the first e-commerce success story? Books. People who buy books like to read. Why do people go to a car website? To find out what sort of safety rating the car has. To find out if there are any deals going. (People are cheap on the Web.) Last night, my 12-year-old son went to a James Bond website. He wasn't looking for film clips. He was looking for a list of all the James Bond films.


In many ways, the products that sell best through traditional advertising don't do well on the Web. My kids love Coca Cola. They have never once visited the Coca Cola website. Why on earth would they? To find out what "the real thing" actually means?

The best websites are ones people come back to. A beautiful website that isn't usable and interesting may be lovely, but lovely doesn't last. Even if a site redesigned itself every day, and every day was a new and beautiful and spectacular new look, few people (and probably no one who wasn't a designer themselves) would hang around for more than a minute or two to admire its fresh loveliness. But the ugliest weblogs using the most boring default design templates can be fascinating for hours on end.

So to frame it in an old teenage cliché, a good website is less like a fantasy prom queen cheerleader underwear model (or class hunk football captain movie star) than it's like a real woman (or man) who's got personality. Sure, people (and sites) with personality can be beautiful, but the key is that a good one is worth knowing for the long term, has interesting stories to tell, and will improve with age. Even if the looks go away.


Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:18:00 PM:


Jeremy Hedley's Antipixel may have the best "about" page of any weblog. All it lacks is a photo.

Then again, there is Dean Allen's page.


# 1:23:00 PM:

Profit and "shareholder value" do not make a company

A link from Jason Kottke turns up this quote from the book Disclosing New Worlds:

A business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

On a similar note, this past weekend's National Post newspaper had an excellent article by John Kay called "The Best Way to Get From A to Z" (Saturday, January 24, 2004, section RB1). It's only available in print or in the for-pay electronic edition, so here are some relevant quotes:

Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people. Obliquity is the idea that goals are often best achieved when pursued indirectly.

Case study, ICI:

For most of the 20th century, ICI was Britain's largest and most successful manufacturing company. In 1987, ICI described its business purpose thus: "ICI aims to be the world's leading chemical company, serving customers internationally through the innovative and responsible application of chemistry and related science." [...]

[In 1991, ownership changes led to a] new mission statement: "Our objective is to maximize value for our shareholders by focusing on businesses where we have market leadership, a technological edge and a world competitive cost base." [...] The company translated this into an operational strategy by disposing of [its] interests in bulk chemicals to acquire a niche group of specialty businesses. [...]

The outcome was not successful in any terms, including those of creating shareholder value. The share price peaked in 1998, soon after the new strategy was announced. The decline since then has been relentless. The transition from industrial giant to mid-cap corporation took only 12 years.

Case study, Boeing:

Bill Allen [Boeing's CEO from 1945 to 1968] said that... "The greatest pleasure life has to offer is the satisfaction that flows from participating in a difficult and constructive undertaking." [...]

...following the acquisition of its principal U.S. rival, McDonnell Douglas, in 1997 [new CEO Phil Condit told Business Week that] the company's previous preoccupation with meeting "technological challenges of supreme magnitude" [...] would have to change. "We are going into a value-based environment where unit cost, return on investment and shareholder return are the measures by which you'll be judged." [...]

So Boeing's civil order book today lags that of Airbus, a European consortium whose aims were not initially commercial. [...] The company got too close to the Pentagon and faced allegations of corruption. [...] Boeing stock, US$48 when Condit took over, rose to US$70 as he affirmed the commitment to shareholder value; by the time of his enforced resignation in December 2003, it had fallen to US$38.

To sum up:

The most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented. ICI and Boeing illustrate how a greater focus on shareholder returns was self-defeating in its own narrow terms. [...]

Unhappy businesses resemble one another; each successful company is successful in its own way. Business achievement depends on doing things that others cannot do and still find difficult to do even after others have seen the benefits they bring to the imitators. [...]

The great corporations of the modern world were not built by people whose overriding interest was wealth, profit, or shareholder value. To paraphrase [John Stuart] Mill: Their focus was on business followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they found profit by the way.


# 9:13:00 AM:

Huh-huh, a-huh-huh

Leesa sent me a list of not-half-bad musician jokes. I added a couple of my own to the bottom, dredged up from my memory of the back page of Musician magazine some years ago:

  • A frog and a trombone player are both driving cars, and pass each other going opposite directions on a lonely country road. What's the difference between them?

    The frog might be on its way to a gig.

  • A traveler arrives in a country in tropical Africa. As he leaves the plane, he hears the sound of drums from the jungle. The man meeting him looks worried, and when asked, replies, "Oh, the drums. They portend something very bad, very bad."

    When the traveler goes into the town, the drums get louder and louder, and the beat more complicated. Everyone he asks has the same reply, with pained expressions on their faces: "The drums, the drums, they mean something very bad will come."

    Eventually the traveler arrives at his hotel, and the drums are deafening. Then, just as he gets ready to go in, they stop, and there is silence. The doorman looks horrified.

    "What is it? What is it? What now?!" asks the traveler.

    "Oh, very bad," says the doorman. "Now comes the bass solo."


Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:02:00 AM:

The perfect kiddie birthday?

Photo at age 4, January 2004My youngest daughter turned four yesterday, and we had a small party that turned out nearly perfect—meaning, in essence, she and her guests had a good time, and the adults in attendance didn't go crazy (thanks to Fazal Majid for that link). Here's what we did:

  • Booked the party into the McDonald's caboose, which is a genuine, old railway caboose that is parked next to the McDonald's restaurant at Boundary Road and Lougheed Highway in Vancouver, and which has been renovated and painted up exclusively for kids' parties. (I had a party there once about 30 years ago, when my parents tell me I pronounced it cabamoose.)
  • Invited only three other kids—with our two daughters, there were just five there (and the fifth one had to come late anyway).
  • Had McDonald's provide all the food and the cake.
  • Started at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Monday.
  • Left by 6:30.

The two best things are (a) that the caboose is completely isolated—it's next to the parking lot, and with the door closed the kids can romp around and make as much noise as they want without disturbing anyone or hurting themselves seriously; and (b) we don't have to clean up. Plus it was cheap.

Most of the time there were only four kids there, but the noise level was still pretty intense. Our older daughter wants her birthday at the same place in a couple of weeks, and since she wants a few more kids to come, I'm considering issuing earplugs to the grownups.

Oh, and on a winter day, McDonald's needs to turn on the heater a bit further in advance. But otherwise it went great.

By the way, there appears to be no easy way to find McDonald's locations on their Canadian website. Whose idea was that? And why is something as cool as the McDonald's caboose not featured on a web page somewhere?

Though it is now, I guess.


Monday, January 26, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:47:00 AM:

A keen eye

We'll stick to the Macintosh topic for a bit. Anyone who's used a Mac knows that rectangles with rounded corners have been part of the look and feel of the Mac interface since the beginning. The Mac OS X Finder maintains rounded top corners on the menu bar, and even the latest iMacs keep that motif in the shapes of their flat-panel displays.

Andy Hertzfeld's story about how rounded rectangles made their way onto the Mac shows the odd way they originated, and reinforces how Apple CEO Steve Jobs has always hammered his way into the design process of the Mac—generally for good, but sometimes for bad.


Saturday, January 24, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:08:00 PM:

Derek's 20 years of Mac

Before the day is officially over: happy 20th birthday, Macintosh.

I was an Apple computer user before there was a Macintosh. In 1981, I convinced my dad that we should save our money and wait to buy an Apple II Plus instead of a Tandy Color Computer. We used Apple IIs for most of the following decade.

But the Macintosh amazed me when I heard about it—I had a fold-out Mac ad from a magazine taped to the wall in the basement near where our Apple II lived, and where I spent hours each night sending e-mail and trading pirated software over a 300 baud modem connection. I went and bought the first issue of Macworld magazine without a hope of being able to afford the computer it talked about.

After reading it through, I was convinced that I knew how to operate this new machine, with its bizarre black-on-white screen and mysterious "mouse," without having ever touched one. And I was right. At the next Vancouver computer fair, there were some Macs, and on one I was able to draw a picture in MacPaint, right off the bat.

By the late '80s, my roommates and I were letting SimCity run all night long on a Mac Plus to see what would happen, and I was creating a student newspaper almost single-handed, sitting up late at night in the basement of UBC's Chemistry building with a Mac SE and PageMaker 2.0.

I used a Mac on my first paid editing job in 1990. I viewed my first web page on one in my office at the Student Union Building in 1992. My wife and I played one of the Myst games on another while our newborn daughter slept in 1998. I used Macintoshes to compose obituaries for two of my grandparents, and to build this website.

Macs are known for long lives in computing terms, and mine are typical. My Centris 660AV was my main machine from 1993 until 1998, and the Power Mac G3 I bought then is still my primary desktop, nearly six years later. I'm typing this from bed, on a seven-year-old PowerBook 1400 that's been souped up and made wireless.

If you clicked a mouse or tapped a stylus to read this, if you found your job (or a good bargain, or your spouse) online, if you like your MP3s and QuickTime movies, if you spend your days at a computer and yet never have to type a command to tell it what to do, you owe part of it to the people who created the Mac two decades ago.


# 10:43:00 AM:

Decisions made

Have we decided what we're calling this decade yet? Sure, the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s were easy. But are we in the mid-2000s now (wouldn't that be the 2500s?)? Or the mid-2Ks? Or maybe the mid-'00s? (Would that be the mid-zeroes, the mid-noughts, or the mid-oh-ohs?)

And will the next decade be the teens, the tens, the '10s, or something else?

Come on people, time to decide!


Friday, January 23, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:44:00 AM:

Editorial guilt and web design

Famous web designer (and sometime colleague of mine) Dave Shea has a nice interview, just published in Digital Web magazine, in which he says:

Yes, Web standards and accessibility and usability and design and a fresh lemon scent are all very important. But there comes a point in every development cycle where you have to call a site "done" and get it out the door. Each new job is a learning experience, and the more you do, the better you'll get. I'd much rather launch a minorly-flawed site than launch no site at all. And so would my clients.

That applies not only to web design, but to many fields, especially my specialties in writing and editing. No document of any significant size gets released into the wild without errors—from typos to poor phrasing to flawed organization. We can strive for perfection, but almost never reach it, and that can be hard to accept when you're starting out.

In the latest issue of Active Voice, the newsletter of the Editors' Association of Canada, to which I belong, Peter Roccia writes about a feeling many editors share:

[Editorial guilt] comes from the tremendous amount of unassuming trust my editing clients placed in me. [They seemed] so sure that I was giving them something that they knew they did not have, whether it be an arcane knowledge of style guides, an uncanny eye for detail, or an enhanced, almost superhuman, amount of patience. [...]

That's why I think such errors sting me so, as I scan over the pages of my portfolio in yet another impotent editorial pass. Thankfully, it's the memory of those clients that often comes to the rescue. If they were here, I tell myself, they would say, "Come on, give yourself a break! Sometimes you can be your own worst editor. You left the work better than you found it. That's enough."

When talking about his recent involvement in the redesign of, one of the highest-profile websites for open-source software, Dave has further relevant comments:

The open source community faces some interesting issues I'd never considered until I was seeing it from the inside. When you have a lot of people volunteering their time to a cause, their sense of investment is rather high. It can get rather political. Luckily the Mozilla group were relaxed about the process, and we didn?t hit many major stumbling blocks. There was one that particularly stands out though: the two people I started working with on the job turned into four, and then they all got replaced by five others. This was really not that long after Mozilla was freed from AOL, so some shifting while contents settled was inevitable.

That's a manifestation of the same point. When collaborating on a project, an entire team can strive for perfection, but it's even more difficult to achieve because everyone's idea of perfection differs. Especially when the members of the team change part way through.

Still, one of the great benefits of the Web over print is that, when you spot errors, you can go back and fix them, at least some of the time. I've already fixed two problems in this posting since I first made it, for instance.


Thursday, January 22, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 AM:

Seeking a suit

I went to a private boys' high school, where I wore a jacket and tie every day. In the 18 years since then, I haven't had a job that required business attire regularly—except, oddly enough, one of the two incarnations of my rock band.

I think, however, that it's now time for me to buy a proper suit. Sure, I have some nice jackets and shirts and many good ties, and a couple of decent pairs of pants, but not a full tailored ensemble. I own a tuxedo, but there aren't many occasions for those in my life. I'm thinking of a black or charcoal single-breasted suit with a subtle pinstripe or check-line pattern.

Part of my reason for thinking of a suit is that there are times when it might be useful in my writing career, and it certainly is onstage. However, I have to admit that a significant influence is TLC's What Not to Wear. After seeing a number of slovenly men transformed by snappy suits, I wonder how I'll clean up.

Not that I'm very slovenly, mind you.


Wednesday, January 21, 2004 - newest items first
# 3:38:00 PM:

USB MIDI piano keyboards for GarageBand and other computer applications

MacJams has a cool overview of some mid- to high-end piano-style USB MIDI musical keyboards that would work well with Apple's new GarageBand application, including a pure controller (no built-in sounds) I'd never heard of before from Fatar.

Our Korg digital piano is also a MIDI controller, and weighs slightly less than the Fatar even though ours includes excellent sampled sounds, but the Korg uses the old-style round MIDI connectors, not USB, so to use it for GarageBand I'd need to get a USB-MIDI adapter.


# 8:32:00 AM:


Take a look at the San Jose Mercury News's prerelease scoop on the original Apple Macintosh, from 20 years ago this week, which they have just republished.

Examine what they have to explain:

Macintosh buyers will get a computer that operates unusually quickly and is directed by a mouse—a handheld device that, when slid across a table top, moves the cursor on the Mac's screen.
Within the next few months, Microsoft Inc., a Bellvue, Wash. software publisher closely allied with IBM [my emphasis - D.], is scheduled to introduce a spreadsheet package for making financial projections, a graphing package and the Basic programming language.

Then there's this:

One flaw in [Apple's Macintosh] strategy, several observers said, is that Apple may not be able to capture the high-volume sales to large corporations more interested in number-crunching than flair.

Pretty much sums up Apple's history ever since, doesn't it?


Tuesday, January 20, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:37:00 PM:

Who cares about new features?

I received Apple's new iLife suite of applications today, perhaps one of the first in Canada after border delays. So far I have only tried the new iPhoto, and...

Holy cow! I'm running iPhoto 4 on an old, stock, 266 MHz Power Macintosh G3 from 1998, and I can hardly believe my eyes. I have close to 6000 photos (most around 1 MB in size), and had pretty much given up on iPhoto 2 because it was so slow. iPhoto 4 absolutely flies by comparison. Scrolling, rotating, selecting, even quitting—everything is at least an order of magnitude faster. I haven't encountered any of the minutes-long inexplicable pauses that so frustrated me with the old version. It's like a whole new program.

For me, iPhoto 4 is thus well worth the price of iLife '04 all by itself, even if it took two hours to import my old photo library.

Incidentally, while the downloaded version of iTunes 4.2 refused to install in my beige G3 (which I presumed was because my 266 MHz processor was below the 400 MHz supported threshold), the iLife CD-ROM—which includes iTunes 4.2, iPhoto 4, and iMovie 4—was perfectly happy to install. Very odd.


# 9:57:00 AM:

Worthy read

It's a busy day, so I'll point you to some good technology reading in the latest issue of TidBITS:


Monday, January 19, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:21:00 AM:

It was all around

My oldest daughter brought home a copy of Hansel and Gretel from the school library last week. It is, as far as I can tell, a pretty direct translation from the German version the Brothers Grimm put to paper nearly 200 years ago.

Like so many fairy tales, it is very dark indeed. Hansel's and Gretel's mother is dead, while their stepmother plots to leave them in the forest to be hunted by animals—twice—because the family is starving. The evil witch with the candy house in the woods enslaves Gretel to help fatten up Hansel to be eaten, and is only foiled when locked in an oven to burn to death herself. By the time the kids make their way home, the stepmother has died as well, presumably from starvation or disease, leaving only their long-suffering father for the, er, happy reunion at the end.

Today, we wonder how anyone could concoct stories so grisly to tell to children. (Some people are so disturbed that they have rewritten even mild nursery rhymes to remove any hint of danger.) But it helps to remember where these tales came from.

Before the twentieth century, children witnessed death all the time. It wasn't infrequent for mothers or babies to die during childbirth, which most often took place at home. Infant mortality was (by today's standards) high, and life expectancies were far shorter than today, so it wouldn't be unusual for a child to have lost a sibling or parent. Even for those lucky enough not to, a largely rural lifestyle meant learning to kill chickens, cows, and other animals for food, leather, and other essentials.

Today, when death is largely distanced from us, stories such as Hansel and Gretel still have a primeval pull that modern, less frightening tales do not. It is not coincidence that those more recent stories with which kids connect most strongly, from Harry Potter books to Tolkien, also don't shy from being gruesome.

Children are small things, but they have great fears. The Brothers Grimm and all who have followed them remind us that fears are better faced than hidden.


Sunday, January 18, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:48:00 AM:


Dave Shea writes about his new press photo today. His rule about taking a whole bunch of photos so you get something you like is a good one—it's what professional photographers do, after all.

[Derek's face in colour] My press photo didn't work that way. Back in January 2001, shortly before I was unexpectedly laid off from my last permanent job, I took a bunch of photos of different people with my Nikon, for the company's annual report. Just to finish off the roll, my colleague Barb Gass used my camera to snap a single frame of me at my desk, leaning back slightly in my chair, with a freshly painted yellow wall behind me. It's not perfect—my shirt is a bit bunched up against the chair—but I liked it so much that I've used it as my official photo ever since—and converted it to black-and-white for my website photo too.

Dave's other rule of re-doing your photo every six months or year also doesn't apply, since I look pretty much the same as I did three years ago (except for that span in 2002 when I had a beard). I even still wear the same glasses.

Perhaps the rule should be to change your promo photo when you change your glasses or hair, when you look noticeably unfashionable, or if you've aged visibly?


# 11:21:00 AM:

Zap, books, eh?

Here's something to watch if you've ever wondered why it's unwise to wander around electrical switching stations if you don't know what you're doing. (Thanks, Barc, for the link.)

Fazal Majid read yesterday's books post and offered to send me his copy of Don't Make Me Think. That's very kind of him.

Finally, Daniel Slosberg performs what looks like a fascinating educational musical show about the U.S. Lewis and Clark expidition. He also reads my journal here, and had some interesting comments about my post on accents the other day:

Have you heard "Canajun, Eh: Canadian Dialects For Actors"? It's a recording of folks across Canada speaking apparently about whatever strikes their fancy. An absolutely delicious recording, it's available on CD from Theatre Books in Toronto.

Since the speakers seem to be just talking off the top of their heads, I think that they relax more than the folks on the George Mason University site, who have to speak that one paragraph. I only listened to one speaker on the Mason site, the English Speaker from Baltic, South Dakota, but I had the sense that she was trying to speak "properly." Having just returned from a trip to South Dakota, I know that the place abounds in accents. [Note: I just listened to the guy from Englewood, Tennessee, and again I hear him working to speak "properly."]

Since I get to travel with my Pierre Cruzatte program throughout the United States, and since much of these travels take me to some very small towns far from large cities, I've been lucky enough to hear some wonderful accents. I'm always amazed how varied they are and how they can be almost unintelligible. I do many programs in schools, so I often work with school custodians. Two particularly come to mind, one in the Missouri countryside, about seventy miles outside of St. Louis, and another in southern Louisiana, cajun country. I had to strain to understand the two of them, but I loved every minute of the straining, listening to the music that their voices made. I don't recall exactly what the Missouri fellow said, but the man in Louisiana went on at length about how he made gumbo.

Doesn't sound like accents are in much danger, even in Canada or Slosberg's native U.S.A., does it?


Saturday, January 17, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:05:00 AM:

Wanted-book list

Whenever it's time for me to buy a book, I forget about the ones I've been seeking for ages. So here are some, to remind myself:

All 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary would be cool too, but at $1400 Cdn, they're a bit pricey (though quite a deal nevertheless).

UPDATE: After posting the book links above (no really, after), I realized that I could set up links to that actually paid me if people bought the printed books in my list. So I have. Another win for The Man.


Friday, January 16, 2004 - newest items first
# 2:44:00 PM:


As I sit at my current desk, I realize that in front of me are seven (!) different display screens: Palm organizer, desk phone, mobile phone, MP3 player, CRT monitor, and two laptop LCD displays (one of which is turned off). I'm not counting my watch, since it's an old analog-style face.


# 11:35:00 AM:


Many have linked to this extraordinary computer-animated movie showing how the current Mars Spirit launch and landing was planned to happen (the animation is from 2002).

Only four things bother me about the otherwise-amazing film:

  • There is sound in space when there shouldn't be. Are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apollo 13 the only movies that keep space silent, the way it really is, even though they're not even documentaries?
  • The music is a bit heavy-handed—especially when the balloon-enclosed lander is bouncing across the Martian surface, perfectly in time with "Mars: the Bringer of War," from which the viewer must infer that the bounces aren't really realistic in Martian gravity.
  • I get the impression that many other operations, such as the unfolding of the rover, are shown far, far faster than they occurred in real life. Real space missions, robotic or human, are plodding and meticulous, as they must be to avoid disaster. (For instance, today the newspaper reports that, after successfully rolling onto the sand, the rover will be tested for three days before it moves farther than one metre from the landing platform.) At least some more judicious "boring stuff deleted" crossfades would have been appropriate, I think.
  • Even though we've now seen many photos from several Martian landers showing what is, on average, a very flat landscape—at least in places where it's safe to aim landers from Earth—the simulation shows steep, dramatic mountain topography right near the landing site. The real pictures (taken with a 1 megapixel camera, by the way) show instead more distant and subtle hills, which is what we should expect by now.

All these faults show a tendency to do the unncessary: "punch up" the simulation for short attention spans. I think it would serve everyone better if these little details weren't glossed over. Part of the great power of 2001, for instance, is its use of eerie silence, and a proper sense of pace and time (including ditching the music altogether) would have improved this piece considerably. Maybe watch it with the sound off, although then the really useful sounds, from the roar of launch to the whirr of the sampling blade on the rover, get lost too.


# 1:10:00 AM:


Technology columnist John Dvorak is usually a curmudgeon, but his latest ideas for improving technology keynote speeches are bang on.


# 12:46:00 AM:

Five thick slabs of blue cheese

A couple of days ago Dave Shea and I were talking about accents, and whether, over time, English speech is becoming more uniform around the world. We didn't come to any conclusions, since we were just chatting and didn't have any research materials on hand.

Will a uniform worldwide English-speaking accent arise in a few decades or centuries, or will Scottish and Texan and Newfoundland and New Zealand accents persist? Is it enough just to understand one another? What about the influence of those who have something else as a first language, but who use English regularly? If an "average" accent does come about, will it be what we might expect today (i.e. some variation on the American/Canadian generic newscaster voice), or something that would seem foreign if we heard it now? Hard to know.

Here, however, are people with 297 different accents speaking the same English-language paragraph. Some of them have English as their first language, some do not.

I think that, while worldwide mass media, jet travel, and telecommunications do have a flattening effect on the diversity of dialects (as opposed to accents), and may tend to dilute accents that are so strong as to be unintelligible to the general English-speaking population, the kind of pronunciation we think of as "an accent" doesn't necessarily come from there. It's obvious that kids don't learn accents from their parents (or teachers, for that matter), but from their peers, and the speech of their peers is a far more immediate and interactive than anything available on TV, radio, or the Web. (Apparently that's even true in sign language.)

TV, planes, phones, and the Net are big factors in the disappearance of distinct languages, which is a whole other issue.


Thursday, January 15, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:22:00 AM:

Rock on, dudes and dudettes

Apple's iTunes will share music files with other computers running iTunes on a local network, so that those other computers can listen to your digital music collection like a radio station. (They don't get copies of the songs.)

If you're a Mac iTunes user and would like to share your music with people who don't run iTunes—whether they're on a Mac, Windows machine, Linux box, or whatever—or who are outside your local network, TunesAtWork runs a Java-based mini–web server that lets anyone listen to your MP3 files if you give them the appropriate web address (and allow the streams through any data firewall you use, if you want people outside your local network to have access).

And it's free. Cool!


# 10:05:00 AM:

Three amazing things

I just woke up about 15 minutes ago. That would be nothing special, except I have two kids under six in the house. I've been staying up pretty late recently, so when they woke up at their usual 7:15 a.m. today, I asked if they could let me rest in bed for awhile.

First amazing thing: they did*. Second amazing thing: for almost three hours. Third amazing thing: they made their own breakfast.

What do a three-year-old and five-year-old get themselves for breakfast while daddy's sleeping?

Corn Pops cereal. With chocolate milk, of course.


* Note that "letting daddy rest" also includes climbing over him for about 20 minutes while giggling. Your mileage may vary.


Wednesday, January 14, 2004 - newest items first
# 3:48:00 PM:

Shifting tides

Last week Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard announced an unusual arrangement, in which HP will sell its own branded version of Apple's super-duper-popular iPod audio player. John Gruber has an excellent analysis of why this is such a big deal, for HP, Apple, Microsoft, other technology companies, and all their customers.


# 11:34:00 AM:

That was supposed to be there

Since I reworked the code that builds these journal pages to avoid using HTML tables a few weeks ago, users of Internet Explorer on Windows (in other words, a big chunk of my readers) have not been able to see the sidebar, which includes my list of links, information about the site, and some ads. Now they can.

It all involved adding three simple lines of text to my stylesheet, but figuring that out was a bit frustrating. Both the previous and current versions are valid and correct, but Internet Explorer on Windows (and only that browser) didn't seem to interpret the old one properly.


# 12:42:00 AM:

Window on that world

For various complicated reasons, my kids have been going to sleep late the past few days. Tonight, when they were monkeying around again, I plunked both of them on my knees in front of the computer and we gawked at high-resolution, 360° colour photos of how Mars looks this week (via Tim Bray—and QuickTime required).

Can anyone not think that's pretty damn cool? My kids sure did, even though the oldest at first thought it might be a picture of Australia.


Tuesday, January 13, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:32:00 AM:

Onscreen editing with Microsoft Word: SFU Harbour Centre, 15 May 2004

If you're interested in learning the basics about how to use Microsoft Word for editing documents, I'll be teaching a course on the subject on the afternoon of Saturday, May 15, 2004 at Simon Fraser University's downtown Harbour Centre campus in Vancouver. You can register online, and if you're a member of the Editors' Association of Canada, you get a $24 Cdn discount off the $99 fee. Such a deal.

Here's the writeup:

Microsoft Word tries to be everything to everyone, with mixed results, and sometimes tries too hard to be helpful. Yet a solid knowledge of its on-screen editing features—from tracking changes by multiple contributors, to language and spelling customizations, to tools for style sheets and tables of contents—can bring you more work.

Learn some tips and tricks, and find out both how Word can help you with other types of files (plain text, HTML, and even PDF), and when it might be best to convert Word documents to another format (or print them out) before working with them.

Derek K. Miller has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 20 years, specializing lately in technical communications work for technology companies. His first word processor was "Magic Window" for the Apple II, and in addition to text-processing software on university mainframes, he has used nearly every version of Microsoft Word for Macintosh and PC released since the 1980s. Derek is the 2003-2004 Program Chair for EAC-BC.

Saturday, May 15, 2004
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
SFU Harbour Centre, 1330 IBM Lab North
515 W. Hastings St., Vancouver BC

I'll be covering Word's editing features for those who haven't used them before, i.e. those who are familiar with Word for typing up basic documents, but who haven't used its style sheets, change tracking, multiple dictionaries, and other editing features much or at all.

I also plan to be speaking again to the "What Editors Do" course in SFU's Writing and Publishing Program, at 6:30 p.m. on February 11, 2004. This will be my third appearance there.


Sunday, January 11, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:03:00 PM:


While I'm a musician, I've never been one of those spontaneous songwriters who just keeps producing material. I contributed a fair bit, especially lyrics, to my old band The Flu ten years ago in the mid-'90s, but since then I've done little, instead directing my creative efforts into non-musical avenues such as my work, this website, and band sites.

But our recent purchase of a piano, and having it set up in the living room where we can play it anytime—even with headphones so it won't disturb others—has got me writing again. Part of it is the convenience, but another part is that I hardly know the instrument. So instead of slipping into the easy chord progressions I know by heart on the guitar, which I've been playing off and on since 1978, I take music I imagine in my head and try to figure out how to play it on the keyboard. It's a different approach, a good outlet for my creative and emotional energies, and I enjoy it.

If I get around to recording anything presentable, I might even post it here.


Saturday, January 10, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:06:00 PM:

It goes to eleven

Sound engineers often use audio processing effects called compression and limiting. Compression makes the quietest sounds in a recording louder, and the louder ones quieter, so that the overall volume is more consistent. Limiting prevents very loud sounds from clipping—it stops them from oversaturating, distorting, or cutting out because the recording or playback mechanism can't handle them.

Radio stations use those effects heavily, all the time, usually in an effort to make themselves sound louder, so that you can find them when reception isn't so good, or so they'll stand out from others. You really notice it when you switch to a station that doesn't compress its broadcasts very much (many classical and jazz stations don't, nor does the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio Two on FM). You can hear the dynamics of music again, with quiet parts and loud parts, and "space" in the sound.

Use of compression and limiting is widespread in audio recording too, especially in popular music, and it has only become more so over time. Check out this Wired article about changing waveforms in popular recordings. You wouldn't, at first, think that Celine Dion's "I Drove All Night" would be recorded to sound louder than AC/DC's classic 1980 hard rock album Back in Black, but it is.

What that means is that many recent rock, hip-hop, and pop recordings provide less clarity, subtlety, and power than older ones, because they've squashed the life out of the sound. They're also more fatiguing to listen to, because your ears never get a break.


Friday, January 09, 2004 - newest items first
# 5:08:00 PM:

Making iTunes 4.2 work on an old beige Power Mac G3

UPDATE January 20, 2004: Installing iTunes 4.2 from the iLife '04 CD-ROM, which you must purchase, seems to work fine, and all my workarounds below are unnecessary. It's only the free download that has trouble.

A warning for users of older Macs: if yours has a processor slower than 400 MHz, the new iTunes 4.2 may refuse to install on it, even though it can run just fine, as iTunes 4.1 does. Now that the latest versions of the Mac OS won't install on these old Macs (Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther" won't install on any beige Power Mac G3), Apple seems to be phasing out support from other software as well.

I have been using iTunes (and before that, its predecessor SoundJam) since it was first developed. Every version up to iTunes 4.1 has installed and run just fine on my 1997 Revision A 266 MHz Power Macintosh G3, currently running Mac OS X 10.2.8. I downloaded iTunes 4.2 (a genuinely minor update) when it was announced at Macworld, but the installer says that it "cannot be installed on this computer" and refuses to go any further.

I understand that the program is not officially supported on machines slower than 400 MHz, according to the system requirements. However, every version previous to this one has installed and run quite acceptably, playing and encoding MP3s and AAC files, playing CDs, displaying artwork, browsing the iTunes Music Store, and so on.

Most importantly, with a third-party utility (Pacifist) I was able to extract the files from the .mpkg download and install iTunes 4.2 on my Power Mac. It works just as well as previous versions. Even if it is not supported, therefore, it does work, and I would appreciate it if the installer did not prevent me from installing it on a system (Mac OS X 10.2.8) on which it will run.

I hope there are not similar problems with iPhoto 4 (which is supposed to run on 10.2.8) in the iLife 4 package—previous versions have also been unsupported on my sort of machine, but they do install and run without fuss. [UPDATE January 20, 2004: No problems there. iTunes 4.2, iPhoto 4, and iMovie 4 install from CD-ROM on my beige G3 just fine.] For people who can't afford a new Mac yet, if Apple arbitrarily decides not to let programs install or run when they will work functionally, the company is looking at losing some sales: songs we won't buy from the iTunes Music Store, iPods we won't purchase, iLife packages that won't be ordered. And I'm sure Apple would rather make some sales than not.

Then again, it could be a bug, which would be nice in a way.


Thursday, January 08, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:30:00 PM:

Ceci n'est pas un website

Tim Bray tries to define how an individual web page could identify itself as part of a website. It's not as obvious as you might think, since Internet standards currently don't define any such thing.

Take this site, for example. Even when you see[something] in your browser, there could be all sorts of other stuff there. On this very page, the link list in the right column is served by an entirely different computer than the one that sends you this text, and some of the pictures are from different places too, as are the statistics and site search.

They're all part of, but I only really control some of them—and the computer that hosts my site also hosts dozens (maybe hundreds) of others I don't even know about. Similarly, I host some of my friends' sites on my server, but you wouldn't think of them as part of

So where do sites begin and end? What about pages that are parts of more than one site? Is it really worth worrying about? I guess it gets to be, such as if someone sues you for something "on your website," when it may or may not be by your definition.


# 11:59:00 AM:

Uh, where's that Tempest game? And can I have 16 tokens?

Another one from Barc: hour-long MP3 files recreating the audio ambience of early-'80s video arcades, with the sounds of dozens of game consoles overlapping. I can feel the industrial carpet and see the blinkering darkness at "Pie in the Sky" on Kingsway again already...

Until I saw that page, it would never have occurred to me that anyone would even try such a project, or that I would ever hear such a combination of sounds again.


Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:10:00 PM:

How full is the glass?

I've always been extremely optimistic. I have discovered, however, that optimism can occasionally have a downside: when things actually aren't going well, I might not believe it, and thus wait a bit longer than I should to deal with the problem.


Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:34:00 AM:

Ten years on

From the CBC archives, 8 October 1993: A Network Called "Internet", with Bill Cameron. (There are also further TV archives at the top of the page, going back as far as 1957.)

Thanks to Barc for the link.

By the way, here's what I wrote even earlier in 1993 about the subject.


Monday, January 05, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:56:00 AM:

Whacked by spam filters

Today I received an e-mail from someone in Australia, interested in working with me on a writing project. I don't have time to participate, but my attempts to reply to say that have all failed, because the writer's Internet provider, BigPond, seems to reject almost all e-mail from my part of the world as potential spam—messages sent from the office I'm at, through Telus (my ISP), and even via three different webmail interfaces (including Apple's .mac webmail, based in California), all fail with "relaying from your Internet Protocol address not allowed."

So I'm posting the message here: John, I can't do the work for you, but the Editors' Association Hotline might be able to help.

One more reason to hate spam.


# 9:35:00 AM:

I'd like to thank all the little people

[A BlogsCanada Top Blog] I've been listed as one of BlogsCanada's top ten blogs for January 2004. Woo hoo!

Er, no, I hadn't heard of BlogsCanada before this either. But I'll take what I can get. Thanks!


Sunday, January 04, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:05:00 AM:


This year, 2004, will mark some important anniversaries in my life:

  • In June, I'll turn 35.
  • In February, 20 years will have passed since I helped start The Plague, a silly and sometimes-controversial high-school newspaper that eventually found its way across the city, then even had satellite editions published across Western Canada, before petering out sometime in 1986–87. It was my first well-known editorial byline.
  • That same month in 1984, I helped found the Apple Alliance, a computer club for which I also edited the newsletter. (My techie and publishing interests coincided early.)
  • Fifteen years ago in March, I played my first gig as a drummer, at a very drunken "Last Class Bash" for UBC's Science Undergraduate Society. The band was called the Juan Valdez Memorial R & B Ensemble, and one of the guitarists and I are still in another band today—still playing many of the same damn songs.
  • In March, it will be 10 years since my first date with a woman I'd known off and on for six years before that, and who is now my wife. We went out for Mexican food.
  • That same month, I quit my job at a university to become a full-time musician. I spent much of the next two years driving in a van around British Columbia and playing in grotty bars for not much money—but my wife agreed to marry me anyway, which was nice of her.
  • Five years ago, she and I thought we knew enough about raising our daughter (who was not yet one) that we decided to have another. Somehow we didn't quite understand that, while parents get a break when a single child has a nap, two children rarely nap at the same time. And then they stop napping altogether anyway. But there is school.
  • Two days ago, I slipped on a strip of unshoveled sidewalk near our local post office and landed hard on my butt. It still hurts.

Check back in 10 years to see how things have gone. Or sooner if you like.


Saturday, January 03, 2004 - newest items first
# 4:40:00 PM:

Break out the woolies

Tonight it is supposed to be 8 degrees below zero Celsius in Vancouver. However, at my slight altitude here in Burnaby, it's already below –7°C at 4:40 p.m. (it never went above –3 today), so it will probably be –10 overnight, which is about as cold as it ever gets here.

There are several microclimates in this city right now. As I returned home from downtown yesterday, for instance, I noticed that, while the city centre has pretty much no snow on the ground (it all melted New Year's Eve), even less than a kilometre away from the office towers, the ground is covered by the white stuff—the heat from all the buildings and people and vehicles makes things just a little warmer.

Back here at my place, a mere 15 minutes away by rapid transit, and a couple of hundred metres above sea level, it still looks like a ski resort.

UPDATE 10:30 p.m.: Minus 10 it is. Apparently the Vancouver sea-level record for this day was –13°C, in 1950.


Friday, January 02, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:48:00 PM:

Get lucky

A British researcher shows how to make yourself luckier (via Scott Rosenberg). Here are the basics:

  • Listen to your gut instincts—they are normally right.
  • Be open to new experiences and breaking your normal routine.
  • Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well.
  • Visualize yourself being lucky. Luck is very often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The professor writes that:

I asked a group of volunteers to spend a month carrying out exercises designed to help them think and behave like a lucky person.

[...] One month later, the volunteers returned and described what had happened. The results were dramatic: 80% of people were now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps most important of all, luckier.

The lucky people had become even luckier and the unlucky had become lucky.


# 9:36:00 AM:

Who needs a CV?

Tim Bray shows why traditional résumés aren't the best way to advertise yourself for a new job in the web world. Instead, he wrote an essay on his site about what he can do and who might like to hire him.


Thursday, January 01, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:29:00 PM:

Growing up, step #8,365

The older of my two daughters lost her first baby tooth about five minutes ago. She's been wiggling it for weeks, but now that it's come out, she seems a bit upset about it.

We'll see if the Tooth Fairy comes tonight.


# 3:28:00 PM:

Bittersweet 2004

A disadvantage of both being a parent of young kids and making part of my living as a musician is that, while I can make a lot of money and have fun playing music on New Year's Eve (and this year, even eat some truly fabulous food), it's rare that my wife can come along, and I miss seeing my daughters as the clock strikes.

For many reasons, 2003 was both exciting and stressful, because it comprised many changes. I came into last year thinking I knew roughly how it would play out, but I didn't know the half of it. I don't have similar expectations of 2004, so it will be interesting to see where my family is a year from now.

Happy new year. Thank you for reading.


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