Journal: News & Comment

This is " September 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.

Thursday, September 30, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:12:00 PM:

Who said that? How you been?

I'm not a sports guy, but this article covers all the bases of 1984 pretty well.


# 11:05:00 AM:

1000 days

Today marks 1000 days since I installed my basic page tracker on this site on 7 January 2002. (The site itself has been up since 1997, and has been at since March 2000.) My actual web server statistics are more detailed, but also more complicated—the tracker gives a basic overview of traffic to my journal pages (as well as a few other key parts of the site). Here's what the summary looks like today.

Some highlights:

  • I've had more than 87,000 unique visits to the site in 1000 days, or about 87 per day (though more recently I've been averaging over 200 a day, and I've already passed 87 as of 10:30 this morning). This weblog now gets about 1200 unique visits a week, or roughly 5500 a month. (My server stats tell me that the site overall gets closer to 14,000 visits a month, since many people read articles and look at pictures that aren't monitored by the weblog tracker.)
  • My busiest day was this past May 11, when web design gurus Dave Shea and Jeffrey Zeldman both linked here on different topics and brought in more than 1300 people. That week saw more than 3400 visitors here, and over 8000 for the month.
  • A lot of people must read my site while at work or school, because visits peak around lunchtime.
  • Most people visiting here use either Apple's Safari browser or one of the Mozilla/Firefox/Netscape family (all of which the tracker counts as "Netscape 7"), not Internet Explorer for Windows (which comes in second)—so my audience is heavily skewed away from the norm on the Web. The split between Windows and Mac users is pretty even: 49% windows to 46% Mac, which is also way out of line to the general reality out there.
  • More than 1.2% of my visitors use Linux—they've outnumbered users of Windows 95 and Windows ME in the past 1000 days, and even FreeBSD, WebTV, Sun, and Amiga users outnumber Windows 3.1 users in my visitor logs. As for you IRIX, HP-UX, and OS/2 die-hards: keep fighting the good fight.
  • Interestingly, for the site overall (using my private detailed web stats), the results are a bit more normal: 61% for Internet Explorer, 16% for Mozilla/Firefox/Netscape, and 15% for Safari, with 67% running Windows, 26% on the Mac, and 1.5% Linux. I've had 96 people visit in the past year using the Symbian OS, which runs on mobile phones. Hello to you!
  • Just under 61% of visitors come here directly, or from another site. Another 39% are from search engines (overwhelmingly Google, but also Yahoo! and MSN Search), with the tiny remainder from e-mail links, Usenet, and other sources.
  • Those coming from search engines are looking for information about Vancouver fireworks, wireless PowerBooks, HP's mysterious "Printer Mispick" error message, Aeron chairs, Jerker desks from Ikea, the Aerolatte battery-powered milk foamer, Blogger templates, printing from older Windows machines through Mac OS X on a network, and even occasionally for someone who does writing and editing in Vancouver.

Maybe we'll come back and re-examine those numbers in another 1000 days, in the summer of 2007.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:06:00 AM:

Derek's 200 things

This is a fun bandwagon, so I'll jump on it.

UPDATE: Watch the trend spread and spread and spread.

Bold I've done:

  1. Bought everyone in the pub a drink (The pub was pretty empty.)
  2. Swam with wild dolphins
  3. Climbed a mountain (Come on, I live in British Columbia and I was in the Boy Scouts.)
  4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
  5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
  6. Held a tarantula (Earlier this year, at the Victoria Bug Zoo.)
  7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
  8. Said "I love you" and meant it
  9. Hugged a tree
  10. Done a striptease (There's video, but I'm in the background.)
  11. Bungee jumped
  12. Visited Paris
  13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
  14. Stayed up all night long, and watched the sun rise
  15. Seen the Northern Lights (In my front yard, a few times.)
  16. Gone to a huge sports game (It was the Vancouver Blazers hockey team in the '70s, but the Coliseum was full.)
  17. Walked the stairs to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Not long before they closed it as unsafe.)
  18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
  19. Touched an iceberg (Like Dori, I'm counting a glacier. Otherwise no.)
  20. Slept under the stars
  21. Changed a baby's diaper
  22. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
  23. Watched a meteor shower
  24. Gotten drunk on champagne (With my wife, mom, and dad.)
  25. Given more than you can afford to charity
  26. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope (My dad has about five of them.)
  27. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
  28. Had a food fight
  29. Bet on a winning horse
  30. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
  31. Asked out a stranger (I later heard through the grapevine that she said our date was "as exciting as a trip to the bank machine." Ouch.)
  32. Had a snowball fight
  33. Photocopied your bottom on the office photocopier
  34. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
  35. Held a lamb
  36. Enacted a favorite fantasy
  37. Taken a midnight skinny dip
  38. Taken an ice cold bath
  39. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
  40. Seen a total eclipse
  41. Ridden a roller coaster
  42. Hit a home run
  43. Fit three weeks miraculously into three days (In the soutwestern U.S., again in Australia, and, sadly, while doing work for a software company.)
  44. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking (Heck, that's half my living.)
  45. Adopted an accent for an entire day (See above.)
  46. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
  47. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
  48. Had two hard drives for your computer (Just two?)
  49. Visited all 50 states
  50. Loved your job for all accounts
  51. Taken care of someone who was shit-faced
  52. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  53. Had amazing friends
  54. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
  55. Watched wild whales (You can occasionally see them from BC Ferries.)
  56. Stolen a sign
  57. Backpacked in Europe
  58. Taken a road-trip
  59. Rock climbing
  60. Lied to foreign government's official in that country to avoid notice
  61. Midnight walk on the beach (Camping on the beach.)
  62. Sky diving (1986.)
  63. Visited Ireland
  64. Been heartbroken longer then you were actually in love (1990-93.)
  65. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them
  66. Visited Japan
  67. Benchpressed your own weight
  68. Milked a cow
  69. Alphabetized your records (CDs too.)
  70. Pretended to be a superhero (I even built my own.)
  71. Sung karaoke
  72. Lounged around in bed all day
  73. Posed nude in front of strangers
  74. Scuba diving
  75. Got it on to "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye
  76. Kissed in the rain
  77. Played in the mud
  78. Played in the rain
  79. Gone to a drive-in theater (The Cat From Outer Space)
  80. Done something you should regret, but don't regret it
  81. Visited the Great Wall of China
  82. Discovered that someone who's not supposed to have known about your blog has discovered your blog (Isn't that true of every blogger?)
  83. Dropped Windows in favor of something better (I've been an Apple guy forever, but we did ditch our den PC for an eMac this year.)
  84. Started a business
  85. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
  86. Toured ancient sites (Rome, mostly.)
  87. Taken a martial arts class
  88. Swordfought for the honor of a woman (In a play in elementary school. My other hand was a hook.)
  89. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
  90. Gotten married
  91. Been in a movie
  92. Crashed a party
  93. Loved someone you shouldn't have
  94. Kissed someone so passionately it made them dizzy
  95. Gotten divorced
  96. Had sex at the office
  97. Gone without food for 5 days
  98. Made cookies from scratch
  99. Won first prize in a costume contest (Dracula. I wore the tux I got married in.)
  100. Ridden a gondola in Venice
  101. Gotten a tattoo
  102. Found that the texture of some materials can turn you on
  103. Rafted the Snake River
  104. Been on television news programs as an "expert" (There's video, although "news" is debatable.)
  105. Got flowers for no reason
  106. Masturbated in a public place
  107. Got so drunk you don't remember anything
  108. Been addicted to some form of illegal drug
  109. Performed on stage (See numbers 44 and 45.)
  110. Been to Las Vegas
  111. Recorded music (Go listen.)
  112. Eaten shark
  113. Had a one-night stand
  114. Gone to Thailand
  115. Seen Siouxsie live
  116. Bought a house
  117. Been in a combat zone
  118. Buried one/both of your parents
  119. Shaved or waxed your pubic hair off
  120. Been on a cruise ship
  121. Spoken more than one language fluently (Finnish was my first, but I forgot it all. I was almost there with French in high school.)
  122. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone
  123. Bounced a check
  124. Performed in Rocky Horror
  125. Read—and understood—your credit report
  126. Raised children
  127. Recently bought and played with a favorite childhood toy (My own kids are the best excuse.)
  128. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
  129. Created and named your own constellation of stars
  130. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
  131. Found out something significant that your ancestors did
  132. Called or written your Congress person (MP, in our case.)
  133. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
  134. More than once? More than twice?
  135. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
  136. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking
  137. Had an abortion or your female partner did
  138. Had plastic surgery
  139. Survived an accident that you shouldn't have survived (Maybe. If I hadn't been wearing my bike helmet, head-butting that tree could have been fatal.)
  140. Wrote articles for a large publication (Here's one.)
  141. Lost over 100 pounds
  142. Held someone while they were having a flashback
  143. Piloted an airplane
  144. Petted a stingray (Aquarium only.)
  145. Broken someone's heart
  146. Helped an animal give birth
  147. Been fired or laid off from a job (I work in technology.)
  148. Won money on a TV game show
  149. Broken a bone
  150. Killed a human being
  151. Gone on an African photo safari
  152. Ridden a motorcycle
  153. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100 mph
  154. Had a body part of yours below the neck pierced
  155. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol (Boy Scouts again.)
  156. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
  157. Ridden a horse
  158. Had major surgery
  159. Had sex on a moving train
  160. Had a snake as a pet
  161. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
  162. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
  163. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
  164. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
  165. Visited all 7 continents
  166. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days (Grade 10.)
  167. Eaten kangaroo meat
  168. Fallen in love at an ancient Mayan burial ground
  169. Been a sperm or egg donor
  170. Eaten sushi (In Vancouver, it's like bread.)
  171. Had your picture in the newspaper (There you go.)
  172. Had 2 (or more) healthy romantic relationships for over a year in your lifetime
  173. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
  174. Gotten someone fired for their actions
  175. Gone back to school
  176. Parasailed
  177. Changed your name
  178. Petted a cockroach
  179. Eaten fried green tomatoes
  180. Read The Iliad (I liked The Odyssey better.)
  181. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read (Darwin, and it was a slog.)
  182. Dined in a restaurant and stolen silverware, plates, cups because your apartment needed them
  183. And gotten 86'ed from the restaurant because you did it so many times, they figured out it was you
  184. Taught yourself an art from scratch (Playing the drums, and writing HTML, I guess)
  185. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (Fish.)
  186. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
  187. Skipped all your school reunions
  188. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language (Ah, the Internet.)
  189. Been elected to public office
  190. Written your own computer language
  191. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
  192. Had to put someone you love into hospice care (My grandmother.)
  193. Built your own PC from parts
  194. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you (I'm counting music.)
  195. Had a booth at a street fair
  196. Dyed your hair
  197. Been a DJ
  198. Found out someone was going to dump you via LiveJournal
  199. Written your own role playing game (1982, and it never worked.)
  200. Been arrested

Not bad. 113 out of 200, or 56.5%. I wouldn't want to get 100%.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:42:00 PM:

Is the Web so complicated and choked with different specifications that it's going to collapse?



Monday, September 27, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 PM:

Which Derek am I?

Some people think this is a well-known website. One way to check that is to see how high in Google's search results it shows up if you search for "Derek," since my name is a common one.

As of today, I'm on page three—behind actor Derek Jacobi, mathematician Derek Holt, the Hotel Derek in Houston, Derek Acorah (who talks to the dead), keyboardist Derek Sherinian ("El Flamingo Suave" is a track on his latest album), web guy Derek Powazek, and (of course) Bo Derek. But I am ahead of Derek Walcott (who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992), Derek Kew (who helps people with eating disorders by hypnotizing them), Derek Atkins (a.k.a., the late basketball player Derek Smith, and (oddly) New York Yankee Derek Jeter.

Not bad. My colleague Dave Shea's mezzoblue does far better in the much more competitive "Dave" search: page two and ahead of Dave Barry's official site (though not his blog), as well as Apple browser developer Dave Hyatt, and Dave Raggett, who helped develop HTML. Dave Matthews, David Letterman, Dave Winer of, Thursby Software's DAVE application for the Mac, and Dave Sperling, who hosts an English as a Second Language resource site, all beat him in the results—at least for now.

Of course they're both imprecise measures. If my wife ever actually publicized her name online, for instance, she'd win hands down, because it's so unusual. But that's why she doesn't.


Sunday, September 26, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:58:00 AM:

Links of interest (2004-09-26):


Saturday, September 25, 2004 - newest items first
# 7:15:00 PM:

Super bunny

Today, with the weather in the mid-20s (Celsius) and the sun shining, my wife and I did some cleaning. I swept out the basement outside stairwell.

Since they descend next to the outlet for our electric dryer vent, those stairs accumulate a lot of blown lint, as well as leaves, nuts and debris dropped by squirrels and crows, spiders, wood bugs, dirt, and miscellaneous yard junk. The concrete steps didn't look too bad when I started, but by the time I was done, my dustpan held a dust bunny that was truly frightening. Why?

Because I realized that this dust bunny was about the same weight as, and considerably bigger than, an actual bunny.


Friday, September 24, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:00:00 AM:

Quick interface

A few days ago I mentioned webkit2png, a neat little command-line Terminal application for Mac OS X that takes screenshots of web pages, even if the screens you want are bigger than your display. Now someone's built Paparazzi, a graphical version. That was fast.

So here's what this home page looks like if you zoom back far enough to see the whole thing:

[Full-length view of home page, shrunk to fit]


Thursday, September 23, 2004 - newest items first
# 3:40:00 PM:

It's the roof

Mark has another tale of Hurricane Ivan in the Cayman Islands:

Dusty and I were holding one of the box springs into place [against a window broken by the storm] and heard a horrible thumping sound coming from outside. Someone said that my car had floated up at the back and had moved. I assumed [...] that the noise we heard was my car banging into one of the pillars of the house. Coinciding with each thump was the floor shaking. We didn't know what was going on, but we didn't like it. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned and focused on it. The banging sound had been discovered. The wind was lifting up the entire side of the roof, holding it while gusting and then it was slamming back down onto the house. The deck was also starting to come up as well. Dusty and I thought we should abandon the room and go to the other side of the house.

Yeah, I'd probably do that too.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 AM:

Learn about guitar tone

NOTE: I have combined this entry and others into a longer article about guitar tone.

The electric guitar is rock 'n' roll's main instrument. Sure, there are rockers who feature other instruments more prominently (Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John, the Violent Femmes, and Coldplay, for instance), but more than the drum kit, piano, electric bass, saxophone, or even the human voice, amped-up guitars define the genre.

PLEASE NOTE: Most of the links in this article go through the new Apple iTunes affiliate program, so if you're in the U.S. and end up buying one of the tracks (or something else) within 24 hours of clicking through, I get 5%. That didn't influence my choice of artists at all, and it's more of an experiment than a real cash-grab (for me, anyway). I had to link to Jimmy Page directly because Led Zeppelin isn't in the iTunes Store, and neither are any well-known Beatles tracks.

The source of tone

Electric guitars can produce a huge variety of sounds, and tone is something electric guitarists obsess about. Guitar tone depends on a wide variety of factors:

  • The design, shape, and construction techniques of the guitar, including the length, thickness, and surface curvature of the neck, the type of frets, and whether the body is solid, hollow, or semi-hollow.
  • The kinds of woods (or other materials) it's made out of, and how the various components are attached to one another.
  • Its age and, if it's used, how it's been treated and played over the years.
  • The design, implementation, and installation of its pickups and electronics.
  • The settings of all its controls, including volume and tone knobs and pickup selectors.
  • The type and thickness of the strings.
  • How those strings are attached to the guitar, including whether they pass through the guitar body or just sit on the top surface—and right down to the materials and construction of the nut and bridge at either and, as well as the design of the tuning posts.
  • The quality, materials, and length of the cable connecting the guitar to the amplifier.
  • The design, construction, and age of the amplifier.
  • The type and age of speaker in the amplifier.
  • How each knob and switch on the amplifier is set.
  • What kinds of preamp and power amp components the amplifier uses, including the type, design, manufacture, and age of those components, especially if they are vaccum tubes.
  • What kinds of additional effects are placed between the guitar and the amplifier, how they are built, and how they are set.
  • The quality and materials of all the connectors between the guitar, effects, amplifier, and beyond.
  • The acoustics of the room or studio in which the guitar and amplifier are being played, including room materials, size, shape, furniture, and how many people are in it, including what they're wearing and whether they're sitting down, standing up, or dancing around.
  • The design, manufacture, and characteristics of any microphones used to record or amplify the guitar.
  • Any post-amplifier recording or amplification techniques or effects.
  • Any speakers (in a car, boom box, stereo, headphones, or live venue) through which the guitar sound is subsequently played.
  • Any background noise, hearing defects, or other things that might affect how a particular listener hears the sound.
  • Of course, the way the guitarist plays, including whether with fingers or a pick on the strumming hand, how he or she places and moves fingers on the neck, where the strumming happens relative to the pickups, the velocity and angle of attack when playing certain notes, and whether he or she holds the guitar in such a way that the pickups interact with the sound coming out of the amplifier for feedback effects.

And that doesn't even cover it all. With that variety, there are also many preferences for what kind of tone people (players and listeners both) like.

Slapback to Marshall stack

The prototype rock guitar tone is Scotty Moore's rockabilly twang in his early-'50s work with Elvis Presley—check out "Mystery Train" for one of the first examples. That's the sound of a Gibson ES 295 hollow-body guitar with thick nickel strings played through a 1952 Fender Deluxe tube amplifier, with a "slapback" echo effect. In early rock recordings, recording engineers sometimes created the slapback echo by putting the guitar amp inside one end of a huge empty steel water tank, with a microphone at the other end. (Yet another component of the tone.)

Perhaps the stereotype rock tone is that of the Marshall stack: a rectangular, 100-watt (or more), tube-powered amplifier "head" stacked on top of two speaker cabinets, each containing four 12-inch speakers. In this case, the guitar is a bit less important to the overall sound, although most who prefer it use Gibson-style solidbody guitars like the Les Paul or Gibson SG, with dual-coil "humbucking" pickups. Cranking up the Marshall creates a buzzing, distorted, complex, and extremely loud sound. Pete Townshend essentially invented the sound in the mid-'60s, and used it to full effect on the Who's live version of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" (even though he was actually playing single-coil P-90 pickups on a Gibson SG, through a Hiwatt amp). Later promoters of the Marshall sound include Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (and thus nearly every heavy metal band since), Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC (perhaps the purest exponents of this particular rock tone), Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, Kiss, Van Halen, Soundgarden, and most of the more recent pop-punk revival, such as Good Charlotte and Sum 41. (They don't all use Marshalls, but amplifiers from Mesa-Boogie, Hiwatt, Soldano, and others build heavily on what Marshall started for the Who.)

Tweed and Vox

In between those extremes lie the tones I prefer, with more crunch and meat than rockabilly, and more sparkle and clarity than metal. Those sounds tend to come from Fender solidbody guitars like the Stratocaster and Telecaster and Fender amplifiers such as the Twin Reverb. Early Fender amps were covered in yellow tweed cloth, so some people call it a "brown" or "tweed" tone—although later Fender designs are brighter and cleaner than the original tweeds. British Invasion variants on that sound usually came from Rickenbacker semi-hollow guitars and Vox amps, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones used, and have been compared (in their harshest versions) to "a blizzard of nails."

Blues players such as Robert Cray (hear "Right Next Door"), clean-tone rockers such as Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and many country pickers also like Fender guitars and amps. Newer throwback sounds from artists like the Vines take a similar approach. I own a '90s Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Princeton Reverb amp from the '70s, and they make a lovely noise.

My favourite example of a clean-but-crunchy Fender/Vox tone is from the Romantics' '80s retro-classic "What I Like About You." The composition is nothing special, but the guitar tone alone makes the recording essential. Heck, just listening to the excerpt at the iTunes store gives me a bit of a chill. In order to achieve even an approximation of this sound (since we play the song pretty much every show), the guitarist in my band has to drive his Stratocaster through a $3400 USD Matchless DC-30 amplifier, which is modeled on the Vox AC-30. Luckily, that combination produces many other excellent tones too.

And the rest

Of course, guitarists fiddle, and while most tones you hear on radio, CD, or your iPod are derived from the ones I describe here, they could come from nearly any guitar, amplifier, and player combination. Carlos Santana plays Paul Reed Smith guitars through Mesa-Boogie amps for his singing signature sound, while Stevie Ray Vaughan achieved his tone with Strats and a forest of Fender, Marshall, and custom Dumble amps. Some of the best sounds on record come from cheap equipment: Jimmy Page recorded the whole first Led Zeppelin album with a bare-bones Fender Telecaster and a little Supro amplifier, while Hound Dog Taylor played "Give Me Back My Wig" a few years later with a guitar and amp from the Sears catalogue.

If you want to know more, read about how guitar amp designs have evolved, the quest for ultimate tone, and finding the right tone. Particularly interesting is that guitar amplification, along with high-end audio, is one of the few industries that still relies extensively on vacuum tubes (called "valves" in the U.K.), in addition to transistors or computer chips. My guitarist's Matchless amp, for instance, doesn't have a single circuit board: it's all hand-wired tube circuitry, which has been unheard of in any other realm of consumer electronics since the 1960s.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Apple's affiliate program, which is actually run by a company called LinkShare, is a mess to sign up for. Unlike nearly every other Apple effort, it's extremely confusing, and seems rushed and unprofessional because Apple has not taken the time to put its own stamp on the interface and workflow. (Once you start adding links, Apple takes control again and it's fine.) Even the e-mails they send look nothing like the usual Apple clean design. I hope Apple and LinkShare improve the sign-up and management interface in time—right now it's a blight on Apple's usually-good user experience.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:15:00 PM:

Waves in the street

Mark survived Hurricane Ivan in the Cayman Islands, and has now posted a bunch of scary photos. The hurricane lifted entire boat docks over seawalls and deposited them inland, and some buildings are totally gone:

[Tree in the wind, with waves in the street] [Mark Faccin after the storm] [Used to be a building]


Monday, September 20, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:54:00 AM:

Onscreen editing with MS Word seminar: Sat 2 Oct 2004

The Professional Editors' Association of Vancouver Island (PEAVI) is bringing me over to the University of Victoria on Saturday, October 2 to reprise the onscreen editing with Microsoft Word seminar I last hosted here in Vancouver this past May.

This time around, I'll be titling it "Top Ten Secrets of Editing With Microsoft Word," to give it a bit more structure and maybe leave more time at the end for longer questions, if we're lucky. If you're frustrated with Word, we'll go behind the menus and windows and learn its secrets hands-on, so you can take control of the program in your writing and editing work.

By the way, Roger Ebert now has his own full website, with archives of all his movie reviews right back to when he started in 1967. It also appears to be valid HTML 4 (although the page title says "xhtml"). The site's running rather slow; I hope that improves.


Sunday, September 19, 2004 - newest items first
# 3:40:00 PM:

Move it

Still Life is a Mac OS X application that lets you take still photos and create compelling pan-and-zoom and transition effects with them. It's a bit similar to Apple's "Ken Burns Effect" in iPhoto and iMovie, but you have far more control. The gallery shows you some examples.

I like programs like this one, that strive to do one thing very well. As Sebastien, who told me about it, said, "You can do this sort of stuff in [Adobe] After Effects, but it's a pain in the butt."

Not to mention that After Effects costs nearly 30 times as much money.

In a similar vein, the new table tool in the Nisus Writer Express 2.0 word processor is brilliant. It's visual, Mac-like, fast, and it works, much better than Microsoft Word's pencil-like table-drawing tool.

UPDATE: Other elegant tools: webkit2png (full-length browser window screenshots, even if they're longer than your screen, from the command line), Pyramid (mind-mapping/charting—see review). Plus, how about this cool idea of tattooing images of extinct species on your body?


Friday, September 17, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:48:00 PM:

Friends all over

  • Mark is a scuba instructor I know who lives on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. They got toasted by Hurricane Ivan a few days ago (the centre of the storm passed pretty much right over the island). He has a bunch of photos he's going to post when he has an Internet connection again, but for now he posted a blog entry using his laptop and an Inmarsat antenna, which is usually something only used by ships on the open ocean. (Do you know anyone with an Inmarsat antenna? I don't.)

  • Richard is a software expert who often flies around the world talking about databases. He's in Malaysia, where he discovered an entire mall of geek gadgets, about which he writes, "How many malls do you know have huge billboard signs for hard drives?"

  • Hina, who grew up in Pakistan and Vancouver, is now working in Oslo for a good chunk of the next year. We don't get real Canadian winters in Vancouver, so she's going to experience what it's like by being in Norway instead.

  • Leesa lives in Melbourne, Australia, and recently saw the price of gas hit nearly $1.10 per litre. Today it's 93.9¢ near my house, though when I last bought some a week ago, it was down to 81.9¢.

  • Tomorrow night my band gives a performance at the Burnaby Firefighters' Club Hall, for a 30th high school reunion. In my 15 years as a professional musician, during which I've driven all over B.C. and even flown to New York and Australia, this show is the closest venue to my house I've ever played in. I could walk there in about 10 minutes.


Thursday, September 16, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:56:00 PM:

Curse the round earth

Navarik, the company I work for, has customers all around the world. Sometimes that gets complicated. For example, I was working on a website project a couple of months ago where:

  • The main client office was in Hong Kong.
  • The key client contact was traveling in North America, mostly on the east coast.
  • Our president, who was part of the project, was in Houston, London, and Oslo at different stages of the discussion.
  • We were working with a designer in Kansas.
  • Our creative director and I were in Vancouver.

For the most part, conference calls and even instant messaging for the entire team were out of the question. The window of opportunity each day when everyone was awake and at an office or computer was tiny—Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Oslo are very nearly as far apart in time zones as three cities can be. So we worked by e-mail.

Even then, if I sent a message at 6:00 pm my time, that's the beginning of the day in Hong Kong, and 3 in the morning in Norway. A set of replies could take a whole day to get around. Somehow, we made it work, but global commerce does have its frictions.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:41:00 PM:

Links of interest (2004-09-15):

These have been accumulating for a few weeks:


# 12:05:00 AM:

Groove on III: "Cold Cloth and an Ice Pack"

[Derek's Stratocaster guitar]Okay, we're back. And with a new tune! "Cold Cloth and an Ice Pack" is the latest three-minute addition to my roster of free songs that you can download and share, in that MP3 format all the kids are talking about these days.

It features funk guitar and drum loops, chopped-up greasy organ samples, some of my real actual lead guitar playing on my Stratocaster (pictured), growly bass from my dependable old blue Fender Precision, echoey analog synthesizer, and shimmering tremolo guitar for atmosphere. Yummy.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:34:00 AM:


While everyone returns to a normal work schedule and the kids go back to school, things are busy around here, and I'll be taking a brief hiatus from writing in this journal. I'm not going away anywhere, but just need the time to do things in the real world (and work too). In the meantime, check sites in my "Links and Logs" list on the right for new and interesting things.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:39:00 PM:


This list of invisible Mac OS files shows how the Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X make its files much more inscrutable than those from the old Mac OS.

While I prefer the newer operating system, you can see that the original Mac system designers were thinking about real end users when they built their system (even when creating files those people never saw). The Unix programmers who wrote the code underneath the new Mac OS, on the other hand, were writing for other programmers, and it shows.


Monday, September 06, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:43:00 PM:

Anime and Jack Black

The Tyee's list of good movies to watch with young kids.


# 8:57:00 AM:

Backups through the storm

Bob Cringely:

I have on my wrist a watch with a built-in 256 megabyte USB flash drive holding all my e-mail since 1993, everything I have written since the late 1980s, and a bootable Linux partition. So worst case, I can buy a new PC wherever we land, plug-in the watch and be up and running again in minutes with most of the stuff I need.

It's now been eight years since my last really disastrous "no backup" situation, and I still remember it all too well. While I don't have Bob's backup-on-my-wrist, I do have:

  1. A laptop that comes to work and on the road with me, and holds nearly all the documents that also sit on my main computer, going back to the early 1990s at least (I haven't checked recently).

  2. A FireWire hard drive with a complete clone of my main computer's drive, updated every few weeks, plus a weekly incremental backup of all my family's documents, e-mail, passwords, and application preferences.

  3. A second, compressed copy of all my e-mail back to 1998, sitting on a remote Internet server in California.

  4. At my workplace, a stack of several dozen CD-Rs, backups I've made over the past several years.

I hope it's enough (yes, I know my computer is manipulating me). If my house is burning down, my priorities are, (a) my wife and kids, (b) that FireWire drive, and (c) our photo albums from the pre-digital era.

How about you?


Sunday, September 05, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:51:00 PM:

Mmm... scratchy

Web design from scratch takes a wise approach to helping people learn about building websites: it encourages them to think about principles, goals, and design conventions before dealing with the nitty-gritty of writing code. Its sections:

  1. Basics
  2. Tutorials
  3. Case Studies

It's worth a read.


# 8:49:00 AM:

Moving on

Twenty-seven years ago today, Voyager 1 lifted off from earth. It's now farther from us than any other thing people have made, even though, of the four interstellar spacecraft we've launched so far (Voyager 1 and 2, and Pioneer 10 and 11), it was the last to lift off.

Voyager 1 is moving about 17 kilometres per second. Any message it sends to us takes about 13 hours to get here. Yet space is so vast that it's still barely moved any distance at all relative to the nearest stars. Chances are that, after its power source shuts down around 2020, it will drift between the stars for millions, maybe billions, of years, and no one (human or not) will ever see it again.


Saturday, September 04, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:21:00 AM:

Website designs I like

I'm not much of a visual web designer, which is why this site looks okay, but is nothing spectacular, and hasn't really changed much since 2000 (despite a colour update). What I have here works okay, and if I were to consider a serious change, I'd probably have to hire someone with real talent to help me with that.

I do admire those other sites (especially other weblog-based ones) that manage to work within the limitations of the medium to create beautiful, readable, usable things. Some examples:

  • - The individual archive pages are particularly clean, informative, and easy to use.
  • - Right now, Doug Bowman is experimenting with a minimalist look, but I hope he returns to something like his luscious previous version (see the tiny vestigital screenshot). The new one is good, but his earlier semi-abstract headers had lovely jewel-tone colours that made me feel good every time I visited.
  • - The HTML code is old-school and a bit of a mess, but for a commercial software company their site is so clean and unusual I like it anyway. ( has a similar approach, and similar code problems.)
  • - I've worked with Jeff, but the reason we chose to have him help us is that his work, including his website, is both standards-compliant and lovely. I particularly like his "live preview as you type" comments system.
  • McSweeny' - So spare. So centred. So serifed. So capitalized. It's like the 15th-century woodcut of the Web.


Friday, September 03, 2004 - newest items first
# 8:17:00 PM:

Rumour confirmed

Yeah, I thought so.


Thursday, September 02, 2004 - newest items first
# 6:30:00 PM:


Bill at my office finally got himself a new PowerBook, and I have inherited his 2002 iBook for work use. It's a nice machine, although under load it doesn't perform nearly as well as my new eMac (as you would expect).

Of course, the iBook is on its third motherboard, so it has its quirks. It replaced a decrepit old Dell laptop I had been using, and is a huge improvement in that department. The iBook has been around the world a few times in Bill's laptop bag. I think it's seen more countries (certainly more continents) than I have.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:55:00 PM:

Slippery slope

The Wikipedia, which anyone can modify, is dangerous for someone with editorial tendencies. What started out as a quick glance at what it had to say about my hometown of Burnaby led me to spend most of an hour expanding the previous version of the encyclopedia entry, and adding a photo.


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