Why, I wonder, did all of us—the others in particular, well-known weblogs that I and many others read regularly—decide to start our blogs at the same time during the year?
This is "Penmachine.com: October 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.
Sunday, October 31, 2004 - newest items first
# 2:40:00 PM:
If you don't see the wacky orange colour scheme, new logo, and different photo, just hit Reload in your browser, or check out the style sheet (reload that), logo (reload that), and photo (reload that). Then come back here.
Thursday, October 28, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:58:00 PM:
Today wasn't so great. At work, one project that I thought was nearly done turned out to be working very poorly for the customer concerned, and so will require a lot more effort to get finished acceptably. Before that, I'd just heard from a friend that he needs major surgery, very soon. So I came home in a down mood.
Solution: go swimming with the kids, then a bath and two hours of The Apprentice and CSI. A cleansing of the body and mind, if you like. I'm still awake, though, mulling over approaches to the work that needs doing, and hoping my friend will be okay (I've read up a bit online—for someone in his good health, the prognosis is excellent).
P.S. Want one.
(Hey, now that this journal is four years old, I can indulge in a stereotypical "what I did today blah blah blah" blog post for once, right?)
Wednesday, October 27, 2004 - newest items first
# 12:57:00 AM:
Four years ago today, on October 27, 2000, I first converted the home page of my website into a journal—a weblog—using the free online tool Blogger, which still manages the entries I post here almost every day. My oldest daughter was two-and-a-half years old, and her sister had only been alive eight months. I had just started playing drums in a rock band again, and while I didn't know it yet, I was nearing the end of a nearly five-year tenure working for a software company. Farther away, the Twin Towers in New York and the nightclub district of Bali were tourist attractions, not memorials.
Since then, according to Blogger's statistics, I have written more than 230,000 words on this page—the equivalent of a thousand-page novel—in over 1600 individual journal entries, averaging one each day for four solid years. I've included more than 6000 hyperlinks from those entries, or an average of 3.75 each day. (I've made it a policy, in general, not to write an entry unless I can link it to at least one other thing on the Web, even just something else on this site.)
How much time has that taken? It's hard for me to average how long an entry takes me to create. Some go online in less than a minute, while others take hours and turn into entire articles that are published elsewhere. If I take a rough guess and assign a mean of, say, 15 minutes per post (I have no idea if that's accurate), I've spent 400 hours, or the equivalent of more than two solid sleepless weeks, posting to this website.
That's a little over 1% of my life during the past four years. Maybe it's actually 0.5%, or 2%. (The higher number is more likely: 15 minutes per post is about 575 words an hour, which is a pretty fast clip for a writer.) Not overwhelming, but also not trivial. It's more time than I've spent walking my daughters to school, for instance, but less than I've spent reading to them.
Is it worth it? Yes it is. Through this site I have found work, connected with friends, forged written memories for myself and for my family, and learned to be a better writer, editor, and web guy. It's a hobby that helps me do my job better. It's fun. So, four more years? Sure. More than that too, I hope.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:16:00 PM:
As an outsider, a Canadian, I could say something, but some Americans already got to it.
Monday, October 25, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:46:00 AM:
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never provide your administrator password to an untrusted application or install routine. Make sure, when downloading applications from any source, that the author is reputable and (if possible) other users have already tested the release. Unwittingly giving arbitrary code the permission to run is perhaps the greatest current security threat for Mac OS X users.
Just remember that, and watch for things that ask for passwords. Of course, Jakob Nielsen has a good point today:
User education puts the burden on the wrong shoulders. It's like the old Wild West, where the answer to crime was that every man carried a gun. In civilized society, we've abandoned this approach in favor of a professional police force to deal with criminals. When there is a mismatch between technology and people, the answer should not be to change the humans. The answer should be to change the computers. Computers and the Internet were both developed under the assumptions that everyone was trustworthy and there would never be any crime. That's obviously no longer true, and we need to rearchitect the technology accordingly. Even the Old West eventually transitioned to laws, courts, police, and jails.
Sunday, October 24, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:41:00 PM:
- "While outsourcing boxes improves chocolatier Jean-Marc's operational effectiveness, he would never consider outsourcing chocolate production because he would lose his core differentiation advantage. Yet, in their enthusiasm for cost savings, several US technology companies have done precisely that—outsourcing their core technology and key strategic differentiator."
- "In our debates, perhaps we're forgetting that the vast majority of women (and men!) who will benefit from advanced contraceptive technology—both pre- and post-coital—are well out of their teens."
- "When we hit the justification button in our word processors, what we really want to activate is that 'make it look like a book' function in the generally vain hope that some of the gravitas of a well-set page will instantly be transferred to whatever we've written. [But] on most pages, and certainly on the web, good writing and consideration for your readers are the only justification you need."
- "'Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity,' the old saying goes. It's also a sign of cargo cult software engineering."
Saturday, October 23, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:33:00 AM:
Joel Spolsky is combing the Web for the best software essays of 2004 (and 2003 too, it turns out), to compile them into a book. If you're at all interested in these fancy-schmancy computer things all the kids are talking about these days, go take a look at the nominees so far. If you have your own favourites, you can add them.
Many of the pieces I had seen before, but most I hadn't, such as Michelle Levesque and Greg Wilson's "Women in Software: Open Source, Cold Shoulder" (check Joel's site for login information), Steven Bone's "What Is Excellence in Software Development?", and David Stutz's "Natural History of Software Platforms."
It would be best if you don't have much else to do for the next little while.
Friday, October 22, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:01:00 AM:
2005 will mark 15 years since guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash after a show. I've been re-listening to his recordings recently, and realize again what a shame it is that he's gone. B.B. King said of him:
When most of us play a 12-bar solo, we play maybe two choruses and the rest is all repetition. Stevie Ray was one of just a handful of musicians I've heard in my life—Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian come to mind—who weren't like that. The longer they played, the better they played.
Take a listen to SRV's instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Usually, guitar players who cover Hendrix are biting off more than they can chew, trying to draw on Jimi's mystique and paying tribute, but not really doing him justice. But not here. Jimi's original "Little Wing" is a short (two-minute) and tender song, one of his best and most evocative ballads. It starts with some rich, choppy rhythm guitar and ends with a brief, liquid solo.
Stevie Ray starts by seamlessly duplicating the original—his phrasing is so precise that you can't really tell which one you're listening to. Then he proves that he owns it, taking "Little Wing" for nearly seven minutes of pure guitar, with some of the most astounding tones ever captured on tape, from whisper-quiet verses to searing solos. Yet, as B.B. said, when it's over you wish it had never ended.
SRV's "Little Wing" is the kind of performance you wish Hendrix had recorded. What other guitar player would anyone even dare say that about?
Thursday, October 21, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:14:00 PM:
So, someone spammed an e-mail list with one of those cheap fake Rolex watch offers. The list archive made its way onto the web, so the Rolex watch company decided to sic lawyers on the mailing list owner. I thought lawyers were supposed to be good at reading things.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:26:00 AM:
Here is the best article I've ever read about digital camera photo-sensors. I now understand roughly ten times more about the CCD in my camera than I did 15 minutes ago. The piece is the third article in a continuing series. If you're at all interested in digital photography, read them all. The sample photos alone are remarkably educational.
Monday, October 18, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:22:00 PM:
Back in 1992, an incarnation of my current band (then called the Love Bugs) opened a show for Doug and the Slugs in the Student Union Building ballroom at the University of B.C., where I went to school. (I just now, more than a decade on, noticed that the night featured the Slugs and the Bugs. Hmm.)
Anyway, the Slugs were, and remained, a fun party band that concentrated on giving the audience a good time. We learned from them that fun for the audience is ultimately what's important, and we've ridden that philosophy to some success in the cover-band market, playing weddings, Christmas parties, annual meetings, and the occasional festival and such.
Doug Bennett of Doug and the Slugs died over the weekend. His bandmates had taken him to an Alberta hospital after he fell ill while they were driving between shows. He was only 52 years old, and left his wife and three teenage kids. His band had been together for 27 years.
The last time I heard Doug speak (rather than sing) was during an interview on CBC radio in June 2003, where he talked about his career, much of it in the festival, club, small-arena, and bar circuit after the Slugs had faded from the radio limelight in the early 1990s. He recognized the nature of the music business, and was content to be playing those kinds of shows, where people would recognize the band but still needed to be entertained, rather than wowed by celebrity. It was a good interview to hear as I packed up my clothes from just such a performance: two nights at the Graffiti Days classic car festival in Cache Creek, B.C.—Doug was talking about what I too was living that day.
He was a funny man, and a wry songwriter and singer. I only met him once, after our show in 1992, the same year Doug and the Slugs released their last studio album. Many people will miss him.
Saturday, October 16, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:27:00 AM:
I've had a few expressions of interest in the large Ampeg bass/guitar amplifier I'm selling, but nothing firm so far. (If you're the one fine fellow from Tennessee who's interested, please do e-mail me back—I hope my message to you about shipping costs didn't, (a) get trapped in a spam filter, or (b) scare the heck out of you with the price of sending a 100-pound amp across the continent.)
Anyway, whenever I do get rid of that beast, I'll need to find a much smaller but still capable replacement amplifier for my bass guitar. Amplifying a bass is quite different from amplifying an electric guitar, because most of the time you don't want distortion (at least not much) from a bass, and because the lower notes require quite a bit more power to achieve adequate volume—since the speaker needs to push more air. After some research, I've narrowed it down to three contenders in my price-and-power category ($400–500 Cdn, 50–100 W power output):
- Ampeg BA-112 - Pros: Small and light, solidly built, loud for its power rating, classy and clean industrial design, made in U.S.A., cool five-way EQ "style" switch, built-in limiter, high- and low-gain inputs, tilt-back shape, excellent Ampeg sound and reputation, good player reviews. Cons: Most expensive and least fully featured of the candidate amps, a bit underpowered at 50 W for stage work, phono jack only for line out (no balanced XLR output), only three-band EQ, no gain knob, no effects loop, no secondary speaker output.
- Yorkville XM100C - Pros: Enough power for playing onstage (100 W), excellent sound, useful contour/notch/scoop knob, fabulous "even if you break it" warranty, made in Canada, cool design, super-solid plywood housing and metal grille, high- and low-gain inputs, switchable balanced XLR output, effects loop, all controls and ports on the front, reputation for durability, service manual available online. Cons: Brand new design could have unknown problems, no limiter, only three-band EQ, no gain knob, no secondary speaker output, control knob settings not easy to read from a distance.
- Kustom KBA 100X - Pros: Least expensive but most fully featured of the candidates, powerful (100 W) and very loud, good sound, high-quality Celestion speaker, built-in digital effects, useful contour/notch/scoop knob, six-band (!) EQ, gain knob, built-in limiter with clipping indicator, gain knob, balanced XLR output, effects loop, secondary speaker output, very solid recessed carrying handles, nice sound-setting examples in manual. Cons: Apparently made overseas, decent but not exceptional company reputation, six-band EQ may make getting a good sound overly complicated, rather plain appearance, CD/tape input is a 1/4" phono jack instead of more useful dual RCA jacks, no headphone jack, plastic (not metal) cabinet corners, control knob settings not easy to read from a distance.
The choice is tough. I have already decided against entry-level gigging amps from Behringer (apparent quality problems) and the Fender Rumble series (nice sound, but hard to repair, and a bit cheesy-looking with that pulsing red light and "earthquake" logo), but each of these three offers quite a bit for the money. Right now I'm leaning toward the Yorkville, thinking that the Ampeg's lower power may not justify extra brand cachet, and realizing that the Kustom is both more complex (with all those EQ controls) and less complete (no headphone jack) than I need.
So, somebody buy my old Ampeg so I can go get myself something new!
Friday, October 15, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:50:00 AM:
It happens on Saturday, November 20, 2004 at Stamp's Landing Pub in Vancouver at 6:00 pm. You can eat, drink, and win stuff.
Danah Boyd writes:
You can build enterprise software that doesn't work on a Mac but you CANNOT build social technologies that don't work on the Mac. [...] If you only lived in this world, you would think that Apple makes up 70% of the market share.
Thursday, October 14, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:38:00 PM:
Jet contrails viewed from space.
Some cool closeups, not from space:
- Airliners.net Photo #332946
- Airliners.net Photo #569626
- Airliners.net Photo #556245
- Airliners.net Photo #425035
- Airliners.net Photo #428117
- Airliners.net Photo #556243
- Airliners.net Photo #333144
- Airliners.net Photo #239080
Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - newest items first
# 5:32:00 PM:
Here's a sample presentation that also explains what's so cool about the whole thing. Click the little Ø to see the exact same material without all the layout elements. Holy cow.
And it's free!
- Anne Pepper's "Editing for the Web," on October 30. Quick synopsis: "Editing for the Web [...] involves [...] creating pages that can be read in any order and using keywords to target search engines. In this workshop, Anne will focus on the top five techniques needed to develop web-ready copy."
- Maureen Nicholson's "Starting and Sustaining Your Editing Career," on November 20: "Explore the differences between freelance and in-house editing, review professional development opportunities and key editing resources, discuss strategies for finding work and promoting yourself effectively, and outline the fundamentals of how to make editing a profitable and enjoyable venture."
Each workshop costs $90 Cdn for EAC members, or $125 for non-members (which is quite inexpensive for this good stuff), and runs six hours on a Saturday in downtown Vancouver. You can register online.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:26:00 PM:
Da Vinci's Inquest is the best drama Canadian television has produced, and one of the best such shows on television, period. What makes it great (rather than just very good) is not the plotlines, or the excellent cinematography, or even the characters, exactly. It's the way people behave on the show.
The program began in 1998 as a fairly routine police-coroner drama, with Nicholas Campbell standing out as excellent right from that first season, as the irascible Dominic Da Vinci. Already it was a cut above most Canadian fiction TV (which, on average, continues to have a patina of wooden cheapness to it, even when it's not cheaply done). Over the years, Da Vinci has become darker and more equivocal. Lots of things happen around the edges—there's a sense of the whole world extending beyond the frame, and what the characters do is part of that.
Da Vinci is almost the only TV program I can think of where people speak as they do in real life: they stammer, trail off, repeat themselves, go on unrelated tangents, and loop back into continuing conversations. Cops talk about the current case, and food, and their families, all in a row, but not to show how sensitive they are—rather, because that's what folks do when we're at work.
Or someone will start walking in one direction, then realize they should turn around because they forgot something, then think it's not so important and walk back the way they started. The incident goes by and vanishes, because it's not foreshadowing anything; it's just there. On today's episode, for a minute Da Vinci was distracted while talking to someone else, and we discovered it was because couldn't remember where he'd parked his car. Does that mean something? Probably not, but maybe—and we didn't find out tonight either way. The show doesn't have a title sequence anymore. Nor does it use its theme music until the end credits. Scenes are sometimes noisy, so you miss a chunk of dialogue because of a passing bus or train.
In letting its characters and its settings be real, Da Vinci goes far beyond its cop-show structure into something else. It feels like a long-running documentary with almost too much access to its subjects. It reinforces what you know: Some things don't get resolved, but with hard work some do. Bad people often suffer for their badness, but not always, and sometimes good people suffer too. A crappy day can be funny and sad at the same time. So can a good day.
The program is set in my hometown of Vancouver, showing the un-pretty side of this city. It's honest in that. It feels real, because there's reality in it. If you haven't watched it and you can find a broadcast, please take the time.
Monday, October 11, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:15:00 AM:
First, a brief aside. If you're not in Canada, note that today is Canadian Thanksgiving, and a public holiday. If you're trying to do business with someone in this country, you may have to wait till tomorrow. Now on to the links:
- View any website in plain text (no, it's not Lynx).
- "Businesses don't want to admit this, but they spend up to 12 percent of gross revenues on IT including communications. By going to Open Source and thin clients and VoIP we could cover all their needs for half that cost—six percent. No separate hardware, software, bandwidth, or support costs, just a flat six percent."
- "When you have little to no revenue and you have 10, 15, 20 people on board, you have to start borrowing. And when you start borrowing you start going into debt. And when you start going into debt, you can't continue to innovate or take chances. And then decisions are made that aren't in the best interest of your customers."
- Robot-retrieved books at UBC's new library might make some volumes impossible to browse; a solution would be to spend money on scanning the whole collection, sort of like Amazon's Search Inside the Book or Google's new Google Print.
- "If you can build a place that women love, the guys will show up. The reverse is not true."
Sunday, October 10, 2004 - newest items first
# 9:56:00 PM:
Months after Blogger added the feature, I have changed the permanent article links in this journal to point to individual pages for each post. That means that this post, for example, lives in three places:
- The home page at penmachine.com—more specifically, on the direct page anchor at penmachine.com/ #109747107200483967 (until it scrolls off the bottom).
- The monthly archive page for October 2004 at penmachine.com/ journal/ 2004_10_01_news_archive.html, or directly at penmachine.com/ journal/ 2004_10_01_news_archive.html#109747107200483967 (which is the long and messy way all my permalinks used to appear).
- Its own individual archive at a simpler address: penmachine.com/ 2004/ 10 / post-pages_10.html (why did Blogger add the "_10"? I don't know).
All previous links (using style 2 above) still work, so I think the new scheme in generally beneficial, with its shorter URLs and simpler organization. You can even go to an address like penmachine.com/ 2004 and browse your way through by year and month.
What you don't get is any context in the new permalink archive pages: you no longer have the post still sitting next to its immediate chronological neighbours for that month. And most of the archive pages have a really long sidebar that far overhangs the actual content of the page too. Still, you can always visit the archives to browse by month the old fashioned way, and see what else I was saying.
I've become so used to reading weblogs, RSS feeds, online news sites, and e-mail that I was puzzled today, when I looked at one of my credit card bills to see my purchases listed in chronological order, with the earliest items at the top. That just felt wrong.
Saturday, October 09, 2004 - newest items first
# 5:16:00 PM:
Nearly two years ago, Australian rock legends Midnight Oil ended their career as a band. Many, including me, speculated that lead singer Peter Garrett would enter Australian national politics.
Sure enough, he has just been elected as a Member of Parliament for the Australian Labor Party (ALP). While the party suffered yet another crushing defeat, he was able to hold a safe Labor seat. Garrett first ran for election 20 years ago, for the then-active Nuclear Disarmament Party, and, given his former band's stridency, is certainly no stranger to politics.
Friday, October 08, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:27:00 AM:
Cafe Del Sol is open again, but I don't know if theyr'e serving coffee yet, just internet provision.
These, apparently, are the priorities of the 21st century: Internet, then coffee.
Thursday, October 07, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:33:00 PM:
"A gentleman must take off his hat when a woman enters an elevator in an apartment building or a hotel, as those are considered dwellings. He puts it on again in the hall, because a public corridor is like a street. In public buildings, however, the elevator is also considered public, and the hat can stay on."
- If your window is 800 pixels wider or more, you see three columns in the body of the page.
- If your window is narrower than 800 pixels, you see a single column.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - newest items first
# 4:18:00 PM:
"Cooks with no professional experience do not make the same salary as software engineering managers with 10 years experience."
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:35:00 PM:
- Someone stopped junk mail, almost. I have a similar three-layer (four, if you count flagging in my e-mail program) spam filtering system, but some still gets through.
- Even Bill Gates has spyware on his home computers.
- How should computer science students be educated, compared to how they actually are?
- "Today, the Intelligence Committee's report makes clear, that 93-page estimate stands as one of the most flawed documents in the history of American intelligence."
- Ars Technica has a regularly-updated set of recommendations about "good, better, and best" components for build-your-own PCs.
- You can carry Firefox and Thunderbird in your pocket.
- "The main problem, if that's the word, is that we live in the physical world and, until recently, most of our entertainment media did, too. But that world puts two dramatic limitations on our entertainment)."
Monday, October 04, 2004 - newest items first
# 11:09:00 PM:
My oldest daughter is six, and started grade 1 last month. My wife is a teacher, and I'm an editor, so we've encouraged her to learn to read for some time now, but it never caught on. She's always liked us to read to her, and she's been practising her upper-case letters and trying to figure out how to spell words for a long time, but reading stuff she didn't already know frustrated her.
And yet, after just a few weeks of school, she's printing lower-case letters, doing basic spelling tests, and, as of today, reading a short, beginning-reader version of The Tortoise and the Hare to the rest of the family.
School works, you see.
Oh, and on an unrelated web geekery note, Ev's leaving Blogger, apparently on good terms.
Sunday, October 03, 2004 - newest items first
# 10:58:00 PM:
Thank you to the 22 or so members of PEAVI and others who attended my workshop on Microsoft Word in Victoria yesterday. You were an intelligent and engaged group—and several people knew more about some of Word's features than I did. I think the session went very well, and even ended exactly on time, by some miracle. It was also a great opportunity for my wife and me to leave the kids with my parents and spend some time in Victoria during what must be the most spectacularly beautiful October weekend southwestern British Columbia has ever seen.
I'm going to add a few updates to my Word workshop page over the next few days, and penmachine.com/word will be updated whenever I hold a new version of the workshop—which I'm likely to do again in the spring.
Saturday, October 02, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:30:00 AM:
- Did I say Microsoft Excel was complicated? How about Word? (Thanks to J-Walk for the idea.)
- Free guidebooks for PowerBook and iBook take-apart and repair.
- Why photographers use the RAW file format, and why Adobe is creating the new DNG format to try to sort out the issues that entails.
- World's scariest-ever Swiss Army Knife.
- When is a debate not a debate?
- A great new way to find photos that are licensed for free use.
- Nice super-basic introduction to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in web design.
I've been sitting at the desk next to Dave's for some months now, and had a few inklings of what was going on, but now he's made it public and you can pre-order from Amazon if you want a copy when it comes out. That should be sometime early next year, apparently. If you design websites, it'll be a steal at $35 Cdn.
Friday, October 01, 2004 - newest items first
# 1:32:00 AM:
I'm running a workshop on editing with Microsoft Word at the University of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, early tomorrow afternoon, Saturday, October 2. If you're not already registered (and it's not already Saturday or later when you read this), there's still a chance you can join us.
UPDATE: Not anymore. It's over. I'll probably do another workshop in Vancouver in the spring.
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