Journal: News & Comment

This is " January 2005," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.

Monday, January 31, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:08:00 PM:

Bought out

In the early 1980s, Ken Spencer, the father of one of my friends (who was also our Boy Scout leader and an engineer) started a small company to design high-density magnetic storage for the U.S. Geological Survey. They had a tiny office in the building my mom worked in, a kilometre or two from my house.

That company turned into Creo, one of the world's leading printing-technology firms, and eventually took over the whole building, plus a couple of others nearby, as well as some in other cities around the world. My Scout leader retired from the company years ago. I've known a number of other people who have worked there over time too.

Today Eastman Kodak announced that it plans to buy Creo for $980 million USD. I wonder if Ken imagined that all those years ago?


Sunday, January 30, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:13:00 PM:

Get the details

Just as they did last summer for the then-new fourth-generation iPods, the iPodlounge has posted an excellent set of new user and power user reviews of the iPod shuffle. To get a sense of Apple's continued attention to elegant design, look at this photo of an iPod shuffle next to a competing small MP3 player and a USB memory card reader.

And if you want the scoop on the Mac mini, Macworld has two separate articles about how to take one apart, as well as a three part series comparing the Mac mini to low-end Windows systems from Dell. (Oddly, it may be the software that provides the mini's best value.)


Saturday, January 29, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:12:00 AM:

Lists à la Google

This meme isn't half bad, and I haven't seen it around much. The idea is to search Google for an image of some things from your life. Mine are:

  1. First car (tended to stall in the rain)
  2. Place you grew up
  3. Place you live now (same place, different pictures)
  4. Your name
  5. Your grandmother's name (same first and last name, obviously a very different person)
  6. Favourite food
  7. Favourite alcoholic drink (bottom right corner)
  8. Favourite song (track 4)
  9. Favourite smell
  10. Favourite shoes

Incidentally, I first found the link because the LiveJournal post found one of the only aerial pictures of Airdrie, Alberta on my site. Also note that my #2 is on my own web server as well—but that was a Google coincidence, since it was the best of only two results.


Friday, January 28, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:48:00 PM:

Sieves upon sieves

I now have four layers of spam protection for my e-mail: server filtering from my e-mail forwarding service, more server filtering from my ISP, a stand-alone client filter on my Mac, and the built-in Junk Mail feature of my e-mail program.

And yet a little spam still gets through every day. Amazing.


Thursday, January 27, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:20:00 AM:


Sixty years ago today, soldiers of the Soviet Army, pressing westward toward what would be the final defeat of Nazi Germany a few months later, entered Auschwitz-Birkenau, in occupied Poland. There they found 7000 prisoners, mostly Jews, still alive, but barely. The German captors had led anyone well enough to walk on a death march to camps further west; the 7000 were those too weak to move.

I find the images, the ideas, the enormity of Auschwitz—as well as Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and others—almost too repulsive to think about. Yet I need to think about them.

My grandfather was a German solider. Is there any solace for me that he was a footsoldier on the front lines, part of the Nazi machine of conquest, not of the SS extermination machine for Jews? Someone who spent the end of the war in a PoW camp himself, where he contracted the tuberculosis that killed in him 1947, more than twenty years before I was born? Maybe, maybe.

Death camps like Auschwitz are perhaps the apex of our human ability to be intelligently evil. They were apparently set up, in part, because SS soldiers were having psychological difficulty shooting so many Jews, and disposing of the bodies was becoming a problem. The camps were engineered, for instance, so that the crematoria were as efficient as possible at burning coal. (There were patents on the design.)

That horrific purity, and the camps' focus on the annihilation of Jewish people, is why we remember the Holocaust as probably the worst thing people have ever done. Millions also died as Europe conquered the New World, as aboriginals were overrun in North America and Australia through the 19th century, in and around World War I, at Nanjing and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Stalinist Russia through the '40s and '50s, in China's Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward of the '60s, in Cambodia in the '70s, in Congo in the '80s and '90s, in Rwanda and Bosnia in the '90s, and in Sudan today. Those are not trivial events, or mere shadows of the Holocaust. They are their own horrors.

But Auschwitz and its brethren are why we have the word genocide, and why the symbols of Hitler's Nazi party are reviled more widely than the hammer and sickle or the Little Red Book. We say "never again," yet genocide has happened again and again, and continues today.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, rational, calculating people said and wrote, "The Jews are our enemies, and they—with the Slavs, gays, gypsies, and others—are inhuman. We shall wipe them out." Those people made plans, spent money, created an infrastructure—and they did it. Hitler's plan to conquer Europe and beyond was ultimately a complete failure. His plan to get rid of the continent's Jews was an abominable success.

So it is important not just to remember, abstractly, but to know what happened there, to understand it. And to do something now so that the evil within us can be tamed—so that Auschwitz continues to be our human nadir, something we can never repeat, or exceed.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:36:00 AM:


Photo at age 5, January 2005I don't remember turning five years old, but I remember being five, back in 1974–75. It was the year I started kindergarten (with Miss Young, who parted her long, straight, dark hair in the middle, just like today's '70s stereotypes), and the year I began to learn to read (I liked Joe Kaufman's What Makes It Go, What Makes It Work, What Makes It Fly, What Makes It Float?).

Today my youngest daughter turns five herself. We had her party at home, with many guests, over the weekend. We bought her a little guitar.

She starts kindergarten in the fall, at the same school I (and her sister) did—although none of my teachers is there anymore. She is already learning to read a bit, and to write. She plays piano, and can swim very well. We still have the Joe Kaufman book, and she likes it too, especially the cartoon cutaway of the ocean liner, which was my favourite too.

At five, you're still a kid, but you're not a really little kid anymore. Happy birthday, kid.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:47:00 PM:

More wacky tools from Google

Try Google Video Search ("Search recent TV programs online"). Neat.

Looks like U.S. TV only for now, though. Pity.


Saturday, January 22, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:31:00 AM:

Best, worst, and weirdest car names

I recently linked to Forbes magazine's lists of best and worst cars of all time. They've also summarized the best and worst car names ever.

My favourite from the list is the Honda Life Dunk (available in Japan only—no surprise). "Life Dunk" (or, in some places, "Life/Dunk") is bizarre, but it's hard to say whether it's good or bad. It's so weird in English that it's kind of cool, and the car itself is strange-looking enough to match the name. It's one of Japan's top 10 best-selling vehicles, apparently.

Picking a car name, as Forbes explains in a separate article, is hard work, and "the cost can reach into the high six figures, mostly for the legal legwork."


Friday, January 21, 2005 - newest items first
# 6:43:00 PM:

Gordon Campbell, two years on from Hawaii

I hate to say I told you so.

But I told you so.


# 10:29:00 AM:

New Year's photo

Okay, it's been almost a month, but that's me on drums in the back there. Tuxedo and everything.

HourGlass at Joe Fortes, New Year's 2004/2005


Thursday, January 20, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:48:00 PM:

Links of interest (2005-01-20):

  • Online photo sharing service roundup: Flickr, Smugmug, HeyPix, and Buzznet compared.

  • What to do if you're visiting Manhattan.

  • Tech buzzwords are often meaningless.

  • The Web is both immediate and permanent, but "Does your average hard working environment reporter even know that her comprehensive portrait of an ecological disaster in the making won't ever make it into search engines so that people can see where it all began, so that high school kids researching an assignment would find it and get the whole story?"

  • Physicists should obviously not design washing machines.

  • The Gilbane Reports on content and document management are now free for the first time—right back to the first issue from 1993.

  • There are urban legends about MRI machines being so powerful that their magnets could suck machinery right across a room. Turns out that's true.

  • Bill Thompson says dump the Web. Well, go ahead and try, but the Web's dumbness is a big part of why it's a success.

  • Interview with the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

  • As usual, the best analysis of the Mac mini and iPod shuffle yet.

  • TextWrangler is a very nice text editor for Mac OS X, sort of the little brother of BBEdit. And it's totally free to download and use now.

  • Macintosh, 20 years later—and I'm about a year late to it.

  • How people corrupt their presentations.

  • "More than 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents worldwide each year. The first was Bridget Driscoll, knocked down by a car travelling at 12mph in London on 17 August 1896. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death, and warned: 'This must never happen again'."

  • Dissecting the iPod shuffle.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:57:00 PM:

Spike or trend?

In the first half of January 2005, I've had more visitors to this site than in any previous entire month since I started keeping track. Most of them are looking for information about digital pianos, the recent tsunami, and wireless PowerBooks. That info is here, so thanks for coming to check it out.


Monday, January 17, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:19:00 AM:

Chikity China, the Chinese chicken

As Vancouver becomes post-ethnic, the most obvious indicator is what Vancouverites eat. I've written before how, among this city's many eating choices, my family (like others here) prefers sushi as comfort food.

The proof came when my oldest daughter, after being violently ill for the last week, asked not for dry toast (my first instinct) for her first real meal, but for sunomono. Then, when she felt a bit better, Chinese orange chicken. The oatmeal came later.


Sunday, January 16, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:41:00 AM:

Guitar tone primer

Last summer and fall I wrote a few posts about how guitarists get their sounds. I've combined those entries into a single introductory article about rock guitar tone, if you're interested.


# 8:19:00 AM:


Early this morning, someone visited this site from a computer in Nepal, looking for "amazing things." They didn't stay long, because what they found wasn't really all that amazing—at least if you live in Nepal, I guess. Sorry about that.


Saturday, January 15, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:27:00 AM:

Tsunami articles consolidated

I've combined all my various writings about tsunamis from the past three weeks into a single tsunami article, which might make a good introductory reference.


# 1:01:00 AM:

The worst cars

This is fun: Forbes magazine's lists of the worst cars of 2005, worst American cars ever, and worst cars of all time (actually, since World War II, but close enough).

By the way, Vancouver needs some bikestations (via WorldChanging). I'd pay to use them.


Friday, January 14, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:37:00 PM:

Smaller-scale disaster: La Conchita, and the wisdom of zoning

Some people think government regulation is, on principle, bad. I'm not among them. Today, Doc Searls shows someplace where regulations would have done some good. La Conchita, California is the site of the recent mudslide that wiped out houses and killed a number of people.

Look at Doc's photo and you can see that there's no way the town should be where it is. There oughta be a law, as they say. Apparently, no lender will offer a mortgage in the town because of the landslide danger, yet people continue to build there.

But how do those people get electricity or plumbing, or any other utilities? Do the same utility companies provide services to sandbars on river beds, or the slopes of active volcanoes, or beaches below the high tide line, perhaps?


# 3:35:00 PM:

Worldwide tsunami animation

NOTE: I've combined all my various writings about tsunamis from December 2004 and January 2005, including this entry, into a single tsunami article, which might make a good introductory reference.

This has been all over the news already, but the animation from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing how the Indian Ocean tsunami spread around the whole world (2.8 MB QuickTime) is still worth a link:

[Tsunami as its two wavefronts cross southwest of Chile]

Notice how two fronts from the tsunami actually cross and interfere with one another in the southeast Pacific, between Chile and Antarctica.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:18:00 PM:

Apple support articles on iPod shuffle and Mac mini (etc.)

UPDATE: There are now 14 articles on the Mac mini. Useful bits: the Mac mini can be used on its side (though I don't think it has rubber feet for that like the old Mac IIci used to); memory "should" (but not must) be installed by an authorized Apple tech; the included video adapter doesn't have a short cable like the ones for PowerBooks, but is functionally the same; VGA video has a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, slightly lower than the maximum DVI resolution of 1900x1200; and Apple didn't add a lamp to light up the logo on top.

Macworld also has some more spec info on the Mac mini that isn't apparent from Apple's site yet. (Key point: the drives are only 4200 rpm.) Finally, a German site has case and motherboard closeups. Check out the density of of the components in the top middle of that first shot—click to zoom in.

All sorts of cool tidbits here:

The Mac mini info is likely to appear soon. No updates yet for iLife or iWork. Have fun.


# 8:39:00 AM:

Mac mini corrections

Never mind my gripes below and in the comments. According to MacInTouch:

  1. Apple "does not recommend" that users upgrade the memory [in the Mac mini] themselves—you're supposed to have a service provider do it if you want to add more after purchase—but doing it yourself does not void the warranty unless you damage something. A booth person told me the memory slot is easily accessible once you get the case open.
  2. The hard drives are 2.5-inch (notebook drives)—that's why Apple isn't offering higher capacities (80 GB is about the largest available, at least in volume, in the 2.5-inch format). The booth person said she thought the Apple drives spin at 5,400 rpm, but she wasn't sure, and I haven't found any confirmation. The drive isn't readily accessible, so even when larger capacities become available, upgrading won't be easy.
  3. You can add AirPort Express for $79 and/or Bluetooth for $50 if you're ordering the Mini from the Apple Store, but if you want to add wireless later, your only choice will be a kit that includes both AirPort Express and Bluetooth for about $129 ($112 to dealers). This stuff also is not user-installable, supposedly because it involves adding antennas as well as cards.

That makes more sense, and also explains why no larger hard drives are available. No doubt big FireWire drives that fit neatly under the mini (like the ones for the original classic Macintoshes) will soon be on the market anyway. So I would recommend that anyone buying a Mac mini as a main computer upgrade the base model to a 80 GB disk, with Airport and Bluetooth, but put in your own third-party RAM to bring it to 1 GB.

That turns a $630 Cdn computer into an $860 purchase (a faster processor costs you another $60 more), plus whatever you can get the memory for, but it will give you a decent performance and storage boost. When buying it as a second computer, or for a school or office, the mini could probably get by with the stock 40 GB drive and some off-the-shelf RAM, keeping the price low.


# 1:18:00 AM:

Polishing the gems

UPDATE: See my further comments above.

The other thing that's brilliant about Apple's product introductions yesterday, as almost always, is the way they're being sold to people.

How do you promote an MP3 player that's cheap but has no screen (and no upgradeable memory slot either, by the way)? Call it the "shuffle"—hey, you never know what it's gonna do! It'll mix it up, throw you for a loop, put Christmas songs in your hot August playlist! It's tough! Take it anywhere to make life more interesting! And... and... wait for it... (listen to me now: "Random is the New Order") that's cool! (Oh yeah, and it will play your songs in the sequence you pick too, if you want to be boring.)

And you know what? I want one. It plays songs from the iTunes Music Store, after all. It looks elegant. It's an iPod. And my current MP3 player—which has a screen—gets flakier and flakier all the time, its firmware upgrades seem to break more features than they fix, and it has never been even close to elegant. Once again, Apple seems to have made something better by taking stuff away.

Before the announcements, I was sure that if Apple introduced a cheap Mac with no monitor like the Mac mini, they'd also have to have an inexpensive display to go with it. Forget that: "If you already own a monitor, keyboard and mouse, you can get up and running in minutes. Or choose any combination of new devices to meet your individual situation." What does it say that even the least expensive Apple display is a 20" LCD that costs $1250 in Canada (tripling your computer cost if you buy it)?

I'll tell you: it's Apple saying we don't care. Go to Best Buy and pick up a $300 LCD panel or $175 CRT screen. Better yet, turf the spyware-infested Windows 98 box and move its monitor to the Mac mini (the necessary adapter is included). Use any old USB keyboard. You'll still have bought a Mac, which you might not have done before.

Unfortunately, in complete contrast to the latest iMac G5, it looks like the Mac mini is not supposed to be popped open by its owner. Even a memory upgrade supposedly requires a trip to the dealer. That's a funny way to make the computer more expensive (through labour charges or Apple's inflated online store RAM prices) than it needs to be, and runs counter to the rest of the marketing philosophy behind it.

Finally, look at iLife and iWork: the box and web art have gotten away from the staid still-life stock photo look and Microsoft Office rip-off puzzle-piece design of the previous versions, in favour of retro-psychedelic Pop Art creations that are more reminiscent of the crazy 1968 Mexico Olympics logo and Yellow Submarine than of their predecessors.

I suspect if Microsoft or Adobe tried that, it would look forced. Yet somehow, as usual, Apple pulls it off.

Computers would be a much duller industry without Apple around.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - newest items first
# 2:43:00 PM:

Hidden gems from Apple

UPDATE: See my further comments above.

Apple Computer announced a whole slew of new stuff today. But aside from the obvious (and surprisingly accurately-rumoured) wow-that's-tiny-and-cheap factor of the iPod shuffle and the Mac mini, there are some very well thought out details in other products too—particularly the iLife suite—which are easy to miss in a quick scan of all the new things:

  • iPhoto 5 now imports and stores those little movies that digital cameras make, and includes much more sophisticated image-editing capabilities that formerly required software like Photoshop Elements or GraphicConverter. (Does that editing extend to the movies? I don't know.)

  • GarageBand 2 goes from cool demo tool to a serious recording application: with a fast enough Mac, you can record up to 8 tracks (say two guitars, stereo drums, lead and background vocals, bass, and keyboard) at once, correct pitches, make your own loops, and even generate sheet music in real time. No doubt hit albums, even from major artists, will start coming out of this program.

  • iMovie HD not only edits high-definition video (not too useful for most people who don't have $4000 camcorders), but also has a "Magic iMovie" feature that automatically rewinds your digital camcorder when you plug it in, imports the video, creates transitions and titles, and will even burn it to DVD for you—all automatically. Now, it won't be an artistic masterpiece, but imagine being able to create a fairly professional DVD of a wedding ceremony or a series of convention speeches for all the guests before the event is over, without even having to babysit the computer. That's cool.

  • iWork is not the Microsoft Office killer (or even really the AppleWorks replacement) people were speculating about. True, it includes Keynote 2, Apple's fine competitor to Microsoft PowerPoint, but the word processor (awkwardly named Pages) is actually more of an introductory-level layout and desktop publishing application, which is something the world actually does need. People creating brochures, simple instruction manuals, posters, and other things will love it. Cleverly, its templates start out not as blank pages, but filled in with fake (non-English) text and images, so you get a sense of what it will look like before you even start.

  • The Mac mini and iPod shuffle (man, that capitalization is annoying) are smaller, more elegant, and more spare than even Apple aficionaods were expecting:

    • First, few people (me included) took seriously the rumour that a new, micro-size iPod would have no screen—it's all managed through iTunes for this one—and no one thought it would look like a tongue depressor. One neat feature worth mentioning: apparently iTunes can automatically convert songs to 128 kbps AAC encoding when syncing (yielding smaller files than, say, 192 kbps MP3s), so more fit on the iPod shuffle than might otherwise. Smart smart smart. Despite its limitations, I think the iPod shuffle means Apple will now own the entire MP3 player market, top to bottom.

    • Second, the Mac mini is a stark piece of minimalism (not just miniaturization), and is also tiny for a desktop computer with that much horsepower. (It's significantly smaller than the 140 KB floppy disk drive attached to my Apple II 20 years ago, as one example). Besides its appeal to iPod users of all types, Mac users wanting a second or third or fourth computer, office environments, recording studios, and schools, it would make a pretty decent file or web server too. I'm sure the rackmount kits are already in the works.

I've been impressed by Apple's product announcements before, but this set is particularly solid in two ways: market-busting, sexy hardware; and software that helps people get things done in seriously, intelligently better ways.


Monday, January 10, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:51:00 AM:


Jeremy Wright was unable to go a single weekend without using his computer, despite a public declaration on his website. In fact:

I was probably on half a dozen times. My wife wasn't very impressed. I'm sure this means I'm addicted, but I'm not sure I want treatment.

Anyways, one of the reasons I was on is that I finally, finally got a laptop that works. A gorgeous Sony Vaio. So far I'm very happy with it, but I'll give it a few days before pronouncing it "dreamy".

I managed to pickup Burnout 3 on Friday and played a fair amount of it this weekend.

So on a weekend he planned not to use his computer at all, he got a new one (or at least started working with one he'd just gotten), bought a new video game, and played it a whole lot. Either it was a bad weekend to pick, or Jeremy does have a bit of a problem. This isn't a slag on Jeremy—many of us have the same kind of addiction.

My advice: Try actually turning off the computer for a weekend. Really. Unplug it (or them, if you have several). Put the keyboard and mouse and power cord on a high shelf in your closet. Resist the temptation to reconnect everything "just for a minute." Avoid Internet cafés and your friends' and relatives' machines for checking webmail or anything.

The surprise? The world doesn't come crashing down. You get out more. Your e-mail piles up, but so what? I take such a break from time to time, sometimes (when going on vacation) for a week or more.

If you find you simply can't do it, take some more drastic measures. Ship your computer to a friend or relative for a week, and tell them not to let you have it back. It's worth taking a serious, real away time from your computer now and then.

The cell phone too, by the way.


Sunday, January 09, 2005 - newest items first
# 2:34:00 PM:

Basic bass effects for the working musician

[Derek's bass gear, January 2005]Electric bass players, like guitarists, keyboardists, drummers, and other rock musicians, can get out of control with gear when searching for the perfect tone. Now that I've bought myself a decent modern Yorkville bass amp to replace the old Ampeg monster I have in the basement, I've had to resist the temptation to add a whole slew of effects too.

I am using three effects pedals: a Fender tuner, a Boss bass limiter/enhancer, and my old Danelectro "Daddy-O" guitar overdrive pedal. The overdrive from the Danelectro is fine, but because it's designed for guitar, it loses some of the bass's low end no matter how I set it.

So of course I have a mental "wish list" to replace or augment the Daddy-O, but it's not crazy:

  • The Tech21 SansAmp Bass Driver preamp/direct input (DI) box, recommended to me by the same person who originally pointed me toward the Yorkville bass amp line.

  • The Fulltone Bass-Drive overdrive/distorition pedal, which is useful for both guitar and bass.

Both come highly recommended by the reviewing communities at Harmony Central and the Bass Gear Review Archive (I recommend checking Harmony Central before you buy any musical gear, by the way). One or both of the pedals might eventually end up on my pedal board. Or not. My sound is pretty good now, and I should probably actually learn to play the bass properly before I let my gear-head tendencies get the better of me.


Saturday, January 08, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:34:00 PM:

Happy happy snow snow

[Snowman with broom]


Friday, January 07, 2005 - newest items first
# 1:29:00 AM:

How can a tsunami go so far?

NOTE: I've combined all my various writings about tsunamis from December 2004 and January 2005, including this entry, into a single tsunami article, which might make a good introductory reference.

Bill Copeland of Binnington Copeland & Associates in South Africa wrote to me to ask about why tsunamis travel so far. I feel a bit out of my league trying to explain wave behaviour to an engineer, but hey, being out of my league never stopped me before, so here we go...

Dear Mr Miller,

I am a Professional Engineer and am mystified by the fact that the Engineering principal of the inverse law does not appear to apply to Tsunami waves. Whilst I can understand that a big bang under the water will create a large vertical movement of water above it, I fail to understand why the volume of displaced water does not remain constant, and the amplitude of the wave diminish in proportion to the distance it travels (due to the larger circumference or increasing wave front). From reading the reports of the 26th December 2004 tsunami, one can only gain the impression that the wave front hitting the various countries was many thousands of kilometers long, and the volumes of water huge, which appear to have been much greater than the volume which could have been generated by the original earthquake.

Can you or your advisors help me please?

Energy, not volume

I don't have any advisors (other than Google!), but as far as I understand it (and I'm neither an engineer nor a geophysicist), it's not as though tsunami waves don't dissipate like others, it's just that they contain so much energy that even as they do, they remain powerful enough to destroy and kill. And it does not have to be amplitude that changes; so can period and wavelength, or the number of waves in the train.

Tsunamis are also not so much about volume displacement as about energy transfer. The water shifted above a quake does not move across the ocean, i.e. a log floating at the surface above the epicentre would not have been carried to Thailand or Somalia. So the water that drowned people in Somalia was African water, and that in Thailand was Thai water—just the energy that pushed it came from the Andaman sea floor several hours away.

A tsunami wave train moves as ocean swells do, by raising and lowering the water level as it passes by. In mid-ocean, a tsunami is unnoticeable without a sea-level gauge, since it might take an hour to raise and lower sea level by one metre—and you'd never notice that with all the bigger swells out there. But the energy contained in that slow, slow peak and trough is (as we have all seen) stupendous.

Sound around the world

Think of another, similar event in the same part of the world: the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. Ignore the tsunamis and earthquake damage and focus only on the sound. At the site of the eruption the bang surely would have been deadly on its own, purely from sound pressure, like the shock wave of an atomic bomb. It dissipated rapidly as it spread outward, but even in South Australia it sounded like nearby dynamite being blasted.

More recently, on a Sunday morning in May, 1980, my father rushed downstairs because he thought our water heater had exploded. It turned out that Mount St. Helens, hundreds of kilometres southwest of us in the United States, had erupted that morning, and when the sound reached Vancouver it was still loud enough to seem like an explosion within the house.

Of course, like sound, energy does dissipate as a tsunami moves. The energy expended at and near the site of the quake is much larger than across the ocean, which is why buildings in northwestern Sumatra collapsed, totally aside from the tsunami, but in India and Africa the quake itself only registered on instruments.

Less powerful, but still powerful enough

Tsunamis are remarkably efficient ways of moving energy, but the waves that reached the coast of Africa were not by a long shot as energetic as those that pounded Sumatra and Thailand. They might have been just as high by the time they ran up beaches—that is determined more by the slope of the sea floor than by the strength of the original source of the waves—but they did not travel as far inland in Tanzania as they would have on some theoretically identical beach in Sri Lanka, or in Indonesia. I suspect that the series of waves in the wave train was smaller at farther shores too, and that there were fewer noticeable waves on African shores than Southeast Asian ones.

The mathematics of quake magnitude are beyond me, but this may help:

Down at the bottom, the chart indicates that this quake released the energy of the explosion of several billion tons of TNT. You could probably strew that several billion tons very thin, along all the coastlines affected by the tsunami, and if you detonated it, you'd still kill a lot of people. You could throw most of it away, and strew what was left along those shores, and maybe kill the same number of people.

By the same logic, even a tsunami that is significantly less energetic than when it started can still be damaging, or deadly. If you live 100 metres from the shoreline on a nearly flat piece of land, a wave that reaches 200 metres inland will drown you just as well as one that reaches a full kilometre. If you're trapped in a hut completely consumed by brown swirling water, whether it's two metres or ten metres to the surface doesn't matter. If a tsunami engulfs the tree you're clinging to for seven minutes, you're just as dead as if it lasted fifteen—even if only half the volume of water passed through.

By the horrible numbers

And, in the end, the numbers tell the story: nearly 100,000 dead in Indonesia, 50,000 in Sri Lanka, 10,000 in India, 5,000 in Thailand—and 300 in Somalia. It's an imperfect measure, and gruesome, but (taking into account the directionality of the tsunami, differing coastal population densities, and energy absorbed by intervening land masses and sea floor features) that looks like a clear inverse distance relationship to me.


Thursday, January 06, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:40:00 AM:

Tall half-caf ristretto extra-hot non-fat three-pump sugar-free vanilla dry cappuccino in a grande cup, please

Now you can figure that out.

Something else you might want to figure out: after I switched off the holiday theme around here, I added the new purple-blue background around the edges of the page. You might have wondered what it is.

Well, here's the whole image. No, it's nothing in particular, I just created it in Photoshop as a fun background. Sorry that's not more exciting.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:28:00 PM:

Small world of software

Four and a half years ago Bill Dobie, whom I've known since the early 1990s when we were both in student politics at UBC, founded Navarik, the software company I now work for.

This week, he's featured as one of 40 people under age 40 who are "the future of business in British Columbia," according to Business in Vancouver magazine, which publishes the list each year. The articles themselves aren't available online if you don't subscribe to BiV, which is a shame.

Also on this year's list is John Caputo, who runs Maximizer, the last company where I had a permanent job before that ended in the dot-com bust of early 2001. Remarkably, he's helped the company prosper through the touch tech times. In 2002, a former student-politics colleague of Bill's and mine, Janice Boyle, also made the 40 Under 40 list for work in a very different field: fundraising for the charity Covenant House.

In 2004, Bill is one of only three out of the 40 young businesspeople without a car. (My family has two.) As part of his interview, Bill also said that he would eventually like to start another business, have a family, and go on vacation for two years. Miraz in New Zealand, quoting Kathy Sierra, has some words for him on that:

...we now know that it's virtually never too late to reinvent yourself. To start something totally new. To learn, even master, something completely different from what you've been doing for the past five, ten, forty years [...] people—regardless of age—can still achieve superior, even expert-level performance in things they haven't done before.

So there's some time yet. Besides, there's still the company to run now. Nice job on making the list, Bill. (Good thing Hina and I put in the nomination, I guess.)


Tuesday, January 04, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:23:00 PM:

Links of interest (2005-01-04):

  • Why you shouldn't open new windows with links on your website. (I've never liked doing that, and almost none of my links here do.)

  • I didn't know that, when my current web host took over the one I'd originally signed up with (and significantly improved the service I was getting, I should add), they also created a new e-mail account for me. It's never been used, or advertised anywhere. Even I just stumbled upon it through the host's admin tools a few days ago. And, in a little over a year, it had accumulated more than 12,000 spam messages that I had to delete.

  • Darren Barefoot's outsider's perspective on Apple Computer's recent newfound coolness.

  • How to build traffic to your website, A to Z.

  • I didn't know that this website had its own Amazon ID number.

  • Speaking of which, Amazon's Red Cross donations page for the Indian Ocean tsunami will soon reach $15 million USD.

  • It's surprising how many prominent, intelligent, and presumably thoughtful people, when asked to name the Golden Age of their home city, basically answer "when I was a kid."


Monday, January 03, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 AM:

Digital camera recommendations: January 2005

It's been awhile (more than two years) since I've surveyed new digital cameras, and a few people have asked me about them. Specifically, one acquaintance wondered whether the Canon PowerShot S300 is a good model for her.

First, go look at the Digital Camera Resource Page's Holiday 2004 recommendations, since it's more comprehensive and informed than my discussion here.

Cameras from Canon and other manufacturers

For general consumer digital cameras, I recommend Canon models to anyone who asks—although I don't own one myself (I have a Kodak), I've used them quite a bit and those to whom I've recommended them have been happy. Rather than playing keep-up-with-the-Joneses, Canon seems to think its features through more thoroughly than some other manufacturers, and their cameras are particularly good at focusing in low light when taking flash photos, which is important at parties, outdoors in the evening, and so on. (Some other cameras use their flashes, but make blurry photos because they don't focus properly in low light first.)

Size vs. features: Whether, for instance, the Canon S300 is the right model for you depends on whether size or features is more important: smaller cameras like the S300 are a bit easier to carry around, but slightly bigger ones are still simple to bring with you, and may give you better pictures in more situations—or you can get a better camera for the same money, or more accessories to help you get better photos.

Pixels: I find that, for most people, 3 or 4 megapixels (like the S300) are plenty. You won't generally use all the resolution of 5 megapixels or more unless you make big enlargements or do a lot of cropping; it's better to spend money on a better camera, or lens, or a lens with a wider range of optical zoom.

The Canon A75 is an excellent 3-megapixel camera, and the similar A85 and A95 have more pixels and are also good. They are otherwise nearly the same camera, so which one you prefer might depend solely on your budget.

Batteries: Aside from the extra flexibility, better lens, and nicer LCD screen of the "A" models, they use standard-size AA batteries. I do not recommend using regular Duracell/Energizer non-rechargeables there (digicams go through them incredibly fast), but rechargeable AA's are cheap, as are external rechargers, and you can always use those Duracells in a pinch if your others wear out. With the S300 and smaller cameras, you're stuck with the proprietary battery they come with, and usually have to charge them in the camera. If you don't buy a spare and you're on the road without a power outlet, you might find yourself with a dead battery and no way to take pictures. That's less likely with the A models.

Models not from Canon: Aside from Canon, Nikon makes good consumer digicams if you like taking close-up shots (Nikons can focus much closer than most other models), and Pentax has some nice models in the price range as well. Even HP and Kodak have some nice cameras if you want super-easy-to-use models. If you want a big zoom (more than the typical 3X zoom), this Panasonic model is the one to check.

What accessories do you need?

For a 3-megapixel camera, each photo is 1 MB–1.5 MB at high quality, so you can take 100-120 photos on a 128 MB card, for instance. If you have more pixels, you get fewer photos, but generally you'll be safe with a 256 MB card (pretty cheap these days—about $60 or less, I think), unless you're going on vacation without a computer to download photos to, in which case several 256 MB cards would probably be better (and safer, in case of any errors) than a single bigger card.

Make sure you get the right kind of memory for the camera you buy—the Canon S300, for instance, uses SD (Secure Digital) cards, while the Canon A models use the older, bigger, but reliable and slightly cheaper CF (CompactFlash) design.

My recommendation when buying a digicam is to get:

  • the camera
  • a bigger memory card (256 MB or two 128 MB)
  • two sets of rechargeable batteries (one set for the camera, one set as a spare), plus charger if appropriate

And optionally:

  • a mini-tripod for self-portraits etc.
  • some sort of lens-cleaning device (a lens pen or lens paper) in case of smudges
  • a small camera bag to hold it all


Sunday, January 02, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:38:00 PM:

More tsunami answers: why not Australia?

NOTE: I've combined all my various writings about tsunamis from December 2004 and January 2005, including this entry, into a single tsunami article, which might make a good introductory reference.

Following up on my earlier answers to tsunami questions, Garrison Moore of Virginia in the U.S.A. asked:

I am wondering why the Tsunami did not hit Australia which on the map seems to be at least as much on the path as Africa.

Flat maps can be deceiving. If you look at the animation here, which better represents a spherical view of the earth, or this wider view, you can see two things:

  1. As I mentioned in an earlier post on my site, tsunamis are not necessarily always circles of waves emanating from a point source; they can be directional. In this case, the main paths of the tsunamis were directly to the west and east of the earthquake, not so much north and south. So the hardest-hit areas were directly west and east, regardless of distance. Northwestern Sumatra and Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, and even Somalia (thousands of kilometres and hours away) got big waves. Bangladesh (which is not only nearby, but very low-lying, and so would seem particularly vulnerable), southern Sumatra, much of Burma, Antarctica, and other areas had much smaller waves and less destruction.
  2. Australia is not only southeast of the earthquake, it is somewhat shielded from it by most of the islands of Indonesia, including Sumatra itself.

The combination of the directional tsunamis and the significant shielding meant that—unlike other partially shielded areas (southwestern Sri Lanka and the southwest coast of India, for instance), where the tsunamis were powerful enough to diffract around the coastlines and still cause damage—even the exposed northwest coast of Australia saw only relatively small effects: larger swells and surf, but no tsunami-style run-up and destruction.


# 9:32:00 AM:

Welcome to 2005

I was trying to think of what to say about 2004 all of yesterday. Last year, I wrote, "I came into [2003] 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."

We're all okay. Some good things happened in our lives, and life is now pretty good around here overall. But it's been quite a year—and much more so for people in all sorts of places around the world. In the end, here's what I have to say about 2004:

I'm glad that's over.


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