I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
I've often wondered why those "Estimated Time Remaining" boxes in operating systems and applications are never, ever right. Now I think I know: they're often fake.
One recent example is Apple's latest operating system, which starts up with a blue progress bar marching across the screen. It turns out that this progress bar isn't monitoring anything. It's just making a guess, based on the last time you booted your Mac up, of how long it will take. You can even make it run the fakery again at any time by going to the Terminal window and typing:
and you can change how long the bar takes to move (but not how long it actually takes your Mac to boot) by editing a text file.
I feel conflicted about knowing this. On the one hand, it seems insulting to have a progress indicator be a total sham. On the other, it's interesting that Apple would dedicate developer time and resources to making me feel like something is going on even when it isn't, and thus trying to prevent me from feeling frustrated. User interface design is about illusions, after all, and this is just one more.
By the way, if you have a Mac and want more detail about the startup process, hold down command-V (a.k.a. Apple-V) (for "verbose") when you boot or restart. Command-S will start your Mac in single-user mode, which is a raw command-line with no graphical interface at all, just like old-school Unix.
You know, by the calendar it may not be true yet, and here in Vancouver it may have been a mere 10° C, windy, and pouring rain only last weekend, but now that it's sunny and 30° C in out front yard, I'm taking over. I'm calling myself the official, and it's officially summer, okay?
Three years ago tomorrow, a deranged Vancouver man attacked visiting Korean student Ji Won Park without warning, as she jogged in Stanley Park. He is now serving a nine-year jail sentence, but he gave her permanent brain damage.
The event wracked the entire city with sadness and guilt. How, we wondered, could such a brutal act happen to an innocent visitor? Could we, as Canadians and Vancouverites, somehow have prevented it?
Ms. Park and her family have since been granted resident status in Canada, and live near the Stanley Park itself, on Coal Harbour. Here's an update on how she is doing today.
Three and a half years ago, I took my oldest daughter to preschool for the first time. (It was a busy week then.) She spent two school years there, then moved on to kindergarten. Her younger sister started at the same preschool in September 2003. She goes three days a week for two hours, and each day, a parent (or grandparent, etc.) of one of the kids there stays for "duty day," which mostly involves seeing what the kids do and helping cut paper and make sure everyone washes their hands.
One reason we, and the kids, like their preschool is that it's not called that: since 1974, it's been known as Willingdon Playschool, with the emphasis on play. While it is in a large local church, it does not push a Christian agenda too heavily—which is good, because many of the families who send their kids there (including ours) are not Christian. When we tell people about it, we're surprised how often they ask, not about how religious it is, but about how academic it is, with the implication that more is better.
I see no reason why preschools should be academic at all, because for kids of preschool age, their most important work is play. Yet the trend among many parents, and thus the schools they pay for, seems to be to try to give children a "head start" in math, language, and desk work, even at age three. Sometimes they have homework. Yet I don't know of any evidence that such a "head start" actually helps children when they grow up.
Similar trends are evident in the U.S.A. as well. Over the weekend, Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in the New York Times that:
Indeed toddlers are a self-centered lot, as anyone who has spent more than an hour with one knows. They require a lot of coaching for a world in which crayons are shared, the feelings of others are paramount, and games of Candyland can be lost without tantrums.
Traditionally nursery school has been the place where those skills are acquired, and where socialization has been the primary lesson. But as the educational pendulum in the United States has swung toward emphasizing standardized tests and enhanced academic achievement, the focus of many preschools has changed as well.
Today is my last duty day at Willingdon Playschool, and in about three weeks, my youngest daughter finishes there, which will end my family's involvement at that preschool. I'll enjoy watching the kids run around and have fun without much structure to it. But before then, she and I are going to go out and play on the swingset in our yard.
Actually, I'm wrong. It is deep, in a sort of reptilian-brain way, but it's not complex. At their best, the Star Wars movies are deep in that, when you sit back and make a point of turning off your analytical faculties, the pure narrative of the story goes deep into your subconscious, like a fairy tale.
Back in 1977, when he reviewed George Lucas's first one, Roger Ebert wrote that it was "entertainment so direct and simple that all of the complications of the modern movie seem to vaporize." Revenge of the Sith doesn't quite have that headlong glee, but it is perhaps stronger in other ways.
Like other fairly tales, it dispenses with much realism: people talk in flat pronouncements, and some events whiz by so fast you don't have time to think about them too much (which is generally a good thing). But the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, which Star Wars junkies have imagined since rumours of a light saber duel on a lava planet first emerged more than 25 years ago, is better and has more power than I think almost any of us could have expected.
Looking at the whole series, it could have improved vastly if Lucas had dispensed with Menace altogether, cut down on Clones by glomming small parts of it onto into this movie, and had less of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. That, and he should have hired someone else to write the dialogue for the whole series, instead of just Empire and Jedi. It would have been nice to get some Han Solo, or someone like him, in the prequels too. (During Sith's first calm view across the cityscape of Coruscant, out of the corner of your eye you can see the Millennium Falcon pulling in to land. That's as close as you get.) Then again, Jar Jar Binks has only one brief shot and no dialogue, so there are small mercies.
In the world of film, the worst sequels cheapen their predecessors (and run the gamut, from Highlander 2 and The Matrix Revolutions to, yes, The Phantom Menace), while the best add resonance and understanding (Superman 2, Star Trek II, and The Empire Strikes Back). Sith is in the second, better group. Thinking back to the original trilogy, Obi-Wan and Yoda seem sadder and more wounded. Luke and Leia, and even Chewbacca, make more sense, and Vader and the Emperor are more evil.
Here's the judgment: when my 14-year-old self came out of Jedi, was I hoping that, in my future, there would come the kind of prequel-finale that Sith turned out to be? Yes I was. If you were too, go see it.
Yesterday's British Columbia provincial election went somewhat as expected, but while the incumbent Liberal government (essentially the same right-leaning coalition that used to go by the name Social Credit) was re-elected, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP—the left-leaning party, which I supported) made a strong showing. Certainly, it's an improvement over the previous Legislature, where the NDP had only three seats and the Liberals all the rest.
I'm disappointed that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) referendum didn't pass, and it was very close—57% in favour, instead of the 60% required. Dave Orchard suggests that,—since there are several different types of STV, and the BC-STV we were asked to consider was only one of them—we should instead have had a referendum on STV that itself used STV. Not a bad idea, really.
I am finding the pundit analysis of the drop in Green Party support to be rather off base. The Greens won 12% of the vote (but no seats) in 2001, and 9% of the vote (and no seats) in 2005. Analysts say that the drop means people don't consider the Greens a viable party. The problem is that, under the current electoral system, they are only not viable because those who might support having some Greens in the Legislature can't afford to risk voting for them.
In 2001, the NDP governments was heavily unpopular. While many people voted Liberal to oust them, many others who might otherwise have voted NDP and would never vote Liberal chose Green instead, in part as a protest vote, and in part because they did think the party was viable. But the resulting 77-to-2 Liberal-to-NDP Legislature (with no Greens, despite a decent showing) was too skewed, and this time voters obviously didn't want to risk the same blowout.
What I mean is that Green support (in terms of "I think they have good ideas and should have some Legislature seats, though perhaps not form government") is probably significantly more than 9%, and probably more than 12%. If the STV proportional representation system had passed, then in the next election, I would expect many people—both Liberal and NDP voters—might pick Greens as their second choice. And perhaps there would be more Green first choices too, with Liberals or NDP further down the list.
In B.C., we continue to have a system biased for two-party alternating rule. In 1991, voters essentially annihilated the former Social Credit government by electing the NDP to power and converting the previously fringe (and then-centrist) Liberal party into the opposition. But that situation couldn't last: within five years, the Liberals had been taken over by former Socreds, and the old left-right dynamic returned, where it has remained in every election since.
Things could have been different with STV. But at least for now, we won't know. Too bad.
I'll be heading off to vote after I drop my oldest daughter at kindergarten tomorrow morning (or, I should say, later this morning, in about eight hours). Since the band plays a show downtown right through the end of balloting, I'll see if I can get some Internet access and watch the results online during our breaks.
If you're eligible (at least 18, a Canadian citizen, and a resident of B.C. for at least six months), go vote. It's important.
I noted more than two years ago how much stuff we can fit in our Ford Focus station wagon. But I think I set a new record the most recent time I loaded musical gear into it from our lockup:
Two self-powered PA speakers about the size of small beer fridges.
A 100-watt bass amplifier with a 15" speaker.
A keyboard stand and two speaker stands.
A drum kit consisting of a 22" bass drum, 13" and 18" tom-toms, and a 14" snare drum, all in cases.
A large bag full of metal drum and microphone stands.
Sets of cymbals and spare drum heads, each in separate bags.
Two small rolling suitcases full of wires, a small mixing board, and various connectors and clips.
An 800-watt 8-channel powered mixing board.
A tube guitar combo amplifier on wheels, with two 12" speakers.
Two monitor speaker wedges with 12" speakers.
Two smaller monitor wedges with 10" speakers.
Two costume bags containing three sets of four jackets, two sets of pants, and three sets of shirts, plus an Elvis jumpsuit.
Three bags, each containing a stage light and associated cables.
A bag full of microphones and connecting cables.
A bag of heavy metal bases for microphone stands.
A 61-key Korg synthesizer keyboard, in its case with power supply and pedal.
There was still room for me, my briefcase and personal bag, my jacket, and a cup of coffee (but no passengers). All the doors close, I could (just) see the right side-view mirror, and I didn't use the roof rack.
My friend, colleague, and boss Bill is in Seville, Spain today to talk to a Big Important Meeting of representatives from some Very Big Very Important Companies. I'll be collaborating with him tomorrow on his presentation. We're constructing it using Eric Meyer's S5 presentation tool, which runs entirely inside a web browser from a single HTML page.
If anyone doubts that the Internet has changed things, think about what efforts such Canada-Europe collaboration would have taken even 10 years ago. And if you doubt how ubiquitous it has become, well, even the people who want to ban the Internet itself are putting their petitions online.
UPDATE: Bill called me just before midnight my time on Monday (9 a.m. Tuesday in Seville), but not on the phone—it was an iChat audio conversation, which cost us nothing, so we left the line open while we discussed the presentation, and then worked on it, exchanging e-mail attachments and viewing files uploaded to a server as we went. Much of the time was spent transmitting the sound of us clacking away on our keyboards without saying a word. I'm sure those who grew up with, "Just say hello, no time to chat, it's LONG DISTANCE!" would be horrified.
Yes, more politics. On Tuesday we're having a provincial election here in British Columbia. I'm supporting the New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Carole James, which is roughly equivalent in policy and philosophy to the Social Democrats in various European countries. (There is no equivalently left-wing analogue with any clout in the United States.)
But I'm not writing more about that now. If you're a Canadian citizen and B.C. resident—and regardless of which candidate you're voting to join the Legislature on May 17—I'm instead encouraging you to vote in favour of changing B.C.'s electoral system to use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system in the referendum that same day. STV is not a perfect system, but it is used successfully in places like Ireland—and we both have a population of about 4 million.
Voting is simple: rank your preferences with numbers. The counting process is a little complicated, but it's not inscrutable, and certainly less obscure than some of the statistics involved in opinion polling, for instance. And it is much more likely to make the Legislature reflect the proportion of votes cast by citizens, which is the main point.
More important still is that, if STV wins on Tuesday, it will have set a precedent that the electoral system can change in B.C. (and the rest of Canada), rather than stagnating in the easy-to-count but remarkably skewed Single Member Plurality (a.k.a. first-past-the-post) system we have now. Even if STV comes into effect and turns out not to work as it should, we will have established that we can try something new—so in a later referendum we could try something else. If STV fails, we're likely to be stuck with SMP for a long, long time to come.
I've made my opinion of Liberal party leader and current B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell pretty clear here before, but in this case he deserves thanks and kudos for starting the process of reforming B.C.'s voting system, and sticking it out to make sure it ended up on the ballot. I wish he'd actually endorse STV and lobby for it, but still. So thanks, Mr. Campbell. Now please lose the election. (Sorry, had to drop that in.)
If you're not convinced about STV, read Darren Barefoot's post on the subject, and make sure to skim through the comments too. I think STV is likely to be a good voting system. It's certainly worth a shot.
Federal Canadian parliamentary opposition leader Stephen Harper of the Conservative party has some gall. He is angry that the ruling Liberal party is stalling a confidence motion on the government's budget bill until next Thursday, May 19. Harper's party accuses Prime Minister Paul Martin of taking advantage of ill MPs, since two Conservative members (as well as Chuck Cadman of B.C., elected as an independent after the Conservatives snubbed him as a candidate during last year's election) are undergoing cancer treatment and may miss the vote.
Since the Liberals are in a minority government, the Conservatives and other opposition parties can work together to vote down the government on the budget bill, and thus force a new election—but only if they have every possible voting member in the House of Commons that day.
The problem with Harper's accusations is, it seems to me, that he was the first to take advantage of his sick MPs, by calling them in to try to topple the government with another vote this week. That vote was not clearly a confidence motion (although Harper claims it was), so why did he not wait to call in his MPs battling cancer until the clear budget vote was scheduled, as it must have been soon? How can he say the Liberals are taking advantage of sick people, when he had the initial idea to do that? How can he demand that the Liberals hew to his schedule? And why is no one calling him on it, most especially the Prime Minister?
In job interviews, I've always had a good answer when asked what my biggest working flaw is: I'm a poor delegator. When working on something, my instinct is to do everything myself, and it's not at all natural for me to have other people help.
In the few times I've been in a genuinely managerial position, that has had benefits and disadvantages, because when I do hand something off, I tend to hand it off totally, letting the person responsible work freely. But that also means I may not follow up as much as I need to, or won't delegate when I should really find someone with better expertise than mine. Generally, my lone-wolf tendencies worked great when I was a freelance editor, since my clients expected me to work alone—and often frowned upon any sort of subcontracting. But my current permanent job is not so clear-cut.
This week offered a good example of my previous working-for-myself approach. An old freelance client offered me a contract, but my schedule didn't allow me to do it, so I helped find others who could take the job instead. I was surprised at how many took it on as a team project, with different people planning on doing editing and photography work, for instance. When I did this same job two years in a row a few years ago, it never even occurred to me that I could recruit someone to help. Of course I'd do it all (and make all the money!) myself.
Likely this all stems from my being an only child, something I never regretted or resented, but something that has made me tend to go it alone. Still, I should learn to share my work more. It would sometimes get done better if I was a bit less of a hog—or a wolf—about it.
With all the other things that come up during the course of a day at the office, fairly often I don't get to the stuff I intended to do as soon as I arrived until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. That's frustrating, even though most of the "surprise" stuff is still quite useful, and often more important.
It does take a lot longer to complete some tasks than I would like, however.
I've previously pointed to parts one and two of the New Yorker's deep and thorough series on worldwide climate change.
Here's part three, plus a follow-up interview with the author, Elizabeth Kolbert. My favourite quote of hers is from Dr. Marty Hoffert of New York University:
Right now, we're going to just burn everything up; we're going to heat the atmosphere to the temperature it was in the Cretaceous, when there were crocodiles at the poles. And then everything will collapse.
He's not talking about the global ecosystem. That will adapt, as it has to more drastic changes before. He's talking about human society. Kolbert writes herself:
A disruption in monsoon patterns, a shift in ocean currents, a major drought—any one of these could easily produce streams of refugees numbering in the millions. As the effects of global warming become more and more apparent, will we react by finally fashioning a global response? Or will we retreat into ever narrower and more destructive forms of self-interest?
I'll let you guess which path we're on today. Think of it next time you fill your tank. I will.
My friend Simon installed Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" over the weekend, and had this question:
Hey man, got the installation done and 'tis tres swanky. Just curious if there is a duplication of files that might go on with the installation as I've lost about 10 gigs somewhere.
On even recent Apple laptops like his, or the Mac mini, 10 GB can be quite a bit. Where that missing space went depends on whether you did an Archive and Install or an Update. The Archive will create a Previous System folder that will eat space.
Otherwise, it could be all the extra printer drivers, alternate languages, and other stuff that gets installed. You can use a program like Monolingual to remove additional language localizations. That won't prevent you from seeing web pages in other languages, for instance—it just means that if you don't need programs to have, say, Chinese menus and dialog boxes, you can get rid of them to save space. I got back about 800 MB that way, for instance.
To remove printer drivers, go to the /Library/Printers folder and erase the ones you don't want.
NOTE: If you have Mac utilities built with AppleScript Studio and that require admin-level login authentication to do their work (Carbon Copy Cloner and Screen Spanning Doctor being two I use), you should know that Apple has changed how AppleScript Studio handles authentication in Tiger, and those applications need to be updated in order to work.
In non-techie terms, some programs may ask for your account name and password in order to work, but they may be rejected even if you type them correctly, sometimes mysteriously, if you try to use old versions of the programs. That caused me some frustration until I found out what was going on.
It's an old and clichéd sentiment, but I doubt most kids genuinely appreciate all that their moms do until the kids are old enough to be parents themselves. When we had my parents over for Mother's Day brunch today, I sat back a bit and looked at her, and at my wife—the two mothers in the room.
When our oldest daughter was born in 1998, I remember thinking that my wife (after several days of labour) had just accomplished the most difficult thing I'd ever seen a human being do. Then, two years later, she did it again. And my own mom had done the same thing for me three decades before.
And that's just the birth part. There's also that whole helping-the-kids-grow-up bit that follows.
It made a strange contrast with the 60th anniversary of VE Day, and the tales of happiness amid devastation in 1945, with minds turning to the then-continuing war with Japan. Looking back, it seems to have been a very unmotherly time.
Today my family's life is as peaceful as anyone's has ever been. Today is a motherly time, and better for it.
Exactly when I started shaving has slipped my mind, but it was in my early teens, so I've been doing it for close to a quarter century.
I've always used electric razors, except on those few occasions when I've needed a traditional blade to remove a beard. Sure, I could do so more often—just as I could write with a pen and paper. But I don't, and prefer the electrics (which I think, in the long run, are cheaper to use anyway), so please avoid trying to convince me of the merits of your sextuple-bladed wonder.
I've had but three shavers in my life, all Philips triple-head rotary models: my dad's hand-me-down corded white one, and two I've owned, one silver and one black. The latter one is so old that the last time I bought replacement blades for it was at Eaton's, which shut down in the 1990s.
Yesterday, a failing battery and motor finally forced me to get a replacement—the radical departure of a Braun foil-head shaver. So far it is a tad noisier and produces a closer shave, but also hurts a bit while my skin grows accustomed to it. Like the Philishave, the Braun has some trouble with the stubble behind the back of my jaw.
If it lasts as long as its predecessor, I could be a grandfather before I need another new one.
How long, I wonder, has it been since a railway spur ran diagonally through this part of Vancouver? The buildings still leave room for it (although that's hard to notice from ground level), and the modern mall at the southwest end follows the same angle even though it has no need to. (The very tip is a Starbucks location.)
There are a few vestigial rails still visible just north of Pender Street, yet a relatively old structure cuts the right-of-way off at Columbia and Alexander streets, just before it connects with what are still well-used rail lines at the Burrard Inlet waterfront. I have never known a train to run along that old cut in my 36 years in the city.
Apple's iPhoto infuriates me. It is very well designed, and a great way to store and organize pictures. But its performance can be abysmal. iPhoto 2 was awful, often freezing up for minutes (or even hours) on end at random times. Last year's iPhoto 4 (they skipped 3) was a huge improvement, and I assumed iPhoto 5 would perform similarly.
Wrong. Version 5 brought my 8000+ pictures to a crawl again, even on a new eMac, and I seriously considered downgrading to the previous iPhoto, even though that would have been a nasty, long process. But something came to my rescue: iPhoto Buddy. By splitting my iPhoto library into chunks (one for each year from 2002–2005, plus another for anything from 2001 and earlier) and using iPhoto Buddy to switch between them, I'm finally back to something resembling normalcy in working with my digital images.
Splitting the iPhoto Library was a bit awkward. I had to make five copies of my original, complete library, then open each one via iPhoto Buddy and delete (i.e. send to the Trash folder, and then empty the Trash) all photos not in the year I wanted. But I only had to do that once, it works now, and iPhoto is acceptably fast again. As a bonus, other users on my Mac can access the same libraries without trouble, since I put them in the /Users/Shared folder. I'll be sending some money to the developer.
Food photography is difficult, and people get paid a lot of money to do it professionally. My colleague Darren Bockman works miracles with food photography in natural light at Where2Eat, but most food photographers need lots of lights and special equipment—because it's easy to make food look unappetizing in a photo.
A couple of days ago, KKL and Jeff came over with their son for a barbecue at our house. We made both beef and chicken burgers, and in a moment of inspiration, we added some of the shrimp dip they had brought along as an oscar sauce.
My particular chicken burger turned out so well that we just had to photograph it, Darren style. And it worked! Yummy.
Here's part two of the excellent and lengthy three-part New Yorker series on climate change, which notes today that:
A possible consequence of even a four- or five-degree temperature rise—on the low end of projections for doubled CO2—is that the world will enter a completely new climate regime, one with which modern humans have no prior experience. Meanwhile [...] It is believed that the last time carbon-dioxide levels were in this range was three and a half million years ago. "It's true that we've had higher CO2 levels before. But, then, of course, we also had dinosaurs."