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...
This is "Penmachine.com: August 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.
And also from Julie, a link to Doc Searls on Hurricane Katrina. A few days ago, I wrote on another topic about human beings' congenital shortsightedness. This is another sad example. I read the news and tears well up in my eyes.
New Orleans is a city built on the alluvial fill at the mouth of one of the world's great rivers. What keeps alluvial fans above sea level is flooding and new silt, but when we build cities on them, we don't want that, so we build walls (levees, dykes) to keep the floods and silt out. But then the cities sink. And when disaster comes, it can come big.
Whether it is a hurricane in New Orleans; an earthquake, flood, or volcanic eruption near B.C.'s Fraser delta; quakes, landslides, and wildfires in California; or volcanic eruptions and tsunamis in seismic areas around the world, we seem not to want to believe that disasters that have happened before could happen again. We keep building and living where we shouldn't. And then people die.
Today I was downtown for some other business and dropped by the CBC lockout picket line to say hi to Pietro Pietropaolo, who's perhaps best known for producing the outstanding documentary "The Wire" on CBC Radio earlier this year (the official site is down during the lockout).
I've never been on a picket line myself (my few union jobs were brief, long ago, and were thankfully undisrupted by strikes or lockouts), but I did walk a few circuits of the Vancouver CBC building with Pietro and his picket sign, during which we talked about the lockout and his bizarre status as a CBC staffer who gets less work than some contractors, music (he's a taiko drummer), and the contentious issue of copyrights in the digital age. Pietro is the one who stumbled across my podcast, which provided soundtrack music to last week's CBC Unplugged podcast from him and his colleagues. (They have another episode today, by the way.)
My overall impression of this lockout is that the CBC employees on the line are angry, sure, but they're more sad to see the fine work of the network not getting done. The two sides are talking, so maybe we can get our programs back soon. However, they're going to have to find a way for those of us who've been listening to local podcasts from other cities (like Ottawa's excellent shows) to hear them again. Ontario's gardening expert Ed Lawrence was a total revelation: I'd never heard of him, and I'm not much interested in gardening, but in one podcast he blew every other gardening call-in host I've ever heard out of the water. He should go national.
Anyway, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet JJ Lee or Tod Maffin (curator of CBC Unplugged), with whom I'd also chatted online or on the phone. And I'm looking forward to the Shelagh Rogers Caravan too. Without being able to plug in my iPod in the car, I'm not sure what I'd listen to while driving these days.
As a diabetic, I rarely get to eat chocolate, but even I am incredulous that it has taken this long for the United States to get an equivalent to the Aero bar, which has been in Canada for decades. It's such a simple idea: chocolate with air bubbles in it. There really is a Great Candy Bar Divide between our two great nations, it seems.
Last night I played a show with my band, for an audience of salespeople and retailers involved in the Canadian shoe industry. It included the longest single set of music we've ever performed: two hours and five minutes, one song after another, without a break.
Generally, we decide when we take our breaks, but you read the crowd. We'd already left the stage once for half an hour, and the audience had thinned out considerably (while summer, it was a Sunday night). We knew that if we took another breather, however short, the rest of the guests might take off too, and playing for five or six people drains your energy as a musician like you wouldn't believe. So after an hour, we kept going, and going, and going...
By the time it was over, my right hand was tingling like it was recovering from falling asleep, and today I'm sore all over. But they loved us.
We humans aren't very well equipped to understand the vast spans of time involved in evolutionary (or, for that matter, geological) processes. Yes, it is unintuitive for complex organisms to evolve, but when a one-hour morning meeting seems like a long time, it's not surprising that we can't instictively grasp a hundred thousand or a million or 65 million years. It also explains why so many people don't think climate change is happening, even though it's only on the scale of decades. Inconvenient truths are easier to ignore when they don't fit with our day-to-day time scales.
Most of us don't understand how the scientific process works. That's fine when the subject is uncontroversial: no one is arguing againt the fundamentals of what science has learned about gravity, or electricity, or the process of photosynthesis. Even continental drift, which seemed like a crazy idea when first proposed, turns out to be true, and those who argue against it today seem like crackpots. But start bringing religious or odd new-age dogma into it, and it's not hard to obfuscate and misrepresent the science (even unintentionally) to make it seem like facts really aren't, and to fit better the way we'd prefer things to be.
We're afraid to die, especially if it means that we really die, i.e. once our bodies stop working, we as individuals cease to exist, so that there is no life after death. Personally, that's what I think, and I've come to be comfortable with it. But many (maybe most) people aren't, so we want there to be an afterlife, and with that comes the ideas of spirits and gods and heaven and—well, once you get there, it's not that big a leap to having someone or something create and guide life on earth too. Certainly you can accept both evolution and the afterlife, and plenty of people do. But I also think it is, once again, intellectually inconvenient to have whole realms of philosophy beyond physical life, and then leave every living thing we can see be subject to something as non-metaphysical as natural selection.
Note that these problems have little to do with how the world really is. Just as the world was round and went around the sun even when we thought it didn't—and did so even before there was anyone or anything to ask the question—and just as our brains controlled our bodies even when we thought our hearts did, it's clear that life (including us) has evolved, and continues to. What's new is that only in the most recent epoch has that process created minds that can understand the process, or misunderstand it.
The latest new free tune I've composed, recorded, and posted to my Penmachine Podcast is an instrumental blues number (as promised), dedicated to the CBC Unplugged "Studio Zero" crew, with swing. It's called "Had a Plan, Had to Change It" (here's the direct link to the 4.1 MB MP3 file). It was inspired not just by them, but by Freddie King, Jimmie Vaughan, and Colin James.
Of course I'd be pleased if JJ Lee and the others include it in their next show, planned for Monday, 29 Aug 2005, but even if not, it was fun to play and put out for others to use. (You're welcome to do what you like with it, as long as you give me credit and have others do the same.)
As usual, if you're a Penmachine Podcast subscriber, you probably already have the tune on your computer, and maybe even in your iPod.
JJ Lee, a locked-out producer for CBC Radio, just called me about 15 minutes ago to thank me for providing the music he and his team used for Studio Zero from CBC Unplugged last week. He also left a comment that notes another episode being recorded Monday at the downtown CBC building, which I hope I can drop in on.
Another interesting aspect of the CBC Unplugged podcast is how different groups have approached it differently. The Vancouver group created a strike diary last week, while others are putting together versions of regular programming, with news, current affairs, and interviews too. The thousands of CBC staffers have created their own little podosphere. And in just one week, listeners like me have pushed them to #4 on the iTunes Top 100 Podcasts list—ahead of Newsweek, Al Franken, CNN, and even a naked woman in the bath.
By the way, JJ let me know that, in the rush to complete last week's show, he and his crew didn't get the information for whoever made the other background music they used. If it was you, please leave a comment here and I'll pass the info on.
If you have iTunes and would like to subscribe to CBC Unplugged, do that here:
"I'm talking about the honest people who play by the rules: they buy a house and the vendor moves out and pulls no more strings. They buy sofas and flowers and wine and paper and the store where they bought them doesn't try to limit what you can do with them, and when the digital-media vendors try to horn in on this relationship, the response is going to be 'you and whose army?'"
I have this, and it works fine, but this looks better.
Even A-List bloggers get a bit wiggly when meeting a real tech celebrity like Steve Jobs, who does appear to be a rude man.
Wondering what math is good for? Astronomers have figured out exactly when the first marathon was run, and both where and when Ansel Adams and Vincent Van Gogh made two of their famous images. They're even going to try to replicate the Adams photograph this year.
The recent spate of podcasts from locked-out CBC employees is a bit of a revelation. Because they're not getting paid and not having to follow government broadcast regulations, voices and personalities we CBC listeners are familiar with as part of our daily lives are coming to us in a much less formal manner. It's fascinating to hear how people with wide professional skill in broadcasting approach this different medium.
What's really surprising is how much more like "amateur"/"indie" podcasts their work so far has been, rather than being like watered-down versions of their regular work. This week's Vancouver Studio Zero podcast, for instance, was quite personal, without the journalistic detachment regular CBC radio usually demands. Locked-out employees were pissed off (Bill Richardson used exactly those words) and on CBC Unplugged they acted like it.
And you know what? I've enjoyed these informal podcasts more than some regular CBC programming by the same people. The podcasts don't replace the serious journalism the network usually provides, and so far there's nothing to compete with the television side of the organization, but maybe having long-time traditional broadcasters like Richardson involved in off-the-cuff podcasting will help legitimize it, and bring non-traditional media podcasters more of an audience, as Todd at Geek News Central speculated this week in his podcast.
They'll see, perhaps, that while the studios and equipment and personnel and facilities of the CBC are essential for much of the top-quality, award-winning programming they usually produce, it is also possible to create compelling material by yourself, on a shoestring, as Todd and so many other have done over the past year or so. Maybe they'll discover more podsafe music (as they did mine) too.
"There is a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?" That's the classic line (often misquoted as "The future is plastics!") from The Graduate, made in 1967.
The future is plastics, it turns out. Our house, also made in 1967–68, is older than I am, yet still has its original Arborite kitchen and bathroom countertops. It's the future now, and despite over 37 years of hot kitchenware, crayons and markers, spills, bangs, and other wear and tear, even the edges aren't peeling.
Just today, I took a pot of boiling pasta straight from the stove, poured out the contents, and then (perhaps unwisely) set the hot metal directly on the countertop. There's no evidence anything happened. Other than the sixties-era retro-grainy design of the eggshell surface, the melamine could be brand new.
I did notice that there were a couple of other instrumental interludes, but I couldn't find any information in the podcast or on the show notes page about who made them. CBC Unplugged, if you're listening, could you give credit to whoever made those other tunes too?
This has never happened to me before. Last night, as I often do these days, I downloaded some podcasts to listen to while going to sleep. Since I've been missing CBC Radio during the Canadian national broadcaster's labour dispute, I was pleased to find out that some of the locked-out staff have been making free podcasts of their own at CBC Unplugged—in yesterday's case, a show from here in Vancouver called "Studio Zero," which was also broadcast on a few campus and community radio stations on the air across the country.
As I was drifting off, some six minutes in, just after a series of short on-the-street interviews about the reduced regular CBC programming during the lockout, I thought I heard something familiar in the background. Sure enough, it was "Hotcake Syrup," one of myinstrumental tracks from my own podcast, which I've posted here for other podcasters (and whoever else) to use. It was very faint and only appeared in the background briefly, and maybe I was dreaming it, but I thought, "Hey cool, I sort of got some of my music played on the radio."
The rest of the podcast included performances from the likes of Joey Keithley of DOA, among several others, plus interviews and other programming. Then, when I was really close to falling asleep, we came to the last two minutes, where what seemed like a couple of dozen CBC radio personalities, some of whom I've been listening to for years, all chimed in with variations on, "For CBC Unplugged at Studio Zero, I'm..."
They were all saying it over "Fresh Snow in the Valley"—also one of my songs! And sure enough, "I'm Kathleen Flaherty for CBC Unplugged. The recorded music you are listening to was created under a Creative Commons license by Derek Miller." (I should point out that, if you were wondering if it's this other Derek Miller, who's very good, it's not him—it's me.) Then "Fresh Snow in the Valley" played out till the end of the show.
Ten years ago today, it was a cloudy Saturday morning in Burnaby, B.C., and it looked like it might rain. But as the morning went on, the clouds burned away, and before lunchtime my wife and I were married in the sunshine, under a tree on the lawn of the Hart House. We walked a few steps to the reeds at the shore of Deer Lake, where our photographer took a picture of me carrying her among the stalks.
We hadn't written our own vows, and I don't remember exactly what we said, because my head was swimming all morning with what we meant: that we would be together the rest of our days. On our tenth anniversary, today, I know even better that we will. Last night, my wife and I had dinner, then drove to Deer Lake again and stood near those reeds as the sun set and the full moon rose. We thought back seven years earlier than our wedding, to when we had first met, both working as park naturalists—and to the day that summer in 1988 when we'd accidentally flipped our canoe in this same lake. Last night, the air was thick with insects, but they didn't bother us much, and they provided quite a feast for the spiders, bats, and frogs we could see and hear by the water.
My friend Tara was one of my attendants in 1995, and today my wife, our two daughters, and I spent the afternoon at the rehearsal for Tara's wedding, which is tomorrow, exactly ten years of Saturdays after ours.
Latthanapon "Ponzi" Indharasophang got thrown into hard-core blogging and tech-geekery rather suddenly, by virtue of falling in love with Chris Pirillo, self-described shameless self-promoter and long-time tech celebrity.
What's great about that is that Ponzi has no qualms about calling BS on the rest of us geeks when we slip into incomprehensible jargon, or make blogo-cultural assumptions that either don't have reasonable parallels or don't make sense in the real world. On Tuesday, she wondered and explained about "link love" and "link whoring" and other strange link-based behaviours, and the assumptions about them that those of us who've been running weblogs for awhile hardly think about anymore.
My wife and I have our tenth (!) wedding anniversary this Friday. (I shouldn't be so surprised—our oldest daughter turns eight at her next birthday.)
For more than a year now, we've been talking about getting tattoos to celebrate the occasion—not necessarily on that day, but sometime in the near future, as a marker of 2005 as the beginning of our second decade together. We discussed various options, whether we should get matching designs, and so on (nothing huge, something symbolic, no umlauts), but my wife—as with many things in our household—is taking the initiative to have a consultation, though not the procedure, with a tattooist tomorrow.
It looks like we'll have different designs whenever we get them done. She has a particular piece of bee artwork (from our dinnerware pattern) that she loves, while I'm partial to some stylized version of Pisaster ochraceous, the purple sea star common up and down the west coast of North America, referring both to when we met as park naturalists running seaside nature programs in 1988, and to my marine biology degree.
I'm quite partial to the diagrammatic drawings in the classic invertebrate zoology textbook, Buchsbaum's Animals Without Backbones (my high school biology teacher waxing poetic about "Buchsbaum! Buchsbaum!" still rings in my ears), so perhaps whatever I do get will resemble those. It may be a few weeks for me yet, but I think my time is coming soon. Tattoos are no longer illicit in our society, but they remain permanent, and I take this seriously. I almost never take off my wedding ring, for instance, but this will be something I both won't need to, won't want to, and won't be able to remove. This is not a whim, so the design I choose will need to be right. I'm excited.
When our two children are old enough to be legally allowed to have tattoos, it will be more difficult to dissuade them, however.
If you've been listening to my podcast, you might notice that almost all of my original tracks are built on blues chord progressions and scales, even if they don't sound very bluesy. I think my next one may be a straight blues instrumental, though. Subscribe (iTunes or RSS) and you'll get it automatically when it's ready.
The new version of Paparazzi (0.2) includes a bunch of improvements and bug fixes for the spiffy little app that takes single-image web page screenshots, no matter how long or wide the page. (Requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or higher.)
Image Tricks takes advantage of the incredibly powerful Core Image graphics manipulation features built into Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" to create a free "mini-Photoshop."
Saturday, August 13, 2005 - newest items first # 3:12:00 PM:
My band stopped regularly playing pubs and bars, where the hours are late and long and the pay lousy, almost ten years ago, but our shows yesterday and today, entertaining at the post-flight beer tent for pilots and technicians at the Abbotsford Airshow is about as close as I've come in a long time.
Except that it's outdoors, and dusty, and people can smoke (because it's outside). And the pay is almost as crappy as it was at those pubs in the '90s!
As my daughters get older (the oldest is now seven, going into grade two), the worries change. They're not about choking on pencil erasers or toddling out into the middle of the street so much anymore, but often they're more social, and one concern is that many celebrities (especially young women, role models for my girls whether I like it or not) are too damn thin, when, in fact:
Being slightly overweight actually is far healthier than either being very thin or being obese. So Hilary Duff, good luck with your new perfect thinness. Just remember, this new thinness has nothing to do with health.
In a more remote concern (for me, at least), Canada's federal government has increased the maximum penalty for manufacturing and dealing in methamphetamines. Crystal meth is the latest moral panic—certainly a concern, but I worry that the heavy-duty law enforcement approach may be just as counterproductive as it was for previous drug panics, from heroin to crack cocaine.
While it's laudable to attack organized crime syndicates profiting from illegal drugs and spreading violence in the process, we also have to ask not just how to stem the flow of the drugs, but why people use them, and how to reduce the demand, or at least mitigate its social costs. Life in jail does little for that.
Over the weekend, my wife brought up the classic argument: is the space program worth all that money when we have so many pressing problems on the ground?�I reflexively made the usual arguments about exploration and knowledge. But half-heartedly. That's because I'd noticed that astronauts on this most recent shuttle mission—the first since the Columbia disaster two and a half years ago—spent much of their time ferrying supplies or garbage to and from fellow astronauts at the International Space Station, or inspecting the shuttle itself for damage, then repairing it.
As Maciej Ceglowski points out (thanks, Bill), that's like the explorers of the 1500s "sail[ing] endlessly back and forth a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, [and] construct[ing] a massive artificial island they could repair to if their boat sprang a leak." Not to mention spending the whole trip keeping the island going and checking for those leaks, rather than doing a whole lot of anything.
Think of it: in the 24 years between 1957 and 1981, we went from Sputnik to the moon, and then to the space shuttle. In the 24 years since, we've gone from the space shuttle to... er... the space shuttle. The Russians are still using a Soyuz design that's over 30 years old. The space station is a creaky successor to Skylab and Mir.
The real standouts in the past quarter century of space travel have been the Hubble Space Telescope, the probes to the outer planets, Mars rovers, and comet-slamming drones—robots, not astronauts. They're also a lot cheaper (with one Mars mission famously priced less than the production and marketing costs of a single big science fiction movie).
It's not that putting astronauts in space is pointless. But if they're going to go, they need to be doing something and traveling somewhere.
So am I claiming that no one is going to be an employee anymore—that everyone should go and start a startup? Of course not. But more people could do it than do it now. [...] Someone with kids and a mortgage should think twice before doing it. But most young hackers have neither.
I think this is taking ideas backwards, not forwards. Graham suggests that breaking out of an employer-employee relationship is liberating, equalizing, de-paternalizing. He praises Google for getting big while still acting small. But I agree with Dori:
It's not healthy, it's not workable long-term, and it's not attractive to most people outside of the small chunk of the demographic that's currently working there.
So I raised my hand and said, "If you want more women, try describing the company in a way that doesn't make it sound like it's hell on earth." [...] what appeals to guys right out of school drives people like me in the opposite direction.
I took a week-long vacation with my family this week, for example. When I was a full-time, self-employed musician in the early '90s, or a full-time freelance writer and editor in the early 2000s, I didn't take many vacations. Yes, I had time when I wasn't working, but that also meant I wasn't making money, and that meant I was worrying about where the money was going to come from, and that meant that even if I took a trip, I felt guilty about it.
Because when you're working for yourself, and working on something you love, as Graham suggests many of us should, you might enjoy it, but it's not conducive to having much of a life. "Someone with kids and a mortgage should think twice before doing it. But most young hackers have neither." Period. He writes off everyone with kids and a mortgage and (by extension) a desire for life outside work in a single sentence. And that's most people.
And you know what? People who aren't young hackers can be pretty smart. And wise. And productive. They learn things in their lives that don't come from hackerly pursuits. Yes, there are problems with the traditional office environment, and flexible schedules that respect real work achievement (rather than just showing up) are a way to improve it. But it has its good sides too. If you're working on your own, for instance, what happens when you get sick? Or your child does? Of course you take time off—and lose your income, and maybe your customers too.
There is something of a paternalistic relationship in being an employee, but I don't mind it. Why? Because, paradoxically, an office environment acts like a family, so you can have a family life of your own. Ideally, your colleagues pick up your slack if you're away. Ideally, and in the best work environments, the company takes care of you, with benefits, and sick days, and a nice chair, and a coffee machine.
Plus, I've worked from home, and having done it, I now like going to the office, because I get stuff done there.
It turns out that the South China Morning Post tech podcastdid play some of my music too, but on its August 2 episode (MP3 file), not the late July one. Thanks to Michael Logcan from SCMP for letting me know.
Saturday, August 06, 2005 - newest items first # 4:44:00 PM:
Driving down to Cannon Beach, Oregon and back this past week reminded me what a volcanic region we live in here in Cascadia.
Mt. Baker is visible from much of Greater Vancouver, looming to the southeast across the border in Washington State. By the time you reach Everett, north of Seattle, Baker is still visible to the northeast, and soon you can see the biggest of the Cascade peaks, 4200-metre Mt. Rainier, which defines the horizon of Seattle and Tacoma. Further south is the blasted hulk of Mt. St. Helens, and across the line near Portland is Mt. Hood.
I've got way too many computer mice already, and now Apple has gone and made another one I want. Dang.
Being Apple, they had to make a four-button mouse that doesn't look like it has any. Still, when was the last time a company released a computer mouse that had everybody talking? It's been a few years.