Journal: News & Comment

This is " September 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.

Thursday, September 29, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:06:00 PM:


That nasty bug my family got a few days ago sure seemed like a Norwalk virus. Whatever it was, it lost me three pounds, and I'm still a bit weak if I do so much as walk vigorously. Yikes.

I should be pretty much better by Friday morning, I hope.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:23:00 PM:

Live giant squid footage

squid2Well, the crittercam didn't manage it, but Japanese researchers finally have photographs of a live giant squid—the first ever.

I know it's a bit odd, but I've been waiting for this to happen for close to 20 years now.


# 7:50:00 PM:

Podcasts that have played my music

In the two months since I started keeping track of the online shows that have played my free podsafe compositions, 30 of them have done so (that I know of). Some have played my stuff several times, or even use it as theme music.

Here's the list from July 27 to September 27:

Quite a diverse bunch. Thanks to each of them for liking my stuff enough to podcast it.


# 6:51:00 PM:

My theme music again, alas

Once again, my free podsafe music track "Fresh Snow in the Valley" forms the closing theme of "Studio Zero #5," the Vancouver podcast from CBC workers. I can't believe they're still making these things—that the lockout is still on. I want my CBC Radio back!


# 3:33:00 PM:

Cities and creativity

In recent years there has been a big buzz about Richard Florida's concept of the "creative class." But maybe that's all hooey.


# 9:50:00 AM:


When three out of four members of your family develop a nasty gastrointestinal infection within hours of one another, that pretty much throws the next couple of days out the window. So here I am, finally able to type again. Good thing I had some stuff to listen to while I was in bed all day yesterday.


Monday, September 26, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:56:00 AM:

Bang your head

See Rock and Roll! at FlickrA bit of thanks here. On the Radio.Speljamr ("spell-jammer") podcast this week, host Tim Finucane made my tune "Meltdown Man" part of his "Guitar Shredders" episode (really!). He said this:

Today's show is going to focus on some guitar shredders, and you just heard Derek K. Miller with "Meltdown Man." That's his little rockabilly tune, and that is some nice guitar shredding, rockabilly style.

As someone who stopped studying guitar in 1982, and has considered himself primarily a drummer since 1987, I take that as a fabulous compliment. Tim, I send the two-finger salute your way, with a hearty, "rock on, dude!" I mean, I'm in the same show with The Great Kat, which is saying something.

I'm not sure what, but it's definitely something.


Sunday, September 25, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:30:00 AM:

The Stripper's Union contains no women

Stripper's Union: Local 518, Buffalo Club, Vancouver, 21 Sep 2005Last Wednesday, September 21, I went to Vancouver's Buffalo Club to see my friend and band colleague Doug Elliott play bass with Stripper's Union: Local 518. It's been a long time since I went to see a band, rather than play in one, and it was a fun time.

The opener, Porn on the Cob, put on the rock too.

Incidentally, it's sort of a superstar lineup: Doug, Craig Northey, and Pat Steward used to be in the Odds and also play with Colin James. (Craig also co-wrote and performs the theme song to the hit Canadian TV show Corner Gas.) Keyboardist Simon Kendall was a key member of Doug and the Slugs, and also plays with Doug, Craig, and Pat in the instrumental combo Sharkskin. Drummer Vince Ditrich is a member of Spirit of the West. And guitarist Rob Baker is the long-haired guy from the Tragically Hip.

Fortunately, following union rules, the show included no nudity.


Friday, September 23, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:08:00 PM:

Latest free instrumental: "The Burning Moon"

[The Burning Moon]I had quite a bit of positive feedback from listeners to "Clouds or Smoke?", a jazzy track I posted to the Penmachine Podcast, so when my friend Simon sent me a late-night, dark-alley rhythm track, I built on it with a couple of heavily-effected guitars, organ, and a Moby-style piano loop. There's also a spaghetti western/David Lynch soundtrack element to "The Burning Moon," which I hope you enjoy.

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file (3.4 MB). The tune is just under three minutes long. As usual, if you're a Penmachine Podcast subscriber, you probably already have the tune on your computer, and maybe even in your iPod. If you're a podcaster, the song is entirely , so go ahead and use it in your show if you like. Anyone can also share, remix, sample, or rework it, as long as you give Simon and me credit and let others do the same.


Thursday, September 22, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:27:00 PM:

On, punctuation!

Leif Sonstenes of LD Communications, like me, is a member of the Editors' Association of Canada. At last night's monthly meeting, he brought a printout of his excellent "Translatability Tips for Writers," available by email from his website. In it, he quotes from Lynne Truss's surprise punctuation bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which, astoundingly, I have yet to read.

It contains the best example I've ever seen of why punctuation matters:

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?



# 11:06:00 AM:

Intentional frustration and your music player

A Steve of iPodsI'd like you to note that all the problems Ponzi had trying to get music, podcasts, and audiobooks that she owns onto three different music players that she also owns did not arise from any mistakes on her part. Nor are they technical obstacles. Pretty much all her frustrations come from the manufacturers of the media players and software (Apple, Creative, Microsoft) and the content providers (including Audible) considering their customers the enemy.

At a fundamental level, they want her money—our money—but they don't respect us. Here's my example for today: I had some stuff on my iPod shuffle when I left home this morning, and now at work I want to add some additional material to listen to. But the shuffle only wants me to replace what's on it from home with whatever I have from work. There's no technical reason for that. It all comes from paranoia that I might steal some music. And much as I like my iPod (on balance, it works much better than other players I've owned), because of that limitation, I like it quite a bit less than I otherwise could have.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:19:00 PM:

El Ballo

Ambrosia Software has created what looks like a mighty fun game in the old, Super NES platform style—which, to be honest, is the kind of videogame I most enjoy (aside from the many variations of Mario Kart).

I don't play videogames that much anymore, but I think I'll check it out.


# 1:27:00 PM:

Links of interest (2005-09-21):

These have been accumulating for awhile. Welcome to autumn.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:45:00 PM:

Manager Tools takes on PowerPoint

Longtime readers will know that I have a thing (or, in fact many things) against Microsoft PowerPoint. Nearly three years ago, I wrote "Why PowerPoint is Like a Sauna in a Saab," in which I wrote that "People get so caught up with the software that they forget about the presentation—or the audience, which is the most important thing." I also emphasized that a good presentation is about telling a story, not showing slides.

Twenty-one slides, one slide, no slides

I've thought about it a lot since then, since I do give presentations fairly often. Over time, I've come to rely less and less on slides at all—these days, when I give a talk about websites, or a seminar on Microsoft Word, I don't show slides. I want to involve my audience in a discussion, as well as presenting my argument (i.e. telling my story). So back in January 2003 I had 21 slides for a 90-minute talk. Later that year I was down to one, and that was just because it was a relaxing photo. Now I have a web browser ready, and maybe a few documents to open. No PowerPoint, and no slides of any sort. (If the audience needs reference material, by the way, I make handouts.)

But—and here's the key point—I am perfectly prepared to give any presentation without a computer at all. I might use a flipchart and dissasemble a laptop or something, perhaps. Or maybe I'll just talk, occasionally drawing something on a chalkboard or dry-erase easel. I have my own outline for my presentation, either on paper or in my head, but usually there's no need to put it on the screen for the audience to see (I'm happy to put it online, of course).

Take it all the way

The Manager Tools podcast I've mentioned recently is a great example. This week Mark and Mike talked about PowerPoint, with some excellent advice: use big fonts, black on white only, a maximum of three slides per ten minutes of talking, no sound or animation or transitions—and tell a story. Bingo. But I don't think they went far enough.

I mean, think about it: given the limits they set, why use PowerPoint at all? You could do just as well with a web-based tool like Eric Meyer's S5, or (to be honest) a single, scrolling word processing document, like the overhead roll my grade 9 math teacher used. Or, like my dentist father-in-law did in May 2003, you could just have a bunch of interesting (and sometimes disturbing) images—fascinating by themselves, but enhanced by his knowledge and discussion. Sort of like those slide shows people used to do... with slides!

No slides, no visuals, no problem

I get the impression that Manager Tools will make some of the same points in future shows: this week, they were simply acknowledging that most people in business use PowerPoint, regardless of whether they should, and later they'll get into the nitty-gritty of telling a story, with PowerPoint or without. But think about one more thing: their podcast is fascinating, useful, and informative. I listen to it for a half hour every week. And it has no slides—it's basically an MP3 radio show. I can't even see Mark and Mike. I don't know what they look like. I don't care! Does that detract from the information they present?

Nope. That doesn't say much in PowerPoint's favour, I'm afraid.

P.S. The Manager Tools guys heavily recommend Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle ($105 Cdn!) as perhaps the best book ever on writing and communicating in a business context. I'd never heard about it before, but I may try to pick it up, or at least find it at the library.


# 7:50:00 AM:

Just a coincidence

I am the #1 search result on Google for "poorly organized." Just so you know.


Monday, September 19, 2005 - newest items first
# 12:43:00 PM:

The vast Penmachine Studio Complex

In the 14 months since I started posting my free original instrumentals here on this site (now the Penmachine Podcast), I've released 11 of them, which, at a rate of 0.8 songs per month, is decent, but nothing spectacular. (Better than Peter Gabriel, but still.)

I'm hoping that, now that the kids are settling into school, I can take some of slivers of free time I have at home by myself and record new material more frequently. I'm also inspired to do that by the large number of podcasters who have begun using my music for background tracks and theme songs. Having people actually listening to the material wants me to make more of it. If you're interested in the massive recording rig I've used for all my tunes, here are two views of it:

Recording Setup 1 Recording Setup 2

That's a corner of our den/TV room, and most of the time the kids are sitting on the couch nearby—so I tend to record when they're away or at night when everyone's asleep. (That's another reason that nearly everything's been instrumental-only so far.) There's another guitar and a bass that aren't in the photo, but otherwise that is everything I use in my recording process.

Finally, even though I give away the songs through a Creative Commons license, I decided that I may as well register them with SOCAN, the Canadian music-royalty organization to which I've belonged since the early 1990s. That way, if by some chance they ever do get played on commercial radio, I might get a cheque for six bucks or something.


Sunday, September 18, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:15:00 AM:

More and more unplugged

marc murrayIn a way, it's a bit sad how good the programming on CBC Unplugged has become. More than a month has passed since the broadcaster's management its 5500 employees, and those employees have taken to podcasting, campus and community stations, and pirate radio like a rocket.

Take the Vancouver podcast of "Studio Zero," for instance. It's only had three episodes (all still using my theme song at the end, plus a short chunk of another in the middle, I'm happy to say), but each one has been markedly better than the last. This week, Vancouver's has even managed to set up a 1 Watt pirate radio transmitter intended for listeners in the downtown core. The Toronto morning crew is broadcasting on a university station most days, replacing their former show entirely, and even prompting the reuniting of folk-comedy band Moxy Früvous (of which CBCer Jian Ghomeshi is a member).

Locked-out CBC workers' podcasts are now the most popular in the country. But they're not getting paid, and they're still reaching only a fraction of their usual audience. Meanwhile, the main network is playing bare-bones Ontario (English) and Montréal (French) programming, repeats, BBC news, and undistinguished classical music. Most egregiously, the skeleton-manager-staff CBC seems to be pretending that the lockout isn't happening. Despite the amateurish nature of even newspaper ads for upcoming shows, little acknowledges the lockout. That's a shame.

On the other hand, whenever the staffers eventually get back, I am hoping that the network can find a way to bring us all those local personalities I'd never heard of before the lockout, and who now appear on podcasts from Yellowknife, Ottawa, New Brunswick, and so on. Maybe CBC Unplugged can keep going after it's all over? Is that wishful thinking?


Saturday, September 17, 2005 - newest items first
# 7:09:00 PM:


These storm photos are remarkable. (Via Doc Searls.)


# 6:52:00 PM:

Run for your lives!

Giant walk-through colon tours Canada!

Thanks to Bill for warning me!

(I picture wanton destruction à la Godzilla, only with a giant colon instead!)

(And no, it's not the punctuation mark!)


Friday, September 16, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:11:00 PM:

Earning your suit

penguinAs I mentioned a few days ago, the Manager Tools podcast is perhaps the most useful bit of digital audio I've ever found. It provides a weekly half hour (or so) of specific, step-by-step advice for anyone who's a supervisor, or who works with one (i.e. anyone at a company) to improve staff working relationships, make meetings run on time, delegate tasks properly, coach people to improve their performance, handle email better, and give effective feedback. The meeting suggestions alone could save you hours and hours each month, regardless of whether you're a manager or not.

Considering what blather many management training books and seminars include, this podcast is pretty much miraculous for something free. It's run by Mike Auzenne, who used to be a senior IT executive at MCI and now runs a bunch of Italian restaurants in Virginia, and his business partner Mark Horstman, who's been a management consultant for Fortune 500 firms for many years. The two met at West Point. They know what they're talking about.

I'm going to start using some of these techniques, especially the one-on-one, meeting structure, and delegation tips. If they work (and I think they will), I expect other people at my workplace will want to try them as well.

You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or using the RRS feed address. I really do recommend listening to the shows. I've been doing it on my commutes to work and at home in the evening. If you'd rather just download the episodes directly, here are the first 13 (from June 2005 through this week) as MP3 files:

Useful documents and templates:


# 10:58:00 AM:

The moose is looser

Northern Voice website screenshotThe Northern Voice conference is coming back next February 10 and 11 here in Vancouver. I'm hoping to participate again, and have already submitted a speaker proposal:

Why you should care about the details: how words, design, code, and community make your blog better and bring you more readers

No matter how big or small your blog is, or how big or small you want it to be, spending a bit of time on the details of how it looks, how it works, and how it plays with others will make it better. People will enjoy your blog more, it will be easier to find, it will bring you bigger benefits (however you measure them), and your mom (if you let her read it) will thank you. I'll talk about specific examples, and I hope the entire group can help come up with others.

Last year's was a ton of fun, and this year it's two days, so it should be, er, a tonner of funner.

P.S. Even if you had a website login ID for last year's conference, you need to create a new one this year, which is unfortunate.


Thursday, September 15, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:23:00 PM:

Promo plugging

In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I sent this piece of audio feedback (2.3 MB MP3 file) to Adam Curry for possible inclusion in his Daily Source Code podcast—which already played one of my tunes last week.

Despite that, it makes a good point: I compose, record, and freely release music on this site for my own and others' enjoyment. If I somehow make some money from my compositions, that's great, but I don't anticipate or expect it. It's more fun that way, and I have other ways of bringing home the bacon as a musician anyway.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:44:00 AM:

You know you're a Vancouverite when...

  1. Pender Street BusYou know the provincial flower (mildew).
  2. You feel guilty throwing aluminum cans or paper in the trash.
  3. You use the statement "sunny break" and know what it means.
  4. You know more than 10 ways to order coffee.
  5. You know more people who own boats than air conditioners.
  6. You feel overdressed wearing a suit to a nice restaurant.
  7. You stand on a deserted corner in the rain waiting for the "Walk" signal.
  8. You consider that if it has no snow, it is not a real mountain.
  9. You can taste the difference between Starbucks, Blenz, and Tim Horton's.
  10. Your concept of a city's downtown core does not include freeways.
  11. Living downtown and working in the suburbs does not seem like a strange idea.
  12. You've seen enough bus drivers re-mount bus poles to overhead trolley wires that you think you could do it yourself.
  13. You know the difference between Chinook, Coho, and Sockeye salmon.
  14. You know how to pronounce Squamish, Osoyoos, Coquitlam, Nanaimo, Chilliwack, and Tsawwassen (although you might argue about the last one).
  15. You consider swimming an indoor sport.
  16. You can tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai food—as well as the languages, even if you don't speak them.
  17. In winter, you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark—while only working eight-hour days.
  18. You never go camping without waterproof matches and a poncho.
  19. You are not fazed by "Today's forecast: showers followed by rain," and "Tomorrow's forecast: rain followed by showers."
  20. You cannot wait for a day with "showers and sunny breaks."
  21. You have no concept of humidity without precipitation.
  22. You know that Dawson Creek is a town, not a TV show.
  23. You can point to at least two ski mountains, even if you cannot see through the cloud cover.
  24. You notice "the mountains are out" when it is a pretty day and you can actually see them.
  25. You're comfortable living within sight of a 10,000-foot glacier-clad volcano that could become active at any time—and you know that its being in another country will be no help if it does.
  26. You put on your shorts when the temperature gets above 5, but still wear your hiking boots and parka.
  27. You switch to your sandals when it gets about 10, but keep your socks on.
  28. You have actually used your mountain bike on a mountain.
  29. You think people who use umbrellas are either wimps, tourists, or smart locals who use them for sun protection in the summer.
  30. You recognize the background shots in your favourite movies and TV shows.
  31. You buy new sunglasses every year, because you can't find the old ones after such a long time.
  32. You measure distance in hours.
  33. You often switch from "heat" to "a/c" in your car in the same day.
  34. You use a down comforter in the summer.
  35. You carry jumper cables in your car and your spouse knows how to use them.
  36. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit under a raincoat.
  37. You know all the important seasons: Almost Winter, Winter, Still Raining (Spring), Road Construction (Summer), and Raining Again (Autumn).
  38. You actually understand these jokes and forward them to all your friends in British Columbia or those who used to live here.
  39. You are aware that "curry" is not a spice, but a combination of spices.
  40. You know that Norway is not the only place with fjords.

This is where most people would say, "I usually hate these kinds of lists, but..."—yet I admit that love them. This one is based on What it Means to Be a British Columbian, forwarded to me by my old UBC colleague Julie.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:01:00 PM:

Go listen

If you haven't gotten into listening to podcasts yet, here are a couple I strongly recommend:

  • While CBC Unplugged remains entertaining, it has also become a bit repetitive since its first Vancouver show (which I inadvertently scored). I'm getting pretty tired of variations of "So, what do you think Canadians are losing because of this lockout?", for example. But today's instalment from Tod Maffin, comprising his thoughts on the future of his network, is essential listening for anyone interested in public broadcasting and the relationship between traditional and digital media.

  • The Manager Tools podcast, run by Mike Auzenne and Mark Horstman, is possibly the most consistently useful chunk of digital audio I've found. I'm in a semi-managerial position right now, and have been a manager before, but in each case I've arrived there unintentionally, and without much background. I discovered Manager Tools a few days ago via a promo on another podcast, and it's fantastic. In those few days I've learned a ton of stuff, and will be listening during my commutes until I've caught up with the archives. I think it will make me better at my job.


Monday, September 12, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:08:00 PM:


The Big BurnThe smell is no longer that of burnt leaves. Now the whole Greater Vancouver area smells like a campfire. The smoke is everywhere in my neighbourhood.

We're about 10 km from the fire in Burns Bog itself. Helicopters and planes are flying overhead, but they're hard to see through the smoke. Even a brisk walk makes my chest hurt a bit, and I'm not asthmatic or anything. There is ash on our car and in our yard.

While the fire is no danger to our house (there are three separate river channels between us), I know a bit of what it was like to live in Kelowna and other areas during the Okanagan fires a couple of summers ago. It is otherworldly and disturbing.


Sunday, September 11, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:16:00 PM:

Takin' it back

UPDATE: Alastair reports that it's a fire at Burns Bog in Delta, which would explain it. Here's a photo, a map of the area it's happening, and more from Flickr. Dang.

Today, after I came home with the kids from the mall, my wife and I were briefly out on our back porch. I sniffed the air.

"Hmm," I said, "smells like leaf burning day."

There are only two problems with that:

  1. It's not yet autumn, and the leaves haven't fallen.
  2. Municipalities in Greater Vancouver have prohibited domestic burning of leaves for more than 20 years.

I'm not sure what the source of the smell was, but leaf burning is distinctive. It had been so long since I had smelled it that both my wife and I immediately recalled our childhoods in the '70s, when there were prescribed days for leaf burning in the fall—days on which the sky was often blue with haze, and acridly sweet.

Good thing I didn't have asthma, I guess. It was nice to have a pleasant memory today, rather than an unpleasant one.


Friday, September 09, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:15:00 AM:

What safe searchers aren't seeing

Using a clever subtraction algorithm, Google UnSafe Search (via Dori) shows you which pages on any site don't show up for visitors who are using Google SafeSearch, which tries to avoid coarse language, violence, pornography, and the like. There is a similar service for Yahoo!

Here are my results from Google. SafeSearch seems to exclude such crude words as "crap," "prizemaster," "top ten search engines," "greed and poverty," "confusing road sign," and possibly "long-hair hippie stuff." Interestingly, Yahoo! considers all the material on this website to be inoffensive.


Thursday, September 08, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:42:00 AM:

I hate PowerPoint, part 7230

P7230104If you head over to:

you'll see a bunch of links to articles written by me and others slamming Microsoft PowerPoint.

Bad visual aids: PowerPoint and schools

I've added a new one today: "PowerPoint: Killer App?" from the Washington Post, which includes this delicious bit:

The most disturbing development in the world of PowerPoint is its migration to the schools—like sex and drugs, at earlier and earlier ages. [...] Perhaps the politicians who are so worked up about the ill effects of violent video games should turn their attention to PowerPoint instead.

To reinforce that point, apparently video games make better laparoscopic surgeons. I doubt you could say the same about presentation software.

Good visual aids: Earth departure movie

For a remarkably effective visual aid, watch this time-lapse movie taken of the Earth as the Messenger spacecraft flew away from us in August. About midway through, you might see a dark blob on the surface that looks like some sort of digital artifact. But if you watch it slowly, you'll realize that it is simply the cloudless western part of Australia spinning by.



Wednesday, September 07, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:33:00 PM:

Go watch NerdTV

Bob Cringely (known for his regular online column and the 1990s documentary Triumph of the Nerds) now has a weekly online video TV show called NerdTV, where he interviews, well, big-time nerds. Famous ones.

This week it's Andy Hertzfeld, the first Macintosh programmer. Even if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, there are two excerpts ("the juicy bit," about Steve Jobs telling Bill Gates he has no taste, and "the nerdy bit," about being asked for 20-year-old source code by Don Knuth) which are worth it on their own. Or you can download just the audio and play it on your iPod or other player. Video is MPEG4, so it should work in anything, and audio is your choice of MP3, Ogg Vorbis, or AAC (Apple's MP4, but without DRM). The whole show is under a Creative Commons license too.

If you've got some geek in you, you'll probably enjoy it. Incidentally, Cringely's real name is Mark Stephens. Future interviewees include PayPal founder Max Levchin, Bill Joy, Steve Wozniak, Tim O'Reilly, Doug Engelbart (who invented the mouse), and Linus Torvalds. See? Nerds! (But no women so far, alas.)


# 10:34:00 PM:

Waterproof your iPod

nano nanooIf you've ever want ted to take your iPod swimming, these guys can set you up. (You'll need waterproof headphones, like the $100 USD ones from these other guys, but hey.)

They don't have anything for the new iPod nano introduced today, but I'm sure it won't be long. And I have to say, the nano (despite the slightly dumb name) is probably the sexiest MP3 player I've ever seen. Especially the black one.

The combo lanyard/headphones accessory you can buy (scroll to the bottom of iLounge's first look article) seems pretty neat too. So would the coolness expiration date, if it were real.


# 10:07:00 AM:

Strange Kodak digicam bug

UPDATE: We may have an answer, but it doesn't look pretty. So far no further problems from my particular camera, though.

Strange Kodak digicam bug #2Here's a strange thing. Our point-and-shoot Kodak digicam is a little over a year old, and it has generally been working just great. But today it displayed a weird glitch.

My youngest daughter is just starting kindergarten, and this week is a bit of jumble: a short first day, teacher meetings, a picnic, but no real school. So after we dropped off her older sister to Grade 2, my youngest played with some of her friends in the schoolyard. I took one photo that had a strange colour effect on part of the frame. Then I took another (shown here) where the whole frame had the same problem. Then subsequent photos returned to normal, and I haven't seen the glitch since.

Anyone have any idea what it could be?

P.S. Speaking of glitches, check out the Google ads that showed up after my anti–"Intelligent Design" post yesterday.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005 - newest items first
# 4:06:00 PM:

Our place in the universe

Here, from The Guardian, is the best explanation I've read yet of why "Intelligent Design" (ID) cannot reasonably be taught in any classroom as part of a biology or science (as opposed to history or comparitive religion) curriculum. It goes beyond this:

When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.

and beyond even this:

[ID] no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

to this:

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. [...] You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom.

The article restates (much more eloquently) something I wrote here just a week and a half ago: "Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system." And it is so whether we choose to believe it or not. Not only that, but it was so before there was anyone around to believe anything.

We humans developed science, and continue to use it, because it is a remarkably reliable way of finding out what's really going on—even when it uncovers uncomfortable things. In step after step, from the discovery that Earth is a planet and the sun is a star, that they are both profoundly old, and that the universe is far vaster than most of us can begin to comprehend, we have found out more and more that we are not the centre of the universe, or even at all important on the scale of the universe. And we may not like that. But the truth doesn't care whether we like it. It just is.

I would prefer that we made it our job to learn what is, rather than simply to go along with what we wish would be.


# 12:54:00 PM:

Put these two in the same band

These are officially the two weirdest musical instruments I've seen this year:

  1. Ham drum
  2. Pink flying V ukelele

Of the two, the drum is stranger.


# 12:06:00 AM:

I've hit the Daily Source Code

Holy crap! A little chunk of my tune "Cold Cloth and an Ice Pack" just got played on Adam Curry's Daily Source Code #235 (possibly courtesy of Michael Butler of the Rock 'n' Roll Geek Show).

If you're unfamiliar with him, Curry is the former MTV veejay who co-invented podcasting, and his DSC is one of the top podcasts in the world. He keynoted Gnomedex too, by recording his DSC #200 live there onstage. Neato.

Thanks, guys.


Monday, September 05, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:35:00 PM:

Keep the slides and speeches short

Tara & Morgan's Wedding 34As someone who works in a band that has played many weddings, I have to agree with Darren Barefoot's wedding slideshow advice. I was once stranded behind a curtain on a small stage at the Vancouver Yacht Club for an hour and a half while PowerPoint slides and droning speeches went on and on.

Three of the best weddings I've been to (mine, that of my old university colleagues Yo and Evie, and my friend Tara's) did better than that: my wife and I had no slideshow at all (it was 1995, pre-PowerPoint-everywhere days); Yo and Evie had their whole reception (including the continent shapes of the tables) designed around their world travels, with photos in various places around the room; and Tara and her husband had a slideshow of his growing up—shown in a separate room in his parents' house, where the wedding took place. No one had to watch it, and those who did were voluntary viewers, who doubtless enjoyed it.


Sunday, September 04, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:03:00 PM:

Mama, you've got to move

Totally Flat Below Sea LevelThe area known as the Mississippi Delta is not, as most of us might think, the actual oceanic delta at mouth of the Mississippi River. It is a huge inland flood plain between Memphis and Vicksburg, several hundred kilometres upriver from New Orleans—and the place where the blues originated.

In 1927, the Mississippi flooded from north of St. Louis, and threatened or broke levees for about 1000 km. In the Delta itself, the land was inundated, and thousands died. In frightening parallels to this week in New Orleans, throngs of poor black people were stranded without food, water, or shelter in hazardous flood zones, while richer whites escaped. Five years ago, a PBS documentary called Fatal Flood publicized the local, state, and federal negligence, incompetence, and corruption that contributed to the tragedy, reaching right up to then–Commerce Secretary and future U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

New Orleans, 31 Aug 2005Shea Penland is a geologist at the University of New Orleans. Also five years ago, he said of his city:

It would cost a billion or two dollars to make the levee 30 feet high. A major flood with loss of life could cost $10 billion. What's wrong with this picture? If we know the worst-case scenario is billions and it would take a billion or two to prevent it, why don't we do it? I don't think anyone's thinking about it.

We're thinking about it now. And there are tens of thousands of mostly poor, mostly black people again stranded without food, water, or shelter in hazardous flood zones, while richer whites escaped. It will take less than 70 years before the negligence, incompetence, and corruption that exacerbated the problem come out. In the meantime, you can do something: donate money.

Levee BreachHere in Canada, I have heard some shameful schadenfreude about this disaster, with donations slower to come in than for the Asian tsunami last December. But I think that's changing as the TV news and the papers and the Web show us the extent of the catastrophe. Never mind softwood lumber, never mind Iraq. These people did nothing to deserve what has happened to them, and they need our help.

And here's how to prepare yourself and your family for any future disaster where you live.


Saturday, September 03, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:09:00 PM:

An anniversary of sorts

The longest I've ever worked at a single company was four and a half years, from August of 1996, when I joined what was then Maximizer Technologies, through January 2001, when the company (by then called Multiactive Software) let me go in the second of several rounds of layoffs. I came to Maximizer from a short and unpleasant stint in the advertising department of Gardens West magazine, after two years as a full-time musician.

While I'd been geeky since the 1970s, my mad computer skillz had declined a bit during my tenure in the band (even though we were apparently the first indie group to run our own email list), and, having been an Apple guy since 1982 or so, I'd hardly had any exposure to Windows at all. Gardens West showed me Windows 95, but Maximizer—where I started as an administrative assistant in the Development department, but moved through technical writing, running the website, and creating the whole company's style guide—got me into its depths, where I helped craft installers, create tutorials and demonstration data, build C++ language coding guidelines, and delve deep into the horrors of the Windows Registry.

Now, I'm still a Mac guy, and while I kept a Windows machine at home for several years for testing and doing necessary work stuff, when it died I didn't bother to replace it. But Maximizer/Multiactive was what turned me into a real geek, with the skills to troubleshoot friends' computers regardless of operating system (although my very limited Linux abilities owe more to early Internet experience on UBC's "unixg" network). In early 1997, Maximizer was where I learned to write HTML, and within months I was managing the company website, as well as creating this one—which still contains archaeological bits and pieces of those first halting attempts at web code. (One example is the odd dimensions of my portrait that appears on most pages.) It was also where I was working when both my children were born. Since parenthood is what really forces you to grow up, in the most profound respects, I started there still something of a boy, and left as a man.

As of this summer, only now have I been away from Maximizer longer than I worked there. I've had my fabulous "new" job at Navarik for close to two years, and expect to stay much longer than that. But the stint at Maximizer—probably at least 5% of my life, it turns out—was what let me spend the year and a half before Navarik making good money as a freelance technical writer. I was happy to leave, and my current job is much better, but I'm also glad to have been there.


# 3:28:00 PM:

Big-ass documents

A year and a half ago I wrote about why sending Word documents and big files by email is a bad idea. This morning, someone from made a comment on that post arguing for the use of their product to send large files by email.

Now, the fundamental concept of their product—seamlessly breaking large files into smaller ones sent in a series of emails which are then reassembled at the other end—isn't a bad one. It doesn't really address any of the points I made in my original post, but it would help people who need to send large attachments via email to work colleagues, for example.

Unfortunately, the program they're advertising requires both the sender and the recipient to be running their plugin, which only runs on Microsoft Outlook on Windows—which is, by far, the least secure email program in the world. Their website also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of why Internet email is so useful: because it doesn't depend on particular computer platforms or applications to work. You can see my long screed of a reply, also in the comments.

Incidentally, I think the first comment is just a way to try to get traffic and Google PageRank to their site, but it's not pure spam, so I'm not going to delete it or anything. Their product might work really well, but I think its utility is limited to internal email communications within companies where everyone does run Windows and Outlook. Which, really, no sane company should be requiring these days.


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