Journal: News & Comment

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

Monday, October 31, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:56:00 PM:

How'd I miss that?

This goes to show what a busy Halloween weekend with the kids can do: four days ago, this blog turned five, and I didn't even notice.

I'm better at remembering my wife's and kids' birthdays, just in case you're wondering.


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

Tell Canada's editors what you know next June

I'd like to request something of you.

Next June 9 to 11, 2006, the Editors' Association of Canada (of which I'm a member) is holding its annual conference, and it's in Vancouver for the first time since 2000. Its theme is "Cultivating Diversity" (one URL for the conference is cultivate), and the keynote speaker is Order of Canada recipient and Jade Peony author Wayson Choy.

I'm helping to organize it by putting together the conference website, which is just starting to get together. Our most recent news update is a call for proposals for sessions during the conference. If you're the type of person who has expertise that hundreds of editors (of all kinds, not just traditional book and magazine types) from across Canada might find useful—anything from nitty-gritty experience making photos or putting a print publication together to advice about blogging and podcasting—I'd encourage you to submit a proposal.

The benefits aren't huge: you get free admission to the conference, which will be a value of several hundred dollars. If you're interested, head on over and check it out. You don't need to assemble anything massive, especially since the deadline is Monday, November 7, 2005, which is only a little over a week away.


Saturday, October 29, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:12:00 PM:

Rejoice! It's FinderPop!

FinderPop was perhaps my favourite utility for the old classic Mac OS, and now, years later, author Turly has updated it for Mac OS X. It's "beerware" (free, but you can buy him a beer if you like), and does some geeky-but-wonderful useful stuff, basically by adding a bunch of obscure features to the right-click context menu.

I've installed it already, mere minutes after finding out about its re-release. If you look at the web page and say, "hey, that's cool," maybe you should too.


Friday, October 28, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:30:00 PM:


One great thing about the new office we moved Navarik to in May 2005 is that all 35 people who work there can fit into a single large room. A few have permanent offices around the edge, and there are other workspaces employees can use if they need time to concentrate. I prefer to stay out at my desk, in the thick of things, most of the time, and today I found a useful way to focus even while I am there:

[Derek wears big Sennheiser headphones at work

Inspired by my desk neighbour Randy, I brought my new Sennheiser HD 280 large, closed-back headphones from home. Rather than sitting in the piano bench or used only in my home office/studio downstairs, they work great at Navarik HQ, because they are sealed, i.e. they fit right against my head, so they block out a lot of external sound. That means, (a) I don't need to play my music as loudly to hear its detail, and (b) even relatively persistent ambient noise, such as my own typing on my keyboard, disappears. (People who want my attention do have to wave or tap me on the shoulder—or send me an instant message.)

I had a remarkably productive day—I don't know why I didn't do this years ago with my old Sony big headphones, which broke some time back. However, I do look like a huge audio geek (or perhaps a cool DJ?) on the SkyTrain, especially since my big ol' black headphones weigh 13 times what the iPod shuffle that powers them does. Good thing big cans are in style these days, and I have a lot of hair going on at the moment to frame them.

UPDATE: Here's some info on other headphone models I considered.


# 2:49:00 PM:

Further shameless self-promotion and commentary

I admit that one reason I keep sending audio comments and a promo or two to Adam Curry is because his is one of the most popular podcasts around (not to mention one of the oldest, since he helped invent the technology), and it's a great way to promote my stuff.

So today, he played another piece of audio feedback (1.2 MB MP3 file) I recorded last night. (The backing track is "The Burning Moon," my spooky collaboration with Simon James.) I hope I made a useful point in it as well, which is that, with Internet database technology, there's no need for the emerging music networks to limit their charts to only the "top 10" or to time periods. They could include lists of:

  • All "spins" (plays), from most plays (#1!) to least (#3862! or whatever).
  • Top-to-bottom lists of spins by genre (jazz, rock, country, metal, electronica, instrumental, classical, etc.).
  • Spins by geographical area, as fine-grained as you want (from "Europe" to "Southern Vancouver Island").
  • ...and so on.

He seems to agree, and suggests that the Podsafe Music Network could even let podcasters or whoever slice and dice playlist data any way they like to produce all sorts of statistics. I could see a number of other music podcasts emerging from that: imagine "This Week's Top Accordion Hits!"


Thursday, October 27, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:04:00 PM:

How to un-wobble a table

Shake Shack: Tables & ChairsAndré Martin, a physicist at CERN, the European physics lab where the Web was invented, recently delivered a mathematical proof that you can un-wobble a wobbly table by rotating it—on most normal surfaces (concrete, grass, tile), there will be at least one position in the rotation where all four legs are on the ground, and the table is stable, if not completely level:

Time after time, Martin would find himself rotating the table to look for a stable position. "I've always been able to find one," he says. "People are sometimes amazed that it works."

The proof itself required over a decade of on-and-off (mostly off) work, but now you know. Presumably, it would work for wobbly chairs too, but that might mean you'd be facing a totally useless direction once you stopped the wobble.

UPDATE: Yo points out that this proof only applies if the table legs are more or less even. Which makes sense: intuitively, if one of a table's legs were half the length of the others, you wouldn't expect it to be able to level out unless there was a rock of similar proportion right under it.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:13:00 PM:

Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!

In addition to third-party services that let you make books, DVDs, and U.S. postage stamps (really!), the fabulous Flickr now lets you make direct prints. Finally! Well, for now, only if you live or have a credit card in the U.S., anyway. You can pick them up at any Target store or get them by mail.

I've already set my preferences so anyone reading this—anyone at all—can make prints from my photos. (Might I suggest one of these, these, or these?) Here's the straight dope on how to do it.


# 2:00:00 PM:

A little favour

Keep in mind, everyone, that when you ask a friend or acquaintance who makes a living in professional services (writing, edting, music, translation, law, medicine, dentistry, etc.) for a "little favour," you're actually asking them to do a bit of work for free. They may be happy to do it, but that's still what you're asking of them. And, since (in general) you're asking for help with something in which you don't have expertise, you may not understand how much free work you're requesting.

All this is just a bit of back-story to explain why your wonderful professional friends might (politely, I hope) say no.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:13:00 PM:

Here's a silly one

A school in Arizona apparently has a strict "no needles" policy, presumably to prevent students from taking heroin and other illegal drugs at school. The school also apparently doesn't have this policy written down anywhere. But when a diabetic student accidentally left one of his medication and testing kits in a locker over the summer, he was banned from carrying any such kit—including the tiny lancets used to prick his fingers and test his blood, as well as his insulin syringes—on the school campus. He was supposed to go to the school nurse's office to test his blood.

I'm diabetic, and I test my blood at least four time a day, often more. That to me looks like a ridiculous policy, especially since, without testing, it's quite possible to become hypoglycemic and pass out with little warning. It's akin to telling someone with a broken leg that her crutches are a potential weapon and she's not allowed to use them on school grounds. Anyway, after the student's parents sued the school, everyone eventually came to their senses and he can now keep his monitoring gear and medication with him.

On the plus side, I've never—not once—encountered a problem bringing my syringes, medication, lancets, and testing gear with me anywhere, including in my carry-on luggage on aircraft. So at least airport screeners have been trained to understand what's going on.

The story, which gave me a good laugh, came from diabeticfeed, whom I found when they used my music in their podcast.


# 10:10:00 AM:

More Vancouver then and now

Even more then and now photos of Vancouver from the city's archives. Here too is a slideshow of the first set I linked to.


# 9:43:00 AM:

Who are the podcasters?

Some interesting (but far from definitive yet) preliminary statistics from researcher Peter Chen at Monash University, who started a er and ger survey a few months ago.

UPDATE: Mack Male wonders what the margin of error on this study might be. I'm not sure you could have a margin of error, since it's not a random sample of podcasters, and can't be considered statistically representative. Here's a classic example of why.


Monday, October 24, 2005 - newest items first
# 2:22:00 PM:

Completely Deserk

California's Desertcast podcast uses "Stop Yield Go Merge," one of my tunes, as its theme song. This week, podcaster "Gatobrit" made funny typo with my name: "Deserk K Miller," in his shownotes. I like it. "Look out! He might go Deserk!"

Actually, it would make a good word for someone with a crazy sweet tooth: "When she saw the all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet, she went completely deserk." Maybe that would be desserk, with two Ses.

Okay, I'm done now.


Sunday, October 23, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:39:00 PM:

Just in time for, er, well...

Over at the shownotes for Adam Curry's Daily Source Code, here is a list of public domain Christmas music, which is therefore , and which anyone can record without worrying about songwriters' royalties and the like.

I think I'll do an instrumental Christmas tune for my Penmachine Podcast when the season comes along. Perhaps "We Three Kings" (not in MIDI style)—I've always thought that was a fantastic melody.

We occasionally break into a wicked surf version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in The Neurotics, but I'm not quite sure I could do that justice by myself.


# 9:00:00 PM:


Yesterday I linked to photos contrasting the Vancouver of 1978 to that of 2003. The city's Planning department was a bit too clever in its web design for those pages, and it's not entirely straightforward to flip back and forth between the older and more modern views. So I'm republishing one section of the panorama that shows the starkest contrast:

False Creek, Vancouver from the Granville Street Bridge, 1978 and 2003

Both top and bottom, you're looking northeast from the middle of the Granville Street Bridge, right about here. The sleepy little metropolis has turned into a city of glass indeed.

And in the '70s, even the photographs were brown. So to get around that, let's try a black-and-white version:

False Creek, Vancouver from the Granville Street Bridge, 1978 and 2003, black and white



Saturday, October 22, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:10:00 PM:

Old and new

Via Kottke, here are black-and-white photos of 16 locations in New York from the mid-1930s, and then again (from the same angle) in the mid-1990s. Some have changed utterly, others hardly at all. The city has become taller, less messy, less industrial, and busier.

New York is iconic, so most people recognize these places, but you could make similar comparison in any city. The differences would be even more stark here in Vancouver. I think of a photo my dad found in his workshop a few weeks ago. He immigrated from Germany in 1955, and took the picture from a stone pedestrian overpass in Stanley Park in '57 or '58. It looks back on downtown Vancouver, with the only tall buildings being the Hotel Vancouver, a new apartment complex on Georgia Street, and the B.C. Hydro office tower—then under construction, and now converted to condominiums. From that same spot today (the overpass remains), you can't see any of those structures, because a forest of hundreds of glass-walled skyscrapers intervenes.

In fact, here, go look at the differences in Vancouver in a mere 25 years between 1978 and 2003.


# 9:41:00 AM:

Words in my podcast: how I record

Derek's recording processThe Editors' Association of Canada, to which I belong, recently asked me to buy a digital recorder for our monthly meetings.

I just did so, and on Friday, October 21 I tested it out by recording a 14-minute podcast of how I record these tunes (9.5 MB MP3 file) on my way from my office at Navarik to the SkyTrain I take home.

If you're interested in what equipment I use, how I construct my original free instrumental songs I record for the Penmachine Podcast, or what the traffic sounds like near Main Street in downtown Vancouver, you might want to give it a listen.


# 12:27:00 AM:

Cool upcoming events

  • Vancouver resident Ivan Tucakov and his Latin guitar–world music band Tambura Rasa are playing at Vancouver's Anza Club on Friday, November 4, 2005. I don't know Ivan, but he emailed me out of the blue last week, and his website and music impressed me. I think my parents would really like Tambura Rasa, so I suggested maybe they go, especially since I may not be able to make it.

  • On Monday October 24 at the Renfrew Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, and on Wednesday October 26 at the Central Library, both at 7:30 p.m., the VPL will hold a public forum called "When Is There Too Much Copyright?"

  • Darren Barefoot, Roland Tanglao, and many of the other Vancouver-Bloggers-Who're-Everywhere (VBWE?) are among the faculty at Raincity Studios' Blogs 'n' Dogs four-day course in Banff, Alberta from December 4 through 8, which also includes dogsledding (!). You can enter to win free admission, accommodation, dogsledding, and meals (but not transport to and from Banff) too.


Friday, October 21, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:16:00 AM:

They should've treated us better when they had the chance

Chris Pirillo:

If they don't want us (I'm NOT the only one) to skip commercials, they need to change their model. [...] Convergence isn't about someone else's business model—it's about taking charge of your lifestyle, on your terms, on your time, on your ground, on your whim. [...] They should've treated us better when they had the chance.


Thursday, October 20, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:42:00 PM:

If you asked Google...

...what Derek needs today, it tells you:

  • Derek Needs a dated list of TV Comedy shows shown on UK television featuring Derek Needs in the cast of crew [I guess there's a guy named Derek Needs]
  • DEREK NEEDS OUR MOJO [Only if you're willing to donate, baby!]
  • Derek Needs A Woman! [Nope! Got one thanks!]
  • Derek needs Heartworm treatment. Derek needs emergency dental care. [Well, which is it?]
  • Derek needs to save this book in article section
  • Derek needs to assume more vocal leadership on this year's team [I'm happy to take on lead vocals if need be]
  • Derek needs YOUR help in writing his next book!
  • Derek needs a dated list of TV Comedy shows shown on UK television [Hmm. Lower case this time.]
  • Derek needs to access the internet to gather the latest weather information [I do have the Environment Canada phone number memorized, however]
  • Derek Needs A Vacation! [Okay!]

Thanks, Darren.


# 10:32:00 PM:

On the Pop!Tech playlist

DougRushkoff_27Pop!Tech is an annual conference about technology, culture, politics, and ideas, held this year in Camden, Maine. Sponsored by the likes of General Electric, National Geographic, Sun Microsystems, Target, and Fortune magazine, the event has included among its speakers such luminaries as Nicholas Negroponte and Malcolm Gladwell.

This year, as part of its streaming media audio of the event, the excellent IT Conversations features music spun by DJ podcasters Julien Smith from In Over Your Head and C.C. Chapman from Accident Hash between presentations. I'm pleased that my tune "Hotcake Syrup" appears in the playlist. If you're a er, er, or music listener, I hope you enjoy it.

And thanks to C.C. and Julien for picking my song too.


# 11:08:00 AM:

Animated map of 2005 hurricanes

You can click on either of the images on this NASA page for an extraordinary MPEG animation showing all the 21 major storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean so far this season (it finishes before Wilma gets very far). It takes only a couple of minutes to watch (if you have a broadband connection), and shows the remarkable power of the Gulf Stream and the warm water of the Gulf if Mexico in shaping and directing the storms.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005 - newest items first
# 2:02:00 PM:

XML 2005 conference agenda finalized

Lauren Wood notes that XML 2005 now has a finalized schedule (Nov 14-15 in Atlanta).


# 1:21:00 PM:

Ground under the boot

Here's a list of the 13,155 spam blogs ("splogs") hosted on Blog*Spot that Blogger deleted over the weekend.

I see some of these blogs because I use services such as Feedster, , PubSub, and IceRocket, as well as the new meta-search, to see up-to-date results on who's writing about "penmachine" or "Derek K. Miller" or "Derek Miller" or "Navarik," my employer. Recently, many of the results have been from splogs, which use soups of random links and excerpts to try to get traffic and PageRank and ad revenue, all while cluttering up the Web with their crap.

My search feeds do seem a lot cleaner today—some of the spam blogs that were using "penmachine" or "derek miller" in their pages a few days ago are already gone, which is a good sign. For some reason, though, a supposed "Vancouver Hotels" spam blog that has persisted for months (and which excerpts some of my material as part of its stream-of-unconsciousness attempt to game Google) still isn't gone, even though I keeping flagging it to Blogger.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:53:00 PM:

I've built a prototype

I love it when a plan comes together:

CD Prototype - Cover CD Prototype - Rear Tray CD Prototype - Spine CD Prototype - Open

I'm sending it to CBC Radio tomorrow.

P.S. I have finally put together an actual audio promo—otherwise known as a commercial—to send to podcasters around the world. It mentions the upcoming album.


# 12:38:00 PM:

Crrrrrrrrap begone!

Well, it's all gone. What a relief.


Monday, October 17, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:39:00 PM:

Vanity project: how to sell music I'm giving away?

Penmachine Sessions Album Cover v.1First, if you've ever wondered what my corporate cover band The Neurotics is like, the latest photos on our site pretty much sum it up.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I want to talk about selling something I'm giving away. I'll explain.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I'm thinking of compiling the 14 podsafe, free instrumental MP3 tunes I've recorded so far for my Penmachine Podcast into an audio CD that I could sell. This is more an experiment and vanity project than any kind of big money-making ploy. I'll probably only make 50 CDs or so to start, for example.

Anyway, I have enough music in those 14 songs (45 minutes, or an album's worth of material from the days of LP records). Since I'm of course leaving the MP3s online—and quite a few podcasters, ranging from tiny local politics and church shows to the South China Morning Post, workers from Canada's CBC, and Adam Curry, have played them or used them for theme songs and background tunes—I'm thinking of ideas that would make the CD more valuable to people. I mean, it might feel nice to give me money for something you could get for free, but an extra incentive would surely help.

My idea is that, in addition to the regular audio CD, I should include a data DVD in the package, with this sort of stuff on it:

  • The original GarageBand files I used to make the songs, so people could grab chunks for reuse, remixing, or whatever. (Only useful for Mac users with GarageBand.)
  • Perhaps individual tracks exported one at a time from GarageBand as AIFF or WAV files, so people can use other audio software to do the same. (Good for non-GarageBand and non-Mac users.) I could include Audacity for Win, Mac, and Linux if people want to try playing with them.
  • Pre-ripped high-quality MP3, AAC, Ogg, WMA, and maybe lossless (FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, or WAV) versions of the songs that can be dropped directly into iTunes or whatever, or sent to your media player or burned to MP3 CD, without having to rip them from the CD yourself.
  • Digital versions of whatever album artwork and liner notes I pull together.
  • Original demo versions of the songs, and maybe some others I never turned into full recordings.
  • Copies of my podcast promos and other stuff I've used in conjunction with the site.
  • Maybe some other video, photos, and stuff. I could put together a little audio or video tour of my recording process, for instance.

I'd like to put as much of it as I can on there, within the 4.7 GB limit of the DVD. What do you think? Any other suggestions? There has already been some discussion in the comments to my previous post.


Sunday, October 16, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:46:00 PM:

It's all crrrrrrrrap!

GeoPort Telecom Adapter: Cleaning Out the Office 6Today I spent 10 hours (!) cleaning out my geek office downstairs, which has accumulated boxes and crates of old electronic equipment, as well as a lot of miscellaneous junk. I'm not even finished yet, and I suspect there may be a trip to Ikea in my future for shelves and drawers to hold the stuff I'm not getting rid of. (There are still three boxes of musical gear, keyboards, miscellaneous wires, mice, and accessories I couldn't bring myself to junk.)

Amid the gear I am ditching, aside from the huge heap of recyclable cardboard, there are not one, but two 20-year-old semi-working computers (plus several more of newer vintage), a box of actually-floppy 5.25" floppy disks, several functioning and non-functioning CRT monitors and inkjet printers that are either obsolete or don't work anymore, and dozens and dozens of cables, some of which probably ceased being useful before some of today's programmers were even born (PhoneTalk anyone?).

Finding this vintage 1993 GeoPort Telecom Adapter was amusing when comparing it to the USB modem Apple introduced last week—which is (I think) the only external Apple modem released in the 12 years since I got the one pictured here. The GeoPort Telecom Adapter worked at 9600 kbps, then 14.4 kbps, then 28.8 kbps (through software upgrades) and depending on the DSP chip in Macs of that era. I used it until 1998 on my Mac Centris 660AV, which is in one of the boxes.

I dragged the cardboard to the Burnaby Recycling Depot this morning, and I'm probably going to haul the electronics out to Electronics Recycling in Surrey on Tuesday, October 18. If you have a perverse desire to add any of it to your own geek office, email me or leave a comment. If you want to trade for a filing cabinet, hey, I'm game.

And don't worry. The retro '70s "Fantasy 500" organ is going to a good home at my parents' place.


Friday, October 14, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:53:00 PM:

Links of interest (2005-10-14):

  • "It's not inconceivable that just as DVDs have surpassed box office in revenues and the theatrical release has become a commercial for the DVD sale, the network TV broadcast could become the commercial for the download sale."

  • "Increasing the number of social contacts a miserable person has is the best way of cheering them up."

  • Is Vancouver the best city in the world? Well, I think so.

  • Wondering what would happen if you looked at the sun through a telescope or binoculars?

  • What is the 7-Eleven milk test? And what does it have to do with buying wood screws?

  • Here's why smartphones largely still suck.

  • Intuit provides you with a cheat sheet to reach humans on the phone at a ton of big companies, from Citibank to Apple Computer.

  • Chris Pirillo's is pretty neat. Chris explains.

  • Go watch this presentation—it's a great example of the anti-PowerPoint approach. It was inspired by Larry Lessig.

  • See visually how different jazz masters improvise.

  • Jason Lefkowitz has some fun at the expense of far-right Republicans in the U.S.A.

  • Dave Shea has a geeky but neat approach to backing up web server files automatically from a Mac.

  • Oh, DoctorQ, we hardly knew ye.

  • How collaborative networks help non-tech companies be more productive.

  • Darren is right that RSS is still too geeky for most people. Oddly, though, podcasts aren't, and they're built with RSS.

  • Tim Bray identifies the few types of programs that are likely to remain outside the browser, and further notes that open formats for data storage are the only way to go.

  • People deciding what to read on the Web are often making unconscious risk analysis decisions.

  • It's not always easy to disentangle why customer service is bad in so many places.

  • Rollyo lets you search using Yahoo!, but only for a small set of sites you're particularly interested in.

  • Here's a free PDF document that can help you be a better supervisor or manager.

  • I agree with Robert Scoble that, while Google is getting the hype right now, Yahoo! really seems to be on the ball with many things right now. Except that Flickr registration stuff, of course. It is odd to hear them say they're new to search, though.

  • "The person here did not tow your car. They are here to help you get your car back. If you cooperate, you will get your car back faster."

  • Podcasting is a great way to record family memories.

  • Sure, E=mc2 is famous, but here's how it applies to you every day.

  • CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers managed to get all the way across Canada and back before her union's lockout ended.

  • An old NYT article on Susan Kare, designer of the original Mac icons.

  • Yet another side of Nobel prizewinner Richard Feynman.

  • I'm a pretty techie guy, but even I found this account of a techie's morning a bit confusing. Is it all the stuff, or is it the writing?

  • If class size in school is supposedly not such a big deal, why do all private schools advertise their small classes?

  • Ouch.

  • Kanye West does not seem to have hurt his career with his rant.

  • "We prefer our risks manageable, and our thinking small."

  • "The involved users, the ones who used to play with ResEdit and hack startup screens, are now reading weblogs to learn about the latest site that hacks Google Maps or Flickr, listening to podcasts, or evangelizing Web standards and copyright reform. These people may use Macs, and they may squawk when Macs aren't supported, but the Mac itself has merely become a conduit to what's new and interesting, rather than being itself the focus."


Thursday, October 13, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:12:00 PM:

The benefits of technology

I'm simplifying his argument a bit here, but Mack Male writes that:

If we didn't pay so much attention to whether or not technology was negatively affecting society, we would carry on with our lives, technology would continue to develop, and everyone would end up better off, just as in the past.

On balance, that has been true up to now—many of us living today in Western democracies enjoy the highest standard of living of any people who have ever lived, anytime, ever in the world. Most drastically, only a few decades ago it was still common for children to die in infancy or early childhood, and for women to die in childbirth, or for any number of people to die of bacterial infections.

On the other hand, technology does not always make everyone better off, regardless of its speed. The more efficient harvesting and farming techniques of, say, Easter Islanders in the mid centuries of the last millennium, or Mayans of about the same time, or Rwandans of the 1970s and 1980s and early '90s, led to unsustainable population growth, and the eventual collapse of their societies, usually in conjunction with environmental disaster and (in the case of Rwanda) genocide.

More simply, think of what Jakob Nielsen wrote recently:

In most industrialized nations, the biggest health problem today is that people get obese because there's too much food and it's too cheap.

For all the previous several million years of human history, through which many of our ancestors scrabbled for food and died young, they (once they developed speech, anyway) would have said, "Nice problem to have." But there are some who would argue that our vast technological improvements in medicine, agriculture, housing, transportation, communications, energy production and consumption, and other fields since the Industrial Revolution (or, in the grander scheme, since the invention of agriculture itself, which is relatively recent) might lead to a larger-scale collapse of our society as well, for the same population-vs.-environment reasons.

Or, less pessimistically, that we simply do not know whether our advances in the latest technologies of all sorts can keep up quickly enough with the negative consequences of their predecessors. The trend of "technology makes us better off" is a pretty good one, so things may continue to work out well, but we can't guarantee that it's predictive either, regardless of its speed—the future is not always like the past.


# 4:55:00 PM:

How to get your own video on the new iPod

100_0267.JPGWant to play home movies or other video files you already have on a new iPod? Apple tells you how. If you don't want to pay for QuickTime Pro (or have an older version, as I do), scroll to the bottom of the page for the specific specs for H.264 or MPEG-4 video that you should export to using other software:

For H.264 video:

  • File formats: .m4v, .mp4 and .mov
  • Video: Up to 768 Kbps, 320 x 240 pixels, 30 frames per second, Baseline Profile up to Level 1.3
  • Audio: AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 KHz, stereo audio

For MPEG-4 video:

  • File formats: .m4v, .mp4 and .mov
  • Video: Up to 2.5 Mbps, 480 x 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile
  • Audio: AAC-LC up to 160 Kbps, 48 KHz, stereo audio


Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - newest items first
# 10:35:00 PM:

Apple nifties

UPDATE: You can convert DVDs to play on your new iPod if you get one (although at much lower quality).

Okay, I was totally wrong about Apple's announcements (who woulda thunk it?), but there are some interesting things about the things they did release today:

  • "Good news for podcasters is the ability [of the new iPod] to record in either 22KHz mono or 44KHz stereo."
  • The new iPods are USB only—no FireWire. Not a good sign for FireWire, which is a better technology in very many ways.
  • The new iMacs do not have internal modems anymore—death to dialup, baby!
  • The eMac is now in Apple's education section only, a sign that the last CRT Mac is probably on its way out.
  • The Apple Remote works both with the new iMac and the Universal iPod Dock—so you can hook up your new iPod (or iMac) to your TV or stereo and control it from afar to watch videos, videocasts, and TV episodes, or listen to music or podcasts. Living room, here we come.
  • The iMac also includes the Mighty Mouse. Soon enough, it will be the end of the quarter-century one-button-only Apple mouse era.


# 1:12:00 PM:

Groovy free instrumental: "That's No Dream"

[Dreamy sky]I've posted another free instrumental song to my Penmachine Podcast. My original composition of "That's No Dream" was a sort of Tori Amos angst solo piano-stomp, with singing and everything, but after removing the words and adding groovy percussion, gritty Wurlitzer piano, funky Hammond organ, and changly Stratocaster guitar, it magically turned into a peppy little four-minute number.

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file (4.8 MB). 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 me credit and let others do the same.

Incidentally, my two favourite bits of this piece are the ten seconds of groove between the 2:24 and 2:33 marks, and the growly, sandpapery single-coil guitar tone I achieved in the lines between 3:00 and 3:30.


# 12:15:00 AM:

How to submit your music to CBC Radio et. al.

Last week, before Canadian Media Guild union members had even signed their with the CBC to get back to work, I got this in email from Lee, one of those who'd put together the "Studio Zero" podcasts made on the picket lines in Vancouver:

I mixed and edited all the CBC Unplugged Studio Zeros over the past weeks. I wanted to write and thank you for passing your music along for use in the shows.

I'm a musician too, and I know the thrill you get from hearing your music used for shows. And I think your stuff is good - just as good as some of the stings we currently have in the CBC sting database.

So, I think you should send a CD of your music to our record library in Vancouver. You never know when someone might want to use it for something.

Very flattering—even more so since I hadn't passed my music along, but had rather been pleasantly surprised when CMG members found and played it. Lee emailed and agreed to let me republish 15 tips to help get my podsafe instrumental tunes on the radio.

You can read the full article here to find out the details. If you have some good music to try to get played on public radio or elsewhere, maybe they'll help you too. I'm now even considering packaging up the tunes as a CD and selling it, to see if there's a small market for higher-quality versions of the music that I'll continue to keep free online too. Thanks, Lee! [READ MORE...]

P.S. What do you think of the "real Derek CD for sale" album idea? Leave a comment.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:12:00 PM:

An answer on my Kodak digicam image problem?

Last month I saw some strange image artifacts in a couple of photos from my point-and-shoot Kodak digital camera. I've seen it only a couple of times since, but generally it hasn't been a problem.

However, it looks like it could be a manufacturing defect with the camera's CCD sensor, which exposes it to damage from heat and humidity. So far Kodak hasn't said anything, but Canon, Fuji, Sony, Minolta, and Nikon have, and my camera's manufacturing date is in the right range, so it's probably only a matter of time. I'll keep an eye out, and if you have a digicam, so should you.


# 5:33:00 PM:

What Apple will announce tomorrow

I have carefully considered all the various options that people have offered, and have determined that at its top-secret event tomorrow Apple Computer must be releasing a fountain of youth powered by a perpetual motion machine. In black, of course.

And, just to spite everyone, it will be prone to scratches.


# 1:16:00 PM:

Want to be fabulous? Ask Randy!

My co-worker Randy has opened up his blog as an "ask Randy" forum. If you have questions about fashion, or just generally how to be more fabulous, he's your man. He already has excellent answers about (for men) whether and how to wear pink dress shirts and (for women) how to dress for a panel discussion.


Monday, October 10, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:51:00 PM:

Yahoo! gets podcasts, and I'm in there

I'm listed in the brand new Yahoo! Podcast Directory.


Saturday, October 08, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:55:00 PM:

Warming the cockles of a classic rock musician's heart

My daughters, ages five and seven, wanted to listen to my iPod today. Each of them wanted not a big list of songs, but just one or two to listen to over and over. (I remember being a kid like that, though with my dad's jukebox instead of an iPod.) What did they want to hear? Hilary Duff? Disney tunes? Nope.

My five year old wanted the Romantics' "What I Like About You." My seven year old, two tracks from James Brown. Right on, sisters!

Or, as James himself sang: "Taste! Piano!"

No, I never understood that either.


Friday, October 07, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:28:00 PM:

Impertinently public

One day some time ago Eevie Oovy (I have no idea of her real name) linked here from her previous blog, and I've been reading her periodically ever since because she's so damn funny. Today she revealed that she's in the midst of getting divorced, and while that's something I have no experience with (my fabulous wife and I just passed our 10th anniversary, and my parents their 40th), she did write something I do understand:

I couldn't really accurately be described as a "private person." Most only children aren't—we never had siblings with whom to share our secrets or from whom to competitively guard them, and without the benefit of learning from that vetting process, we tend to spill willy-nilly.

I too am an only child, and have occasionally learned the hard way that striving for attention by revealing personal stuff (in student newspapers, in magazines, in speeches, and on this blog) can be dangerous. Without very stong instictive filters, I have to think consciously about whether I should write something that someone else (my wife, my kids, my parents, my friends) might (very reasonably) think too private.

There are things, some of them very big and important, that I've never discussed here, and may never. Just do you know.


Thursday, October 06, 2005 - newest items first
# 8:48:00 PM:

Back on the Daily Source Code

After a failed previous attempt, I finally got a piece of audio feedback/promotion on Adam Curry's Daily Source Code podcast #255, following the earlier appearance of one of my songs there.

Also on that show was an amazing mashup called "Frontin' on the Root Down" (7.1 MB MP3 file), which mixes The Who and the Beastie Boys. It had my head boppin' all the way to the SkyTrain after work today.


# 2:55:00 PM:

How the CBC can learn from its lockout

Tod Maffin said he would take a break after the CBC and its union reached a tentative agreement to end its seven-week last week, after a remarkable web-based PR campaign that the union knocked out of the park. But he couldn't really: here's his Future of the CBC blog.

His first question is: "How does the CBC embrace the spirit of open-source communication without risking tarnishing its reputation as a trusted source of reliable, accurate information?"

I'm not sure how to answer. My first question is related, but different: how can we listeners continue to get at the disparate voices we were able to hear from locked-out CBC workers now that the network is coming back online? Will it return to the regional info-blocks it had before, where I never heard the fabulous local broadcasters from CBC North or Newfoundland or Ottawa? If so, that would be a shame.

I think the CBC needs to find a way to become more granular, so that people like me can choose more easily if we want to listen to or watch our own local shows and the usual national ones, or some mix of national, local, and other regional programming. And then of course we need to be able to get involved too—I doubt my music would have been played on the CBC without the lockout, for instance, but now I'm interested in figuring out how to get it there on the regular airwaves. (I've already received some good advice about that from a CBCer—I'll post more later.)


Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - newest items first
# 12:38:00 PM:

Online word processor

Hmm. A word processor set up as an online application, where you can share editing with others.

Nice interface. You can export to or import from Word or HTML format, with more to come.


Thanks for Darren for the link.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - newest items first
# 3:45:00 PM:

Adios, Rancheros

Sheila and Brent Simmons of NetNewsWireNewsGator buys NetNewsWire and hires Brent Simmons, its developer.

(Did they hire Sheila too? They don't say.)

UPDATE: Here's a Q&A with Brent and Greg of NewsGator. No answer to the Sheila question, though.

UPDATED UPDATE: And the answer is... no.


# 2:39:00 PM:

Fetch yourself a free plush toy and FTP client

Back in 1990, when I first got myself on the Internet at the University of British Columbia, one of the Computer Services staff people I knew asked me to test out a new service over my modem, using software called MacTCP and Fetch. Fetch was what was known as a "File Transfer Protocol" (FTP) program, and when I set everything up and launched it, what I saw was a miracle.

There I was, on my Macintosh IIcx, browsing files and folders in a little window. Except those files and folders weren't on my Mac. They were blocks away, in the Comp Sci building on some Unix server somewhere. I was looking at and manipulating files over the Internet. Holy crap.

Now, I no longer use Fetch (I switched to Transmit some years ago, while Fetch was languishing for awhile), but there's a soft spot in my heart for it, the first dedicated Internet application I ever owned.

There's a cool story to it, too. Several years ago, Jim Matthews, who created Fetch back in '89 while working at Dartmouth College in the States, won a bunch of money on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? TV game show. He used some of it to buy back the rights to Fetch from the college, then started updating the program again. Now he's teamed with TidBITS for a giveaway that includes a Fetch license for Mac, plus a stuffed toy of the program's doggy mascot.

You can use this link right here to enter the contest yourself for free (before October 9, by the way)—and if you win, I'll also get the same prize for referring you. That's some fine link mojo.

TidBITS is one of the the Internet's longest-running and most reputable publications (they've been around since 1990), and as soon as the contest is over they throw away your email address, so don't worry about getting spammed. You'll just get a confirmation email, and then another one if you (er, we) win.


# 1:58:00 PM:

Premium subscriptions and Joy Ito's iTunes lament (sorry, that should be Joi Ito)

Todd Cochrane of the excellent Geek News Central podcast asked a couple of questions on his latest edition today:

  1. What premium online services do you subscribe to and why?
  2. Is there any workaround if you lose purchased songs from the iTunes Music Store if you haven't backed them up, i.e., can you re-download them?

My responses:

Premium content

I've never been inclined to pay for material from the New York Times, the National Post or Vancouver Sun here in Canada, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, or any of those other print publications (though the Economist is tempting, and at least if you subscribe to the magazine you get full access to the online material at no additional cost).

What I do subscribe to is Salon Premium. There are several reasons:

  1. Salon remains an independent online-only publication, supporting themselves through advertising, sponsorships, and reader subscriptions. I like their work and find it worth supporting.
  2. They publish lots of stuff, and make tons of it available to subscribers every day. That includes not only excellent articles, but many bonuses (free trial subscriptions to print magazines, free _un-DRMed_ MP3 downloads, even from major artists (I got a free Maroon 5 song, just as one instance, as an MP3 a couple of years before they hit it big).
  3. They support RSS widely, so I can subscribe to new articles, new music articles, and so on, separately.
  4. Being a Premium subscriber lets me kill all the ads on the site.
  5. I can link from my website or send links to friends, and they can still read the material if they're willing to watch a Flash "daypass" ad. Not a bad compromise.
  6. All the old material from Salon, right back to its founding in the 1990s, is still available -- and anything that has ever been free still is. That goes right back to 1996.

Joi Ito's iTunes hell

While I'm a Mac fanatic, like the iTunes store and have bought my share of stuff from it, and love iTunes and my iPod, I still cannot believe that Apple gives you no option to re-download music you've already bought. That is, I think, the iTunes Store's biggest failing, and a competitive disadvantage compared to other purchase services.

I back up my purchased music (as well as burning it to audio CD and re-ripping it to un-DRMed MP3 form, and backing that up too), but saying to customers, "sorry, you lost it and it's gone" is just bad business.

Now, I supposed you could make the analogy that in the old days, if you lost or broke an LP, cassette, or 8-track tape, you'd just have to buy another one if you hadn't made a tape copy, but that's no longer a reasonable excuse. Besides, I don't think there's any technical reason Apple couldn't do that, since re-downloading a song shouldn't be fundamentally different from restoring a DRMed backup you had made yourself.

Yes, now Apple's Backup 3 lets you automatically schedule backups of purchased music if you're a .Mac subscriber. But even with 1 GB of storage on your iDisk now, if you buy a lot of music and have a lot of other files, that might not be enough. Re-downloading is a dead simple idea, is fully legal, and (here's the rub) is supported by other music purchasing services. Apple shouldn't let them have a customer-service advantage over the iTunes store, but right now they do. It's a shame.

It does look like Joi Ito's wife is SOL on her purchased music if there's no backup, but maybe an email to Apple Customer Support might yield a way to download the files again. But Apple's wording is pretty clear:

...if your hard disk becomes damaged or you lose any of the music you've purchased, you'll have to buy any purchased music again to rebuild your library.

NOTE: Just so you know, iTunes Music Store files are easy to back up—they behave like any other file. You can copy them to DVD-R or CD-R, to a flash drive, to another computer, to a web server. You can zip compress them. You can do what you like, and when you bring them back to an authorized computer with iTunes (you can authorize up to five for a single iTunes store account), they will play. The encryption and DRM are keyed to your iTunes store account, and thus to the computers you currently have authorized through Apple's servers.

The copy prevention isn't really that, in fact: you can copy all you like, as Apple says: "Songs purchased on the iTunes Music Store can be copied to an unlimited number of computers. However, only five computers at a time can play [my emphasis - D.] your purchased music." You can authorize and de-authorize computers at will, up to your five-machine limit. So as long as you remember to de-authorize computers before you sell or get rid of them, you're fine. The lesson is: back up, back up, back up.


Monday, October 03, 2005 - newest items first
# 2:30:00 PM:

Feeling old?

I wrote about the famous Harriet the Tortoise here five years ago, in one of my earliest journal entries on this site. At the time she had just turned 170, and she is now 175 years old (as far as anyone knows). Charles Darwin collected Harriet on the Galápagos Islands in 1835.

Yes, that's right. There is an animal alive and thriving right now in an Australian zoo that was (probably) born the year Faust premiered, Upper Canada College was founded, Andrew Jackson became president of the United States, the first typewriter was patented, James Smithson started the Smithsonian Institution, and the last Bounty mutineer died. If people lived that long, both pianist Anton Rubinstein and jeansmaker Levi Strauss would still be alive.

For that matter, so would my great-great-great-grandparents, whose names I do not even know. I doubt they lived long enough to meet their great-granddaughter, whom I knew as my Oma, and who died four years ago herself.

So yup, Harriet's old.


# 12:34:00 PM:

Office UI blog

Microsoft employee Jensen Harris is blogging about the history and future direction of the user interface for Microsoft Office.


Sunday, October 02, 2005 - newest items first
# 11:42:00 PM:

Looks like CBC will be back soon

They have a deal.


# 10:50:00 PM:

Rock and roll wedding

Neurotics-Mop Tops 1The guy playing bass on the right side of this photo is Mark. This is a few hours into the party following his marriage to the fabulous Mandy.

In addition to much good food and many jokes (including a lie detector administered to the groom by his now brothers-in-law), there was a whole lot of rock, with a whole lot of guest stars. Check out the album and see how it went.


Saturday, October 01, 2005 - newest items first
# 9:45:00 AM:

YAFI (Yet Another Free Instrumental): "How Tall Jennifer Is"

I imagined "How Tall Jennifer Is" as a Green Day-style pop-punk number, but somehow it didn't turn out that way. Instead, it's soft at both ends and fast and loud in the middle (so don't let the first minute fool you). Think of it as starting on the front porch, moving into the padded garage, and then ending back on the porch.

The Jennifer in question is one of my daughters' imaginary friends. They have many. And I don't have a clue how tall she is.

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file (3.7 MB). As has been my trend recently, 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 me credit and let others do the same.


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