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: April 2006," 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.
Okay, we officially have too many printers in this house now. In addition to the ancient but still functional Apple LaserWriter we've had for years, and the Brother laser printer we bought a few weeks ago to replace it, we've now received a Canon Pixma MP150 photo printer-scanner-copier, courtesy of our pals Jeff and KA, who got a spare one with the the two new computers they just bought.
So, (1) thanks, KA and Jeff, and (2) yikes, this is printer crazy. (They're all on my Ikea Jerker desk, and all plugged in ready to work.) But I no longer have to buy a new scanner!
That would be, er, me. Interestingly, while it sounds like interviewer James Devon and I are in the same room, we actually recorded the interview as a "double ender," where James and I simply spoke on the phone, while each of us recorded only our side of the conversation. I sent him my audio file, and he merged them in audio software and lined them up again, so neither of us had that dreaded staticky phone voice.
This week the Vancouver Sun republished a report from Edmunds that tested some of the received wisdom about how to get better fuel economy from your car. In real-world tests, Edmunds found that even some of their own previous advice was wrong.
So, to get better mileage out fo your existing vehicle, you should avoid driving aggressively, stick to the speed limit, use cruise control, feel free to use air conditioning (really—especially on the highway, since open windows actually offset any fuel savings by increasing drag), be aware of but not obsessed with tire pressure, and avoid idling (i.e. if you're stopped for more than a minute, shut off the engine).
If you're looking for a vehicle with excellent fuel economy to start with, here are some options that might not have been in the list of usual suspects like the Toyota Yaris/Echo or Mercedes Smart Car.
That's Mark ("Bumpy") on the left, Doug's ("Swingy") mouth and cheek just behind Mark's left ear hidden beyond the hair, me ("Sticky") with the teeth, and Sean ("Dilly") looking all suavé. A glamorous bunch we are, no?
Just in case that's too fearful, Tomo from my office took some photos of the audience street-level view.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 - newest items first # 9:57:00 PM:
My wife's podcast Lip Gloss and Laptops is coming up on its 10th episode, but before that happens you still have a couple of days (until April 30) to fill out their listener survey and maybe win an iPod nano. Cooler still, if you win one (it's one of the two in the photo), the other one goes to the podcast you identify, so tell 'em it's Lip Gloss and Laptops and maybe my wife can finally replace her iPod shuffle.
On the other hand, if you'd prefer a black iPod nano and would like to buy one, as of today you can do so from here and I'll get a small kickback from the Apple store for sending you over:
This past weekend was very musical for me. I played two very different performances, worked on some new tunes for my podcast, and also recorded a funny little punk rock jingle for the Daily Source Code podcast ("The Pissed Off Adam Curry Theme," which you can download in 25 second and 10 second versions).
After my hard-rocking, drumstick-breaking, finger-blistering experience at the Sun Run yesterday, my family went to the expansive house of my kids' piano teacher, Lorraine, whose husband, Kelly (also a pianist), was having a birthday. As you might expect, there were numerous musicians there, and I brought a small bit of my gear to join in on the inevitable jamming.
I am not a jazz musician. I can hardly read any musical notation, play both guitar and drums completely by ear, know next to no music theory, and grew up firmly in the rock-n-roll tradition. Playing with the jazzbos was a bit of a high-wire act for me, in fact more nerve-wracking than rocking out for 50,000 fans earlier in the day. (Stage fright isn't one of my problems.)
I fit in well enough with the swinging renditions of old Kinks tunes ("Sunny Afternoon") and so on—those are well within my expertise—but when Kelly and his long-time cohorts started into their standards and jazz renditions of other classic songs, I found myself straining, thinking where is the beat, where is the damn beat?! as they effortlessly floated through strange chord progressions and stretched the time and meter of tunes.
While I think I pulled it off—sometimes even on my guitar (mostly by finding the key and then just noodling in a blues scale) and more often on my single snare drum, cymbal, and brushes—I gained new respect for what accomplished, seasoned, and knowledgeable musicians can achieve. They delighted in clever juxtapositions of melody and harmony, in the interactions of different instruments, in giving each other space to improvise and explore the song and their instruments.
Certainly I was thinking very differently as I played along, spending more time counting beats in my head while trying to drift away from that thought and feel the music at the same time. When playing in my rock band, I'm concentrating much more on the groove (rather than the swing), on the audience's reaction, on what we'll play next, on how to keep hydrated and how to keep the energy up.
Both our Sun Run show and the birthday party featured improvisation, but of very different kinds—at the Sun Run, the improv was in comedy, and in switching songs and lyrics around in unexpected ways, while staying true to the rock spirit. At the party, the improv was more intimate and more traditional, and more theoretical. And yes, I respect those jazz guys, but I don't think I'll become one. The rock is still the fun for me.
Via Kottke, here is a great feature page on the Empire State Building's 75th Anniversary. The slideshows and video are both short and entertaining, and the articles fascinating. Give it a read before it disperses behind the NYT paywall.
Drumming is highly physical, as you would expect, but it has been many years since I've played so hard and for so long that, as Ringo yelled on "Helter Skelter," "I've got blisters on me fingers!"
At one point during yesterday's Sun Run—where we played at the starting line for nearly three hours straight, with one break of maybe eight minutes, and a few others of perhaps a minute each (i.e. nearly continuously)—my hand suddenly felt sticky. I looked down and realized it was bleeding. But we couldn't stop, so I bandaged it up later when I got home.
If you're in the Vancouver Sun Run tomorrow morning, I'll be the drummer with The Neurotics, the band playing on the scaffold at the starting line, near the corner of Georgia and Burrard streets in downtown Vancouver. Here's your visual cue for what I'll look like (second from right):
This is our 13th year (!) playing for the 50,000 people at the run. Feel free to wave hi, though the chances that I'll be able to spot you are slim, given the size of the crowd.
I have to be there at 5 a.m. to set up. That's always a ton of fun.
For the first time in my life I've dyed my hair (or, more accurately, my wife dyed it). Right now I'm also sitting at my desk at work barely able to see these words as I type them because my pupils are super-dilated from an ophlalmologist's appointment this morning, so I look a bit psycho because I'm wearing big sunglasses to keep the optical pain down from the bright light, and I have the crazy new hair.
Finally, on a similar note, a couple of weeks ago my eight-year-old daughter got her first pair of glasses—which are so much cooler than the first pair I got back in the 1970s. I'm jealous. She also dyed her hair, but ths photo below is an earlier one:
P.S. My eyes are healthy, though I remain just as nearsighted as ever.
The first was professional development for my work, in the form of a workshop by Dr. Diana Wegner from Douglas College. While ostensibly about writing and editing reports (from research papers to feasibility studies), it went much further than that.
Most critically, Dr. Wegner specified a real definition of written coherence—that is, creating coherence means:
Reducing mental effort for those reading a document.
Making it efficient for them to find and understand the information inside.
She also identified the single most critical step in the production of a report or other document: converting it from being writer-focused (usually structured as a first-draft chronology of ideas and research the writers undertook) to reader-focused (structured into topics that make sense to the eventual audience).
Both ideas, although encompassing things that I've been doing subconsciously as an editor for years, put into clear focus why I do them, and helped me understand how to do them better.
The second event was a talk by Sam Corea, the key communications person for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Committee, who talked candidly to the EAC-BC monthly meeting about the complex processes required to create, edit, and distribute the multifarious documents that organization will have to produce (from slick guidebooks to anti-doping medical forms), electronically, online, and in print, during the next four years. He also revealed that there will probably be a lot of work for writers and editors for the Winter Olympics here, starting soon.
And the discussion got me to thinking: it's time for some of us to start gunning for the roles of Official 2010 Winter Olympic Podcasters. You know it'll happen.
At the beginning of this year, I sent personal emails to each of the podcasters I could find who had played some of my free podsafe music on their shows. I know I didn't reach them all, because many might not have reported it or didn't show up in my various searches around the Web and blogosphere.
So, to all of those who've played my music on your shows, or used it in your promos, or downloaded and enjoyed it, or bought my album: thank you. I genuinely appreciate your choosing my work, and I hope to be able to tell you so personally by email when I can. If you're coming to Gnomedex in Seattle in June, please email me if you're interested in saying hello in person.
Across the street from my office sits a decrepit old foundry, built in 1918 and long a red landmark on the east edge of Vancouver's downtown core. I've wondered why it hasn't been torn down: it really is in rough shape.
Well, it turns out that plans are afoot to disassemble the building, construct a parkade underneath, and then—yes really—rebuild it on top as a new mixed-use structure.
Or maybe not. The city's plan for the site hasn't been seriously updated since early 2004, so I'm not sure what's actually going to happen. If the update is supposed to occur before the 2010 Olympics (the athletes' village will be right next door), they'd better get moving.
If you have Adobe/Macromedia's Flash development environment, SlideShowPro looks to be the best slideshow software you can get to put pictures on your website, or so says everyone who's pointed me to it.
It's been close to three months since I created a new promo (effectively a commercial) for my Penmachine Podcast, so last night, when the kids were at the in-laws' house for the night, I made one (1.9 MB MP3 file, 1 min 30 sec).
The promo describes what my podcast is about—subscribe, and you get a free song whenever I make one—and includes examples of some of the tunes I've published over the past couple of years. If you have a podcast, please consider playing the promo. If you've been listening to my various older promos, you'll notice that I'm figuring out how to get a better sound over time.
If you want to hear what a difference a good recording tool like GarageBand makes, take a listen to my 2001 demo of "It Wouldn't Hurt" (2.4 MB MP3 file) and compare it to the rest of the tracks in my podcast.
It's a little ditty I recorded with my old Power Mac, a free version of Pro Tools running on Mac OS 9, a drum machine program called Virtual Drummer, a Radio Shack microphone, and my guitar and bass plugged straight into the computer without any effects processing. (Even the guitar distortion is purely me overdriving the Mac's input.) For me it's fairly painful to listen to, but I guess it doesn't hurt too badly, considering.
Since Apple released Safari more than three years ago, it's been my main web browser. (My wife uses Firefox.) I found it generally speedier and less cluttered than the alternatives, and I particularly liked its ability to synchronize all its passwords and bookmarks through my .Mac account, so every copy I use, at work, on my own machine, or on my account on my wife's iBook, operates the same way.
However, as of today I've switched over to Camino. I've had it, and its many predecessors, installed on my Macs since it first appeared years ago, but now the 1.0 version really is ready for prime time. It's faster than Safari, uses the same more widely supported rendering code as Firefox, Mozilla, and new versions of Netscape, and has a nice Mac-centric user interface, with tons of cool skins available too (I prefer the colourful but low-key Skyy v2).
Some things are a bit clunky—customizations require separate utilities that sometimes lack the interface polish of the main application. But it works well, and the overall experience is superior to Safari or Firefox (or OmniWeb or Opera or iCab) for me.
The key thing that got me to switch over is CamiTools, which permits bookmark synchronization. Like other Camino add-ons, it's a bit of hassle: you need an FTP server instead of .Mac, the upload/download process is manual so you have to remember to do it, and when you download bookmarks you need to restart the browser. But it's good enough to get me to change over, and I'm sure it will improve. Good job, Camino team.
Like Eric Rice, I've noticed that the text in the spam I receive, while still auto-generated by the spammers, is getting more baroque and almost entertaining in its strangeness—rather than random words, they are almost-sensible phrases now. You'd think Spamusement would be having a field day, but maybe Steven's spam filters are too effective now.
In their latest episode of Lip Gloss and Laptops, my wife and her co-host KA discover that, while there are many approaches to finding The Perfect Red Lipstick, my wife actually couldn't find one for herself.
But if you do like red lipstick, you can win a tube of MAC Lip Lacquer, mailed directly from Lip Gloss and Laptops HQ in Vancouver. Listen to the show (or better yet, subscribe) to find out how to enter by email.
Last year AOL bought Weblogs Inc. (publisher of Engadget and other sites) for more than $25 million USD. Based on that number, Dane Carlson set up a simple calculator to figure out the value of your blog—at least in terms of what Weblogs Inc. got paid. (Thanks for Maryam for pointing me to it.)
So what's this site worth? $89,761.86 USD, although that number is some $18,000 more (!) than when I checked a few minutes ago.
I started checking the sites of some people I know or have met who get similar or more traffic than I do:
But wait! It doesn't have to be just blogs. Apple.com would set you back $37,194,717.90 (a steal!), Microsoft.com a mere $25,394,702.82 (take that, market share), Flickr.com $39,548,849.70 (take that, highly profitable companies), Yahoo.com $10,882,073.04, and Google.com (sorry, Yahoo!) $80,904,791.94, which was the highest I could find.
But while some of us from the first list might part with our domains for that kind of money, I doubt any in the second list would.
You want a blog not from people commenting on the comments about others' comments (like mine sometimes is)? You want one from people in the trenches? WarShooter is it, from photographers working in war zones. Astounding.
There's a reason Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal is one of the highest profile technology columnists around: his review of Apple's new Boot Camp Windows enabler explains pretty much everything a non-techie would need to know without dumbing it down or omitting anything more technical users need either.
Cabel Sasser of Panic Software has a geekier try at a review, but his has more pictures and is way more fun if you're a power user, especially with the movie of Half Life 2 at the end. Read both!
Darren Barefoot is pleased that Forrester Research has taken the mantle of Podcasting Antichrist away from him. While I'm steeped in podcasting stuff, it does still seem that the majority of podcast listeners are also podcasters themselves right now—sort of the "echo chamber" people talk about in blogs, but more literally. Many podcast audiences overlap considerably with those from other podcasts.
But that's fine. I'm not expecting to make money at it, at least not now, and I sure enjoy the podcasts I listen to and the podcasts I help make. Organizations like CBC (see Tod Maffin's not-so-subtle hints) and all the new formal and informal groups and collectives and individuals putting out shows seem to be expecting podcasting to come on strong, and quite soon. There's even been a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Certainly, I only listen to a fraction of the radio I used to, and even most of my iPod listening time is now podcasts (including music shows) rather than music I've ripped from CD or downloaded. I may be the thin edge of the wedge, but everyone I've introduced to the concept finds it remarkably cool once they get it. Which does take some time.
It's like web pages and email in the early '90s, or TiVo/PVRs in the late '90s. There are early adopters, but the benefits are compelling enough that a mass audience will come eventually. Whether there'll be money in it for many people is an open question. And, as in blogs, perhaps irrelevant:
This blog doesn't make money (with AdSense it does little more than break even), but I still enjoy making it, and while a podcast takes more time and effort, there's joy in knowing that people around the world (even small numbers of them) enjoy what you're giving them too.
Their podcast gives my wife and her co-host an in to go get the inside scoop from cosmetics retailers and manufacturers, to interview people who share their interests, and share what they find with other interested people. It's a fun hobby, and something more productive to do on Friday night than watch TV.
Through my own podcast, I've had my original music played and enjoyed by hundreds of shows, and exposed to thousands of people all around the globe. I was in a band in the early '90s that played dozens of gigs and even toured to Australia, and I doubt we ever got heard by as many people. And I don't even play live.
So even now, even with a small audience, even if Forrester is completely correct, podcasting has its worth. It's just not an industry yet. Just as well.
There is, apparently, a Vancouver city bylaw (#2849, section 175B) stating that it is an offence to stop your car "within 6 metres of the nearest edge of the closest sidewalk on an intersecting street." In other words, you can't park less than about 20 feet from a streetcorner that has a sidewalk on it. It's not a bylaw I knew about till this evening, but it's a sensible one in retrospect.
I parked less than six metres from a sidewalked streetcorner this morning, because I was planning to drive from my work to Paul Garay's monthly Podcast Pizza Party in Langley. When I got out to my car around 6:30 p.m., there it was, gone. Towed by Busters Towing.
I don't bedgrudge Busters that. I violated the bylaw, and it's their job to tow my car once it's been ticketed, which they did sometime after 12:10 p.m. There is a Busters lot a 5-minute walk from where I had parked, but that wasn't where my car was—it was at the city's larger impound lot, under the Granville Street Bridge, which took about 25 minutes to reach by transit. I paid the towing charge (about $50) and took the ticket in preparation for paying the $40 I'm supposed to owe the city.
Except Busters broke my car. Even as I drove it off the lot, I discovered that my steering wheel needed to sit about 45 degrees to the left for the car to go straight. I parked (legally), walked over to the towing kiosk, and asked for a damage report form. The clerk was helpful and provided it to me, and I filled it out, took a copy, and went to drive home. But within blocks I knew something was seriously wrong. The wheels were squealing, the steering was wobbly and mushy—the car was not safe to drive.
By this time I was mere blocks from my office again, so I pulled the car into a spot where I know it's legal to park 24 hours a day, across the street from our building. I called my car insurance company (I had already started a claim after I left the Busters lot) to arrange for the car to be towed to an inspection facility, and then to a repair shop, sometime in the next few days. Then I walked to the SkyTrain and made my way home—as I realize I should have done to start with. If I had left my car at home and just gone there before heading to Langely—well, I'd be driving that car home by now.
I expect that my insurance company will pay for the repairs, and bill Busters for them. I also expect that Busters will refund my towing fee, since they didn't do the job the city hired them to do (move my car without breaking it), and which—given their 60-year history of towing cars—everyone should expect them to be able to do competently. I also expect the city to waive the $40 parking fine, since if the city enacts a bylaw saying that my car should be removed if it's parked improperly, it's their responsibility to hire someone capable of moving it without breaking it.
I mean, would the city expect me to pay the fine if their contractor had blown my car up with explosives instead? (It would still be gone from the offending spot.) I hope not. The city, or its agent, is allowed to impound my car if I violate a bylaw, but not to damage it.
As long as my car gets fixed and I end up not having to pay anything for the bad ticketing and towing work, I'll be fine. So there are some phone calls to make tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006 - newest items first # 8:53:00 AM:
This page (another one from Darren) links to a QuickTime video providing a fascinating analysis of how a single drum break from a 1969 single B-side (not by James Brown, but "Amen Brother" by the Winstons) found its way into a huge variety of different music via sampling, dub plates, and crazy digital processing. An "entire subculture" based on six seconds of drum break from 1969, in fact, as the narrator says.
The copyright issues get really weird near the end, but there's good commentary in it, and makes a good argument for the possibilities inherent in freely sharing and borrowing sounds. It argues the same reasons why my music is pretty much all free for people to sample, remix, webcast, and so on.
Wikipedia's huge list of 2006 April Fool's pranks is informative, but it's so dry that it takes most of the fun out of the items by explaining them to death. Maybe just follow the links when they still work.
Since I've been working with WordPress lately, I found the WordPattern hoax funny, mostly because of the changes over the day: "We've been bought by Flickr and now we're WordPattrn," "Oh wait, we've been bought by Yahoo!, so now we're WordPattrn!"
Yes, very in-joke, but I'm in there, so it was funny.
At my work we have an intranet where each employee posts a little bio. On mine, I end with the tongue-in-cheek: "He likes coffee. And cheese. And valid XHTML." That's a slightly funny in-joke at a company full of web developers, but there's truth in it. I have, however, had trouble for years explaining what "valid XHTML" means to non-geeky people, and why it should be important.
A good explanation requires not dumbing down a concept, but finding the right metaphor. So here's my latest attempt.
What is valid web page code?
Valid web page code is really irrelevant for most people to know about, even if it's good for the web pages they look at to have it. All it means is that the code behind the web page—the actual text file that your web browser grabs from the website and then interprets to create the web page you see—conforms to a technical standard, where it might not have before. The trend over the past several years among savvy web designers and developers has been to write more and more valid code, although there are still plenty of sites (most, in fact) that aren't built that way.
A web page made with valid code may not look any different when you view it in the browser than an invalid one, but having it validate according to the specification means that you can better rely on more people on more different computers being able to see it roughly the way the designer intended, and that it will be easier to work with in the future. Often that also means that it's more accessible to people with disabilities, is less likely to look break on mobile devices or even old browsers. It's also usually easier (and thus cheaper) to maintain in the longer term.
However, it's just as possible to build an ugly and useless website with valid code—the actual usefulness of the content, usability of the information architecture, and attractiveness of the design are separate matters. Quite often, those who care about elegant code also care about elegance in those other things, but that's not always true.
How building a web page is like constructing a dresser
The difference between valid and invalid web code is sort of like the difference between building, say, a wooden dresser with a rough-and-ready batch of screws and nails and glue and woods of different sizes and types, without a blueprint. A talented woodworker can make it look great and do its job, especially with a nice coat of paint on top. But if you ever need to fix it later, you'll have a heck of a time finding the tools and parts to take it apart and put it back together again, especially if you're not the person who built it. Think of that as old-style "hack it together" web code.
If the dresser is built more elegantly, perhaps without nails at all, it's easier to add to or modify, and easier for others to repair. Plus all the other woodworker geeks will admire your work. Think of that as XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language) built to conform to the spec.
And of course it's a point of pride among the geeks to have your web pages validate completely to the spec with no errors at all, which in real-world terms has some merit, but isn't the be-all end-all. Still, that's never stopped anyone before, has it?
Oh, and if you want, you can check the validity of the code on this page anytime. Whenever I discover that my home page isn't validating, I compulsively fix it, even though usually there's no practical impact to the problem for anyone visiting.
Last year I had a great time when my work sent me to the Gnomedex conference in Seattle in June, where I heard my first real podcast—Adam Curry, doing his 200th episode of the Daily Source Code, live on stage in front of me (you can hear the MP3).
(In podcasting terms, that's sort of like my first movie-going experience, which was seeing Star Wars. Unlike Luke and Chewbacca, though, my first live-in-person podcast didn't impress me at the time.)
Anyway, a lot has happened in the 9 months since then. I started my own podcast, and put my music on Adam's Podsafe Music Network, where it has been downloaded and used by hundreds (yes, hundreds) of other podcasters for background tunes, theme songs, promos, and so on.
Most recently, my wife started her own podcast. And now you know what? She's coming to Gnomedex 2006 with me. What kind of geek fantasy is that—having your wife go from tolerating your techie obsessions to having the same ones, and coming to the next Nerd Woodstock with you? It's damn cool, that's what it is.
P.S. In her next episode, my wife and her co-host KA interview Ponzi, who of course co-organizes Gnomedex with her fiancé Chris—and on that episode, coming Wednesday April 5, you'll hear some exclusive fun Gnomedex news.