I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
This is "Penmachine.com: August 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.
P.P.S. I must send condolences to Todd Cochrane, whose father died in a car crash yesterday, scuttling our plans to meet here in his home city of Honolulu. His niece is also in hospital from the collision, so he and his family have traveled to Michigan to be with the rest of his relatives. That is sad news indeed.
Inside Home Recording, the podcast I've co-host since the spring, turns one year old this week, and we just posted our first anniversary episode and a new listener survey that, if you fill it out, could win you a spiffy guitar amp simulator plugin and controller from Native Instruments, worth about $600 USD. Cool!
I'm not looking for work—I love my job—but I could have used this list of 50 answers to common job interview questions about a decade ago. It may seem opportunistic, but the list helps you answer the questions both honestly and effectively. (Via Jason Kottke.)
Also via Kottke is another useful list: warning signs of bogus science. I like this quote: "The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test."
With their 26th episode now released, my wife and her co-host KA have produced half a year's worth of shows for Lip Gloss and Laptops, their beauty and cosmetics podcast, which debuted March 1, 2006, sticking firmly to their weekly schedule through hell, high water, and even Gnomedex. Congratulations!
They also now have a sponsor, so if you need you buy a domain or get yourself a website, the code gloss10 gets you 10% off at GoDaddy.com. Lip Gloss and Laptops has paid to host their site at GoDaddy since the beginning, so it's a sponsor they believe in. Plus the staff at GoDaddy report that, in their sponsorship office, the women own an average of 11 lip glosses and sticks apiece, which is impressive.
Alas, my wife and I will be unable to attend BarCamp Vancouver at the end of the month, because we'll be in Hawaii with the kids (it's a rough life). But I'll be here in spirit, because I composed a custom bit of theme music for BarCamp entitled "El Campo" (4.4 MB MP3 file, 3 min 48 sec).
Why a technology geek meetup in Vancouver would have theme music that sounds like an early Santana Latin-rock instrumental, I don't know. You can't control the muse.
Back in May I noted that Brian Eno and David Byrne had released some original multitrack audio from their 1981 album collaboration for free remixing by fans. Now Peter Gabriel has done the same, also using tracks from 1981 and 1982, but in this case the music is much better known.
Yes, now you can take a crack at remixing "Shock the Monkey," which is one of the songs (and certainly one of the videos) that helped define my life as a musician and music fan. (The album it appears on is #2 of my top 10 headphone discs.) Submit your entry by September 30 and you could win the very cool and expensive Duende effects plugin rack unit from SSL.
For me, just being able to download and hear the original unadorned multitracks from "Shock the Monkey" is prize enough (you need to create an ID an log in to do that). There are also some spiffy videos on the site showing how Gabriel sampled sounds (including scraped pipes and smashed TV tubes) for use with the then-revolutionary Fairlight CMI sampling synthesizer, which helped the album they appeared on gain its creepy vibe.
Ten years ago this month, I returned to the world of software. I'd spent my last few years at university in the early '90s pestering people about this Internet thing—I'm proud to have been the only student on an information technology task force, and one of those who argued strongly that Internet access both be kept open on campus, and be promoted to expand the diversity of its online population, all before the Web had even been invented.
But in 1994 I had veered off into a career as a full-time rock drummer (something I still do on the side). We weren't low-tech by any means: we made the cover of the local Burnaby newspaper with our radical ideas of being one of the first indie bands with our own email list, plus copies of our songs posted on a "World Wide Web Site" called the Internet Underground Musical Archive (IUMA).
But I was then in the music business, not the software business. In 1995 I bailed out on the musicians' lifestyle and briefly flirted with a job in magazine advertising (where I ended up in charge of much of the computer stuff, of course), but by August of '96 I'd answered an ad in the newspaper (remember those?) at a Vancouver company called Maximizer, acting as administrative assistant to a bunch of Windows developers who'd just released what should have been called Maximizer 3.1, but instead was "Maximizer 3.0is," with is not being the world "is," but the acronym I.S., standing for Internet Savvy. (Very cute.)
That fall I also recall meeting my old UBC friend Bill Dobie for lunch in Gastown. We chatted about the upcoming U.S. presidential election (could Dole beat Clinton?) and a job he'd found through a similar newspaper ad: working as a shipping agent, visiting freighters and learning about the ocean cargo business, which was still running its communications largely by telex machine. Look where that got him—and now me.
I stayed at Maximizer for four and a half years, through three major versions of the software, and the whole up-and-down wave of the dot-com boom and bust, which eventually shunted me out the door when a third of the company lost their jobs in January 2001. Now it's been ten years since the day I started there and HR Manager Amy Jones showed me around the office, and almost five years since I left.
My one regret? That while I worked there, I didn't bother to try the brand-new Caffè Artigiano that had been built across the street. How much great coffee I missed out on, I tell you.
P.S. As a funny aside, back in 1993, this is everything I had to say about the Web: "The World-Wide Web is the beginnings of a 'hypertext' Internet package, where you can select almost any word in a piece of text and automatically be cross-referenced to others related to it." Yeah, I guess it was that, back when Aliweb was still a prototype of the first search engine.
John Gruber points out that in the U.S., MacMall now offers MacBook laptops with both Mac OS X and Windows XP preinstalled, for a price that's cheaper than buying the MacBook and Windows XP separately. I know that some individual resellers have been doing this already, but this is the first I've seen it from a major online company.
Thursday, August 17, 2006 - newest items first # 8:37:00 PM:
The conversion is now complete. In the year since my wife and I celebrated our 10th anniversary, she has successfully converted herself into a laptop-totin', podcast-producin', internetfamous geekgirl. The evidence? (Besides the laptop totin' and podcast producin', I mean.) For our 11th anniversary this weekend, she bought me a super-cool groovy geekbag!
I mean, check it out: it's a carryon-sized rolling suitcase and on the side there's a slide-out zipper pocket designed exclusively for a laptop computer in its padded sleeve, and it fits The BlackBook perfectly. I know, I know, it looks like a less messy, high-tech version of one of those veterenarian documentaries of a horse giving birth. But is it cool or what?
"It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense... In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary order], or plan, you get a bunch of PowerPoint slides... [T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides."
[...] It was like telling an automobile mechanic to use a manufacturer's glossy sales brochure to figure out how to repair an engine.
This sums it all up: "PowerPoint provides a thumbnail sketch of what you might say; written documents make you actually say it." When what you're saying are the plans for military action, you'd better say it. (Depressing link via Bill.)
Local Vancouver internetfamous dude Kris Krug was interviewed by host Priya Ramu on CBC Radio One's show "On the Coast" yesterday, and I managed to capture an audio file of his segment (2.4 MB MP3 file, about 6 minutes). They talk about the influence of Internet buzz on the upcoming movie Snakes on a Plane:
In big cities car crashes where people die sometimes don't even get reported, unless they tie up traffic. But there was recently a fatal collision on Pender Island, and the difference is remarkable: it seems that the entire island is affected. Perhaps that's as it should be generally, but it's also distressingly common in larger communities, so we filter it out. (Via Tris.)
Robert Scoble is one of the most popular bloggers in the world, but it doesn't get to him too much:
Being an A lister is not a good reason to blog. Nick will find that out soon enough. Starbucks lattes are still $3. I still need to take out the trash and wash the dishes. Sigh.
He doesn't live in a palace and sit on a golden Captain Kirk command chair zapping out blog posts with lightning bolts from his fingers, you know. I was at his old house near Seattle last month, and it looked a lot like the one my in-laws have in Maple Ridge. Except the TV was waaaaay bigger.
I know and like Matt Mullenweg well enough, and use his software, but I have to recommend that you go vote for local boy Will Pate in the Valleywag Web 2.0 poster boy smackdown. I mean, look at the photos: no contest!
I think I've figured out a rule for downloadable software:
If its website contains a picture of a product box (even if there is no way to get the product in an actual box under any circumstances) or uses frequent exclamation marks, or both, then chances are the software costs money. See here, here, here, here, and here.
If there is no product box shot or exclamation marks are few, or both, chances are the software is free, open source, or donationware. See here, here, here, here, and here.
It's not a hard and fast rule, but it works much of the time.
Here's a really touching post from Dave Winer that starts off being about black players in baseball and ends up recalling us Canadians singing "O Canada" at Gnomedex last month. Some of my fellow Canucks asked me, as sometime-pro musician and composer of this year's Gnomedex song, to lead the group, so here are my wife and me about to belt it out:
This past spring I posted about a subtle processing difference that led my father, an astrophotographer, to choose a Canon digital SLR over a Nikon, even though he could have used my Nikon lenses for day-to-day photography and saved a lot of money.
According to DPReview's spec list, Nikon's new D80 DSLR, the successor to the D70s that he was considering, now offers the option to turn off (as well as adjust the aggressiveness of) the "high ISO noise reduction," which was the problem that pushed him to the Canon side. The new Nikon also features mirror lock-up, which was my dad's other deal-breaker.
But he has the Canon now. I still have the lenses, and no camera to use them with yet, but when I get my own DSLR someday, it will likely be a Nikon, since I'm not particularly concerned with those two features anyway.
As an editor, I don't know whether to be proud or dismayed. Contracts are supposed to be about what the parties intended to agree to, but the letter of the writing is what counts in the end, and with the comma, the meaning is pretty clearly against what Rogers says, and in favour of the other party's position. Ouch.
Bloggers and particularly web and print designers consider Edward Tufte a guru. He's a professor emeritus at Yale, a sculptor, and perhaps the world's foremost authority on how to be clear and accurate when presenting complex information visually. Beautiful Evidence is his latest book. It is a lovely book, a manifesto, a screed, very personal, and also, in its own elegant way, a bit of a mess.
The book is full of brilliant ideas and strategically repeated concepts. He has two overarching messages:
That human beings are very good at understanding and interpreting remarkably dense and complicated representations of information, from large statistical tables to vast and precise visual maps, so we deserve to see that kind of detailed data analysis rather than the facile and trivial "chartjunk" so often generated by PowerPoint and other low-resolution tools.
That visual representations work best when treated as an integral part of every piece of work, so that diagrams, photos, charts, tables, and graphs should appear within the text they're part of, rather than abstracted away because of the false limitations of printing or display technology.
The book is also a lovely piece of design that takes its own advice, ensuring that the many example photos, charts, tables, and diagrams sit right where they should, near the text that discusses them—sometimes even being repeated in several locations so you never have to flip back and forth to find what Tufte is talking about. I learned a ton.
On the other hand, Beautiful Evidence is surprisingly slapdash. I don't mean that it wasn't prepared carefully—I found only one very minor typo, which is unusually few for a book of its size, and it is printed and bound meticulously—but that it feels less like a cohesive work than a series of semi-related essays assembled in almost-random order.
Tufte is fixated on the integrated text-and-image approaches of Galileo and Richard Feynman, who are great examples, to be sure, but sometimes I felt like he was hitting me over the head with them—yes, yes, Edward, I get that they were both visually and intellectually brilliant and we should follow them, now find me someone else too! He inserts his own jargon—two-space, three-space, chartjunk, Phluff, economisting—as if everyone understood it, which seems contrary to the message he's preaching.
And why, suddenly, at the end of the book, do we get a long quoted interview about the techniques of a Shah-era Iranian protester on his techniques for pulling down statues with ropes, followed by several full-spread photos (some oddly blurry) of Tufte's own large sculptures? Why, indeed, is the dust cover a montage of four action photos of a dog jumping into a pond? If there's an explanation, I missed it.
These are quibbles, mostly. Tufte's wonderful arguments compensate for them. But I can't help thinking that Tufte could have used a more involved editor—the book is essentially self-published—to help him come across as less arrogant. His contempt for poor information design is refreshing, but I think it could have been organized a little better.
Still, Beautiful Evidence is a great and important book. It's a spectacular deal too, only $58 Cdn from Amazon.ca (I get a cut if you buy it from my link) or $52 USD from Tufte's site directly, postage included. (That's less than I paid for a black-and-white, softcover calculus textbook in 1986.) I don't know how he can afford to print and sell such a lush hardcover volume for such a low price.
I suspect these only work for U.S. customers, but today my Apple Store affiliate program sent me links for refurbished iPods and refurbished Macs and accessories at a decent discount—many around 15% off, some items (like AirPort Extreme cards and some displays) at 50-60% discounts.
If you have an Apple retail store in your vicinity, you can often find similar deals in person, but these online offers have an added benefit: if you buy something, I get a small cut. So go wild. Buy that Power Mac G5 before they're all gone! Own a piece of history!
Having a nasty cold is a gentle reminder that, despite our great achievements, humans are still effectively powerless against many of the microbes that have dominated the biosphere since the beginning of life. At least that's a nice grand thought to have as I hack and cough away the day in bed.
Anyway, I noticed something today while laid up. The podcast I co-host, Inside Home Recording, has a significant although not (in the scheme of things) huge audience of several thousand listeners. There's an active community of people who send us email, post to our forums, and leave comments on the blog.
But the audience for my wife's podcast, Lip Gloss and Laptops, is something else. They have a much smaller number of subscribers and readers, something in the high hundreds, with something like 10% of the monthly downloads of Inside Home Recording, as far as I can tell. But they get about the same amount of email as IHR does. In other words, probably almost every one of their listeners is truly dedicated, and they're involved and sending feedback.
Traditional media measurement and advertising, which are based on spamming vast numbers of people in hopes of getting returns from a tiny proportion, really don't do those sorts of differences justice. But right now everyone's understanding of how podcast audiences interact with their shows—and advertisers and sponsors, and each other—is pretty limited. Despite the show's smaller overall audience, to a cosmetics company, a Lip Gloss and Laptops listener is probably worth more than an Inside Home Recording listener is to a musical gear company, and both are worth vastly more than a reader of, say, Rolling Stone.
I don't have a conclusion from this analysis, other than that I think over the next few years you'll see many more smaller chunks of money being distributed to smaller media outlets with relatively miniscule, but very focused, audiences. And there will still be 30-second commercials for Coke on nationwide sitcoms too.
My friend Simon, a massage therapist in Victoria, B.C., has a great post today about when it's useful to apply heat to your muscles—and also when it's a bad idea. Not just when, but why, which is fascinating.
I may have a biology degree, but there's a lot about the body I don't know. Maybe because I specialized in marine invertebrates, and I'm not one of those.
Several times over the past decade I've complained that the built-in backup software from operating system providers is either inadequate or simply absent.
While I have some questions about it, and no doubt there are some gotchas, Apple's upcoming Time Machine application for its Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" OS update, due in the new year, finally made me go, "Aha! That's the way it's supposed to work." Yes, you need a separate disk volume for your backups, but that's a good idea anyway. And except for the wacky galaxy background (which I hope you can change), the user interface is a brilliant idea.
I think the OS upgrade will be worth it for that single application alone.
"Digital cameras are consumable, disposable and perishable commodities like milk, film or gasoline."
"Watch Apple's Mac-versus-PC commercials online. They look so good for two reasons: 1) the white backdrop dramatically lowers the visual complexity of the frames, allowing room for carrying more visual detail of the actors in the allotted bandwidth, and; 2) those commercials are shot on 35 millimeter FILM then scanned into Final Cut Pro at better than HD resolution. It's a lot of work but the effort shows."
"The only smart business model going forward is to write content so compelling to people that it doesn't matter whether you rank in the search engines or not."
"Most blogs make money through advertising. Advertising is pushy, unpleasant, slightly stinky, and not easy to control. Unless one is really famous and has a killer traffic, one usually doesn't have full control who can advertise on her site. Deep inside, we feel that advertising is a parasite way to make money."
I just returned from a week-long vacation in the U.S.A., and one of the minor cultural differences I find amusing is how many people still use paper checks (or, as we call them here, cheques) there. Here in Canada, they're still common for paying the rent and other relatively infrequent transactions, but at any retail outlet, and particularly grocery stores, anyone trying to write a personal cheque will get a quizzical look: we generally use debit cards.
We also usually call them "Interac" transactions, after the national consortium that permits inter-bank transfers within the Interac Direct Payment system, and withdrawals from other instututions' automated teller machines. (In the U.S., I often hear the term "check card" instead, which just seems funny up here, in the "horseless carriage" sense.)
Today on CBC radio I heard a news story about Interac of the type that annoys me: a puff piece of "reporting" that simply parrots a new industry initiative with no analysis whatsoever. The Interac Group is moving to have microchip smart cards in use instead of the traditional magnetic stripe types. That makes sense, because the chips are (probably) harder to copy than the old stripes. But the CBC story just reported that straight, with no questions or discussion. I wondered:
Why is this story an issue now? Interac announced this initiative a year and a half ago (with preparatory work since 2002), and nothing is supposed to happen for Interac customers until at least 2007.
Will there be transitional cards with both stripes and chips? (Checking with the Interac website, the answer is yes.) It's going to take a long time to replace all the card readers and teller machines in Canada, not to mention all the other places around the world where I might want to use my card. But if the new chipped cards also have stripes, doesn't that make the "more difficult to copy" benefit moot?
Is the chipped smart-card standard compatible with other such standards around the world? In other words, when I get my new smart Interac card, will I still be able to get money out easily at an ATM in Australia or Russia once the magnetic stripe technology finally does fade away between 2012 and 2015? In other words, is this an international standardization effort, or a one-off Canadian thing that's just going to end up annoying? (It seems that yes, there is a standard. Good.)
Is the smart card technology at all related to RFID tags? I hope not, because I don't want my bank card to be readable remotely, especially since it's already been demonstrated that RFID chips can be scanned and spoofed. (They seem not to be related, but I couldn't tell for sure.)
The reporter blindly repeated the figure that over the most recent two years of data available, there were $44 million and $70 million of fraudulent Interac transactions in Canada. That seems like a lot, but she also noted that there are 35 million debit cards in use in Canada. So that's up to $2 per card per year. Some third-party ATMs charge me more than that for a single transaction, so it doesn't seem that the fraud rate is really the motivation behind the new chips. So what is the motivation?
Why didn't the CBC reporter address at least one of these questions?
To its credit, the story got me asking. But I thought reporters were supposed to dig a little, not just spew the press release right back out.
My vacation has lasted a little over a week, but it seems (as it should, ideally) quite a bit longer. So I cringed in anticipation when I hit the button to retrieve work email for the first time since the end of July, but felt relief to see much less mail than I had expected. I was able to dispense with much of it right away tonight.
Wired News points to the site of Cedarshed (based here in Greater Vancouver), which is now offering prefab home offices that you can set up in your yard. I already have a nice space downstairs, but I could see it being especially useful for those who don't, or who want a home office that's a bit removed from their living space. (Dori Smith has a similar idea with her Airstream trailer office in California.)
I could certainly see some of the listeners at Inside Home Recording setting up something like that as a mini–home studio. Three questions arise:
It is a Canadian product, so presumably there's some way to insulate it.
This is my first visit to the University Village Apple Store in Seattle, and it's definitely the nicest (and largest) in the city. (I'm posting this entry from one of their Mac minis.) And of course I had to buy something: an AirPort Express so we could have Wi-Fi throughout our hotel suite. Plus my wife finally found a case she likes for her iPod nano.
Apple, despite your stock troubles, you continue to suck money out of my family, at least.
I'm really enjoying the revealing Applepeels blog (via John Gruber), written by a former Apple Computer sales executive, which looks at the sometimes-ugly internal culture of everyone's favourite hip-cool computer company. Such as:
I do credit Steve [Jobs]'s uncompromising attitude as having a very positive effect on product development and the exact opposite effect on most of the rest of the company except the overcompensated executives...
...Here I am, an employee who was let go for questionable reasons after nearly twenty years of tremendous success at Apple. I've bought three Apple computers in the two years since I left Apple. You can't buy that kind of loyalty...
...[But] in the end Apple is just too greedy. They want to milk the maximum amount of money out of the relatively small group willing to put up with Apple and pay Apple prices.
Apple, like any other company, is far from perfect. Mac and iPod fans should worry: what will happen when Steve Jobs finally leaves?
This week Corazza sent KK a cease and desist letter because Kris's complaint on his own website about Corazza's apparent photo thievery made a bad impression.
Uh, yeah. Now the Flickr photo community, Digg, and various different bloggers (now including me) have gone all web-medieval on Mr. Corazza. Trying to pass off several talented photographers' work as yours and then sending lawyers after them when they object won't work too well, I'm afraid.
Thursday, August 03, 2006 - newest items first # 9:15:00 PM:
Almost every restaurant has some sort of real or fake stuffed fish on the wall.
We've eaten a lot of clam chowder.
Weather: awesome. (Okay, a little windy today, but still.)
My oldest daughter wrote I LOVE SUMMER with a stick in the sand yesterday.
Bonfire on the beach at sunset + marshmallows + warm bath, indoor pool, and soft bed one staircase away = good times.
Regardless of the climate and setting, tired kids are still cranky.
We're really, really spoiled by Wi-Fi at home. Having it only in the lobby, and no Internet at all in our room (not even dialup!), just isn't satisfactory anymore. (Did you know that most Red Lion hotels, including the ones in Portland, have ubiquitous free Wi-Fi, though? Nice.)
We're bringing home a fair bit of sand. Truthfully, we brought some down again from last year, in beach chairs we haven't used since. So it balances out.