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: September 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.
Saturday, September 30, 2006 - newest items first # 2:06:00 PM:
I'm pleased that tech broadcasting and podcasting legend Leo Laporte chose to use my podsafe music track "More Red Than Red" (MP3 file) as the theme music for his new "Windows Weekly" podcast show, beginning this week at the TWiT Network and featuring Windows expert Paul Thurrott. He used the same track before for a couple of one-off podcasts, but it's nice to have it appear regularly.
I originally recorded the tune very quickly for Roland Tanglao, and now it's taken on a bit of a life of its own. That's the power of podsafe music, it seems. One slight irony: I recorded it entirely on a Mac. I hope no one holds that against me.
If anyone wants to hire me to write custom theme music, let me know. And thanks to John Aprigliano for pointing out Leo's use of my music before I had a chance to listen to "Windows Weekly" in my podcast queue.
Friday, September 29, 2006 - newest items first # 9:47:00 AM:
The recording industry isn't known for its progressive attitude about new music distribution technologies. That's putting it mildly. But I was encouraged to receive an invitation to the MusicTech 06 Summit this upcoming November 11 at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. It's run by the Recording Academy, the organization that runs the Grammy awards. (They write it "GRAMMY," in all caps, but I refuse to follow along.)
I booked a ticket right away. The website blurb describes it as...
...a day long gathering that will focus on the intersection of music and technology with an emphasis on how the changing landscape can empower artists and further their careers. The day will consist of a keynote address, three informative panels, interactive demonstrations during lunch and a closing address.
There's a risk that it could have been an event full of dinosaurs talking about how to shade themselves from the Internet asteroid, but the speaker lineup belies that: J Allard and Christina Calio of Microsoft's Zune project (Allard also helmed the Xbox team), Kevin Cole of KEXP, Dave Dederer of the Presidents of the USA, Jason Fiber of Cordless, Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork, John Simson of SoundExchange, Derek Silvers of CD Baby, Jessica Stoner of Pandora, Tim Quirk of Rhapsody, and Bill Valenti of Melodeo. Those people, for the most part, Get It. So maybe the risk is too much preaching to (or from) the choir instead.
I expect a lively discussion, and I'll blog and podcast as much as I can of it. The event is open to anyone with $40 USD, so come along yourself if you like.
Thursday, September 28, 2006 - newest items first # 1:59:00 PM:
According to Dave Winer (who ought to know), today is the third anniversary of Doug turning his audio posts at IT Conversations into a podcast, making his pretty much the longest continuously running podcast out there (and also one of the most prolific, now serving dozens of shows a week). He started so early that "podcasting" wasn't even a word yet.
Last week a potential exploit for a security vulnerability in Mac OS X came to light, and finally convinced me to do what security-conscious gurus have recommended for awhile: running my main user account as a Standard user, not an Administrator.
Unfortunately, by default, the account you first set up on each new Mac is an Administrator. While that's convenient—you can move files around to most locations without a password, for instance—it has its risks. You do need an admin account in order to do those things, and for troubleshooting if anything goes wrong with your main account, so what I have done is set up extra accounts (a Guest, and in my case two separate admin accounts), and turned my regular account into a Standard user.
To do that, just go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Accounts, then click the lock to unlock it and enter your password. Click the + button in the lower left to add a new admin user. (I like to call mine "Admin.") Check its "Allow user to administer this computer" checkbox. Then select your regular user and uncheck that box. Close the window and you're done.
You will get asked for the admin account's password on occasion, but it's not that inconvenient. As the article I linked at the beginning of this post says: "Run as a normal user. Open files you trust. Stick to that and you'll be fine."
"...people who abuse buzzwords don't sound smart. They sound like they are trying to sound smart. Big difference. Really want to impress someone with your words? Then either 1) be direct/clear or 2) shut up."
Adam Woodall and Kirsten Bole have released some new recordings recently. Adam is one of the sometime members of my band, The Neurotics, and Kirsten is both a part of our local Vancouver web development community and a bass player. Her blog has the delightful title Crows to Burnaby, which will make sense to you if you live anywhere near Burnaby and look into the sky around dusk.
The Adam Woodall Band's album appeared earlier this year (the first since Adam's solo release Songs From My Parents' House in 2000), but I just got my copy, and Silver Ring is worth a listen for its great roots-rock pop songs. Kirsten's material is newly online, and includes five songs you can stream. She recorded them entirely herself, and they remind me of Sarah Harmer in her more contemplative moods.
Adam's song "Runaway" will appear on tomorrow's episode of Lip Gloss and Laptops, my wife's podcast, if you want to listen.
Melanie has built a log house near Prince George. Something I didn't know about log houses:
The screw jack is under the post in the middle of the house. All the weight of the house rests on this post. As the logs shrink you want the house to move down so gaps don't develop between the logs. at intervals you screw down the jack gently lowering the post to the floor. The whole process can take as long as four years.
It took some hours after the event yesterday afternoon, but here's a bunch of photos from people posting on Flickr of the grain ship that lost rudder control and grounded just east of the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver Harbour.
You can see why they closed the First Narrows shipping lane.
Via Boing Boing, here's a fascinating idea: pack (and declare!) a starter pistol in your checked luggage whenever you fly. It is considered a weapon, and your bag, while it will be allowed through, must also be extra-securely locked, and will be tracked with extra vigilance throughout its voyage. In other words, packing a relatively harmless "weapon" gets you free additional security tracking, and makes it more likely your luggage will arrive on time and without pilferage. Neat hack.
As Dave Winer put it: "I think podcasting may create some confusion for the podcasters but not for Apple. No one confuses a podcast with an iPod, any more than car wax is confused with a car."
Here's hoping some Apple PR and legal people get hard to work on Monday morning to backtrack out of this move. When Apple lovers and haters alike, from Wired and Calacanis and Scoble and Winer to Cochrane and Gruber and Rubel, and a good chunk of the rest of the blogosphere (me included), are all ragging on the company, something has gone awry.
Not the best way to wish podcasting a happy third birthday today, is it?
Today is my 20-year high school reunion. I graduated from a hoity private school for boys, St. George's, on Vancouver's West Side (my parents paid for it with my university money—university required me to get summer jobs and such). An email from our valedictorian and Head Boy, now a lawyer, asked each of us 1986 grads for a few paragraphs summarizing what we've been up to, as well as photos. Here's my contribution:
Immediately after graduation, I spent the rest of the summer at Expo 86, then avoided wearing neckties for much of the next decade and a half by getting deeply geeky with pre-Internet online Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), going to UBC and getting a degree in marine biology and a diploma in applied creative non-fiction writing (no, the last one's not clear to me either), becoming involved in student politics (including two years as elected student rep on the UBC Board of Governors), helping to start two different student newspapers (one of which turns 20 next year), editing the student handbook, working for the UBC Alma Mater Society, developing Type 1 diabetes, and learning to play the drums. In 1994 I finally left campus to be a full-time musician in The Neurotics (theneurotics.com) for a couple of years, play pubs and bars throughout B.C., tour to Australia, and then get married to my lovely wife and quit the band—temporarily, it turns out—to settle down.
In 1995 I had a brief stint in advertising at Gardens West magazine before sliding back into computers and software, working at Windows application developer Maximizer Software for almost five years, first as an admin assistant before figuring out how to build web pages and then run the company website. The dot-com bust lost me that job, and by this time our daughters (born in 1998 and 2000) had arrived, so my wife continued working full-time as a public school math teacher while I stayed home with the kids and worked very part-time as a freelance technical writer and editor, as well as a drummer (same band, after a five year hiatus) again, and someone with one of these new Internet things called a "blog" at penmachine.com. In 2003 I started at Navarik (navarik.com), a company begun by some of my UBC colleagues, where we build web-based software for ocean shipping companies, and where I'm now Communications Manager.
More recently, I've been getting involved in the global web development community, and have also become a podcaster at podcast.penmachine.com and insidehomerecording.com. (I engineer my wife's show at lipglossandlaptops.com too.) I returned to composing and recording my own music in 2004, with several dozen of my tunes played by hundreds of podcasters around the world as theme and background music. I released an album, Penmachine Sessions (buy.penmachine.com), in 2005, on which I play pretty much all the instruments, some of them even tolerably well. (I didn't take band while I was at St. George's, by the way.) 2006 marks the first year both my daughters are in school full time, and the first since 1998 that I've worked full time, as well as my wife's and my 11th anniversary. We live with our daughters in the other half of the same duplex in Burnaby that my parents own, in which I grew up, and from which I commuted to high school in the '80s.
There is no sensible reason why an application designed to read PDF files, created by the company that invented the format, should be this unpleasant an experience to install.
Why, if I want to install Adobe Reader (which I don't, but I need to do it because on occasion Mac OS X Preview has trouble with a PDF file), should I download a program that runs an installer to install some software to download an updater than downloads more files to run an installer that installs software that is way too big and slow to start...
...which then wants to update itself and asks me to quit all my web browsers while it downloads three separate files of between 15 and 32 megabytes in order to go from version 7.0.5 to version 7.0.8?
...and then one of the installers fails with no explanation, so I still have version 7.0.5 after all that?
Is this a perverse joke? Or simply the worst piece of user experience design anyone at Adobe could come up with? Someone needs to be fired, and Adobe should start over. If Microsoft Office (Microsoft Office?!) and RealPlayer (RealPlayer?!) are simple drag-and-drop installations, something is seriously wrong over there at Adobe. Is this really the same company that makes Photoshop and so many nice fonts?
Okay, I feel better now. And will avoid Adobe Reader whenever possible.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - newest items first # 1:07:00 PM:
Flickr Minicards are a great idea, and cheap at 20 cents USD each in batches of 100. Flickr Pro users get 10 free—really free, shipping included—so I just ordered some to see what they're like. I'll report back.
Darren points to a six-year-old photo essay of a bulldozer retrieving a 56-year-old Soviet tank from the peaty bottom of a shallow lake in Estonia. Nazi soliders, who had captured the tank some weeks before, drove it into the lake as they retreated in 1944.
The tank is in remarkable condition, not even rusty. Which makes me wonder, can museums possibly preserve things as well as natural environments? This tank remained underwater for nearly six decades, but my guess is that it's started to degrade much more quickly now that it's above the surface again.
There have been people's bodies preserved in glaciers and bogs, artifacts retrieved from lakes and ancient mudslides, and of course fossils tens or hundreds of millions of years old. No matter how well we house these items now, are we not just hastening their destruction? Is the knowledge we gain from them worth it?
Andy, who was our co-op student at Navarik until this summer, is now working for eight months in Japan. He's reported before about things he finds unusual there, and the latest is the Hojoya food festival in Fukuoka, which he says is...
...like some super massive nightmarket, or taiwan, and it's ALL FOOD! like you know those cartoon background that repeats to save them money? it's like that, but with food stands, and real stands, you'll get yakitori, takoyaki, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, choco bananas, pineapples, hokkaido yams (or something), famous gingers? chicken karaage, kakikori, fries, and repeat 20 times, on each side...
I felt a little like that at the tourist market in Honolulu a couple of weeks ago, but I'm sure this was even crazier. And foodier.
Monday, September 18, 2006 - newest items first # 7:55:00 PM:
Our house just gained another computer, my in-laws' old Blueberry coloured iMac DV, circa 2000. That brings the total number of currently fuctioning machines in the house up to five, which is one more than the people who live here.
Yet the old iMac got a lot of use today: after putting in 512 MB of RAM, I wiped the disk and installed Mac OS X "Tiger," as well as Mac OS 9 in "Classic" guise, and my two daughters (ages 6 and 8) went to town playing games and checking out childrens' websites. We inherited it because my wife's parents replaced the six-year-old machine with its much younger brother, an Intel-based flat panel 17" iMac. The old one joins my MacBook, my wife's iBook G4, and my eMac downstairs, as well as a few shelved Macs that still work but aren't in use: a Power Mac G3/266, a Power Mac 7100, and a PowerBook 1400.
Yup, it's a geek house: my dad has at least seven computers in the other half of the duplex too.
Friday, September 15, 2006 - newest items first # 1:33:00 PM:
So Mozilla 1.0 came out in June  with popup blocking, and Netscape 7 came out six months later without it, but offered, as consolation, 12 AOL icons on your desktop. Technology reviewers who understood the Netscape/Mozilla relationship did not miss the fact that Netscape went to additional trouble to remove popup blocking. To put it another way, all Netscape had to do to release one of the most compelling browser features in years was: nothing. They still managed to mess up...
What's nice about that is that the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo microphone and audio input I reviewed a few days ago seems to work fine with the new nanos. Since the new iPod nanos are cheaper, smaller, lighter, quieter, and longer running (not to mentioned cooler looking) than the bigger iPods, they would probably be better as a recording device in most instances, especially since even a 2 GB nano can record hours and hours and hours of sound.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - newest items first # 9:28:00 PM:
Colours are back from Apple, it seems, at least some of the time. Among the announcements there are new iPod nanos, a teeny tiny new iPod shuffle, an updated iPod with video (despite the option of an 80 GB drive, gapless playback, and other improvements, it looks no different from last year's model), movie downloads (at 640x480 size) from the iTunes Store, and, most intriguingly, an upcoming Apple wireless TV-stereo interface box codenamed the "iTV."
The only thing I can get right away is the new version of iTunes, which I already like a lot. Free album art downloads for your ripped songs, a cool art-based album browser, and a tweaked interface that is more charcoaly. Plus you can finally use your iPod to move music from one computer to another. Good stuff from Apple today.
I love to visit Seattle, and after a bit of a hiatus after 9/11, have returned there regularly over the past few years. It is our similar-but-not-the-same neighbour city to the south. But I've always been mystified by its decision, a few decades ago, to erect the dark cement ugliness of the Alaskan Way Viaduct on the Elliott Bay waterfront downtown—it's as if the city's urban planners of the 1960s wanted to slap Mother Nature in the face and prove that freeway culture could crush even the most beautiful cityscape.
The Viaduct is aging and needs to be replaced. Seattleites are facing two choices: tunnel or new viaduct. I know what I'd choose, despite the massive additional cost. And even though we have traffic problems here in Vancouver, they remain less severe than Seattle's, and remind me how glad I am that we stopped the big downtown freeways in their tracks in the early '70s. That choice helped Vancouver stay more livable than Seattle overall.
Amazingly, one day after Al Qaida operatives destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, the University of Sydney Civil Engineering Department in Australia published a detailed analysis of why the towers collapsed. It was updated this January with some Q&A.
Late last year when I tackled my aunt and uncle's nasty spyware problem on their Windows PC, I could have used Andrew Leahy's advice on what to do. Then again, reading through it, I probably would have come to the same "format and reinstall" conclusion I did in the end anyway, since I ran the same software he recommends without success.
However, after getting some proper anti-malware applications on their machine and installing Firefox, I seem to have prevented my aunt and uncle from getting any more spyware on their system so far. Yay.
In Britain, as in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, an overwhelming concern for safety—along with a desire to safeguard against child-injury litigation—has completely altered the landscape of kids' activities over the past 20 years. [...] When [Ute Navidi] asks audiences to reminisce about their childhood experiences, they recall excitedly how they climbed trees, got dirty, built forts and broke a lot of limbs. [...] But when she asks about the same risk-taking opportunities for their kids, they balk. "I wouldn't let my children do that," is the common refrain.
The story mentions something that hit me a last year: an 11-year-old Utah boy was lost in the woods, and stayed that way for four days because he'd had "don't talk to strangers" so drilled into him that he hid from his rescuers. As far as I've been able to determine, the risks to kids today, especially from being abducted by a stranger, aren't significantly greater than before (i.e. not very great), and except in places like my neighbourhood where car traffic has increased since I was a kid, other risks aren't measurably higher either.
Life is risky, and one thing kids need to learn is how to recognize and manage those risks. It's a tough task as a parent, as our daughters grow into their early grades at school, for my wife and me to find the line between protection and overprotection.
Oh, and so far, the two places where our kids have received the greatest injuries (requiring trips to the hospital) were stepping out of our bathtub onto a terracotta pot, and bouncing on the bed in my parents' den. Go figure.
I did something silly yesterday, which turned out okay, very lucky for me.
In the morning the kids and I bounded our way out of the house for them to go for their first day back at school. After dropping them off, I went directly to work. My wife called me when she returned from her work in mid-afternoon.
I'd left the door open. The front door to the house. Not just unlocked, but open. She must have thought someone had robbed the house and left.
But no, nothing is missing. No animals came in, not even insects.
Whew! I guess most people are good (or assume an open door means someone's home) after all.
I've had to crank up the aggressiveness of my spam email filters today, because Google's formerly-excellent Gmail spam filters were failing too much, letting through dozens of the several hundred of spam messages I get each day. (I've received 4000 or so in the past two weeks.) So there is a chance, though small, that if you email me I won't get it, or it will bounce back to you. If either of those things happens, feel free to leave a comment on the blog here and I'll whitelist you.
Web of Change is coming up later this month. I won't be going because of the usual September insanity in a house with two school-age kids and a wife who's a teacher, but it's worth checking out, and the location (Hollyhock Retreat on Cortes Island in the Straight of Georgia) can't be beat. Another option is the Podcast Expo at the end of the month in Ontario, California, near L.A. It too looks like an inspiring event, but the location... mmmmm... not so much.
Monday, September 04, 2006 - newest items first # 9:42:00 PM:
I return to work tomorrow, so I've finally finished uploading all my photos from my family's trip to Hawaii—more than 700 of them.
If you're interested, you can check out day 1 (flying there), day 2 (dolphins and shopping), day 3 (beach, food, and swimming), day 4 (fish and the markets), day 5 (more shopping and a very nice dinner), day 6 (a round-the-island Oahu tour), day 7 (sailing and farewells), day 8 (flying home), a sub-set of swimming with dolphins, or a set I've assembled of photos of volcanoes from the past couple of years—although most of them are in my neck of the woods rather than in Hawaii.
Almost like taking the trip yourself, isn't it?
Sunday, September 03, 2006 - newest items first # 6:31:00 PM:
I had to try it. With glasses, left to right, top to bottom, are Jack Osbourne, James Spader, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lillard (of Scooby Doo fame), Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Jack Nicholson, Robert Downey Jr., and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (a second attempt included Spike Lee and Larry King):
Without glasses, we have Jeff Bridges, Zubin Mehta, Jack Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, Billy Graham, Justin Timberlake, Stephen Chow, and Cary Grant (another attempt added race car drivers Mark Webber and Zsolt Baumgartner, rather short actor Deep Roy, former British PMs John Major and Harold Wilson, Italian actor Kim Rossi Stuart, and ice dancer Christopher Dean):
I'll take Cary Grant and Janeane Garofalo, but Billy Graham and the guy who plays Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo movies? Oh well. I think the glasses skew things too much.
If you live in British Columbia, you know London Drugs, a large store chain that started as pharmacies but long ago expanded into selling a wide variety of things, from candy and cosmetics to electronics and housewares. I often recommend LD to people asking me about buying geeky stuff like computers and cameras because, unlike other large chain stores, their staff isn't on commission and is usually knowledgeable, friendly, and accommodating, without being intimidating.
For digital cameras, dedicated camera stores catering to professional and serious amateur photographers are also good, of course, particularly if you need specialized knowledge. Nevertheless, London Drugs photo departments are often just as large as well stocked as many camera shops, with staff who know just as much, so when I needed a new camera just before my trip to Hawaii last week, I went to my local LD and picked up a Nikon D50 SLR to go with my old Nikon lenses. I'm glad I did.
After taking a few hundred of the thousand or so photos I fired off in Hawaii (I've uploaded nearly 700), I noticed a strange anomaly: two circular discoloured spots that appeared in every shot, no matter which lens or settings I used, one near the top centre, one near the top left. They were subtle, and most noticeable against plain or featureless background, like the sky.
Here, take a look (I highlight the spots at the original photo page at Flickr):
Worse, the spots seemed to be getting larger over the week. Although I was able to retouch most of the photos beore I posted them, I had a warranty problem on my hands, so today I returned to London Drugs, expecting to have to fill out some forms and send my camera to Nikon for repair. Nope! The sales rep at LD did a quick A-B comparison between my D50 and their demo unit, saw the problem, checked with his manager, and swapped my D50 for another, new one. He made sure the proper serial number appeared on my receipt, gave me a new warranty card to fill out, and we were done in less than 10 minutes.
I'll be back next time I need some camera gear.
Saturday, September 02, 2006 - newest items first # 6:43:00 PM: