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: December 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.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 - newest items first # 7:25:00 PM:
No New Year's gig this year for a change, so we're all here at home. Over the past few days we've installed new carpet in our basement room, moved the couch and TV and videogames in there, and set up the old upstairs den as my youngest daughter's new bedroom all to herself.
As you can see, she'll still getting used to not being in a bunk bed. Otherwise she's loving it, and I don't think her sister's missing her too much—they're only one door apart anyway.
Happy new year, everyone, whether it's raucous and wild or whether it's quiet, like ours.
I'm an only child, and have never regretted it. I don't think I turned out too spoiled or selfish, and it's been quite a set of discoveries to have two daughters of my own. Their sibling rivalries and synergies awaken no deep-set memories for me—they are as new for me as for the girls.
I have noticed one quirk, not unique to only children but probably more prevalent in us: I genuinely enjoy being alone. Don't mistake that for not enjoying being with other people. My wife is my best friend (not to mention a babe), so it's great to hang around with her, to go out, to snuggle. I like playing with and talking with my kids, and going for dinner with my parents or other members of our families. I'm sociable, gregarious, and sometimes you can't shut me up in a crowd. I have some of the best times of my life laughing onstage and off with the guys in my band.
But often, at work, when people ask if I'd like to come for lunch, I say no, and take the time to eat and walk and read and listen to my iPod by myself. In summer I commute by bicycle, and would rather ride that road alone than with a buddy; in winter I take the train, where I can be alone in a crowd like almost everyone else. When I'm on a business trip or a vacation or playing a gig, I'll often take some time away from my family or colleagues to roam around or have a meal or just a few hours on my own, because for me it's fun. I'm not morose in any of those places, longing for friends.
Sure, I'd rather my wife were there most of the time (frequently she is), but I can even sleep in a strange hotel on my own without trouble when necessary. And at home some of my favourite times are these ones, late at night when everyone else is asleep, and I can geek out on the Internet or with a guitar or in front of the Nintendo, or take a bath.
Maybe you don't enjoy times like that as much as I do. That's okay. But I don't think it's all too strange that I do—we all want to be alone, sometimes.
Yesterday my wife, on a whim, brought me home three semi-trashy magazines for my casual reading: Guitar World, Maxim, and MacAddict. (Okay, it's hard to call MacAddict "trashy," but it has addict in its name, at least for now.)
I take those magazines for what they are: light reading that you can skim when you have a spare moment. They each have some funny and interesting stuff in them, from MacAddict's "trick out your Mac with free stuff" to Guitar World's wide-ranging interview with Pete Townshend to Maxim's analysis of the global economic impact and money flows of the cocaine trade (no really!). Plus scantily-clad babes, of course. Can't complain about that.
But both Guitar World and Maxim (though thankfully not MacAddict) included something disturbing: either in interviews or editorial content, they repeatedly use "gay" as an insult, without any comment or qualification. I didn't think that was mainstream usage, especially beyond the grounds of high-school, and although in both publications it appeared to be a mild insult, it still seems corrosive to me.
I've mentioned before that Guitar World is the most "hey dude" of the mainstream guitar mags (they've recently taken to using porn stars as models in their gear guide editions, for instance), and Maxim's demographic is obviously about 99% straight men—much as the reader base would probably like to think that a lot of hot bisexual chicks read it, I'm sure. So I'm guessing the publishers presume they can get away with having Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde call something "gay" in a tongue-in-cheek way, or calling delicious but frou-frou restaurant cuisine "slightly gay."
But why? Sure, there's a whole anti-PC contingent that wants to use potentially controversial language to stir the pot a bit, and Wylde, while a talented guitar player, doesn't come across as the most enlightened chap. Yet the word "gay" flies by so casually. Do these magazines have no interest at all in attracting gay readers, or, more pointedly, straight readers like me who have gay friends, and whose opinion about the publication drops every time the word appears that way?
Is it really the case that among those magazine's readers, using "gay" as derogatory is acceptable? Do I live in West Coast Vansterdam Fantasyland by thinking that it shouldn't be so in 2006?
It's disappointing. Then again, I have no interest in the Maxim power tools and sports articles, nor in Guitar World's metalhead-and-fishnets emphasis. I'm obviously on the fringes of their audiences anyway. I'm glad my wife bought them for me, because I had a good read and learned something: all three are fun reading, but I'll likely keep up only with MacAddict, and not pick up either of the others again.
Thursday, December 28, 2006 - newest items first # 1:47:00 PM:
Tonight my friend Simon and I are going to have dinner—including our traditional hot wings—while he's in town from his home in Victoria for the holidays. (My wife and daughters will be eating with the in-laws.)
Meantime, a bunch of links from Angela Gunn, among others, from this week:
"Thomas Jefferson said that knowledge is like a candle, when one candle lights another it does not diminish from the light of the first. [...] Intellectual property rights, however, enable one person or company to have exclusive control of the use of a particular piece of knowledge, thereby creating monopoly power. Monopolies distort the economy. [...] We tolerate such restrictions in the belief that they might spur innovation, balancing costs against benefits. But the costs of restrictions can outweigh the benefits."
"The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true."
Joel Spolksy thinks that bribing bloggers is a bad idea.
If you forgot your camera at your office Christmas party this year, or didn't have one, now you can buy stock photos to impress (or horrify) your friends and family with your pretend office Christmas party. (Via James.)
Since he died Christmas Day, I've been watching James Brown videos on YouTube. Some are pretty lame, as he parodies and recycles himself through the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. But from his heyday, peaking in the late '60s and well into the '70s, even in grainy black and white with lo-fi sound, they are incendiary.
Watch him direct his band—often including two drummers—with the flick of a wrist, or the crazed snap of his neck. Watch him drag a whitebread crowd (in France, I think) onto its feet dancing and transform his show. Take a look at the yards of tape keeping his microphone from flying off its stand during his wild dance moves. Listen to him drive his musicians deeper and deeper and deeper into the groove. As a musician, if I get could get a groove like that, like the one his band fired out on the Mike Douglas Show in the first video (no matter that it's mono), I'd be done.
And even though I've listened to his Star Time box set over and over and over and over since I bought it in 1992, I suspect I never will.
Every computer disaster is a learning experience. On the Mac, you can save a fair bit of space (in my case, more than 1 GB) on your hard disk if you remove extraneous languages (Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Russian, etc.) if you don't need them, using a utility such as Monolingual. That program also allows you to save even more space by removing resources your computer doesn't need, such as programming code for PowerPC processors that your Intel-based Mac doesn't use.
Unfortunately, I didn't read the fine print in the FAQ, which reads, in part:
You can use Monolingual to remove non-Intel architectures for your installed applications (even if some of the applications are PowerPC-only; Monolingual is smart enough not to remove PPC forks if those are the only ones in the universal binary). However, you should not strip the System frameworks if you want to use Rosetta. Rosetta needs the PowerPC code for all frameworks used by the emulated application...
And so, while both my Intel-based MacBook and the Intel iMac at work operate just fine, and any Intel-native software runs great, a few little programs—Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and so on—wouldn't even launch. A bit of research let me know that an Archive and Install, then a series of software updates, was my only way out, and it worked fine on the iMac. (I'm waiting to resurrect Photoshop and Office on the MacBook when I get home. In the meantime I'm typing this post on it instead.)
The metaphor is a stretch, but I feel a bit like those Macs myself these days. I need a colonoscopy to remove polyps from my intestine in a few weeks, and not long after that a surgeon will strip out a varicose vein that has returned after an initial treatment in 1994. Those fixes are, in my geeky mind, my own repairs. They remind me that my body will likely work more and more poorly in the next few decades—but there's no new model to upgrade to.
The biggest defect, of course, is my type 1 diabetes, which I've had for more than 15 years now, and for which I inject myself with insulin three times a day. Recent discoveries open the possibility of a cure from a previously unsuspected direction. But I'll avoid getting my hopes up on that one just yet—a proper system update may be available to me in a few years, or it may not.
Either way, I've got some broken bits right now, and with luck by spring they'll be fixed and I'll be on my way. That's the plan, at least.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 - newest items first # 5:38:00 PM:
If you've ever wondered about all the ways movie companies try to stop you from playing or copying or sharing DVDs, Mark Pilgrim (who knows) has posted an excellent explanation in the comments over at Dave Shea's site (via Daring Fireball). See, I told you DVDs suck.
That's honestly a pretty damn good playlist. I'm surprised at the amount of jazz (particularly Coltrane) and Robert Johnson. The "Popcorn" remix makes for a pretty weird prom, while I like the irony of "Taxman" as the theme to "Life is Good." The wedding theme is a tad creepy, and unfortunately, the Rob Zombie death scene music implies a more violent end than I'd like.
If you want to play "More Red Than Red" at my funeral, I'd be very pleased indeed. Still, that's going to be a long time away, so maybe I'll write something better before then.
Thursday, December 21, 2006 - newest items first # 9:44:00 PM:
WARNING: If you're the sort who's a little squeamish or hates it when bloggers start drawling on about their medical problems, skip this post.
Okay. It turns out that proctitis is not the main problem—late in January, I'll need a colonoscopy to have a polyp removed. With some reading, I've discovered that such polyps are far from uncommon. Over 60% of people over age 60 get them, for instance. It is less common in people like me under 40, but no big surprise either.
I still resent it, of course. Somehow—and this is irrational, I know—I subconsciously think that because I have diabetes, I should get a pass on other unrelated conditions, like gastrointestinal polyps. But then I have varicose veins too, so that idea went out the window a long time ago. Health and probability don't work that way.
Each year Trinity Street in East Vancouver—on which, incidentally, sits the first house I ever lived in, now owned by my aunt and uncle—holds a Christmas light competition. Here are my photos from last year.
Most houses take the more-is-more approach, to charmingly blinding effect, but there are lots of tasteful ones too, and each year at least one unusually cool entry. This year it's the gingerbread house, pictured.
It is a full size house that people live in, but the gingerbread effect is shockingly realistic. And when you look at it, you realize that the owners have constructed an entire fake wood façade about half a metre in front of the actual face of the house, then covered it with painted wooden icing (including the house address numbers), candies, and other decorations.
You still have a chance to head down to Trinity Street, just west of the Second Narrows Bridge, and cast a vote for your favourite house at the nearby McGill Grocery. Gingerbread is my pick.
As I've written before, anyone roughly my age (37) probably remembers the first time they heard "Rock Lobster" by the B-52's in much the same way we remember when we heard about the Challenger disaster or 9-11, or our parents remember when they heard that JFK had been shot. Now YouTube lets you see their legendarily weird "Saturday Night Live" performance too. How such an arty, surf-punk, meaningless southern-fried retro-futuristic bouillabaise of a song ever became an iconic hit for a generation, I don't really know, but I'm glad it did.
Tomorrow afternoon, for the first time in my life, I will visit a gastroenterologist. It's not the best Christmas-week present, and I will refrain (for your sake) from describing what has prompted me to go, but I'm hoping the visit eventually leads to some improvements.
Thursday, December 14, 2006 - newest items first # 3:24:00 PM:
If you're interested in how encryption and other technologies can be used to help maintain anonymity and privacy on the Internet—for good and bad—the latest Security Now Podcast with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte is a real lesson.
They discuss the Freenet Project and The Onion Router (TOR) system. Both are fascinating, but note that TOR in particular requires that you really pay attention to Gibson's explanation to figure out what the heck is going on. There is a full-text transcript as well if you don't want to listen to the one-hour audio.
It doesn't quite work fully on my Macs yet, but Look Local is my new favourite mapping site, because it lets you use data from Microsoft's Windows Live maps, Google Maps, and Yahoo! Maps, and switch between them with a single click—and also provides a nifty "lens" view over the map that lets you do such cool things as embed a satellite photo view within a street map view, link up to traffic cams, and so on.
Check out how you can flip between different maps and satellite photos with a single set of controls in this view of Daedman's Island in Stanley Park, here in Vancouver:
The service's parent company, Idelix, has done work in the "defense and intelligence market," so I can only imagine what kinds of advanced wacky stuff they have that no one's even allowed to see. They're based in Vancouver too.
I am not a medical professional, but I do have a biology degree and have been paid to write about medical conferences, and I do think vaccines are one of the great achievements in the history of humankind. I understand the immunology and physiology of why they work, and think that they have probably prevented more disease and death than nearly any other development in healthcare, except perhaps the germ theory that told us why washing your hands is a good idea in the first place. My kids have been vaccinated against all the standard things, as well as chickenpox, and my entire family gets a flu shot every year.
There are skeptics of course, and those who fear the dangers of vaccines—who also, I think, both have no memory of the horrors of some of the diseases such as polio that they prevent, and also rely on others to be vaccinated to avoid exposure—have some legitimate concerns. This excellent article on vaccination (via Angela Gunn) treats the issue fairly, and has the added bonus of being from the university I graduated from.
Via John Gruber, here is something I've wanted to know: which of the gazillion available encoding standards should I use when creating a screencast? The Apple Animation codec (at 16-bit colour, high quality) wins for quality at a relatively small file size, followed by H.264 (medium quality), which will play on iPods and makes an even smaller file, at the sacrifice of some image prettiness.
UPDATE: It's not, and as soon as I started clicking around it was pretty obvious. Looks like some sort of novel tie-in for a new Michael Crichton book. Banner ads for the company are appearing on newspaper sites, YouTube, and such.
I have a perverse love of the McDonald's sausage and egg McMuffin breakfast. I mean sure, I like eating cereal and oatmeal and pancakes and toast and all that, and that's usually what I do.
But sometimes even a fancy-hotel brunch buffet with all the choices in the world—even if it's on a Hawaiian beachfront—isn't enough to quench the desire for a McMuffin. I'm sure it's the primal salty-fatness that short-circuits my rational brain.
So today, on the way to work, I bought one, and put it in the fridge and reheated it for lunch. Just thought you should know that.
Sue has now posted an article at the UBC J-School Thunderbird site (it looks like it could still use some editing—and the photo with Dizzy the dog is adorable). Plus there is also an accompanying montage video that includes me talking about some of the technical production aspects of the show, and podcasts more generally.
Searchers have found the body of James Kim, the CNET technical editor who had gone missing in the southwest Oregon wilderness with his wife and two daughters a week and a half ago. His family, who had stayed with their stranded car off the NF-23 route, on Bear Camp Road, was rescued two days ago, but two days before that he had set off for help, and did not find it.
I've driven through those Oregon mountains (in summer) and our own B.C. mountains (year round) often enough, with my wife and two children in our own silver station wagon, so even though I never knew any of the Kim family, I feel ill from the tale.
Daniel Craig's new James Bond of Casino Royale kicks so much ass that the previous 45 years of Bond are now a pale shadow—yes, Sean Connery included.
Four years ago, when Pierce Brosnan's James Bond crossed a bridge from North Korea, a disheveled and bearded prisoner of war, in Die Another Day, I thought perhaps the Bond series had matured and recharged itself as it came into its fifth decade. Until last night when I went to see Royale, I was disappointed that the series producers opted to replace Brosnan. But they were right and I was so, so wrong.
Everyone in this new James Bond movie, from Craig himself to the producers to Goldeneye director Martin Campbell to Judi Dench's M (the only returning cast member) has something to prove. They hit the big Reset button on Bond, setting him in the modern day but returning him to a rookie double-O, pretending (except for a few homages) that none of the previous 20 "official" films, unofficial side projects, or spoofs even happened. They dispense with Q and Moneypenny while keeping the fast cars and terrifying stunts. They let Bond keep his scars. And they don't make Craig darken his blond hair either. All great decisions.
The movie is like four or five Bond films in one—it's damn long, with twists and betrayals and chases and fights galore, beautiful women, and refreshingly few gadgets. The enemies no longer want to rule the world, just suck out its soul. You know which characters are doomed, yet even when you think you know why or how, you don't. Several times I thought Casino Royale itself was over, and it wasn't. Yet when it does finally end, it's abrupt and satisfying, and you realize why it's all there. Really, it's like a summation of the best Bond films of the '60s, with none of the cheese and smarm of the '70s and '80s, nor the overblown retreading of the '90s. By the end, you've seen James Bond turn into who he is: a misanthrope, a killer, a stylish, sexy brute, one who, fortunately, is working for the good guys.
Before I was even a teenager, I'd read all of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, and Craig's bond is closer to that original character than any of the other film versions. Fleming always described James Bond not as a suave male model, but as a man defined by his "cruel mouth." Craig perfectly echoes that description. Forget the increasingly strained Bondian wit: for much of the movie, he hardly talks, and doesn't need to.
I hope the Bond team can keep up what they've started with this film. When Craig retires, that may be the time, finally, to shut the franchise down. After Casino Royale, I don't think there's a point in imagining anyone else in the role anymore.
Okay, it's all over. I promise I won't post any more self portraits for awhile.
Having been an electric shaver user since my teen years, I have to admit that the Gillette Fusion razor I used this past month (I didn't even change the cartridge) is freaking amazing. Yes, five blades (!) make a difference.