Journal: News & Comment

This is " 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:

New year, new bed

First Night in the New Bed.jpgNo 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.


Saturday, December 30, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:12:00 PM:

I vant to be alone, sometimes

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.


Friday, December 29, 2006 - newest items first
# 10:55:00 AM:

"Maxim" and "Guitar World" think it's okay to insult something as "gay"

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:

Links of interest (2006-12-28):

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:


# 12:39:00 PM:

No party? No problem!

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.)


Wednesday, December 27, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:20:00 PM:

Like a sex machine

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.


# 3:55:00 PM:

Broken bits

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:

Craigslist: not about making money

It's pretty fun to read (via Kaliya) about how confused Wall Street analysts become when confronted by Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist:

UBS analyst Ben Schachter wanted to know how Craigslist plans to maximize revenue.

It doesn't, Mr. Buckmaster replied.

He went on to say that "no users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that's the end of the story. If users start calling out for text ads, we'll listen."


Monday, December 25, 2006 - newest items first
# 12:56:00 AM:

Merry Christmas everybody

Miller Christmas 2006 - 65.jpg


Friday, December 22, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:38:00 AM:

That DVD isn't really yours, you know

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.


# 12:01:00 AM:

Soundtrack of my life

Via KA and Air (who's working on hers), here is the "playlist of my life" according to Shuffle mode in my iTunes Library:

  1. Opening Credits: "Last Night When We Were Young" - Kenny Burrell
  2. Waking Up: "Truganini" - Midnight Oil
  3. First Day at School: "Uh, Zoom Zip" - Soul Coughing
  4. Falling in Love: "From Russia With Love" - Matt Monro
  5. Fight Song: "Peter Gunn" - Sarah Vaughan (Max Sedgley Remix)
  6. Breaking Up: "Back to the World" - Curtis Mayfield
  7. Prom: "Popcorn" - Walter Wanderley (Diplo Remix)
  8. Life is Good: "Taxman" - The Beatles
  9. Mental Breakdown: "Bowtie" - OutKast
  10. Driving: "Gallows Pole" - Led Zeppelin
  11. Flashback: "Casino Queen" - Wilco
  12. Getting Back Together: "Start the Commotion" - Wiseguys
  13. Wedding: "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" - Neil Diamond
  14. Paying the Dues: "All Blues" - Miles Davis and John Coltrane
  15. The Night Before The War: "Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)" - Robert Johnson
  16. Final Battle: "Oh Well (Parts 1 and 2)" - Fleetwood Mac
  17. Moment of Triumph: "Cross Road Blues" - Robert Johnson
  18. Death Scene: "Superbeast" - Rob Zombie
  19. Funeral Song: "More Red Than Red" - Derek K. Miller
  20. End Credits: "Love" - John Coltrane Quartet

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:


Chance is RandomWARNING: 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.


# 7:52:00 AM:

Best Christmas display in the city?

Trinity Street 2006 - Gingerbread HouseEach 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.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - newest items first
# 12:06:00 AM:

Rock Lobster redux

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.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - newest items first
# 10:42:00 PM:

Holiday episodes

Both Lip Gloss and Laptops #43 and Inside Home Recording #30 are the final episodes of those podcasts for 2006. I engineer the first one and co-host the second. Go listen.


Monday, December 18, 2006 - newest items first
# 9:11:00 PM:

The diagnosis

Okay, so you know about the gastroenterologist, but if you don't want to know more, stop reading now.

Right now.

I mean it.

You ready?

The diagnosis is...

(Okay, if you're peeking and you don't want to read about bum stuff, you should have stopped when I told you. Last chance.)

(Hey! I said last chance!)


Actually nothing major, which is a relief. However, I still have to have a...

(If you made it this far and that's testing your limits, TURN BACK NOW.)

...test, which involves a, er, probe.

On Thursday. So if you lasted right through to here, stay tuned for a blessedly brief report after that.

Now back to the usual words, music, and comment.


# 10:04:00 AM:

I for one welcome our new iPod overlords

Does anyone else find it odd that the entire back page of the Christmas flyer from Linens 'n' Things (of all places) consists of iPod speaker systems?

Linens 'n' Things Christmas flyer

Would anyone have imagined that five years ago?


Sunday, December 17, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:45:00 PM:

Looking forward to it?

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:

How to be anonymous online

Security Now!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.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - newest items first
# 12:42:00 PM:

Ho ho ho hat and beard

Thanks to Arieanna and Ianiv for this neato Flickr Christmas trick. Works great!


I'm sure it will all disappear after Christmas, so check out what others are doing while you can. You'll need to click through to each photo's page to see the effect.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:53:00 PM:

Pooooods in Spaaaaaaace!

Now we know there are at least three iPods in space (link via Todd Cochrane.)

I loved Pigs in Space:


# 5:00:00 PM:

My new favourite mapping service

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:

Deadman's Island on Look Local via Windows Live Maps Deadman's Island on Look Local via Google Maps Deadman's Island on Look Local via Yahoo! Maps

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.


# 9:00:00 AM:


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.


Monday, December 11, 2006 - newest items first
# 12:15:00 PM:

Which is the best video codec for screencasts?

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.


Sunday, December 10, 2006 - newest items first
# 10:31:00 AM:

The Chris Pirillo-Ponzi Indharasophang Wedding-o-rama

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Friday, December 08, 2006 - newest items first
# 3:27:00 PM:

Rock on!

Fabulous Lego bands. Wow. (Via KA.)


Thursday, December 07, 2006 - newest items first
# 1:36:00 PM:

NEXTgencode - real or joke?

Is this company serious?

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.


# 11:09:00 AM:

An admission

McDonalds Breakfast...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.

Oh, and it was awesome.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - newest items first
# 10:02:00 PM:

My wife and I are featured at the Thunderbird

Sue Fang, a UBC Journalism student (who happens to play some wicked accordion over on YouTube) dropped by our house a couple of weeks ago to interview my wife and KA, the co-hosts of the Lip Gloss and Laptops podcast.

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.

We put the B in blogging, and the P in podcasting!


# 2:04:00 PM:

James Kim found dead

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.

UPDATE: Here is Gizmodo's list of car emergency supplies and a more extensive PDF booklet on winter survival from the state of Montana—which ought to know.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006 - newest items first
# 10:01:00 PM:

Just another breathtaking view

Snow Train - 1.jpgI've written before that my favourite section of Vancouver's SkyTrain transit line is the segment between Nanaimo and Broadway stations.

This week it was damn easy to see why.

Here's roughly where I took the photo. We're looking straight up the Seymour watershed in the mountains beyond. A glacier made that.


Sunday, December 03, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:43:00 PM:

Sexy beast

Casino Royale - 3Daniel 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.


Saturday, December 02, 2006 - newest items first
# 11:53:00 AM:

Now that's a West Coast breakfast

Real Leaf.jpgHere's what my kids had for breakfast this morning. It's very Canadian, in a West Coast hipster Vancouver way:

  • Pancakes.
  • Leftover sushi.

Given the choice of only one, I think they would have picked the sushi.


Friday, December 01, 2006 - newest items first
# 3:22:00 PM:

End of Movember

Okay, it's all over. I promise I won't post any more self portraits for awhile.

Movember 29, 2006 Movember 30, 2006 Movember's End - 1 Movember's End - 2
Movember's End - 3 Movember's End - 4 Movember's End - 5 It's Over!

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.


# 2:23:00 PM:

A gift guide worth reading

Uncle Mark's 2007 Gift Guide and Almanac (PDF) is well made and useful. I'm not especially fond of the font choices (they'd probably work better when printed), but the info is golden.

Key point? He only chooses one best item per category. Well, okay, sometimes he cheats ("Macintosh" and "iPod" aren't single items anymore) but the idea is good.


# 10:25:00 AM:

Bryght and Raincity in the papers

The crew at Bryght and Raincity Studios have found themselves some coverage at the UBC student journalism site. Yay team.


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