21 March 2010



It's Spring now, and in Vancouver, it feels like it:

Burnaby cherry blossoms


In part to celebrate, Air and I went to a party last night, where everyone dressed up. We also got some of my favourite photos ever of us. Here's one with a cat, a young princess (who left early), me (in fedora), Air (pink hair), and our pal Catherine, who had the evening's best hat:

Cat, princess, Derek, Air, and Catherine

Thanks to Reilly and happy 30th birthday to Miranda, who were our hosts. I have my next bout of chemo tomorrow, so it was good to do something fun while I could.

And didn't my wife look fabulously hot?

Glam chair, baby!

Especially with the martini and the bubble chair. It was like 1968, baby! Except with iPhones.

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14 February 2010


Happy birthday, Marina

Candles out at Flickr.comFebruary 14 has many meanings for me. It's Valentine's Day, of course—the 16th my wife Air and I have spent together. It is also our daughter Marina's 12 birthday. But with the Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, including Canada's first gold medal of the event, there's extra resonance, since one of our athletes won gold on the day Marina was born back in 1998 too.

Air had a long, hard labour that February, and with the Nagano Olympics half a world away, we were able to watch many events live as a distraction in the middle of the night. Now our daughter is nearly a teenager, with her own mobile phone and Twitter account. (I got my first mobile phone when Air was pregnant that first time. I was 28. And getting on Twitter? I was 37.)

Happy birthday, Marina. Happy Valentine's Day to my lovely, wonderful, resourceful, smart, sharp, and stylish wife Air. Happy Olympics to all of you too.

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26 January 2010


Another birthday

Miss L's 10th birthday - 12 at Flickr.comOur daughter L turned ten today. She was born at St. Paul's Hospital, as was her older sister, and as was I.

She had a party on the weekend, but unfortunately I was so doped up on chemo and antinauseants that, as expected, I slept through the whole thing. Fortunately, my wife took some great pictures, so I have some idea what it looked like.

Happy birthday, L. I'm glad I made it to see her hit two digits.

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05 July 2009


Links of interest 2006-06-28 to 2006-07-04

Once again, while I'm on my blog break, my edited Twitter posts from the past week, newest first:

  • Photo of Obama picking up his infamous housefly victim.
  • Guess that U2 iPod is never coming back.
  • And now: "Ant and Buttercup," my debut HD macro closeup movie from our summer garden:

  • My first experiments with off-camera flash during close-up photography:
    Veins 1 Veins 2 Veins 3 Veins 4 Veins 5
    Veins 6 Veins 7 Veins 8 Veins 10 Veins 9

  • If I'm passed at high speed by someone with a Washington plate BOKEH, I now know who it is. He says he'll wave.
  • Mammals will play, even between species, even when you'd never expect it—wild polar bear and huskies (slide show via Dave Winer).
  • A couple of crows are nesting nearby; they keep landing in our birdbath and on the house and lamp stands, looking ominous. Too smart, crows.
  • Sitting in a B.C. garden
    No waiting for the sun
  • CompuServe finally shuts down.
  • Just in case you're looking for a $2.1 million convertible.
  • Congratulations to Buzz Bishop, Jen, and Zacharie.
  • I presume this tiny USB-driven monitor screen is Windows-only, because of drivers? Looks pretty swell. (Via Neal Campbell.)
  • Definitive proof I'm not afraid of heights: I love this idea.
  • Via John Biehler, I found that as well as MythBuster Adam Savage, his co-workers Grant Imahara and narrator Robert Lee are also on Twitter.
  • When I had my first Nikon 25 years ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd ever own one (a D90) with 66 pages of the manual (out of a couple hundred total, in a 16 MB PDF file) just for menu options. Then again, 25 years ago, a friend showed me a shoulder-mounted Betamax camera from Hong Kong, and it was the latest in high tech video too.
  • That's the funkiest beat I've ever heard a marching band play (via Jared Spool). Maybe some James Brown next?
  • Has anyone pinpointed the exact day that Victoria Beckham stopped being able to smile? Angus Wilson speculates, "whatever day she began to look less like a hot English babe and more like a velociraptor."
  • Meg Fowler: "Sarah Palin's quitting politics like Ann Coulter's quitting evil."
  • As the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches, some fabulous photos from the missions, via Bad Astronomy.
  • From Ben Englert: "Thank you, gdgt, for institutionalizing the arduous task of dick-measuring by figuring out who has more toys."
  • Ten best uses of classical music in classic cartoons.
  • Our fridge magnet: "I love not camping."
    Our favourite fridge magnet

  • How did I manage to bite the inside of my upper lip while eating a peach? If this were high school, the guys would say, "Each much?"
  • Back to short hair for summer. And now I realize that it's Colbert hair.
  • I think my guts have calmed down now. Time for bed. In the meantime, enjoy a naked Air New Zealand flight crew.
  • In case you'd like to watch Jeff Goldblum reporting on his own "death," on Colbert Monday: links for Canada and the U.S.A. (sorry if you're elsewhere!).
  • Didn't attend various Canada Day parties because of tired family and my usual intestinal side effects. Hope you had fun in my stead. Managed to avoid intestinal chemo side effects for a few days, but they're back with a vengeance. Could be a looooong night. (And it was. At 2 a.m., my chemo side effects were "over" and I went to bed. Bzzt! Wrong! Finally got to sleep at 9 a.m., woke up at 1 the next afternoon. As Alfred E. Neuman says, Yecch.)
  • Whatever you think of the 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver, VANOC is doing a good job with graphic design.
  • I, too, welcome our new ant overlords.
  • I had no alcohol on my birthday yesterday, but still had a Canada Day headache on July 1. Here's my new free instrumental.
  • Inside Home Recording #72 is out: Winners, Studio Move, Synth 101, Suckage! AAC enhanced and MP3 audio-only versions.
  • Normally I really like our car dealer's service dept, but today the steering wheel came back oh-so-slightly to the left. They had to re-fix it.
  • World's geekiest pillows (via Chris Pirillo). My guess: they didn't license the Apple icons. Get the pillows while you can.
  • Officially made it to 40. Thanks everybody for the birthday wishes. Most people are bit melancholy to reach 40, but I am extremely glad to have made it.
  • Just returned from a Deluxe Chuck Wagon burger (with cheese) at the resurrected Wally's Burgers in Cates Park, North Vancouver:
    Derek Wally's burger 2

  • From Rob Cottingham: "The hell with putting a ring on it. If you liked it, you shoulda made a secure offsite backup."
  • Info about recording old vinyl records into a computer: You need a proper grounded phono preamp, with good hot signals into an audio interface or other analog-to-digital converter. A new needle might be wise if yours is old, but the real phono preamp (w/RIAA curve) is the most necessary bit after that. Route it thru an old stereo tuner if needed! See my old post from 2006 at Inside Home Recording.
  • Myth confirmed: Baby girl evidence (named Stella) shows MythBusters' Kari Byron actually was pregnant.
  • My new Twitter background image is the view we saw at sunset during my birthday party on Saturday. (I've since replaced it again.)
  • Back from another fun sunny summer BBQ at Paul Garay's new house—it's been a burgers-n-beer weekend.
  • Photos from my 40th birthday party now posted (please use tag "penmachinebirthday" if you post some).

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30 June 2009


"Dodging Buses," my new free MP3 instrumental

Derek Wally's burger 1I turn 40 today, and in honour of that, here is "Dodging Buses" (3.7 MB MP3 file), a three-minute instrumental number. Like many of my others, it has that signature Penmachine granky guitar-bass-drums sound, with a hint of AC/DC. I started recording it back in March, using my Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar tuned to an open E chord, but only in this past week did I add bass, mix, and then master it.

The name comes from something I've said numerous times during my past two and half years of cancer treatment: the saying goes that you could get hit by a bus anytime, but personally, I feel like I'm dodging buses every day. It's licensed for you to share and reuse, as long as you give me credit, so have fun with it.

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28 June 2009


Links of interest 2006-06-21 to 2006-06-27

While I'm on my blog break, more edited versions of my Twitter posts from the past week, newest first:

  • My wonderful wife got me a Nikon D90 camera for my 40th birthday this week. I'm thinking of selling my old Nikon D50, still a great camera. Anyone interested? I was thinking around $325. I also have a brand new 18–55 mm lens for sale with it, $150 by itself or $425 together. I have all original boxes, accessories, manuals, software, etc., and I'll throw in a memory card, plus a UV filter for the lens.

  • Roger Hawkins's drum track for "When a Man Loves a Woman" (Percy Sledge 1966): tastiest ever? Hardly a fill, no toms, absolutely delicious.
  • Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who came to my 40th birthday party—both for your presence and for the presents. Photos from the event, held June 27, three days early for my actual birthday on Tuesday, are now posted (please use tag "penmachinebirthday" if you post some yourself).
  • I think Twitter just jumped the shark. In trending topics, Michael Jackson passed Iran, OK, but both passed by Princess Protection Program (new Disney Channel movie)?
  • AT&T (and Rogers, presumably) is trying to charge MythBusters' Adam Savage $11,000 USD for some wireless web surfing here in Canada.
  • After more than 12 years buying stuf on eBay, here's our first ever item for sale there. Nothing too exciting, but there you go.
  • Michael Jackson's death this week made me think of comparisons with Elvis, John Lennon, and Kurt Cobain. Lennon and Cobain still seemed to have some artistic vitality ahead of them. Feel a need for Michael Jackson coverage? Jian Ghomeshi (MP3 file) on CBC in Canada is the only commentator who isn't blathering mindlessly. But as a cancer patient myself, having Farrah Fawcett and Dr. Jerri Nielsen (of South Pole fame) die of it the same day is a bit hard to take.
  • Seattle's KCTS 9 (PBS affiliate) showed "The Music Instinct" with Daniel Levitin and Bobby McFerrin. If you like music or are a musician, it's worth watching, even if it's a bit scattershot, packing too much into two hours.
  • New rule: when a Republican attacks gay marriage, lets assume he's cheating on his wife (via Jak King).
  • The blogs and podcasts I'm affiliated with are now sold on Amazon for its Kindle e-reader device, for $2 USD a month. I know, that's weird, because they're normally free, and are even accessible for free using the Kindle's built-in web browser, so I don't know why people would pay for them—but if you want to, here you go: Penmachine, Inside Home Recording, and Lip Gloss and Laptops. Okay, we're waiting for the money to roll in...
  • Great speech by David Schlesinger from Reuters to the International Olympic Committee on not restricting new media at the Olympics (via Jeff Jarvis).
  • TV ad: "Restaurant-inspired meals for cats." Um, have they seen what cats bring in from the outdoors?
  • I planned to record my last segment for Inside Home Recording #72, but neighbour was power washing right outside the window (in the rain!). Argh.
  • You can't trust your eyes: the blue and green are actually the SAME COLOUR.
  • Can you use the new SD card slot in current MacBook laptops for Time Machine backups? (You can definitely use it to boot the computer.) Maybe, but not really. SDHC cards max out at 32GB (around $100 USD); the upcoming SDXC will handle more, but none exist in Macs or in the real world yet. Unless you put very little on the MacBook's internal drive, or use System Preferences to exclude all but the most essential stuff from backups, then no, SD cards are not viable for Time Machine.
  • Some stats from Sebastian Albrecht's insane thirteen-times-up-the-Grouse Grind climb in one day this week. He burned 14,000+ calories.
  • Even though I use RSS extensively, I find myself manually visiting the same 5 blogs (Daring Fireball, Kottke, Darren Barefoot, PZ Myers, and J-Walk) every morning, with most interesting news covered.
  • I never get tired of NASA's rocket-cam launch videos.
  • Pat Buchanan hosts conference advocating English-only initiatives in the USA. But the sign over the stage is misspelled.
  • Who knew the Rolling Stones made an (awesome) jingle for Rice Krispies in the mid-1960s?
  • Always scary stuff behind a sentence like, "'He is an expert in every field,' said a church spokeswoman."
  • Kodachrome slide film is dead, but Fujichrome Velvia killed it a long time ago. This is just the official last rites.
  • My friends Dave K. and Dr. Debbie B. did the Vancouver-to-Seattle bicycle Ride to Conquer Cancer (more than 270 km in two days) last weekend. Congrats and good job!
  • My daughter (11) asks on her blog: "if Dad is so internet famous, I mean, Penmachine is popular, then, maybe I am too..."
  • Evolution of a photographer (via Scott Bourne).

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03 April 2009


Cosmic Bowling

Cosmic bowling at Flickr.comOur older daughter is at a birthday party this evening, so we decided to take her younger sister down to Rev's for Cosmic Bowling.

Little L, my wife Air, and I are all... let's say novice bowlers. In fact, I realized once I got there that I've never in my life played ten-pin bowling, only five-pin with the much smaller balls. We asked to have the gutter bumpers pulled up to get at least a decent chance at a tolerable score.

We had tons of fun, though, as well as dinner at our table at the lane. (They serve booze too!) I think we'll go back.

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15 February 2009


Worldly stuffies

Here's a measure of our world. My daughters chose some new plush toys for themselves today, bought with their own money. Both animals the toys represent (a penguin and a koala) are from the southern hemisphere.

They girls dressed them in a cowboy hat and Irish green clothes in honour of St. Patrick's Day next month (for Sparky the penguin), and stereotypical Canadian getup of plaid winter hat with earflaps, fleece vest, and red "Canada" shorts (for Ringo the koala):

New bears

So we have an Antarctic aquatic bird in Irish and American clothes with a semi-American name, and an Australian marsupial in Canadian gear with an English name. Oh, and if you squeeze Ringo's hand, he roars like a Tyrannosaurus.

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14 February 2009


Party 11

Birthday 5On Valentine's Day in Vancouver, on an afternoon in the midst of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, our first daughter, M, was born. Today she turned 11, and had a party at our house.

I remember being that age, in 1980, quite well. It was the fourth year in a row that my parents and I traveled to San Diego for summer vacation, and it would be two years before I quit studying classical guitar. It was the first year we had a computer in the house (a borrowed TRS-80 Model I).

My daughter came home from the hospital to a house full of computers. She has been taking music lessons for more than five years, longer than I ever did. She has never been to San Diego, but she has seen Hawaii and the Oregon Coast. She has a little sister, two years younger, while I was an only child. This year she started reading novels. She is smart, and articulate, and loves the Beatles.

Happy birthday, Miss M.

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12 February 2009


Darwin day

Charles Darwin at Flickr.comCharles Darwin was born 200 years ago today, and has been dead for almost 127 years. That's a long time in human terms, but no time at all in the history of life on earth. Though the true age of our planet (about 4.6 billion years) wasn't yet clear in his time, Darwin knew that it was very old—old enough to have changed a whole lot, and for life to have evolved along with it.

If he hadn't, someone else would have figured out around Darwin's time that evolution happens by natural selection. The evidence, from geology, paleontology, island ecology, animal breeding, and other fields was there. Indeed, someone else did figure it out, and when Alfred Wallace wrote to Darwin about "the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type" in 1857, he spurred Darwin to spend two years compiling his own ideas on the subject (by then 20 years old), in On the Origin of Species, 150 years ago this year.

The discovery

But while the idea of natural selection was ripe for discovery in the mid-1850s, Charles Darwin was uniquely suited to refine and present it. He was a polymath, interested in a huge variety of subjects. He was a well-respected member of the British social and scientific establishment, so his ideas would be heard. He had traveled the world, observing and collecting different species of animals and plants, before returning to England to become a settled homebody, set on performing exacting experiments to tease out the subtleties of biological phenomena.

Long before he wrote the Origin, he understood the implications of his discovery, especially to Biblical interpretations of creation—he had trained for the ministry in his youth, and his wife Emma was very religious—so he knew that he would have to assemble all the overwhelming evidence he had, and argue it well, to make his case. That's one reason he waited 20 years.

Despite knowing nothing of genetics, plate tectonics, or modern developmental biology, and having few transitional fossil finds to refer to, Darwin and Wallace were fundamentally correct in their discovery:

  1. Individual animals, plants, fungi, and unicellular organisms produce more offspring than can survive and successfully reproduce themselves.
  2. Those offspring vary in numerous characteristics, some of which offer survival and reproductive advantages in their current environment.
  3. Offspring with variations that offer advantages produce more offspring than their siblings with variations that don't.
  4. Over time, those individuals with the advantageous variations come to dominate populations.
  5. Different populations of a single species exist in different environments, and environments also change, so the variations that work best will probably differ between populations and over time. Eventually, those variations compound, and the populations may diverge or evolve into new species.

The mystery

So while many people assume that On the Origin of Species addresses how life originated on earth to start with, it doesn't—that remains a mystery biologists are still trying to solve 150 years later. Darwin himself suggested that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one."

His book solved another mystery altogether: how new species originate from existing ones. In doing so, Charles Darwin effectively created the science of biology, drawing the study of living things into a cohesive subject, where insights in one field (such as the chemical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid inside cells) could relate to others (like the geographic distribution of animals, or even human medicine).

The argument

Darwin was a shy, sensitive family man averse to controversy, but he was also stubborn, logical, meticulous, and a completist. The Origin is over 300 pages, but he wrote it as a mere abstract of the comprehensive book he really wanted to write (and never did). Even in its "abbreviated" form, it is a progressing, relentless treatise, building fact upon fact.

He doesn't introduce the concept of natural selection until the fourth chapter (of 15 total). He builds a foundation, introduces his discovery, marshals evidence, raises objections, and addresses them. He talks about instinct, breeding, geology, geography, morphology, and embryology. Then, just to be sure you've got it, he writes a final chapter summarizing everything—all in long Victorian paragraphs.

Honestly, On the Origin of Species is a pretty dull read. But it is a stupendous argument.

The evidence

The test of a scientific theory is not only what it explains, but what it predicts—even beyond what its formulators might have imagined. We know Newton's laws of motion are right because we use them to send men to the moon and probes to planets, and to predict eclipses. We know Einstein was right because lasers actually work, and because gravity really does bend light, whether as close by as the sun or as far away as the most distant galaxies. We know continental drift is real for a bunch of reasons, but today we can even use precise satellite measurements to watch it happening in real time.

Countless theories are obsolete because their predictions don't pan out: a young and earth-centred universe under an unchanging dome of stars, four elements (earth, air, fire, water), aether and phlogiston, Lamarckian inheritance, magical alchemy (Isaac Newton was convinced about that one), spontaneous generation, health as a balance of humours, absolute time, the indivisible atom, Darwin's own ideas about the mechanisms of inheritance, and on and on.

We refine other theories based on new evidence, because their predictions are close, but not quite right. Today, for newer theories, we build huge machines just to find out whose predictions match with reality.

What amazes us about Darwin, and Newton, and Einstein (and others)—what shows us that they were right—is that new evidence keeps turning up, and either refines or confirms what their most important theories predict, but doesn't refute it. Newton's theories work so well we hardly think about them: we just buy cameras with refracting lenses, fly in planes with jet engines, drive cars with airbags, or turn on our GPS units, and we expect them to work. Einstein showed some extreme situations where Newton's laws don't properly apply, and we learned from that how to make laser pointers, take radiation therapy, and fear nuclear weapons.

The predictions

Evolution by natural selection, as Darwin and Wallace figured it out, suggested that we would find many other things, such as:

  • Many more transitional fossil forms—yes, and more all the time.
  • Mechanisms for inheritance of variation—those are genes and DNA.
  • Ways for geographically distant but related organisms to have once shared ancestors—continental drift and deep time are two big ones there.

We have found those things, in spades. But the evidence goes far further, including:

  • Animals and plants that Darwin surmised must be related because of their appearance and habits also share more DNA than those less closely related—something he could never have known, but that provides two independent lines of evidence to the same conclusion.
  • Evolution is usually slow, but in organisms that live and reproduce fast, like the AIDS virus adapting against our drugs, E. coli tolerating poisons in the lab, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria spreading in hospitals, we can see it happen over mere decades.
  • Using biotechnology, we can synthesize new species ourselves—such as by corralling bacteria to make human insulin or to devour oil spills—but only when we apply the genetic mechanisms that we have discovered allow natural selection and drive evolution.

From biochemistry and molecular biology to evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), gene therapy, and evolutionary psychology, whole fields of study depend on the principles of natural selection. Without them, those fields could not make their own predictions or solve problems in the real world.

Yet here's the thing: they do.

The day

That's why today, Darwin day, is worth commemorating. Charles Darwin figured out the basis for how life works 150 years ago. He explained it, and no matter how controversial it remains, natural selection is the basis for how we understand the family of all organisms, extinct or living, which includes ourselves, over several billion years.

He was a proper Victorian country gentleman, so I doubt anyone ever called him "Chuck." But he's 127 years dead now, so he has no reason to mind my saying this: Happy birthday, Chuck. And thanks.

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26 January 2009


Happy birthday, Miss L

It's lunar new year (of the Ox)! It's Australia Day (well, not in Australia anymore, since there it's tomorrow by now)! It's the birthday of Ellen DeGeneres, and my cousin Tarya, and our friend Kelly!

And, best of all, it's my youngest daughter L's birthday too!

Birthday girl 2002 L's headscarf Birthday girl 2003b Birthday girl 2004 Birthday girl 2005 crop Sixth birthday #2 Miss L at Seven L's birthday 28 - conga line 4 Birthday loot bags

She's nine.

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15 November 2008


The Lions' Gate and Pattullo turn 70

According to Tod Maffin and Buzz Bishop, this week marks the 70th birthdays of both the Lions' Gate Bridge and the Pattullo Bridge here in Greater Vancouver. It would be hard for two bridges to contrast more in their appearance:

Lions Gate Bridge from Ambleside Pattullo Bridge

The Lions' Gate (connecting downtown Vancouver's Stanley Park with the North Shore across Burrard Inlet) is an elegant suspension bridge, lit at night with glittering lamps, and a beautiful landmark admired throughout the city and the world. It's on many of the city's postcards. It was heavily refurbished a few years ago, but looks the same as it always has.

The Pattullo (connecting New Wesminster to Surrey) is an ungainly girdered structure often cursed by those who must drive its narrow, dangerous lanes. Premier Duff Pattullo, after whom it is named, apparently called it "a thing of beauty." Tod says, "Yes, he was likely stoned." Plans are afoot to knock it down and replace it.

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27 October 2008


Happy eighth birthday, blog

Penmachine circa 2000Today marks eight years since this site first became a blog, back on October 27, 2000. That's the day I started using Blogger—long before Google bought it—to publish updates here, instead of doing them manually in a text editor. (I did so on the recommendation of my friend Alistair—who was also standing next to me in the photo I cropped down as my portrait at the time.) Believe it or not, I'm still using Blogger to run the site, although I don't host it on Blogger's servers, and I make my own templates.

That day back in 2000 was also a little over seven months after I first registered the penmachine.com domain—in the three years before that, I'd been publishing at various obscure URLs owned by my ISP and others. However, the alias www.pobox.com/~dkmiller will still get you here, as it always has. So, courtesy of the Wayback Machine, here are some looks back:

  • Take a look at this site in September 2000, before I blogified it. I also have a screenshot of an even earlier version, plus a preserved HTML archive from 1998.
  • You can also examine roughly how it looked in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. You know, this blog hasn't changed as much as I might have thought.
  • As far as I can tell, the most popular thing I've ever written here is my 2005 article about buying a cheap guitar, which remains my most-viewed page more than three years after I published it, and more than two years after I last made any updates to it. If you post stuff on the web, that shows you why you should avoid breaking links.
  • To reinforce that, this month 30 people took at look at my earliest blog archive, and 140 people (!) read my spelling article, which was pretty much the first thing I ever published on the Web, back in 1997. Earlier this year, an editor colleague of mine finally spotted a typo in the piece—even though it had been online and widely read for 11 years. So I fixed it.
  • In the past eight years, I'm not sure if I've had visitors from every country in the world, but I have had at least one each (and probably more, given that many people's browsers don't reveal their location) from Namibia, Greenland, Tajikistan, Vanuatu, and Nicaragua, among others.
  • My biggest traffic spikes have come via Jason Kottke and John Gruber, which is little surprise if you know their sites.

Given how things are going, I have no idea whether I'll still be writing here in another eight years. But it's been fun so far.

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11 September 2008


Chemo is suddenly over again, for now

So, how do I put this? The chemotherapy isn't working (at least, not well enough), so my doctors have cancelled it and we're looking for something else to keep the cancer from progressing. That may include different, more experimental forms of chemo, or surgical radiofrequency ablation (RFA) of the spots in my lungs. In my initial reading, the RFA approach looks like it could be promising.

My emotions about this development are all over the place. To know that the largest metastatic lesion in my lungs has grown from 1.4 cm to 1.6 cm in diameter, and the smaller one from 1 cm to 1.4 cm, is dismaying, because the panitumumab and irinotecan I was taking weren't doing the job of stopping or shrinking those tumours. On the other hand, I may have been misinformed about there being four metastases; there might be only two. I'm not sure and will have to ask. They are small, and not growing extremely fast.

In addition to that, now I can avoid spending two days in bed every two weeks, feeling like I'm going to throw up. My pervasive dry skin and facial rash, although under control, should now abate as the chemo drugs flush out of my system. Finally, since it will take a few weeks to figure out and schedule my next treatments, whatever they are, I'm taking the chance to try to have my ileostomy surgically reversed, so that my intestines function normally again for the first time in well over a year and I can ditch the colostomy bags forever. That could happen in less than a month.

We found all this out a couple of days ago, which happened to be my wife Air's 40th birthday. Fortunately, we'd already had a big family-and-friends barbecue last weekend to celebrate that (plus my mom's upcoming 70th), so the news only dampered the day itself, not the party. Last night she and I went for dinner at the beautiful Horizons restaurant here in Burnaby, to mark her birthday and to celebrate at least the end of chemo, for now.

This all reminds me that while my medical team and I keep looking for a cure, something to destroy the cancer completely, more likely we're just buying me time. How much time, no one knows. Months? Years? Right now, other than the dry skin, I feel better than I have at any time since my diagnosis in January 2007. I feel less like a dead man walking than ever, but the future remains a mystery.

Yet on September 11, another dreadful anniversary, the weather here in Vancouver is once again beautiful, and there's laundry to be done. Time to load up the iPod and get to it.

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06 September 2008


Two looks ten years back

It's weird to think that my website here is older than Google.

And valued a tad less on the markets, too.

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22 August 2008


Happy birthday, IHR

The podcast I co-host, Inside Home Recording, turned three years old today. That's pretty old for a podcast.

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30 June 2008


Rock from on high

One hundred years ago today, St. Petersburg, Russia, would have been annihilated by an enormous explosion—if the detonation had occurred less than five hours later than it actually did. But as it turned out, the event happened thousands of kilometres further east, smack dab in the middle of Siberia. St. Petersburg was lucky, saved by the rotation of the earth.

The fireball now known as the Tunguska Event was the mid-air explosion of an extraterrestrial object of some sort (link via PZ Myers), likely a meteorite or fragment of a comet—fairly big, perhaps 50 or 60 metres in diameter, like a condominium tower falling from the sky at several thousand kilometres per hour—which disintegrated violently in the atmosphere. The place is still a remote Siberian forest, several hundred kilometres northwest of Lake Baikal. Trees that fell then still lie on the ground a century later. The heat created microscopic glass beads in the soil. There would be no airburst of similar magnitude until the invention of the hydrogen bomb.

It took almost 20 years for a Soviet scientific expedition, led by Leonid Kulik, to visit the area and survey the still-extensive damage in 1927: while there was no obvious crater, trees had been stripped of their branches and bark, as well as flattened by the shock wave, in a region some 50 km wide. Had the Tunguska Event occurred in a populated area, tens or hundreds of thousands of people might have died.

It was nothing, of course, compared to other impact events on earth, such as those linked with mass extinctions in the more distant past. But I still wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near it.

Incidentally, Tunguska shares its centenary not only with my 39th birthday today, but also with something else I'd probably prefer to steer clear of: the 45th birthday of Yngwie Malmsteen.

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Today I am 39 for the first time

I don't think I'll become one of those reluctant to reveal his age. Hell, I'm damn proud of each further year I get at this point. So today I turn 39, for the first and last and only time. It will be a hectic day, with much packing and running around.

Why? Because tomorrow, Canada Day, July 1, my wife and daughters leave for a week at Disneyland, and I'm taking them, with our friend KA and her son, to the airport at 4:00 a.m. (!) for their 6:30 flight. A few hours later, I'll be back at the airport to drop off our friend Leesa for her return to Australia.

Then, as I begin a few days of solo living bachelor style, I have a couple of Canada Day parties I may attend, and maybe even a show by the Adam Woodall Band in the evening. That is, if I'm not so exhausted from the early wake-up that I just sleep away the rest of our national day.

So I won't reflect too much on my birthday. You can, however, read what I wrote at the end of June in 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001.

My my. I have been at this blogging thing for awhile now.

And here, for no reason other than that I like it, is a picture of my daughters coming home from the last day of school:

Last day of school!

It's summer, baby!

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19 February 2008


Easy open packaging? Really?

I've complained before about those infernal ocean-crossing container–resistant sealed blister packs so many products come in. Among the worst are kids' toys like Barbie and Bratz dolls, which have sometimes taken my wife and me as much as 20 minutes to open with the assistance of various sharp implements, and with the consequence of the occasional injury.

So today I was shocked, and very skeptical, about a Bratz doll my older daughter received for her tenth birthday over the weekend. Right there on the package was a big sticker: "NEW EASY OPEN PACKAGE":

Easy open package? Easy open package success!

Yeah right, I thought.

Then, perhaps three minutes later, the doll and its accessories were free. I had used only my fingers. No scissors, knives, or even teeth. The EASY OPEN PACKAGING really was easy to open. Really!

Is this some sort of sign of the Apocalypse?

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14 February 2008


Ten and twenty

Ice cream dome - 2The stereotype is that children seem to grow up instantly, but that's not my experience. Our older daughter turned ten today, Valentine's Day. She was born the same day that Catriona Le May Doan won a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Coincidentally, a couple of our good friends had their first child, also a daughter, two days ago. It occurred to me that by the time this new little girl reaches ten, my daughter will be twenty—the age I graduated from university.

The past ten years haven't, as the saying usually goes, gone by in a flash. They feel like ten years, really. And that's great. When my wife and I each held our friends' newborn yesterday, in the same hospital where our daughters (and I) were born, the little one's tiny sleeping face and delicious infant smell took us back to those early days when we first dove head-first into the sleep deprivation of early parenthood.

Since then we've had another daughter, now eight, and the kids have grown, learned to walk and talk and read and write and ride bikes and play piano, gone to preschool, made friends, started kindergarten, and now are in the second and fourth grades. They're learning math and spelling and have their own blogs and Gmail accounts. It doesn't surprise me that it took a decade to get here.

This spring also marks the twentieth anniversary of the day my wife and I first met, when we both worked as park naturalists for the Greater Vancouver Regional District parks department (now called Metro Vancouver Regional Parks). We were friends for a few years after that at the University of B.C., then lost touch until spring 1994, when we met again and started dating. By our first Valentine's Day, in 1995, we were already sharing a house and planning our wedding, which took place that August:

20 years on

She's been my wonderful Valentine ever since, and I've never wanted another. Twenty years doesn't seem an unreasonable time since then either. We've shared and endured a lot together.

Simply being able to say "I met my wife twenty years ago" does make me feel a bit old, but I like that too. Grey hairs might or might not be a sign of wisdom, but they are a sign that I'm still alive. So 2008 is an important anniversary year, especially following the last one. Happy birthday to my daughter. Happy Valentine's Day to my wife. Happy one more day for me.

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26 January 2008


Happy 8th birthday, Miss L

L's birthday 25 - conga line 1Cosmic bowling and a birthday party at the bowling alley are an energetic experience with a mob of kids all around age eight. There was even a conga line.

Our youngest has been especially excited to turn eight, as she did today, because now she's allowed to swim in local public pools (including going down the waterslide) by herself—we adults can simply sit at the side for a change. She's been planning today's bowling party for over a month.

The kids had a good time. Hot dogs, cake, chips, pop, presents, and flashy lights and music. Everything an eight-year-old needs.

And, of course, later we had to tackle the inevitable blister-pack packaging. Argh.

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31 October 2007


Happy blogiversary

Darn, I missed it again. Saturday, October 27 was this website's seventh birthday as a blog—it existed for three years and a bit before that as a set of plain old "web pages," but not with regular updates. I've been using Blogger to run it ever since that switch. (If I were starting today, I'd probably go with WordPress, but there's a lot of momentum.)

So happy blogiversary this week, Penmachine. I haven't tried a word count in a long time, but I'd bet it's scary. I'm up to 2,927 individual posts, so this blog is probably north of 800,000 words by now.

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23 October 2007


Waaaay belated thank you

Derek's Birthday Party - 36.jpg at Flickr.comBack in June, I turned 38 and my wife threw me a big awesome party. I had a great time, but I was in a lot of pain at the time, and it was only a week before I went in for major surgery, spending most of July in hospital.

So I have a bit of an excuse for not taking careful note of every gift from every person—especially among the stack of gift cards and certificates that have been sitting next to my bed for the past four months. Today my wife and I walked to the mall, bringing along a couple of bookstore gift cards from that pile, and discovered that one of them was worth $150! And I have no idea who gave it to me (it wasn't labeled for purchaser or amount).

So I'll take this opportunity to say a long-belated thank you again to everyone who came to the party, and to everyone who gave me a gift, even if I don't know what you gave me.

After a solid week of pounding, soaking rain, it is also a spectacular, sunny, warm autumn day, up to 16°C this afternoon, and I'm back-porch blogging for perhaps the last time this year. I'm feeling good. Thanks for that too.

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10 October 2007


Wacka wacka!

Pacman at Flickr.comYour friend and mine, Pac-Man turns 28 years old today.

I never had a full-fledged case of Pac-Man Fever, but I did spend a good amount of time playing clones like Gobbler, Snack Attack, and Taxman on my Apple II. Plus I had the September 1982 Mad magazine with Pac-Man on the cover.

The Nintendo version is now available as a cheap download or disc for our Wii, or even for my iPod—maybe I should give it a spin for nostalgia's sake.

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05 October 2007


Tim Bray: people are the killer app

I was pleased and honoured to have Lauren Wood and Tim Bray and their kids come to my birthday party back in June. One of the reasons it was an honour is that Tim is both a pioneering Internet tech-head and a socially thoughtful guy. His latest post is a gem:

TechCrunch? The top story when I last checked was "Pixsy To Power Search On Veoh". I’m containing my excitement.

It seems there's an inward-facing circle scattered around San Francisco and its peninsula; they're smart and experienced and money-hungry and very alert. But when the next big thing comes along (and I love this business, because I know it will) you won't have to rely on the professional noticers to tell you because it'll touch your life directly.

It's good that Tim and Lauren chose to live here in Vancouver rather than the Bay Area: they get more perspective, I think.

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04 October 2007


Happy birthday, Sputnik

CCCP8 at Flickr.comBack in the late 1970s, a traveling exhibition of Soviet space program artifacts and replicas came to the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium here in Vancouver. My parents had bought a lifetime membership to the Planetarium when it opened in the late '60s, so we went there all the time, and this was a particularly exciting event.

The part that made the biggest impression on me was the very loud demonstration scale model of the massive Soyuz rocket that launched (and still launches) Russian space capsules. I remember its distinctly Russian shape, with the flared boosters at the bottom, so different from the straight-arrow American designs such as the Saturn moon rockets.

When I saw the exhibition, Sputnik was not even a quarter century in the past, but to me as a kid it was ancient history. In that time, people had orbited the Earth, gone to the Moon, sent robots throughout the solar system, and were about to launch the first reusable Space Shuttle.

Today is the 50th anniversary of that first-ever Sputnik orbital flight. As far as people going into space, not much genuinely new has happened since I saw those Soviet rockets. We have the space station now (built through cooperation between post-Soviet Russia, NASA, and other space programs around the world), but we're also still flying Soyuz and Shuttle missions, and no one has been back to the Moon since 1972.

Sputnik was the first, and it turns out to have been the model too. Its successors, robotic space probes, have accomplished remarkable things since, from examining the Sun to plunging into the atmosphere of Jupiter, landing on Saturn's moon Titan, and going way beyond. Every day, people across the globe use communications satellites and GPS and satellite views on Google Maps without a second thought. Sputnik, by striking fear of Communist supremacy into our hearts, also energized the Western world's science education programs. Indirectly, I'm probably alive today because of the scientific and medical research prompted by those changes, which improved treatments for both diabetes and cancer.

That tiny beeping metal sphere really did change the world. S dniom razhdjenia, Sputnik.

UPDATE: IEEE Spectrum has a nice feature on the anniversary, including an interview with Arthur C. Clarke in which he points out that "space travel is a technological mutation that should not really have arrived until the 21st century. But thanks to the ambition and genius of [Wernher] von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and their influence upon individuals as disparate as Kennedy and Khrushchev, the Moon—like the South Pole—was reached half a century ahead of time."

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01 July 2007


I'm totally spent, baby

My birthday party yesterday was fantastic. Thank you thank you thank you to my amazing wife who organized it, and to everyone who came. The gig with the band this morning was fabulous. I am completely wiped out, but it was worth it. Some photos (click each one to see more from that event):

Derek's Birthday Party - 23.jpg

More Neurotics at HBC Run - 34.jpg

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29 June 2007


Happy birthday to me from podcasters, and to Canada from my band

Mark Blevis of the Canadian Podcast Buffet just emailed me an audio file, a happy birthday message (I turn 38 tomorrow) from podcasters all over the place. Holy crap. Thanks everybody, I’m stunned.

Speaking of birthdays, Sunday is Canada Day, and if you're looking for something to do in Vancouver in the morning, my band The Neurotics will be playing near the start/finish line of the HBC Run for Canada down at Coal Harbour. We play from 9 a.m. till noon.

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23 May 2007


Lens like a jewel

50mm 1.8 (cameraporn) at Flickr.comYesterday was not only my last day of radiation and the day I found out that, "Dude! I'm gettin' a colostomy!" It was also my father's 68th birthday—we're mere weeks from being exactly 30 years apart in age.

My wife and daughters and I dropped by my parents' place for the occasion last night and had some cake with them. My girls handmade cards, plus some extremely cool presents: little plasticene models of my dad, one on his own (from my seven year old) and one with his telescope (from my nine year old).

I wasn't that creative, but unlike last week, when I was totally out of it for Mother's Day, I did manage to buy him something: a nice basic 50 mm prime lens for his Canon DSLR camera. If you have a DSLR and don't have at least one prime lens (with a single focal length like 24 mm or 50 mm or 105 mm, which does not zoom), get one. They are much nicer for the money and let in more light than equivalently priced zooms. In fact, I wish DSLRs came with 50 mm lenses like film SLRs used to for decades.

For those of you who aren't photo geeks, understand this: when he opened the wrapping, he was just as delighted as a woman opening a surprise gift of jewelry. Yup, we guys really do like our gadgets that much.

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