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A decade of March firsts

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It's March 1, and spring approaches. What was I thinking about in the previous 10 years on this date? Since my blog is now old enough, we can find out:

It's unlikely I'll live until March 1 next year, so that list should now be complete.

I am the father of a teenager

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Birthday girl in action. on TwitpicToday, Valentine's Day, is my daughter Marina's birthday, and this year she turned 13. She had a party and a sleepover with some friends on the weekend, and today she set up a Facebook account—she herself wanted to wait until it was legitimate to do, unlike every other pre-teen in the world who simply lies about his or her birthdate to join early.

If you know her and you're on Facebook, she'll probably track you down and send a friend request. We've warned her to keep an eye out for spammy links and time-sucking apps. Some parents are still paranoid about letting their kids on Facebook at all, but I think most of those concerns (especially the ones about predatory adults lurking about) are overblown. Children need to learn how to be smart there, just as they do in other contexts.

Marina already has a smartphone, a Twitter account, a blog, and email—and the main thing we've had to help her with is the complexity of relationships with friends online, and how easily misunderstandings can escalate. That's an issue teenagers and their parents have to face offline too, and is nothing new.

I first went online around the same age, though "online" was rather different at the turn of the 1980s. I learned some hard social lessons, but I gained far more. I wouldn't be who I am today without nearly 30 years of electronic interactions.

It is astonishing that my wife Air and are the parents of a teenaged girl, however. No amount of time online really readies you for that.

Happy birthday, Marina. Welcome to the 500-million-strong club.

My grandparents at the first houseBy all accounts, my maternal grandparents were a vibrant and social couple, pillars of Vancouver's substantial Finnish immigrant community in the middle of the 20th century. By the time I was born in 1969, they had reached retirement age, and I never knew them as young, healthy people. We lived next door, and as I got older I knew them as quiet as they aged and became ill, with few friends. They didn't travel much—a few trips to Reno in my childhood—nor did they go out or have parties, other than family gatherings.

After talking with parents, aunt and uncle, and cousins, I think a big part of that change was pride. My grandfather, a carpenter by trade, also led a Finnish choir. As he became less firm, he could neither do his old work nor sing the way he used to. I think he resented that. He did not want his friends and their families to see him become old. So he slowly withdrew, until he no longer kept in touch with most of them.

Finns are often stereotyped as extremely reticent and reserved, and like many stereotypes, it emerges from the truth. (There's an old joke: a Swede and a Finn go together to a bar. "Cheers," says the Swede as they raise their glasses. "Did we come to talk or drink?" replies the Finn.) My grandpa, who came to Canada in the 1920s, was certainly like that when I knew him decades later.

I also know how he felt. Four years after developing cancer, I'm tired, weak, and in pain. I've lost close to 50 pounds. I spend a lot of time in the bathroom, and I take morphine daily. I'm dying, and I know it. While I'm only 41, I'm like an old man, and I'm often by myself, frequently by choice.

There's a big difference, however. My grandparents both died in the early '90s. Neither had ever used email or anything related to the Internet. Conversely, I've been involved in some sort of online social networking since my BBS days almost 30 years ago. Email, this blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr—they're a bigger part of my daily life than the telephone or television.

So even when I'm here, alone with the dog, somewhat withdrawn, as on this grim rainy Vancouver Friday, I'm not really alone. People like you read what I write, and you respond. I keep track of my friends and acquaintances, and some rare days I know more about what's been going on in the lives of friends in Melbourne or Ottawa than with my parents next door (though my dad's on Facebook and has a blog too). I can simply lurk and feel part of people's days, or I can inject the occasional reply or snarky comment, depending on how I feel.

What I do feel is connected, in a way my grandparents didn't at the ends of their lives. Unfortunately, my grandma spent her last years in a care home, in the final stages of Parkinson's disease, not understanding much of her surroundings, and often reverting to memories of her youth in Finland. My grandpa, though, was pretty sharp until very near his death, when his lungs gave out on him.

I think grandpa would have benefited from something like Facebook or Twitter—some means to stay plugged in with his family and friends, and their families and friends. It's a new thing in our time, this ability to dip into and out of the lives of people we know—if we choose—to remain the social people we want to be, even if our bodies won't let us do it so easily or frequently face-to-face anymore.

Cheers, folks. I can't drink much now, but I can still talk.

Hitchens on death

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Christopher Hitchens holds some political views with which I disagree, but like him, I am a staunch atheist. Last summer he found out that he, like me, has stage 4 cancer, which will probably kill him, again like me, fairly soon. He has talked and written a fair bit about it, eloquently of course.

Most recent is this video interview (with text transcript, via Jerry Coyne), where he talks almost entirely about his cancer and the prospect of his own death. He still finds time to tear into Mother Teresa, though:

He says many things that mirror my own thoughts. However, perhaps because his cancer is so much more recent, he still thinks a treatment might come soon to keep him alive. He also still wants to contribute to treatment experiments, regardless of whether they might help him directly, which something I have decided I no longer want—I have suffered enough in four years.

Hitchens realizes he might never again see his native Britain, because travel is becoming more and more difficult. He acknowledges that, even if he were to know how many months he might have left before he dies, he'd need to know what kind of months those would be before he could decide what to do with them. He talks of profound weakness, of undertaking a simple task one day that might have been impossible the day before, and might be impossible again the next. All give me pangs of recognition.

He and I have never met, or spoken, or communicated in any way, but I feel kinship with Christopher Hitchens. He is 20 years older than I am. Yet we are both on a short road to our deaths, which will be our end, and we both know it.

Last spring, after much hemming and hawing and nerdy rumination, I switched this blog to using the Movable Type ("MT") publishing system, following a decade using Blogger. I've been happy with that decision.

But I had some nagging questions in the fall, when Six Apart, the company that made Movable Type, merged with another firm to create the hydra-headed online advertising entity known as SAY Media. At that time I wrote: "Maybe SAY Media will do well by the software, or might sell it to some other firm that will."

It turns out they went for option 2. Essentially, the Japanese division of Six Apart, known as Six Apart KK, has been the only part of the company working on Movable Type for some time. It is taking full responsibility for the software and being sold to another Japanese firm, Infocom (unrelated to the classic text games publisher of the same name, which made Zork decades ago). Both Movable Type and the Six Apart name now belong to Infocom.

This is probably a good development for Movable Type and its users, since there is no logical place within SAY Media for it. Still, it's also sad, since MT was the product that launched Six Apart ten years ago, and now it's been jettisoned by the company that it helped create. That does happen in the life of a business: the Hudson's Bay Company no longer runs fur trapping operations, and Sharp stopped making mechanical pencils decades ago.

Security updates for Movable Type continue to come out, and apparently the new version 5.1 beta will be available next month. Those are certainly good signs too. I hope MT settles in well with its new owners, for whom it appears to have some actual importance. I wonder how Six Apart founders Ben and Mena Trott feel about their once-flagship product and self-named company (their birthdays are six days apart) finally being out of their hands.

Sometime during elementary school, more than 30 years ago, I decided to start using my middle initial, and calling myself Derek K. Miller. I'm not entirely sure why. I was probably inspired by science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. LeGuin, as well as my dad, who signs his name as J. Karl Miller but goes by Karl as his familiar name to everyone. And I was starting to be asked for my signature on documents: the extra K. added some flourish.

It seems a little snobby and effete to choose to lengthen your name as a prepubescent kid—and I suppose it was when I did it. But that is the age where we start to establish our own identities apart from our parents, and manipulating the names they give us is one means to that end. (My younger daughter is seriously considering having everyone address her by her middle name, for example.)

My decision turned out to be handy a few years down the line, however. When I needed my first university email address, dmiller was already taken, but dkmiller was free, and I've used that as part of almost every email address I've created since, sometimes to my detriment.

In the early days of the Web, my site was the first one you'd find searching for Derek Miller, but that didn't last. Today there are quite a few Derek Millers out there in the Google database. And to find me, you not only have to get past them, but also two separate ones who are musicians like me—though much more famous. One is a new indie sensation, the other is even Canadian (and performed at the Olympics Closing Ceremony here last year). But look for Derek K. Miller, and you still get me.

There's no way I planned that back at the turn of the 1980s, however. Some things just work out.

Compiling 2010 and a couple of entries from 2011, this concludes my links to every cancer post I've made on this blog over the past four years. See part 1 (2006–2007), part 2 (2008), and part 3 (2009) for the rest. 2010 began optimistically, with my tumours shrinking, but by the end of the year they were growing again, and I'd run out of treatments. I may not live long enough to blog the end of 2011.

January 2010:

February 2010:

March 2010:

April 2010:

May 2010:

June 2010:

July 2010:

August 2010:

September 2010:

October 2010:

November 2010:

December 2010:

January 2011:

Following my list of cancer blog posts in part 1 (2006–2007) and part 2 (2008), this batch covers 2009. By then, I was coming to realize that my cancer wasn't going to be cured. At best, it seemed, I might be able to manage it as a chronic condition long-term, perhaps. And that's what I did for much of the year, taking cediranib daily and managing the awful intestinal side effects, until that drug stopped working, and I moved back to more traditional and awful chemo.

Again, see Part 1 (2006–2007) and Part 2 (2008). Part 4 (2010–2011) finishes off the link series marking four years since my cancer diagnosis.

Here is the next batch of my complete index of blog posts about my cancer and treatment. Part 1 covered 2006 and 2007. This one comprises 2008, with part 3 rounding up 2009 and part 4 finishing off with 2010 and a bit of 2011.

June 2008:

July 2008:

August 2008:

September 2008:

October 2008:

November 2008:

December 2008:

In the exactly four years since I found out I have cancer, this has not been exclusively a cancer blog, but I have written a lot about it. Since you probably missed some (and also because I've forgotten much of what I wrote), I'm listing links to every post I've made on the topic. Let's start with December 2006 (when I didn't know what I had) through December 2007. See part 2 (2008), part 3 (2009), and part 4 (2010–2011) too.

December 2006:

January 2007:

February 2007:

March 2007:

April 2007:

May 2007:

June 2007:

July 2007:

August 2007:

September 2007:

October 2007:

November 2007:

December 2007:

More of the archive in part 2 (2008), part 3 (2009), and part 4 (2010–2011).

How do I feel about this whole WikiLeaks brouhaha? Well, first of all, it's not a wiki, is it? That aside, here's how I summed it up on Twitter:

While I'm ambivalent about some of what WikiLeaks is doing, the reaction by our supposedly democratic governments dismays me unequivocally.

A longer take with a similar conclusion is from Tim Bray, who says:

Thought leaders including Sarah Palin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Silvio Berlusconi, and Vladimir Putin tsk-tsk in unison; those closer to the mainstream who are joining the chorus should be very fucking nervous about the company they're keeping.

I think it's worth looking at WikiLeaks' (or at least Julian Assange's) stated motivations for releasing all this sensitive material: to be "only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction" by its target states.

The overreaction is happening, in sometimes nasty ways. Mission accomplished?

ARGH!While my wife and I have had the occasional difficulty with it over the years, I like our credit union, Vancity, quite a bit. But I really have to question the competence of the people they work with to create some of their online services, especially those associated with our Vancity Visa credit card.

Take this problem I had more than six years ago. In short, trying to use my Visa to pay online, I ran into the wonderfully annoying Verified By Visa program. It wouldn't let me register because (it turns out) the online form wanted the birthdate of the primary account holder, who is my wife. But the error message said it wanted my Social Security Number, which (a) we don't have in Canada (it's a Social Insurance Number here), (b) the form hadn't asked for, and (c) is not something I'm comfortable giving out willy-nilly online. That led to a wild goose chase until I figured out the solution by trial and error—while Vancity and Visa's customer service reps were no help whatsoever.

Six years of not solving a problem

Vancity and Visa have spent the last six years not solving that issue. In fact, on another website, they've exacerbated it. This time the resolution was better, but the problem was even worse, because if I hadn't been on the ball it could have cost me almost $500, maybe more. Let's follow the steps:

  1. I wanted to redeem some My Visa Rewards points to book a hotel for a three-night stay. The site where you check your account balance, including points balances, is However, you can't redeem points there. And there's no link to the site where you can, or indication of what it might be, as far as I could tell.

  2. The Vancity website (different from the MyVisaAccount site) has a link to redeem points at the website. But guess what? That link is broken, because you have to use the—if you omit the www, as Vancity itself did on its own corporate website, the link won't resolve, even though pretty much every website in the world (including mine here) lets you use the www or not, as you choose. Professional!

  3. Once you get to the rewards site, you have to set up an account or log in using your Visa card number. But, just as in 2004, I had to use the card number of the primary account holder (my wife). I couldn't use my card number, even though my card charges the same account, and accumulates points there too. So I had to call her and get the info, including expiry date and three-digit safety code, since she was at work. Oh, and the login form (like most) refuses to process card numbers entered with spaces—even though that's how they appear on the card for readability. As a sometimes–web developer, I know it's rather simple to have a computer skim a series of numbers and strip out excess spaces or dashes. People should be able to enter their credit card numbers however they want, but almost no e-commerce site does that, Vancity's included. They all piss me off because of that, and this was no exception.

  4. Once I found the hotel I wanted and had selected the dates and room and everything, I had to fill in another form with contact information. Some of it was helpfully filled in (with my wife's data, of course), but some, including our city, province, and postal code, and my wife's birthday, were not. Here's the fun part: the birthdate (like the account number) must not include spaces, but the postal code must include a space. Other variations fail, even though those requirements are opposites, and again, they're programmatically trivial to deal with however people choose to type them.

  5. The site asked me how many points I wanted to redeem, but while the My Vancity Account site and other pages on the rewards site displayed my points balance, the form itself did not, so I had to check in another window.

  6. Nowhere on the booking form does it indicate how much points are worth. So were my nearly-60,000 points enough to pay for the nearly-$500 hotel bill? I had to guess. I tried 50,000, but that was too much. The form did tell me that I couldn't over-redeem (i.e. couldn't use too many points) by more than 100 points, and I had to use 100 point increments. It did not have a way to fill in the point amount automatically, based on my total planned purchase. And rather than tell me my mistake when I guessed and then clicked the (unsurprisingly useless) Calculate button, I had to submit the form and then have it rejected because I was trying to use too many points.

  7. Fortunately, it let me try again without starting over. (If I had used too few points, would it have gone on happily and simply charged the balance to my card for me to pay in real money, even though I had more points to spare? I don't know, but at this point I suspect it would. Small mercies I didn't have to find out.) And I still didn't know what 100 (or 50,000) points were worth. I guessed wildly once more, and thought 100 points might be a dollar, so I entered 48,400 for my $483.50 bill. Bingo! $484.00—I had spent a mere 50 cents too much.

  8. Home stretch now. My transaction was processing. (Incidentally, there was no final confirmation screen where I could confirm I had the right hotel, or that my dates were correct, or that I really had booked a suite as I intended to. It just started churning on the booking.) Then what did I get? I am not kidding about this, I got a Generic Error Page. That was the title, and the headline, in big blue letters. In case you don't believe me, here it is:
    Generic Error Page

  9. So, had my purchase gone through or not? No idea. I had to assume it had failed, since that's usually what "error" means. So I went back all the way to the home page and found the same hotel, same dates, same room selection, same price, same points, and tried again. You guessed it, "Generic Error Page."

  10. Then I noticed something. My points balance had dropped by 48,400, so in some way the transaction had gone through. There was no confirmation page to say so, no hotel booking page to print out, no email to say the hotel was happy to come have us visit. But something had transacted, somewhere.

  11. One helpful thing is that there's a toll-free phone number at the top of each page on the rewards website. I called and got right through to Marcie, who was everything the website wasn't: helpful, friendly, quick, knowledgeable, and able to get me what I wanted in short order. (I should have used the phone to start with. But that's no excuse for the moronic website.) Anyway, after Marcie confirmed I was who I claimed to be, she discovered that yes, both bookings had gone through, though no, confirmation emails hadn't been sent out to anyone.

  12. Of course, to the My Visa Rewards computer system, it seemed perfectly logical for someone to book two identical rooms, with the same number of guests whose children are miraculously the same exact ages, for the precise same dates, purchased four minutes apart. So the first booking had used my points, and the second one (for another nearly-$500) had been charged to my (wife's) Visa, and had I not called we might have had to pay for that. Marcie arranged to cancel the double, and even called the hotel to make sure they had the bookings and knew that one would be revoked because it was a mistake.

  13. In the end I got the booking I wanted, for the dates I wanted, at the hotel I wanted, in the city I wanted. I think. Yay. But the confirmation email still hasn't come (well, I don't think so—of course it has to go to my wife's email address, as the primary account holder, so she'll need to check again in the morning when she wakes up). I don't yet have a confirmation number for the hotel, or know for sure that the points will be used to pay for the proper room, and that the mistaken second room will be refunded. Marcie gave me confidence, so I expect so, and I'll be watching like a hawk until all the various flying bits and points and dollars resolve themselves. I'll phone the hotel myself to triple-check our booking.

  14. Finally, the My Visa Rewards site does now show the purchases in my redemption history, but only in the most generic possible way. Here, look:
    Transaction History
    It tells me that I've booked a Redemption Type of "Travel" at a Component Type of "Hotel Online." No hotel name or city, no booking dates, and the Points Redeemed field is blank for both transactions. I don't even know which one will be voided and which will use my points. But they've been processed! Thanks!

UPDATE Dec 9, 2010: Yay, we received the official confirmation email. Just one, which is a good sign. I've contacted the hotel to verify everything. I expect our booking is all good, but I'll let you know either way.

What would normal people do?

Imagine, if you will, that I were not a guy who's been building websites of my own for 13 years. Someone who hasn't worked at commercial software companies and is not familiar (as I am) with how the architecture of both the Web and credit card processing works. Someone who hasn't also worked in the entertainment and hospitality industries, and who does not (again, as I do) have some idea about how hotels interact with external travel agents and online booking services. Someone who isn't on medical leave with terminal cancer (sorry, had to get that in), and who doesn't (as I do) have the spare time—since I happened to feel well today—to power through this process, making educated guesses along the way, and then write it all up in a ranty blog post.

Imagine if I were a normal person, in other words, not a freaky nerd who has an interest in the usability of web applications. A normal person might have given up at any of the many initial roadblocks and never booked the hotel (or, sensibly, might have tried the phone first). Or he might have gone through the process and then given up at the Generic Error Pages, not realizing that his points had been used up and his card had been charged another $500 for a duplicate room he didn't want. Or she might have never taken the trip, only to discover next month on her credit card bill nearly $1000 of mysterious hotel bookings for dates now several weeks past. Or, worst of all, he might have booked and paid for another hotel, not using points, and then later discovered that (a) he'd wasted his money, and (b) the original hotel was cheesed off because two sets of guests had been no-shows!

On their own, each of these design problems, errors, and pointless requirements is a small thing. Together, though, all in a row, they are a spinning fan just waiting for the shit to hit it. The websites are not pure chaos, like Microsoft Research's mercifully long-dead Wallop social networking site of five years ago (a sort of proto-Facebook snuffed out in infancy, for good reason). But that makes them even worse, because the Vancity Visa sites look like they know what they're doing, only to reveal themselves slowly as death by a thousand cuts.

My questions for Visa and Vancity

Did the teams who built this system include any qualified interaction designers? Did they do any usability testing with real people using real credit cards trying to do real things, typing in numbers the way real people might wish to do? Did they consider any edge cases at all, such as a married couple who have separate cards on one Visa account (something Vancity encourages), where the non-primary account holder might want to redeem points as easily as he or she can buy things to accrue points?

I can only conclude that no, they did not. Vancity is one of the largest credit unions in Canada, larger than many banks. Visa Inc. is a member of the Fortune 500. That they could, together, construct such a house-of-cards online system for something as apparently simple as redeeming bonus points is shameful. Incompetent, really.

So many other companies manage to get online commerce much more right, so it can be done. In the end, I'm glad I got what I wanted. (At least, I think I have.) I'm not angry. Marcie on the phone was a great help. But I'm sad that the process revealed how little Vancity and Visa seem to think of their shared service on the Web, and the customers who want to use it.

Big Bang's blog

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Magellanic Clouds and Gum Nebula with Zeiss Distagon 21mmF2.8 May 2010 Light VersionIf you like the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, you might wonder how much of the science referred to on the show is realistic. David Saltzberg is the program's science advisor, and he has a blog about that very subject, called The Big Blog Theory.

Saltzberg consulted Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, about the latest post, listing the nearest stars to our solar system. Since I met Phil a couple of summers ago, I guess I'm only a couple of degrees of separation from the cast of the show (and the MythBusters too!).

This blog turns 10

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If you look back in my archives, you'll see that in October 2000, I wrote this:

I've just started using a new weblog service called Blogger, recommended on the Web page of my friend Alistair Calder, for news and updates. So, this first entry includes all the news up until today, which I had previously entered manually (and not very often).

So, as of this month, October 2010, it's now 10 years since I formally started blogging. (You could argue that my earlier, infrequent, reverse-chronological list of updates was also a manually-created blog starting in 1997, but I won't.)

That first post includes a lot of broken links, inevitably after this long. But it also features a brief announcement of the birth of my second daughter, a few internal links you won't easily find elsewhere on the site anymore, and an awareness—even so early in my blogging career—that I'd like to preserve what came before.

Happy 10th blogiversary,

A little legacy

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Five years ago, when my employer, Navarik, moved into a new building, the rooms within the office didn't have names or numbers. On my own, I decided to give them identities, and since we're in Vancouver, I named the various meeting rooms after local beaches: English Bay, Jericho, and so on. I printed up little signs and glued them over the doors.

I've been on medical leave from the company since I developed cancer in 2007, three and a half years ago, but they're still using the room names I picked. As far as I know, even my little signs are still there. I like that.

A few months ago, I was forced to decide what new blogging software to use on this site, and eventually settled on Movable Type 5, to the puzzlement of many of my geek friends. Why puzzlement? Well, here's what I wrote at the time:

Movable Type's day in the sun may be past. While some high-profile sites of people I know—such as John Gruber and Dave Shea—use it, its popularity seems to have been in general decline since the licensing controversies of version 3, way back in 2004. The current version 5 (MT5) is brand new, and an open source project, but I don't sense the same community vibrancy and wealth of third-party extensions WordPress has. Six Apart, the company that created Movable Type, also seems to have been focused on its other hosted blogging tools, TypePad and Vox, for years. [...]

I know there are lots of people who love it, but I just get the sense that general enthusiasm for Movable Type has faded—even in the vibe I feel after installing and playing around with MT5 last night. The basic software is great, mature, and solid. But when I want to muck around and extend it, the available resources are a little sparse and often out of date.

Not exactly enthusiastic, was I? And if I was going to move to Movable Type, why hadn't I done so five or six years ago, when it was still cool? But then I actually tried using it, and comparing it to the main alternative (and favourite of the cool kids today), WordPress, with which I've been familiar for several years:

I'm warming to the way Movable Type works. It's taken only a little effort to customize it, roughly to match my existing page design and typography here—easier than I've experienced with WordPress.

I went with Movable Type in the end, and have not regretted it. It behaves the way I want, and I've found it intuitive and simple to customize to my liking, despite some aspects (version upgrades and plugin availability, most notably) where WordPress is unquestionably better.

A worrying merger?

So I was a bit nervous when Six Apart, the company that created and supports Movable Type, sold itself to web advertising firm VideoEgg this week to form a new company, SAY Media (or Say Media—they've been a bit inconsistent in how that's supposed to be capitalized). It's not clear what role Movable Type will play in this new company.

There's nothing inherently destabilizing in a software company being sold, acquired, or merged. Pyra Labs, which created Blogger, my former publishing platform, certainly gained stability when bought by Google in 2003. And Six Apart itself hasn't been the most reliable home for its bloggers, sowing confusion with Movable Type 3's controversial licensing changes back in 2004, buying and then selling LiveJournal, and most recently shutting down Vox entirely. The licensing situation of Movable Type remains a little confusing.

So maybe SAY Media will clear some of that confusion up, get Movable Type Enterprise updated to version 5 for those who use it, and do other things people have been waiting for. Or maybe not.

UPDATE: As of November 2010, the SAY Media–Six Apart merger is officially complete, with Ben Trott, one of the two people who created Movable Type years ago, as Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for the combined company. The Movable Type software has also seen a few minor updates, so that's at least a bit encouraging.

Buzzword compliant

The early days of the merger haven't been encouraging for Movable Type users:

  • The initial announcement mentions TypePad, but not Movable Type at all.
  • Movable Type appears only as a link at the bottom of the new company's home page.
  • Even on Movable Type's own site, the blog post about the merger doesn't mention the product.

And for a personal blogger, writer, and editor like me, the most disturbing stuff is a sentence like this, from the merger press release:

Through the creation of social hubs and influencer-driven custom content programs linked to the innovative AdFrames offering, SAY Media delivers engagement across display and mobile.

Uh, what?

Does that mean anything? Especially for someone who just wants to write and publish a clear and useful website? To me, the accompanying video doesn't clarify, and with all the talk about helping "creators" or "influencers" or whatever we're supposed to be called, seems mostly focused on advertising. Which is fine for the company, if the people who work there can tolerate speaking such buzzword-laden gobbledegook.

But I'm not going anywhere, yet

I still like Movable Type, and was pleased to see a bug-fix version 5.03 appear earlier this month. Maybe SAY Media will do well by the software, or might sell it to some other firm that will. The open-source version, and the fork at Melody, will presumably remain in some form, and the option to move over to WordPress or another platform remains open, since I still control all my data.

I'm not planning on making any rash changes so soon after moving to Movable Type in the first place, but I'm keeping my eyes open to see if SAY Media drops the ball. I expect the rest of the Movable Type user community is too. Don't screw us over, guys.

Like or tweet, your choice

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Remember back when I didn't want to join Facebook or Twitter because they were just too new and trendy and I figured they'd go the way of Friendster and ICQ and other long-dormant online services that no one uses anymore?

Ah, those halcyon days. I've been completely corrupted now. Like Darren Barefoot, I've just added a Facebook "Like" button and a Twitter "Tweet" button to each of my blog posts on this site, the easier for you to highlight them on those services, if you use them. (It was simpler than I expected in Movable Type, actually.) I don't plan on adding the additional potential forest of other buttons for sharing around the Web, just these two.

Since I converted over to my new publishing system here a few months ago, I've been tweaking the templates from time to time (mostly altering typography a bit), but this is probably the most noticeable addition.

Let me know in the comments for this post if you find the new buttons either useful or annoying.

Fifteen albums in fifteen minutes

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This is one of those Facebook memes. I bent the rules a little: (a) I posted it here on my blog instead of on Facebook, (b) I included 16 albums instead of 15, just because, and (c) I didn't tag anyone except those who already tagged me about it. If you want to make your own version, go ahead—you don't need my permission!

Anyway, the "rules" were: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums my friends choose. Or just comment here with them. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your Facebook profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note—upper right hand side.)

So, my list, in alphabetical order. I get a small cut from the links to Amazon if you buy anything (which need not be what I link to, by the way):

You might also like my 2003 list of top albums to listen to in headphones.

The curse of online identity

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I spent most of today writing out URLs, usernames, passwords, and instructions in a large spiral notebook, in longhand. That sounds silly, but there were good reasons for it.

A few months ago, my wife Air presented me with the notebook, asking me to write down the details of all our online activities, because since the very beginning of our relationship in 1994, I've been in charge of most of those things. (I showed her how to use email back then, for instance—though it was she who convinced me to join Facebook and Twitter.) Now that I've had cancer and have been undergoing treatment for close to four years, we have to prepare for a time when I could be too sick (or, to be frank, too dead) to handle that anymore.

Initially, I put together a big list of URLs, usernames, and passwords in a spreadsheet, and printed out a copy to put into the notebook. But that wasn't enough: what are all those sites for, anyway? What are the steps if we need to modify something, like renew a domain registration or update to the latest version of WordPress (easier than it used to be)? Sure, I could have typed everything up in a word-processing document and printed that out, but sometimes writing things with a pen, the way I used to write essays on the bus in high school, forces a better focus. Plus I could easily draw arrows and rule marks and circles and boxes if I wanted.

I ended up with pages and pages of notes, and realized that in addition to all the fairly complicated instructions they contained, there were dozens of different usernames and passwords involved. Yes, people like Air's former student Kaliya, organizations like the OpenID Foundation, and companies ranging from Sxip to Automattic to Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have been working at reducing that proliferation of logins. But those efforts have had mixed success, or have raised their own concerns.

So now we have our notebook, to which we'll add as we think of new things it should contain. It also got me thinking again of our digital legacies—specifically, what of my online life (like this blog) I want to endure, and what (like my Windows Live ID or my Apple MobileMe account) can be deleted or shut down. Not all those decisions are clear yet, but at least now Air has a decent reference to have them implemented, or to make them herself if I can't make them with her. That's a relief.

It occurs to me just now that I should make copies of those pages and put them in our safety deposit box, because paper needs backups too.

This October will mark a full decade since I started posting entries to this blog. (Some version of this website, without very regular updates, existed for more than three years beforehand.) That's longer than I've worked at any job, studied at any school, or owned any car. The site overall is older than either of my daughters, and I've been blogging since before my youngest could walk.

Most blogs—most websites—don't last that long. Many bloggers are comfortable letting their writing peter out, or just stopping and deleting the thing, and maybe starting up another some other time. For some reason, even though I've never regularly written a diary, I've been more stubborn than that, and wanted to keep this thing going.

Some years ago, I set two guidelines for myself that seem to have kept this site from stagnating:

  1. Publish one post per day, on average.
  2. In each post, include at least one link.

That's it. It doesn't mean I write something here every day, but that some days I write one entry, some days two or three, and some days nothing. Some are a few words long, some many pages. Every once in a long while, I do a quick calculation, and now that I have thousands of posts online, my average has been a little over one post per day for a long time (as of today, it's about 1.03). At this point, I'd have to publish nothing for close to three months before that average would dip below my self-set guideline—and I can always collect some Twitter links to avoid that.

I tell myself to include at least one link because this is the Web, and that's what it's about. It also means that even if I write something really short, people reading this site will probably find it interesting, since it sends them somewhere else with more to look at.

Over time, I've also decided that my archives are important, and that I want them to stay online as long as possible. So instead of several personal blogs scattered at various domains, I've kept everything here. A lot of those outbound links I've put into posts are now dead, of course, but for the most part, if someone else linked here, even six or seven years ago, that link will still work.

Does it matter? It does to me, and the results seem to bring a couple of thousand people a day here, somehow. That's enough.