December 30, 2004

Review - Return to the River

Review - Return to the River: The Classic Story of the Chinook Run and of the Men Who Fish It

by Roderick Haig-Brown

Originally published in the 1940s, this "historical novel" was reissued in 1997. It's a wonderful tale of the lifecycle of chinook salmon told from the perspective of one fish from birth to death. The detail is incredible as "Spring" hatches, begins to grow, travels downstream to the ocean, and returns years later to spawn and die at the spot she was born.

While at times verging on the hokey to a modern reader, the rich, colorful prose more than makes up for any feeling of being dated. It's still an excellent read.

What is disturbing is that the occasional optimism at man's hoped for ability to use technology to restore nature, and salmon runs in particular, has not been borne out.

This is a theme that is cropping up over and over again as I explore more books about salmon -- humanity's seeming inability to learn from mistakes. Or inability to enforce regulations and laws to prevent short-term "gain" and destruction.

Posted by Paul at 05:46 PM

December 29, 2004

Review - National Geographic Photography Field Guide

Review - National Geographic Photography Field Guide
by Peter Burian and Robert Caputo

With a copyright of 1999, this book barely touches the digital camera revolution, however it thoroughly covers all the basics of exposure, depth of field, lighting, composition, using different lenses etc., that apply to all photography.

As an added bonus, the book is chock full of gorgeous National Geographic photographs, many of which are simply stunning.

Having done a lot of photography in my youth, I skimmed the technical parts and concentrated on brushing up on composition and lighting. I also enjoyed the interviews with National Geographic photographers that are interspersed throughout the book.

This book is an excellent introduction to photography.

Posted by Paul at 07:41 PM

December 28, 2004

Review - Windows XP Pro: The Missing Manual

Review - Windows XP Pro: The Missing Manual, Second Edition
by David Pogue, Craig Zacker, L.J. Zacker

Yes, believe it or not, I do read computer manuals from cover to cover :-).

I recently got a new computer running Windows XP Pro after being happy with a Windows 2000 Pro box for over four years. XP is different enough from 2000 that I needed some mental upgrading.

The "Missing Manual" series is excellent. The books are engaging, cover their topics extensively, and are funny to boot.

The series is aptly named as well, considering my installation of XP Pro came with only a 32-page introductory pamphlet. What is Microsoft thinking? Oh, yeah,that it can make more money selling books...

I found the XP Pro Missing Manual to be very useful, as it explained a few things I was confused about, and showed me how to accomplish things in XP that are different from Windows 2000.

Highly recommended if you are new to Windows XP Pro. The content can be understood by beginners who take their time going through the book, yet there is still plenty of useful information for advanced users who can skim the more basic parts.

Posted by Paul at 05:28 PM

December 27, 2004

Review - Macromedia Dreamweaver for Windows & Macintosh

Review - Macromedia Dreamweaver MX for Windows & Macintosh: Visual Quickstart Guide

by J. Tarin Towers

Well here it is, a few days to 2005, and I finally finished this book long after I had installed Macromedia Studio MX 2004, a newer version of the software. Unfortunately I've never gotten around to learning Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash, maintaining my mediocre sites with HomeSite and an ancient version of FrontPage that produces really ugly code.

I vow to transfer all of the sites that I maintain to Dreamweaver in the coming year, and take advantage of its clean code and powerful capabilities. I also want to redesign all of my sites with XHTML and CSS stylesheets.

I started this book early in 2004, and found it buried in a corner of my desk a week ago and decided to finish it. It's a clear, well-illustrated guide to the intricacies of Dreamweaver. It's a fairly exhaustive treatment that remains readable and accessible.

Manuals included with software are getting thinner and thinner, and one has to rely on books like this one to learn new programs.

Posted by Paul at 04:36 PM

December 26, 2004

Review - Web ReDesign

Review - Web ReDesign: Workflow that Works
by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler

This is a solid guide to designing and overhauling websites, with a focus on project management, design and content as opposed to the nuts and bolts of writing HTML/XHTML or setting up dynamic database-driven sites.

The authors do an excellent job of laying out a process that can be applied to almost any scenario, starting from defining the project, to developing site structure, visual design and testing, and production and quality assurance.

The focus of the process is the user, and rightly so. Test, test and test again -- can users use the site easily and effectively?

Highly recommended for anyone who works in the web publishing arena.

More information and downloads can be found on the book's accompanying website. There is a "2.0" version out that I have not seen yet.

Posted by Paul at 06:16 PM

December 24, 2004

Review - Zen in the Art of Archery

Review - Zen in the Art of Archery
by Eugen Herrigel

This whimsical tale of a European learning Zen through the practice of Japanese archery for six years between the great wars is a profoundly satisfying little read.

Just over 100 pages long, it chronicles the author's attempts to lose his "willful will" and become one with the art. A wonderful introduction by T. Suzuki ably sets the stage, and the reader is carried along with Herrigel's frustrations and gradual progress.

Posted by Paul at 12:45 PM

December 23, 2004

Cronkite on Secrets

Another little gem, this time found in the July 2004 issue of Linux Journal.

It's a particularly good quote in light of recent events in Canada in which the government has been stonewalling its own investigations.

"When you stop to think about it, you keep secrets from people when you don't want them to know the truth. Secrets, even when legitimate and necessary, as in genuine national-security cases, are what you might call passive lies."

Walter Cronkite.

Posted by Paul at 02:15 PM

Bring Solutions to Government

In catching up on my reading I ran across the following quote in the June 2004 issue of Linux Journal in an article called "Hacking Democracy" by Doc Searls.

As a volunteer involved in my community, it stuck me as a very powerful statement.

"Government isn't the problem. People need to bring solutions to government. Government is dying for answers. Bring some and you'll get somewhere.

"I don't have experience with the government stonewalling me at all. I experience interest and cooperation at every level, as long as I bring solutions and not just problems.

"A lot of helpless people want government to solve their problems or to carry their spear on one issue or another. That reflects an ignorance of how the whole ecosystem actually works. If you're constructive, you can participate in that ecosystem. Bureaucrats are crying for help on all kinds of issues. If we provide some, we can make stuff get done together."

Inspiring words, indeed!

Posted by Paul at 11:01 AM

December 22, 2004

Review - Bird by Bird

Review - Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

"...for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die."

If the above resonates in your soul, if you have the itch to write something, anything, this book is for you. Lamott takes an unflinching, deeply emtional, yet humorous look at life and writing, and one comes away uplifted.

Lamott takes the reader through the whole writing process, and manages to teach a lot about life in general along the way.

"Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do -- the actual act of writing -- turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."

This book can, and in fact ought to be, savored chapter by chapter, so that all of the annecdotes and advice truly sink in. Enjoy.

Posted by Paul at 07:42 PM

Back in Action - Reading a Lot

I was laid low on Dec. 12 with a suddenly arrhythmic heart, and spent nearly six days in Burnaby Hospital until it settled back into a proper beat. I've been told to slow down, relax and take some time to recover, so I am finally catching up on a pile of reading.

I've finished reading four books that had been in various stages of progress over the last several months, and aim to start posting reviews here soon.

Posted by Paul at 05:59 PM

December 21, 2004

Review - Information Anxiety 2

Review - Information Anxiety 2
by Richard Saul Wurman

"Learning is remembering what we're interested in."

That's the lead theme in this thought-provoking potpourri of ideas for dealing with the deluge of information we are subjected to in modern life, and choosing how to live rewarding lives.

Wurman is probably best known for his TED confernces on technology, entertainment and design.

"A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in 17th-century England."

How do we deal with this and live meaningful lives? Wurman collects thoughts on business, education, learning, communication, and personal growth, and presents it in an easily digestible manner.

An important step in gaining control is "to be able to admit when you don't understand something."

Wurman pokes holes into objectivity and facts: "A fact can be comprehended only within the context of an idea. And ideas are irrevocably subjective, which makes facts just as subjective.... The key to understanding is to accept that any account of an event is bound to be subjective, no matter how committed the recounter is to being accurate and objective."

Questioning everything is key to understanding. "Life is all about questions. If you stop asking, you stop living."

It comes down to designing your life. "Confidence in your own understanding, acceptance of your ignorance, and determination to pursue your interests are the weapons against anxiety."

Posted by Paul at 02:56 PM

December 20, 2004

Review - Cadillac Desert

Review - Cadillac Dessert: The American West and its Disappearing Water
by Marc Reisner

Written some 20 years ago, this book is a brilliantly researched and colorfully written account of how man's attempts to tame the deserts and arid plains have resulted in incredible folly, wasteful spending, and environmental destruction.

Blending history, geography, political science and rolling narrative, it's an excellent expose of how greed, self-interest, misplaced piety, and pork-barrel politics have resulted in hundreds of at best dubious, and at worst incredibly destructive, water projects over the last century.

Posted by Paul at 02:24 PM

Review - The End of Work

Review - The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.

By Jeremy Rifkin

Rifkin draws an apocalyptic picture of all that could go wrong with global society as rapidly increasing numbers of jobs are replaced by computerization, automation and robotics. I felt somewhat sceptical, as the book was written nearly ten years ago, and I haven't noticed dramatic increases in unemployment. Yet the trend is there, and it certainly would be wise to prepare for possible consequences.

Rifkin's thesis is: "The wholesale substitution of machines for workers is going to force every nation to rethink the role of human beings in the social process. Redefining opportunities and responsibilities for millions of people in a society absent of mass formal employment is likely to be the single most pressing social issue of the coming century."

Rifkin writes about the increasing gap between menial labor and knowledge workers, and points out that "... all three of the traditional sectors of the economy -- agriculture, manufacturing, and service -- are experiencing technological displacement, forcing millions onto the unemployment rolls."

Is there any hope? Rifkin sees some in the third sector or non-profit organizations, work sharing, shorter work weeks, taxation policies, and so on. He considers the utopian view that technology will solve everything.

Yet his conclusion is that "the end of work could spell a death sentence for civilization as we have come to know it. The end of work could also signal the beginning of a great social transformation, a rebirth of the human spirit. The future lies in our hands."

Well, the future has always been in our hands, though perhaps it is more so now than earlier in our history.

Do we know where we're going to?

Posted by Paul at 01:13 PM

December 08, 2004

Byrne Creek Spawner Patrol 2004.12.08

Saw 5 live coho, and processed 1 dead coho on our weekly Wednesday spawner patrol for the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers.

Details:

I zipped out alone this afternoon, as Yumi and I have been very busy. I missed the second set of eyes, however there was not a lot to see as the water was still quite high and murky following last night's rain. Partly sunny, a few clouds.

Area covered: John Mathews confluence (Tag 506) to the bottom of ravine stairs (Tag 521).

1 dead coho, E-T 60cm N-F 70cm, all fins, male, spawned, 10m d/s of wooden footbridge (Tag 516).

1 live coho a few meters up underneath the downstream side of Byrne Bridge (Tag 507). This fish was nearly dead. When I got back from John Mathews, it was gone, and as I searched for it, it suddenly popped up out the water a few meters downstream of the bridge and moved awkwardly down the stream. Hope somebody finds it tomorrow!

1 live coho, also looking fairly pooped, in the spawning channel halfway between Tags 510 and 511. Visibility was very poor, I only happened to spot it because it flushed through a shallow section.

1 live coho, also very near the end, hanging in the shallows on the d/s side of the gravel accumulation in the sediment pond. Otherwise visibility in the sediment pond was zero. There was also a fairly heavy accumulation of oily guck on the surface of the water. The sediment pond was barely overflowing at around 2:15 p.m.

2 live coho at the slide in the ravine, about 15m d/s of Tag 517.

Posted by Paul at 10:55 PM

December 05, 2004

Finally Moving to Windows XP

I last bought desktop computers for our company almost exactly four years ago. The AMD Athlon Thunderbird 800MHz processor-based systems running Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional are still going strong, albeit with some RAM, DVD-R/RW and hard disk upgrades.

I used to be a "bleeding-edge" kind of guy, buying a new computer every year, or 18 months at the ouside. However, these Thunderbird 800s chugged along year after year, gradually changing me more into a "if it ain't broke don't fix it" guy.

Yet over the last year or so I was starting to feel that these systems were getting long in the tooth. For example, there were some DVD movie applications that they just didn't have the punch to power.

But I kept holding off until one of our clients came up with an offer I couldn't refuse. While most of our work is translation and editing, I also help out clients with the occasional computer upgrades or assistance with various computer-related problems.

This company had replaced all of its computers with ones running Windows XP over the last few years, and wanted me to be on the same page. That was after hearing me grumble, "this is different from Windows 2000" a few times too many :-). So a few days ago it offered me a $1,000 "retainer" to buy a new computer with Windows XP Professional.

I've ordered a nice 3GHz box with a gig of RAM and dual SATA 200GB hard disks from NCIX, where I've been doing most of my computer-related purchasing since moving to Burnaby.

So I'm finally passing two milestones: getting a computer with a processor measured in GHz, and getting Windows XP Pro.

Posted by Paul at 08:04 PM

December 03, 2004

Review: Benq FP931 LCD Monitor

We bought two Benq FP931 19" LCD monitors today for our company, and are very pleased with them. They take up much less space than the Sony Multiscan E400 19" CRTs that we had been using. They also use less than half the energy.

The monitors are very bright and sharp, and neither appears to have any "dead" pixels.

I like the fact that the 1280 X 1024 resolution is spread out onto an effective 19" of screen compared to the effective 18" (diagonally) on the Sony monitors. That means fonts appear a bit larger, which is great as my eyes enter middle age :-).

With a $50 rebate, the Benqs were $488, a huge drop in a few years. My mother bought a 19" Dell LCD screen a couple of years ago for over $1,000.

I was also shocked to go back into my records and see that we had paid $729 each for the Sony monitors nearly five years ago. Most 19" CRT monitors are in the $200 range now. Yet we got our money's worth from the Sony monitors. Their 1280 X 1024 resolution enabled much more efficient working than the 1024 X 768 17" monitors they replaced.

Now I'm waiting for 20-21" 1600 X 1200 LCD monitors to drop in price!

Posted by Paul at 06:42 PM

December 01, 2004

Byrne Creek Spawner Patrol 2004.12.01

Yumi and I did our regular Wednesday spawner patrol on Byrne Creek this frosty morning. We saw 12 live coho and processed 1 dead coho today.

Area covered: John Mathews/Byrne Creek confluence (Tag 506) to a little upstream of the Hedley outfall (Tag 530). Sunny, clear skies.

We saw 9 live coho in the sediment pond, nothing dead or alive in the artificial spawning channel.

On our way upstream, we ran into three women who were staring at a dead coho just u/s of the wooden footbridge (Tag 516) in the ravine. We had a lengthy conversation with them about how we monitor spawners. Yumi went in, got the fish, placed it on the bank, and it suddenly shuddered. Oops! Not quite dead yet, back you go in the creek!

By the time we came back down from our ravine ramble some 1-1/2 hours later, it was already getting stiff.

1 dead coho, E-T 57cm N-F 68cm, all fins, female, completely spawned. We planted it in the creek up near the slide.

On our way upstream we saw the 1 live coho that has been hanging in the middle of the slide for several days. Then on our way back down, we took another look, only to see 2 live coho there, and they were different fish. At first we thought it was a spawning couple, but then we realized they both appeared to have the more slender bodies and white abraded tails and anal fins of females. They were pushing each other around, so perhaps it was 2 females claiming protection of the same redd?

Excited about all the coho in the system, and also based on a chat with an elderly man the other day who claimed to have seen "big fish" going upstream past the bottom of the ravine stairs, we made our way up the creek all the way to the Hedley outfall (Tag 530), and took the steep path just upstream of Hedley back up to the bottom end of Ron McLean Park. Aside from a possible redd at Tag 522, unfortunately we did not see any spawners, alive or dead, upstream of the stairs (Tag 521).

C'mon you coho! Get your butts out of the sediment pond and up that creek!

Posted by Paul at 05:18 PM