June 19, 2014

Wacky Blog

Windows Live Writer and my blog that runs on aging Movable Type 2.661 were not playing well together today. I kept getting server error messages when trying to post - and then I saw that there were eight copies of the same post on the blog. Yikes. Deleted seven, and hope things will be back to normal. I really have to update the server software one of these days.

Posted by Paul at 10:38 PM

May 25, 2014

Unique Daily Visits Top Out at 4,006 Last Week

I hadn't looked at my blog stats for awhile, and was pleasantly surprized to see that over the last week I averaged 3,430 unique visits per day, with a high of 4,006 on Tuesday, May 20.  A few years ago I was happy to get around 500 per day.

Posted by Paul at 11:11 AM

April 24, 2014

Set Up CamRanger Today

I set up my new CamRanger today. Took about five minutes following the clear instructions. I can now see what my Nikon DSLR is seeing, and control all its settings and focus, etc., wirelessly with my iPod from up to 150 feet away.

camranger_1_20140424

Here you can see how the iPod accesses the CamRanger WiFi signal. The CamRanger is plugged into the DSLR's USB port. All of the camera settings can be wirelessly manipulated with the iPod (or iPad or Android device. There are also apps for Macs and a beta for Windows).

camranger_2_20140424

Here you can see the iPod viewing what the DSLR is viewing. Cool!

Posted by Paul at 04:54 PM

April 21, 2014

Power Washing Away the Holiday

So in my wife's religion, holidays were created for men to do chores around the house. Today was about four hours of power washing -- the deck, the driveway, the concrete paths fronting our townhouse. . . Power washing is numbingly boring, while being an excellent activity to strain one's lower back.

(But power washing with plain water is much more environmentally friendly than using some caustic chemical to remove mold -- remember all the draining water, and anything in it, is going into drains that go directly into our local creeks.)

Alas, though boring, power washing is not something to be done mindlessly. When you've got somewhere around 900 - 1,000 psi coming out of that wand, there's a fine line between removing dirt, stains, and mold, and doing damage.

Toward the end of the project, the instigator decided she wanted to try, so while she finished the walkway, I went to buy a well-deserved six-pack of beer. When I got back, she was "done," and I put the gear away and rolled up the hoses. Only to look out an upstairs window as I was getting ready to shower, and saw that a certain portion of the walk looked like a zebra that had been rolling in mud. : -)

Hmm. Methinks I'll have to do some touchup tomorrow, and she's fine with that. It takes at least a time or two to learn anything new, eh?

Posted by Paul at 07:19 PM

April 19, 2014

Just Updated Win 7 Box to Windows Live Writer 2012

I just updated my Windows Live Writer to the 2012 version.

Test.

Let's see how it goes.

Posted by Paul at 07:59 PM

April 18, 2014

Getting Increasingly Frustrated with Aging Windows 7 Box

I've been getting frustrated with my Windows 7 box over the last few months. It seems to be slowing. I bought the current tower about 5-1/2 years ago, which means it's approaching senior status in computer years : - )

Computers tend to slow over the years as the programs and data pile up, and despite good care and attention, eventually one has to upgrade.

I've upgraded the box to two larger HDs over the years, a primary 1.5TB and a secondary 2TB, but the other specs have stayed the same.

It's the system RAM, at 6 GB, that's one factor in this machine starting to feel cramped and slow, and with a maximum configuration of 8GB for this motherboard, I don't think adding 2 GB will make a huge difference. The other factor is the 512 MB video card. That's also constraining my photo and video work.

I bought a refurbished Mac Mini about half a year ago, and topped it up to 16 GB of RAM, and it blasts through stuff. So I think there will be a new Windows 8.1 box in my not-too-distant future, with a state-of-the-art processor, at least 16 GB of RAM, and likely dual 4 TB HDs.

Posted by Paul at 07:51 PM

April 05, 2014

Took the Plunge, Signed up for MS Office 365

For some reason I had not been happy when Microsoft began moving toward providing software applications by subscription. I'd already bitten the annual subscription bullet with Adobe Creative Cloud, but I just don't see huge changes between iterations of Office apps.

Today I took a closer look at Office 365 for Small Business Premium, and I changed my mind. It's actually a good deal.

For C$159 + tax/year, you get 5 installations of the main Office apps on Windows and Mac boxes, plus 5 installations on tablets. With my main Windows 7 tower, a Windows 7 notebook, and a Mac Mini, that's three installs already.

And the subscription method also means that you're always being automatically updated to new versions of the applications, along with security updates.

Not to mention the ability to access the Office apps online through a browser, and share docs in the cloud. I've already got Dropbox and Google Drive for cloud sharing, but more space is always welcome.

You can now count me among the converted.

Posted by Paul at 08:08 PM

April 03, 2014

Culling Books, Buying New Kindle

Inspired by several folks who have switched nearly 100% to eReaders, I shall set myself a challenge/reward. A new Kindle Paperwhite goes for C$139. When I choose 139 books in my overcrowded office to donate, and actually drop them off at a selected charity, I shall reward myself with a new Kindle to replace the ancient, 1st-gen 6-incher that I rarely use anymore because the battery is on its last legs.

Several hours later: the car is loaded with exactly 139 books to donate : -)

I have to admit that this book-lover feels relief. I was becoming seriously overcrowded in my office, and the family was not into allowing more shelves to be installed in other parts of the home! I should probably donate another several hundred books. . .

Years ago I did a massive cull. I donated somewhere around 400-500 books to local charities. The bulk was from my collection of Soviet and Eastern European tomes. Dry, sad, violent stuff. At one point in my life I was leaning toward becoming a Kremlinologist, but with the (thankful) collapse of the USSR, that seemed moot.

But I wonder, now, with the rise of a new Russian Empire, built, and incorporating the worst of previous regimes. Perhaps I should have held on to those books. . .

Posted by Paul at 09:22 PM

April 02, 2014

Why, Oh Why, do software installs on Windows still require reboots?

I'm in the midst of installing TurboTax 2013 on my Windows 7 box. The install went fine until we got to the point of updating the software online, which for some damn reason, required a reboot after the TT files were updated.

I don't know if this is a Microsoft issue or an Intuit issue, or both, but you'd think that after decades of use, they'd have figured out a way to do this without rebooting.

Rebooting is a pain in the ass. I keep upward of a dozen programs up and running all the time. To go through a reboot takes close to ten minutes, if not longer, to shut everything down, and then get everything back where I left off.

Posted by Paul at 02:30 PM | TrackBack

March 12, 2014

Toying With Writing a Couple of Monetized Blogs

I'm contemplating setting up a couple of blogs that I would attempt to monetize. I have been blogging off and on for over ten years, but I have never participated in any ad programs or other reward systems.

I recently bought the domain names paulzbooks.com, paulzmusic.com and paulzphotos.com in case I decide to try this. Those are my three passions: reading/writing/editing, photography, and music, and my middle name is Zenon, hence the "paulz" works on a couple of levels.

I'd most likely start with paulzbooks for book reviews, and writing and editing related posts. I make my living as a freelance editor, so it's a natural fit.

Of course such a venture would only make sense if I eventually earned an equivalent per-hour rate to my standard editing rate. There are those who claim (often those who are flogging blog-writing courses and programs) that good money can be earned in such ventures, depending on the quality of the blog and the audience that it attracts.

I'll give it some more thought and research.

Posted by Paul at 08:07 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2014

Testing MarsEdit 3

I just downloaded MarsEdit 3 to my Mac Mini and am trying it out. I used Windows Live Writer for years with this blog, but recently it's not been working very well, so I've been back to the old MT interface. Curious to see what MarsEdit can do.

Hmm, apostrophes are coming out with weird characters.

Switched the editor to HTML mode and that seems to have corrected the problem. Let's see...

Yup

Posted by Paul at 04:05 PM

February 21, 2014

Replacing Brother HL-5250DN Printer Drum

Just replaced my Brother HL-5250DN laser printer drum with a refurbished one. I usually go with official Brother parts, but a Brother drum would have been around $190, while the refurbished one was $47. For $190 you might as well buy a new printer! But I recently installed a new high-capacity toner and still have two high-capacity toners in the closet, so I didn't want to recycle the printer.

When I installed the refurbished drum, the drum light wouldn't go out, and accessing the printer's admin interface over the network still showed "0%" drum life. To Brother's credit, they did provide a workaround on their own website for resetting the drum count, while suggesting one ought to use official Brother parts. The manual reset worked like a charm.

Now will see how long the refurb'ed drum lasts (an OEM one should go 25,000 pages), but as long as it gets me through the fairly new toner installed recently and those 2 additional toners of around 7,000 pages each, for a total of around 20,000 pages, that'll be fine by me.

I figure that will be a couple of years out, and by that time, I will likely need a new printer, as other parts start wearing out.

Posted by Paul at 02:48 PM

February 08, 2014

Missed My 10-Year Blog Anniversary!

Just realized tonight that I'd missed my 10-year blogging anniversary. The first post to this blog was Jan. 24, 2004. My blogging ardour has decreased over the years, but I aim to rectify that! :-).

Posted by Paul at 09:35 PM

January 05, 2014

When Design Becomes Overly Minimalistic

Why have digital clock interfaces become so obtuse? It used to be there was a button that toggled between set/run, another between time/alarm, and then an hour button, and a minute button, and an alarm on/off button. Grand total of perhaps five buttons, clearly labelled as to purpose/function.

Now they often come with three buttons -- this is supposed to save space or what? And said buttons are helpfully labelled A, B, and C. And you have to hit button A three times to get the time setting process started, button B to cycle through second, minute, hour, day, month. . . (yes, in reverse-to-commonly-expected order just to add to the puzzlement), and button C to change numbers. Then you hit some combo of the buttons to stop the process.

OK, time set, you want to set the alarm time now? New button combos! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! You want to change the alarm for the weekend? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

This is progress?

Posted by Paul at 06:38 PM

September 03, 2013

Stand up for Science Rally–Vancouver

Monday, September 16, 2013

11:00am until 1:00pm

Vancouver Art Gallery - North plaza on Georgia Street

Fed up with the erosion of science in Canada? Want our government to support science in the public interest? Think that decisions should be based on evidence and facts instead of ideology? Join us on September 16th to Stand up for Science!

It's time to stand up for science in the public interest in Canada. In recent years we have seen cuts to many important scientific institutions, science funding has shifted focus towards the commercialization of research, and government scientists have lost the ability to communicate their research to the public.

Science matters to Canadians. Good science, when coupled with good decision-making, keeps our water and air clean, keeps us healthy, keeps our food safe and prepares Canada for the future. Science in the public interest is crucial for our well-being and long-term prosperity.

To make the public aware of this, and to call on the Federal government to make a strong commitment to science in the public interest, Stand up for Science Vancouver will take place along with rallies across the country on September 16th 2013.

It's your future - make it your science.
***********************
Confirmed Speakers:
Dr. David Suzuki, Author, geneticist, environmentalist and award winning broadcaster.
Tzeporah Berman, Author, former co-director of Greenpeace International's Global Climate and Energy Program, Director Forest Ethics Advocacy
Alexandra Morton, Scientist, Researcher, activist
Fin Donnelly, River's advocate, Member of Parliament, Federal Critic for Fisheries
Joe Foy, National Campaign Director, Wilderness Committee
Dr. Sarah Otto, Department of Zoology, population genetics and evolutionary biology UBC
Dr. Craig Orr, Scientist, researcher, Executive Director Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Invited:
Dr. Thomas Kerr - Co-director Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative, UBC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Dr. Bob Evans, internationally recognized health economist
&
Everyone who cares about the future of science in Canada!

Posted by Paul at 10:00 PM

August 03, 2013

Computer Madness in my Office

It's been a wild and woolly few days in my office when it comes to computer madness.

At the beginning of the week I ordered a refurbished Mac Mini from the Apple Canada online store. (Check out the Apple Store refurbished/clearance section here.) It's the latest Mini iteration, with 4GB of RAM and a 1TB HD.

I haven't used a Mac in some 20 years, not since a Japanese System 7.1 on an ancient monochrome PowerBook 145B. A student of mine in Tokyo hacked the 7.1 interface so that the menus came up in English, for the most part.

I've continued to eye Macs, but Windows just kept getting better over the years. Windows 2000 was a major step in stability, while XP and 7 have been rock solid. And generic Windows boxen have been, and still are, way cheaper than Macs. And, I must admit, I was put off by the proselytizing, cultish attitude of so many Mac users.

But there are cool programs on Mac that I've been wanting to try, and I'm basically agnostic when it comes to the OS wars. I've happily run an Ubuntu Linux box for years in addition to my Windows machines, and Red Hat and other Linux flavours before Ubuntu. Not that I use Linux all that much, but I've always enjoyed playing around with other operating systems.

I recently added a Samsung T24C550 HDTV/monitor to my office, so had an extra screen to plug the Mini into.

So I took the plunge. I tracked my order via FedEx, and it was to arrive on Friday, Aug. 2. Great.

I got up Friday morning, and my main work Windows 7 box was wonky. I rebooted, only to get a dreaded BIOS message that the primary HD was fried. Well, the error message was somewhat more technical, but that was the gist of it.

Cue Twilight Zone music - obviously the Windows box was not happy that a Mac was arriving : -). I wasn't too upset because I use Image for Windows to image my entire HD once a week or so, I just wasn't looking forward to the PITA (pain in the ass) and time of having to install a new HD and reimage it.

I took the opportunity to replace the crashed 1.5TB HD with a 2TB unit, as I shoot a lot of photos, and gradually more video, so extra space is always welcome. I got the HD installed, and the image running, and then got to work on setting up the Mac Mini, and getting acquainted with it.

One issue, ugly, jagged fonts, was resolved with a bit of Googling. Turns out that often combo TV/monitors are not set up for optimal computer use. Sure enough, the "Sharpness" setting on the Samsung was at 50, when turning it down to 0 makes fonts look much nicer. Apparently the built-in Sharpness function and the Mac's own font shading/smoothing don't like each other.

The last day has gone better. I have my Windows 7 box back up and running (thanks Image for Windows!), and I have the Mac to play with. But it was pretty intense there for a couple of days.

Posted by Paul at 07:59 PM

July 30, 2013

Test with photo from MT interface

Baby Ergie

Ergie_wee_450.jpg

This is a test to see if I can upload photos to this blog using the MT interface, for I am getting error messages trying to do so with Windows Live Writer.

Posted by Paul at 03:30 PM

July 29, 2013

Test to blog, text only from Live Writer

test with no photos, using Live Writer

LATER:

Aha, that worked, so it appears that for some reason I can no longer post photos with Windows Live Writer. Yet I did not change anything in either the blog, or the Live Writer, settings. Hmmm..

Posted by Paul at 12:08 PM

Test

I've been having some trouble posting to this blog -- keep getting a "500 Internal Server Error". Am trying to post this directly from the Movable Type interface, rather than my usual method of using Windows Live Writer.

Posted by Paul at 11:59 AM

June 13, 2013

USB 3.0 PCI Card Installed in Tower–Backing Up Much Faster

I installed a PCI USB 3.0 card in my Windows 7 tower computer this evening, and am transferring a disk  image from an internal HD to an HD in a USB 3.0 dock. The image file is almost exactly 1TB, and if I copied it over a USB 2.0 connection to an external HD, it would take somewhere around 12-15 hours.

Over the new USB 3.0 connection, the projected copy time for the 1TB file was initially 3 hours and 15 minutes. After about half an hour, that's crept up to 3 hours and 45 minutes, but it's still way faster than over USB 2.0.

Installing the card was a bit of a challenge. It's a powered card requiring a SATA lead off the computer's power supply. When I first tried to install it, I was dismayed to find that I had no free SATA leads left. There were several IDE Molex available, so I ordered a 4-Pin IDE Molex to SATA Power Adapter Cable. That took a few days to arrive.

And when it did, it was too short! What's that about measuring twice and cutting once, or in this case, ordering?

I thought I'd just order a longer cable, but then I got to thinking. I have lots of power cable leads from old computers around, so I chopped the short 4-Pin IDE Molex to SATA Power Adapter Cable in half, and spliced in about a foot of extra cable.

And we have fire!

Posted by Paul at 08:26 PM

May 31, 2013

What? No More SATA Power Leads in my Tower Computer?!

Dontcha just hate it when you run out of SATA power leads in your tower computer, and it's 10:30pm and you need a 2" 4-Pin IDE Molex to SATA Power Adapter Cable?

So I bought a PCI USB 3.0 card for my tower the other day, along with a USB 3.0 HD dock. I open up the case tonight, and, gasp, horrors, no more SATA leads are available off the power supply to power the card!

I've had a USB 2.0 HD dock for years, one of the best gizmos ever for hot-swapping SATA hard drives for backup and other purposes. But I'd really like to upgrade to the much faster USB 3.0, because at this point I have 824 GB of photos and video to back up, which takes ages over USB 2.0.

Posted by Paul at 10:42 PM

May 16, 2013

Tiny Doses of Some Insecticides Fatal for Bees, Aquatic Insects

"May 15, 2013 - Neonicotinoid insecticides have adverse effects not only on bees but also on freshwater invertebrates. Exposure to low but constant concentrations of these substances -- which are highly soluble in water -- has lethal effects on these aquatic organisms."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130515203015.htm

One of the insecticides this article addresses is imidacloprid, the active ingredient in Merit. I fought a losing battle several years ago against using Merit in our townhouse complex (less than 20m from Byrne Creek) to combat chaffer beetles (and we had not even had an outbreak!).

Even Bayer's fact sheet for Merit states it is highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, and says it should not be applied to water, or where surface water is present. It also says it can contaminate groundwater.

I contacted Environment Canada back then with the argument that the application ban should also extend to any ground that drains into a storm drain. They didn't buy it.

Posted by Paul at 01:14 PM

May 03, 2013

Wife Gets New ASUS K53 Notebook

Yumi is going back to school - taking accounting classes on weekends which will require her to have a notebook computer. Her desktop was also getting long in the tooth, as her tower was still running Windows XP on 2GB of RAM and a 500GB HD. So today she got an ASUS K53T with Windows 7, 6GB of RAM, a 750GB HD, USB 3, etc. She was not at all excited about the huge interface leap to Windows 8, so we were happy to find a Windows 7 machine on clearance. We got it at Staples for $449, minus a 10% coupon which nearly made up for the sales tax, so it was a good deal.

The plan is to replace the desktop with the new notebook, using her present 19" monitor when she's home, and she can also carry the new machine to class. I am now in the midst of setting up the ASUS. That means deleting unnecessary bloatware, installing MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials), updating Windows 7, and creating a backup image because manufacturers are all too chintzy these days to throw in a recovery DVD for a few cents. Grrr.

I've had a smaller ASUS for a couple of years that I've been happy with, but Yumi's machine is a lot larger, though only a pound or two heavier. I wanted something very portable so got a UL30 with a 13" screen, while Yumi's K53 has a 15.6" screen and the keyboard has a numeric keypad built in - a big plus when you're going to be taking accounting courses.

I will gradually install software and transfer data to the new unit over the weekend.

Posted by Paul at 09:51 PM

May 01, 2013

Presenting on Social Media, PR, Traditional Media at Streamkeeper Workshop

I recently received a "speaker information form" from the organizers of SEP Community Workshop 2013, the 12th workshop for British Columbia's streamkeeper/stewardship community since the first one back in 1991. The biennial workshop will also celebrate the 35th Anniversary in 2012 of the Salmonid Enhancement Program run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, so it should be a great event. It will be held the May long weekend (May 17-19, 2013) on Bowen Island.

Since I'm speaking on public relations, media relations, and social media, how can I not toot my horn on my own blog? : -)

Here's the presentation description and bio that I wrote up for the information form.

Presentation title: Media and Public Relations 101

Presentation description and outcomes:

Get your story out through social media plus traditional newspapers, radio and TV. Get an overview of how Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other tools work, how to tailor your message to each medium, and how to develop relationships with journalists. Paul will share examples of how he's helped gain online, print, radio and TV coverage for a local streamkeeper group. Participants will come away with ideas on how to promote their stewardship efforts, educate the public, and influence media, and political policy, through PR, social media, and traditional media.

Please provide us with a brief introduction of yourself:

Paul has degrees in journalism and communication. He has over 25 years of experience writing and editing. He has a unique perspective that combines work at major media corporations with extensive board and executive experience volunteering with business organizations, community groups and environmental NGOs. Paul has volunteered with the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers in Burnaby for over ten years, is a member of the Salmon Enhancement and Habitat Advisory Board, is a citizen representative on the City of Burnaby Environment Committee, and is active on the Burnaby Board of Trade Environmental Sustainability Committee. Paul was named "News Source of the Year" in 2012 by Burnaby Now reporter Jennifer Moreau.

Posted by Paul at 03:28 PM

April 24, 2013

Test to Blog after Upgrading to MySQL 5

test

We (still) have fire!

Posted by Paul at 12:28 PM

April 17, 2013

IABC Social Media Workshop

The International Association of Business Communicators BC Chapter hosted a workshop called Let's Get It Started: Creating a Social Media Strategy to Fit Your Company's Needs on April 17 in Vancouver.

I was a bit leery about signing up, because I've been to several social media presentations that I though were pitched way to low to keep their audiences interested. But Karin Basaraba of PR Associates did an excellent job of mixing it up so that there was something interesting for folks with a wide range of experience.

Participating in social media as a company, or other organization, is very different from doing it for personal reasons. Policy, branding, consistency, public relations, marketing and more all come into play. I've seen too many companies using social media ineffectively, and Basaraba had lots of good information to share on how to do it well.

The workshop was definitely worth the time and money.

Posted by Paul at 03:22 PM

March 22, 2013

Wow, I Read a Book on my Kobo Glo!

I am far from being a Luddite, I love my computers (yes, I have several), but though I've had an ancient  monochrome Kindle for years, and picked up a Kobo Glo recently, I've never read much on eBook readers. I have lots of paper books that I haven't gotten around to reading. . .

But I am learning how to create ePubs as part of my editing and communication business, so I figure I'd better start reading more of  them.

Today I read Head First WordPress on my Kobo, and aside from some formatting glitches and typos (hm, a bit disappointing for an O'Reilly book), it went well. But I certainly see why you have to be careful about formatting eBooks, as the ePub version of the book did have some problems, at least as displayed on a Kobo.

I attended an excellent all-day workshop on creating electronic books presented by eBound Canada a few weeks ago, and one of the things hammered into our heads was that you must test your ePubs on as many different readers as possible, because they will not render the same. That's why I got the Kobo to complement my Kindle. And as soon as the budget allows, it'll also be a great reason to get an iPad  : -).

Posted by Paul at 09:40 PM

February 26, 2013

Bought Kobo Glo eReader Following eBook Production Workshop

I attended an excellent all-day workshop on creating electronic books presented by eBound Canada last week. By the time I walked out my brain hurt from assimilating so much information so quickly : -).

Check out their website, they have great tutorials on all sorts of issues related to producing problem-free publications.

Anyway, one of the key points I learned is the importance of quality assurance, and testing publications on as many platforms as possible.

That led to buying a Kobo Glo, from a line of readers that is popular in Canada. I think I will like the Glo - the touchscreen is nice compared to my relatively ancient Kindle model which is hard buttons only, and the Glo is superb for reading at night or in dim conditions. Am busily downloading a ton of free, copyright-expired works to the Glo as I write this.

kindle_glo_20130226

The old Kindle on the left and the Glo with its light on to the right
with both set to their library pages.

Posted by Paul at 07:26 PM

February 19, 2013

Waterborne Paint

I learned something new today. There is such a thing as "waterborne" paint. If you Google it, you get nearly 1.3 million results. It appears the usage is well established, yet I had images of paint being borne by water down a street drain and into our local creek. . .

Waterborne paint is actually much more environmentally friendly than solventborne paint (solventborne - another word new to me).

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary has this to say about waterborne: "1 (of goods etc.) conveyed by or travelling on water. 2 (of a disease) communicated or propagated by contaminated water."

Neither of those fits my image of what I thought was "water-based" paint.

Whoops! I was just interrupted by one of those canned phone calls: "Congratulations! You've been selected for a free cruise to the Bahamas!"

I hung up before I became waterborne.

Posted by Paul at 02:22 PM

February 16, 2013

Electric Vehicle Charging at MEC

I was impressed to see several electric vehicle charging stations at the North Shore outlet of Mountain Equipment Co-op today. Cool!

vehicle_charging_mec_20130216

Posted by Paul at 08:20 PM

December 05, 2012

Reviving IMB T42 Notebook Yet Again

I bought a workhorse IBM (now Lenovo) T42 notebook computer back in Sept. 2005. With a whole 1GB of RAM and a 60GB HD, not to mention a lovely 15" 1400 X 1050 screen, it was the cat's meow - seven years ago. The original Windows XP got flaky over the years, and a few years back I got a much more compact ASUS notebook running Windows 7.

Over the years I upgraded the T42 to 1.5GB of RAM and a 160GB HD. I then tried reviving it with regular Ubuntu Linux some years ago, but while I could get it to run, I was having kernel problems. Today I tried an Ubuntu subset called the "mini.iso," and so far it seems to be working great.

I'm hoping to find space in the living room or dining room off the kitchen to house the revived unit. My wife and I both have home offices, but there are no machines on the main floor.

Posted by Paul at 08:35 PM

December 04, 2012

Santa Hubby Gets Smartphone for Wife

The wife is getting upgraded to a smartphone for Xmas so she can finally start texting and doing mobile Internet, and though Santa Hubby is the one who picked up the toy, he's getting phone envy. Santa Hubby's smartphone is an ancient three years old, and the wife's new phone has a much larger screen with better cameras and HD video... Oh, wait, this "environmental activist" Santa Hubby is supposed to shun crass consumerism. Sigh...

Hey, where's the romance, you ask? The gift anticipation?

We're both adults. We've both been adults for decades. We both have pretty much everything that we need, so we're into the "wants", or in other words the, er, crass consumerism.

We decided years ago that we would get each other one significant gift each Christmas, and that it was perfectly OK to discuss what we wanted. So one main gift each, and then we were free to add cheap, fun stuff, or things that we made ourselves, to the mix.

In all honesty, what got Yumi most excited about her Xmas present (to be rewrapped and put under the tree for the "big day") was that I got it for the magnificent sum of $0 through judicious use of upgrade incentives and rebates. That really turned her crank : -). No, I am not joking. The more I save, the happier she is.

So the "present" part of it is that I pay for her data plan that's added to our couple's wireless plan. The blades for her new razor. And no, it's not a Razor, it's a Samsung S series. Not the cutting-edge model, but way more advanced than what she had before. And the additional data was under posted rates after about half an hour of negotiation with Rogers. Folks, don't settle for the first offer, especially if you've been with a provider for years. There are always plans, and incentives, and upgrades, and downgrades, out there that are not advertised. Be polite, be friendly, and keep asking for more options. While the best deals always seem to be for new customers, I've been noticing that the wireless battleground has been shifting toward client retention.

Posted by Paul at 08:27 PM

December 03, 2012

Major Service Keeps Subaru Faithfully Chugging Along

I coughed up nearly $800 at Docksteader Subaru in Vancouver for a major service for our 1998 Subaru Outback today. But at 14 years old and nearly 242,000km, or close to 150,000 miles, the car is still as reliable as the day I first drove it off the lot. A quality vehicle with regular maintenance. I hope to get a couple more years out of it!

I initially leased the car in Saskatoon, and have had it serviced at Docksteader for the entire 14 years since. In all those years, I've never questioned the Docksteader staff, and have always felt they are worthy of my trust. I'm sure the folks on the sales side would love to sell me a new Outback, but it's the service folks that customers deal with most, and they've always been uniformly good. So I'll likely buy another Subaru from Docksteader. . . some  day :  -).

The next major service will be at 288,000km, or about 177,700 miles, and that will be a milestone decision, as it will likely run over $1,000.  But at the rate we're putting on the klicks, that should give us over two more years before we face that scenario.

Posted by Paul at 09:21 PM

December 01, 2012

Blogs and Copyright

I wrote a post awhile back, and I think it's worth re-posting in its entirety again. Because people are still ignoring the copyright notice that's sitting there, clear as day, that TEXT AND PHOTOS on this blog that I have created are copyright me. Legally, I don't even have to post such a notice, my blog is automatically covered by copyright.

Folks, the Internet is not a free for all. Just because you can copy some text, or snag a photo, doesn't mean it's free and in the public domain.

Here's the post I wrote back on June 18, 2012:

There was a good session by a copyright lawyer at the recent Northern Voice social media and blogging conference in Vancouver. What too many people do not realize, is that when you post original stuff on your blog, be it text, or graphics, or photography, or video, that material is automatically covered by copyright, unless you specify otherwise.

So even if you don't notice, or read, my copyright blurb (right there, at the top left corner of my blog), my material is covered, and you have to ask my permission to use it.

I've had material, both text and photos, lifted from my blog without my permission. Some folks have credited the source, but they still failed to ask permission in the first place. Chances are if you'll be using the material in a non-profit manner, I'll readily grant you permission as long as I'm cited. And if you want to make money from original material on my blog, well, we'd better do some negotiating. It's only fair, eh?

So it was refreshing to receive an email today from a staffer at the University of Victoria who wanted to use a photo from my blog in materials given to foreign students for free. I was so pleased that someone had actually asked, that I went back years into my photo archives and dug up the original shot, and sent her a higher resolution version than the tiny one on my blog.

While I'm a great fan of open source, folks gotta make a living, too. Or simply want to, and ought to be recognized.

Posted by Paul at 08:03 PM

November 23, 2012

Finally Upgraded Home Office LAN to Gigabit Ethernet

Dust bunnies!

Yes, discovering dust bunnies is just one of the benefits of upgrading your local area network (LAN).

Over two years ago, I got a D-Link DNS-323 NAS (network attached storage) unit, with a couple of 1.5 terabyte HDs. The 323 was capable of 1Gb network speeds, as was my main computer, so I began watching for sales to upgrade my network gear (router/switch) from 100Mb. I eventually got a Linksys E4200 wireless router and a D-Link DGS-1008D 8-port gigabit network switch. And then the new gear just sat in my office for many months, until today.

Aside from crawling around in dust bunnies under my computer desk, the installation was fast and smooth. LAN setup technology has truly become automagical. As I write, I'm synching my ~800GB of photo folders to the NAS, and the process is noticeably faster. I highly doubt it'll be 10X faster, due to network overhead and other factors, but even 3X or 4X faster is a huge difference.

Posted by Paul at 04:27 PM

November 08, 2012

Oily Road Wash Enters Byrne Creek in SE Burnaby

I was down near the corner of Meadow Ave. and Byrne Rd. in SE Burnaby the other day, looking for spawning salmon, when I came across a clogged storm drain on the street. The pooling water was quite oily, and when I cleared the drain, the visual effect of the oily flow down the drain and into the creek was gut-wrenching. Our urban creek are subjected to this again and again.

There are solutions, or at least ways to ameliorate this. Lobby your local governments to dump curbs in favour of roadside swales and rain gardens!

Posted by Paul at 08:31 PM

July 08, 2012

Should Check Website Analytics More Often

I hadn't checked the website analytics for my blog in ages, and while I was happy to see that I am averaging over 500 unique visits per day these days, I was surprised by some of the referral data.

In terms of operating system, 78% of my visitors use Windows, 13% use Linux, and just under 9% use a Mac.

As for browsers, Internet Explorer has lost its old overwhelming dominance, at 44%, with Firefox coming next at 17.6%, and then Chrome at 14.3%, and various others making up the rest.

So if you have a website that has certain features that work only with IE (and I still run across these now and then, usually govt.) you're likely pissing off over half of your visitors.

As for which search engines drive traffic to my site, Google has a near-total lock. The top one is Google.ca at 67%, followed by Google.com at 20.5%, and then it drops off a cliff with Google UK, Google India, Google Germany and Google Russia all in the 1-2% range. The only non-Google engine to even appear in the list is Yahoo UK at 1.37%.

Posted by Paul at 08:30 PM

July 06, 2012

My Blog Among Royal Roads University Alumni ‘Featured Blogs’

Thanks RRU!

Check it out here.

Posted by Paul at 09:04 PM

June 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Paper Papers

Today I (sob!) cancelled my paper delivery subscriptions to the Vancouver Sun and National Post, and signed up for the digital versions. This will be the first time that I have never subscribed to a paper newspaper.

But the cost advantages are compelling. The Sun and the Post together were costing about $46/month, while I can access both online for $9.99/month. That's a savings of $432/year.

Not to mention all the carbon emissions avoided, and resources used such as paper (recycled or not) and ink. I work from home and run my main computer pretty much 24/7 anyway (with all power-saving options turned on for when I'm not at my desk), and have a lovely dual-monitor setup on which to view large docs, so why run those printing presses, delivery trucks, and delivery person vehicles?

Supposedly I get "everything" that appears in the paper papers, even an identical layout view if I so desire, not to mention other cool stuff like search and text-to-voice, etc.

It will be an interesting experiment, and will certainly be a lifestyle change. I read the paper papers in the living room, next to a big balcony, with lots of natural light. The office is in the basement, and while I have a decent window down there, it doesn't compare to the airiness of the main floor. I think I'll be in withdrawal for awhile, but I'm pretty confident that it will work out. I have already shifted many of my magazine subscriptions to the online Zinio service, and that's worked out well.

Posted by Paul at 01:54 PM

June 19, 2012

Building Community–Social Connections Matter–Metro Vancouver Sustainability Dialogue

I enjoyed the above event this afternoon, and there are a couple more in the same series coming along over the next few weeks, so sign up and participate if you can.

There were thought-provoking and succinct presentations from the following panel:

Opening/Closing Remarks:
Wayne Wright, Director, Metro Vancouver Board of Directors and Mayor, City of New Westminster

Facilitator: Peter Holt

Panellists:

This particular series of dialogues was prompted by a Vancouver Foundation study on alienation in society in the lower mainland of BC, which has been heavily reported on in the press over the last few days. The report can be found here.

Some of the results were troubling in the sense of many respondents reporting feelings of loneliness, disconnection from their community, difficulty in establishing community relationships, etc.

I may question what Metro Vancouver can do about such issues, but I laud it for confronting the situation and inviting the public to meet and share ideas along with experts in related fields.

There were lots of questions and comments from the audience, and I didn't have a chance to speak so I'll share a few thoughts here:

  • if I look at my own micro-community, a townhouse complex with 101 units, I can understand some of the concerns. People drive out of their individual garages in the morning, and drive back in when they return, and few linger on the streets and some seem to never use their front doors or the shared walkways.
  • the free local papers are delivered right to all 101 doors, and I'd guess that on a regular basis, about 90 of those end up flying around in the wind, accumulating in eventually soggy piles against those unused front doors, etc. Partly language issues, but mostly I think people don't care about their wider community and what's going on around them.
  • I was on the strata council for over five years, with, if I recall, three as president, so I know more people than most folks here, but I still interact with only three or four of those 101 units on a regular basis.
  • How do you get folks involved? Strata AGMs rarely attracted more than 10-15% of the ownership, with perhaps a maximum of 30% (including proxies) showing when special levies were in the wind.
  • In my neighbourhood, there are over 100 home languages in the local schools.
  • I think the immigrant experience has changed dramatically. When my grandparents came to Canada, they knew it was a one-way trip with no return. And, to bear this out, of the four of them, only one ever made it back to the "old country" for a visit, and that was 40 years or more after the initial move. Now, immigrants can readily access TV, movies, music and news in their home languages, video-Skype relatives and friends for free around the world at a whim, and travel back "home" from, er, "home", on a regular and frequent basis.
  • I have always been a proponent of multiculturalism, but I sometimes wonder at the linguistic shift over the last several decades. When I was growing up, the big linguistic issue was the loss of the "old country" language over the generations, but now the issue seems to be becoming the lack of learning the new/host country language.

So, I'm not a Burnaby native or even lower mainland native. I was born and raised in Saskatoon. I spent 14 years working in Japan, married a wonderful Japanese woman, and we moved to Canada some 12 years ago. So how did we integrate and make friends? Volunteering. Our first couple of years here were pretty quiet, but then we discovered streamkeepers, and that made all the difference. From initial contacts in streamkeepers, I joined the local business & community association, the Burnaby Board of Trade, became involved on City of Burnaby committees. . . 

You have to make the commitment, you have to give before you get, you have to learn about and respect your community's history, get to know its "elders", and then you can start to receive, and be embraced by others.

Posted by Paul at 09:19 PM

June 14, 2012

Looking Forward to Northern Voice 2012

These annual social media conferences in Vancouver are always interesting.

Northern Voice 2012 is just days away!

nv2012

Posted by Paul at 08:43 AM

March 11, 2012

I No Longer Trust Acronis True Image

I hate to diss a product, especially one that I used for years, but it seems Acronis True Image done gone bad.

I've known folks who've successfully used Acronis True Image for imaging and backup for years. I did so for several years, too. Then when I got Windows 7 a few years back, I found the built-in imaging function fast and easy, so stopped using and upgrading my Acronis software. Then a few months ago, Acronis sucked me in with a great upgrade offer, so I downloaded it and installed it.

First thing I noticed was that it wiped out links to Windows Backup in the Control Panel. Hm. That is certainly not friendly behavior, and I don't recall the installation routine asking me if that's what I wanted. Oh well, Acronis True Image Home 2012 was supposed to be so much better.

First time I tried  a full image with Acronis 2012, it ran, and ran, and ran. . . I finally cancelled backup after some 24 hours had passed. I did successfully image my HD once with Acronis 2012, but it took most of a weekend. I tried it again last night, and 20 hours later, the image was yet to be completed. Worse, the "estimated time remaining" kept going up, not down.

So how to get Windows Backup back? I noticed that there was a link in the Acronis-hijacked Control Panel to turn it on, which led to some Acronis dialogue boxes, and a request to restart Control Panel. I repeated the process three or four times with no success. Acronis had sunk its hooks deep into the system.

I went to the Acronis website, which suggested running the software, and unchecking the "integration with Windows 7" boxes in its settings. I tried that several times, again with no success.

Finally I downloaded a file from Acronis that was supposed to fix the Windows 7 Registry. I wasn't too happy with Acronis messing with my Registry, but duh, I realized that Acronis messing with my Registry was what had started the mess, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Success! I now have Windows Backup back.

And a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Acronis. . .

Oh, yeah, and something else that comes to mind is Microsoft. How could you allow third-party software to modify access to a basic Windows utility?

Posted by Paul at 08:01 PM

February 01, 2012

Sony Digital 8 DCR-TRV460 Joins Photo/Video Family

I bought a used Sony Digital 8 DCR-TRV460 camcorder on EBay a few weeks ago and it arrived the other day. It works, but the package needs a few AV cables that I've got on order.

Why would I want to purchase such "ancient" technology? I have a pile of analog Hi-8 tapes recorded back in the first half of the 1990s on a Sony camcorder that bit the dust a decade ago, and the 460 can not only play those back, it can also digitize them with its built-in analog-to-digital conversion capability. Plug it into a computer with a Firewire cable, and transfer away. Then burn those old clips to DVD. Cool.

I haven't reviewed much old tape yet, but the first one I popped in had clips of Midori, our turtle, from 18 years ago when she was a third of her present size. Wow.

Sony_DC-TRV460

HI-8_tapes

At least 20 hours worth of recordings dating to the early 1990s

Posted by Paul at 09:48 PM

January 13, 2012

Buddy Guy on Catnip

So am I a doob, and this has been happening on iTunes for some time? Just downloaded Buddy Guy's "74 Years Young" and when I play the album I get this graphical interface.... Oh, who cares, Buddy is romping on the guitar strings like a cat shredding nip in a blender. Pure joy...

74? There's hope for me yet : -)

Posted by Paul at 10:33 PM

December 28, 2011

Let Us Not Forget Derek’s Last Post

As the year ends, I've been reviewing events of 2011 that moved me, and one was the death of Derek K. Miller, and his "Last Post."

I don't want to say much, because there are plenty of folks in EAC, and in particular EAC-BC, who knew Derek way better than I had the chance to. I heard him speak several times, and I followed his powerful blog, but we didn't have a personal relationship.

Derek's Last Post bears reading again, for it stares death, and life, in the face.

http://www.penmachine.com/2011/05/the-last-post

It's also a reality check. Are we spending the precious moments of our lives following our passions, and contributing as best we can to positive change in our world?

UPDATE: Dawn, another EAC member and editor, remembers this post as particularly moving:

For me, the post I most remember is Endgame
(http://www.penmachine.com/2010/11/endgame).
I never met Derek in person, just in emails and on his blog.
But his writing and his story really affected me.

Posted by Paul at 08:06 PM

December 26, 2011

A Blue (Yeti) Christmas

I got a Blue Microphones Yeti half price through the Apple Store and had Yumi wrap it and put it under the tree for me. She never knows what to get me, so this system works great : -).

yeti_blue_xmas_20111227

I didn't know they were that big -- that's a 500ml beer can beside it for comparison. So what do I want with this beast? May try some podcasting, and may also experiment with video voice overs...

Posted by Paul at 07:06 PM

November 18, 2011

WordPerfect Supports Orme Than 60 File Formats

I was cruising the web tonight, and a sudden eddy of nostalgia made me search WordPerfect. You, know, WP! You don't know? Why, WordPerfect used to rule the word-processing roost on both PCs and Macs for years before MS Word gradually achieved a near-totalitarian dominance of the market. I cut my word-processing teeth on WP, and XyWrite. . . but that's another story. . .

To my pleasant surprize, WP Office commands 4/5-star reviews from major computer magazines and is way cheaper than MS Office. With holiday pricing in effect, and upgrade pricing allowed from MS products, I was tempted for a moment. But I have enough office suites on my machines, since I also install Open Office on all of them.

Anyway, as I perused the WordPerfect website, I noticed the following. Sure hope it's not indicative of WP's spell check. . .

wp_orme_file_formats

Posted by Paul at 09:17 PM

November 05, 2011

Facebook Thinks I Need a Pardon–Or Should Hide in Fiji

Here's a screen shot of one of my recent FB posts. It shows a clip of the "targeted" ads that appeared
for me today:

fb_pardon_fiji_2_201111

Posted by Paul at 10:45 PM

October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

I don't know if a major corporation has ever turned its Web landing page into a tribute to a founder before:

steve_jobs_1955-2011_small

I won' t link to apple.com or apple.ca because this web page will be ephemeral, as Steve Jobs knew well.

I am far from a slavish Apple devotee. My Apple hardware as of this post consists of a still functional, but long archaic, monochrome PowerBook 145B dating back to the early 1990s, and an iPod Touch, but I do admire his drive and sense of purpose:

"For the past 33 years, I've looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself 'if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'"

They say he was "difficult" but most geniuses are, and I agree he was one.

Here's to you, Steve. Thank you for having the strength to remind us that we all face death, and that we have a limited time to love others, and pursue our (work) loves. You said in the famous speech quoted above that death is one of life's greatest inventions because it clears out the deadwood.

I agree, but, death took you too soon.

Posted by Paul at 07:36 PM

July 31, 2011

Mine’s Smaller than Yours ;–)

attessa_attessaIV_lonsdale_small

The 225' Attessa (foreground) and the 330' Attessa IV near Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.
Sure glad I've been married to a lovely woman for 18 years who has been just as happy with a 16' canoe as I have
;-).

Posted by Paul at 08:09 PM

July 18, 2011

Computer Makers Need to Include HD Backup, Standard

Another friend just lost a bunch of data when a hard disk died. Yep, she had no backup. Me, I'm a backup fanatic because I've dealt with at least three dead HDs in my house/home office, and have helped clients with that many more, though I'm an editor, not a computer tech. I've had a multi-disk setup going for years now.

Whenever I buy a computer, I either order it with dual HDs to begin with, or add one myself as soon as it arrives. With 1TB HDs retailing for C$45-55 these days (so what does that price them at when ordered wholesale by the thousands? Ten or fifteen bucks each?) I wonder why the heck computer makers don't include dual HDs standard, with auto-imaging set up by default. Would save a lot of heartbreak.

Not to mention oodles of tech support time. HDs fail. That's a given. Customers are clueless and angry. That's a given. Why not, for $30-40, include imaging to a 2nd HD? Why don't Intel and Microsoft make this obligatory to receive certification?

Maybe I'm missing something. I guess a lot of computer techs make a lot of money off this. . .

Posted by Paul at 09:10 PM

July 04, 2011

Eerie Adjacent Tweets

I was dipping into the Twitterverse this evening and saw the following two Tweets pop up one after the other:

"The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you."

"8 Missing in Mexico After Vessel Sinks"

Of course they were totally unrelated to each other, yet somehow... something... if you know what I mean...

Twitter_god_missing

A screenshot of my TweetDeck feed

Posted by Paul at 10:17 PM

June 25, 2011

A Few Smartphone Photos

Though I've had my Acer Liquid E Android smartphone for almost exactly a year, I've rarely used its camera feature because I nearly always carry at minimum my tiny Canon SD780, or other, more advanced, photo gear. But the other day I was in downtown Vancouver for a seminar and got to Canada Place with some time to spare so I tried a few shots. Not bad.

Canada_Place_Vancouver_2_20110623

Canada_Place_Vancouver_20110623

Posted by Paul at 07:24 PM

May 05, 2011

Did I FB/Tweet Something Truly Original?!

I was talking with some friends on Facebook about ephemeral digital data, and individual "truth" vs "the mob," and I threw the following out:

"Is that a social-media tumbrel carrying my bits to the guillotine?"

And it struck me that after a beer or two, I may have uttered/written an original sound bite, er, socmedia byte.

I rather like it and Google apparently has nothing that matches....

An easily satisfied Paul, going to bed now before someone disappoints him.

Posted by Paul at 09:59 PM

February 21, 2011

Could Earth be ‘Unrecognizable’ in 40 Years?

Some sobering research has been making the media rounds today. Here's Salon's take on it:

Scientists warn that Earth could be "unrecognizable" by 2050

Combined effect of surging population and depleting resources could cause an ecological catastrophe within 40 years. . .

The scariest line from the article is:

According to the World Wildlife Fund's Jason Clay: [To feed everyone] we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000.

Posted by Paul at 04:50 PM

February 19, 2011

Hey, I’m ‘Blog of the Week’ at the Burnaby Now!

If you're reading this, it may well be thanks to the @BurnabyNOW_News "Blog of the Week" column written by  by Burnaby Now reporter @JenniferMoreau : http://bit.ly/hyZFAa

Thanks, Jennifer!

Posted by Paul at 08:21 PM

February 16, 2011

Environmental Innovation Forum–March 2–Burnaby Board of Trade

The Burnaby Board of Trade is holding an Environmental Innovation Forum on March 2 from 5:30p at the Electronic Arts campus in Burnaby. This looks like an excellent event, and I'm not saying that just because I sit on the BBOT's Environmental Sustainability Committee : - ). Here's the lineup:

The panel includes:
Chris Corps, BSc MRICS, Asset Strategics Ltd.
Allen Langdon, VP, Sustainability for Retail Council of Canada
T.J. Galda, Chair, Electronic Arts Green Team
Member, Globe Foundation
Plus additional Panel Members TBA

Facilitator: Coro Strandberg, Principal of Strandberg Consulting and author of the Small and Medium-Sized Business Environmental Roadmap for Industry Canada.

The last BBOT environmental forum held at EA was a huge success, so don't miss this one!

Posted by Paul at 12:27 PM

February 11, 2011

Let’s Hear it for Plain English!

Singing for plain English

Found this via the Editors' Association of Canada mail list, which pointed to an
excellent post on the Writing Matters blog.

Posted by Paul at 04:23 PM

February 04, 2011

The Future of Publishing

This is a lovely little video - - be sure to watch all the way to the end, or else it doesn't work.

Posted by Paul at 01:35 PM

February 02, 2011

Stupid Mode = 1

Stupid Mode = 1. (1 meaning ON, 0 meaning OFF). Apparently that's a real Linux command option for an operating-system configuration file that controls communications with overly complicated modem negotiations.  Note that I am not a Linux guru, and I haven't independently verified this, but it sure sounds like the irreverent Linux approach to technology and freedom : - ).
I like it. I see endless applications in politics & life :-). New, needlessly complicated tax rules? I shall simply set Stupid Mode = 1.

Federal and provincial environment authorities fail to enforce pollution laws? Stupid Mode = 1, triggering an automatic barrage of letters to ministers, letters to MLAs, letters to MPs, letters to the editor. . . : - ).

I could go on. And on. And on. But I think I need give no additional examples of the beauty of

Stupid Mode = 1

Posted by Paul at 09:45 PM

December 21, 2010

Adding Japanese Support to Ubuntu on IBM Notebook

The other day I installed Linux Ubuntu 10.10 alongside Windows XP on an older IBM T42 notebook computer. The Ubuntu install was flawless, and I can now dual-boot into either OS. Everything just worked, including wireless, and sleep and resume.

We've put that laptop on station on the main floor for easy Web access while watching TV, cooking, etc. My wife and I have our own offices, hers on the top floor and mine in the basement, each with our own tower computers, but for years I'd been lugging notebooks around the house. . .  Now there's one dedicated to the main floor Smile.

Anyway, she asked today if she could use Japanese on the Ubuntu notebook. Oops, I had forgotten to install additional languages. It took all of 5 minutes to install Japanese capability, and, OK, a reboot and bit of poking around to figure out the input method, but it worked.

She can now write in OpenOffice, email in GMail, and surf on Firefox, all in Japanese. Yay!

Oh, yeah, if you haven't heard, Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox etc., are all free.

Yep, free.

I salute the years of dedication by countless Open Source volunteers who made, and continue to, make it so.

P.S. Ubuntu appears to be smarter than both Windows XP and Windows 7 in one respect: I have a D-Link DNS-323 NAS (network attached storage) unit on my LAN (local area network). To get the NAS to show up on a Windows machine, the easiest way is to run a utility on the accompanying D-Link CD.  Ubuntu? It found the NAS all by itself. . .

Posted by Paul at 11:03 PM

December 17, 2010

Installing Ubuntu Linux 10.10 0n IBM T42 Notebook

I have an IMB T42 notebook running Windows XP with a gorgeous 1400 x 1050 screen that's been acting slow and flaky recently. I ran a disk check and a defrag, and that helped a bit, but it still seemed slow. Since it's no longer my main portable, I thought I'd give installing Ubuntu Linux 10.10 a try. I was also hoping Ubuntu might be faster on the limited 1.5GB of RAM and 1.8Ghz single-core Centrino processor.

I cannot believe how far Linux distributions have come. The install was absolutely painless. I simply popped in the downloaded Ubuntu image that I'd burned onto a CD, fired up the T42, and away we went. Did I want to keep my original OS? Yes. OK, how much disk space did I want to give each OS? Simple slider control. And the installation began with only one warning that I wasn't connected to the Web to get updates installed automatically. I figured the wireless hadn't been detected yet so I grabbed an Ethernet cable, plugged it into my router and the T42, and the Ubuntu install routine instantly picked up the connection in mid-install and continued on.

So far everything just seems to work. The TrackPoint works. The TrackPad works. (The T42 has both). Wireless works, it just took entering the SSID and password. I can access all my Windows files from within Ubuntu, and OpenOffice reads them all.

And yes, initial indications are that loading programs, browsing, writing documents, etc., feels a lot snappier than it did under Windows XP.

Posted by Paul at 09:26 PM

November 21, 2010

New Asus UL30A Notebook Computer

My IBM T42 Thinkpad notebook computer running Windows XP has been getting increasingly slow and flakey. It passed its fifth anniversary not too long ago, so that's not bad for a notebook. It's on its second HD already, and is old enough that I didn't feel like springing for a third HD. The battery was also getting old, averaging only a bit over an hour of useful time, down from the 3- to 4-hour range when it was new. With Windows XP, only 1.5GB of RAM, and a 160GB HD, I was ready for something newer, more powerful, with more RAM and HD space, while being smaller and having better battery life.

I settled on an ASUS UL30A for $699 from NCIX, a local computer discounter. With a 13" screen, an ultra-low voltage Core 2 CPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB HD and 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, it's a sweet little machine. At under 4 lbs, it's easy to tote, and while I dunno about the claim of 12-hour battery life, I've seen in the seven- to eight-hour range  so far without tweaking any settings. I do miss the 1400 X 1050 resolution of the 15" screen on the T42, but the 13" 1366 X 768 screen on the ASUS is decent. I haven't been a fan of chiclet-style keyboards, much preferring the excellent Thinkpad keys, but I'm getting used to the ASUS.

I had considered a netbook-size computer, but figured that for my fairly large hands I'd be better off with a regular notebook, albeit one at the smaller end.

ibm_T42_Asus_UL30A

Posted by Paul at 09:43 PM

November 07, 2010

Subaru Outback Hits 200,000 Km

Our steadfast 1998 Subaru Outback hit 200,000 trouble-free kilometers today. That's about 123,456 miles for those of you still on the British Imperial system for distances (like the U.S. Smile ). I like these numbers, because the last time I posted an odometer shot from the Outback was when it hit 123,456 km.

I know there are trusty Subarus out there with way higher mileage, but we don't use our car for commuting - I work from home, and my wife is a staunch Translink Skytrain work commuter.

98_Subaru_Outback_200K

With regular maintenance, this car has been absolutely dependable. Of course there have been a few other maintenance items like one blown fuse, a couple of light bulbs, and a couple of sets of wipers, but those are to be expected with normal wear and tear. The only unusual item was a head gasket that was replaced under warranty.

While I originally got the car new on lease in Saskatoon, it's spent 99% of its life based in Burnaby, BC. (we liked it so much we bought it out when the lease expired). I'd like to thank Don Docksteader Subaru for providing excellent maintenance services for 12 years. Docksteader Subaru Service quickly gained my trust, and I hope to see another trouble-free 100,000 km with their assistance.

Posted by Paul at 05:36 PM

October 18, 2010

Condon Applies 7 Rules for Sustainable Communities to BC’s Lower Mainland

The Tyee today published the last article in a series by Patrick Condon, based on his book Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World. If you're too cheap to buy the book : - ), or don't have the time to read it, you should at least peruse the Tyee series. This is stimulating, solid material that's a must read for anyone interested in a liveable Lower Mainland. Highly recommended for politicians at all government levels, transit officials, city planners, engineers, environmentalists and concerned citizens - which ought to encompass all of us.

Condon is a professor at the University of British Columbia and holds the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments. I had the pleasure to be a citizen representative on a planning charrette for the Kingsway corridor through Burnaby, BC, organized by the Sustainability by Design folks at UBC a few years back. It was a thought-provoking exercise that engaged City planners, engineers, academics, students and citizens in a sharing, respectful process.

The Burnaby Kingsway corridor plan was part of a larger study that also looked at a "node" in Langley, BC, and an "edge" in east Ladner, BC., and resulted in the publication Sustainability by Design: A Vision for a Region of 4 Million. I have always found Condon to be well-spoken and lucid with quiet, persuasive, rational arguments.

Too bad too many such studies appear to end up filed away in municipality, regional, and provincial filing cabinets, never, or rarely, to be referred to again.

If you care about your community, please read and share!

Posted by Paul at 02:18 PM

October 14, 2010

The W/web, I/internet, N/net Progression

A recent thread on the Japan-based Society of Writers, Editors and Translators mail list was discussing the transition of "Web" to "web." A few folks were surprised to see the Chicago Manual of Style making the transition to lower case for "web" in its latest edition, though Chicago retains caps for Internet and World Wide Web.

I just checked my (published in 1996) Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age and was surprised to see all W/web references in upper case, though Wired was always cutting edge when it came to lower-casing and combining words (what's the term for that? Y'know, the two words, hyphenated word, one word progression? Linkage? Something fancier?).

Mind you this was very early in the W/web years. Here's one of many references in the 1996 Wired guide:

Web: Call it the Web, the World Wide Web, or W3, this is the place your money, phone calls, and email may soon live.

or

World Wide Web: A graphics-intensive environment running on top of the Internet, the Web brought hypertext home (literally). Conceived in 1989, the Web took off in 1993 with the NCSA's first GUI browser, Mosaic. Today there are many browsers, and many more people who experience the Internet primarily through the Web.

Funny how fast technology and language changes these days!

Ah, I just found this online article on Wired no longer capping I/internet, W/web, and N/net, dating to 2004:

http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/08/64596

Posted by Paul at 05:17 PM

October 13, 2010

Sony MDR-XB300 ‘Extra Bass’ Headphones

Picked up a set of these headphones at NCIX today for C$29.95 from a regular price of C$69.95. I've just plugged them into my iPod, and whoa, talk about a huge difference from those tinny standard earbuds. There certainly is a lot more bass, and distinctly better overall sound quality. They're nice and comfy, too, with thickly padded ear cushions.

Now I have even more incentive to spend time on the stationary bike in the gym :-). Nothing like AC/DC, ZZ Top, Guns and Roses, the Stones, Led Zep and Buddy Guy et al for driving a workout.

Posted by Paul at 03:03 PM

October 06, 2010

Tap Water Map App from Metro Vancouver

This is a great example of using tech to help people become more environmentally sustainable in their behaviour:

Metro Vancouver has developed a free new iPhone app, Tap Map, that's now available for free at iTunes.  Tap Map helps people find the closest source of Metro Vancouver tap water. 

Thanks to the municipalities within the Metro Vancouver region we already have the locations of over 550 public drinking fountains between West Vancouver and Langley.  We're already talking to restaurant and business associations about having their members offer to refill anyone's water bottle with no obligation to buy anything.

If you think that people who read your Blog would be interested in Tap Map, and/or asking their favourite restaurants and other establishments to opt in, please tell them about it.

BTW, free apps for Androids and Blackberries will be available later this month.

For more information on Metro Vancouver's Tap Water Campaign, please check out our Tap Water pages.

Posted by Paul at 03:24 PM

September 10, 2010

Hard Disk Cloning Adventures with Windows 7

Close to a year ago I bought a new tower computer with a 640GB HD and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. A year later, due to prolific photo shooting, free space on the HD was down to less than 30GB. So I bought a new 1.5TB drive, with the aim of cloning the old drive onto the new one.

First I tried my Acronis True Image software, which worked great on upgrading the HD in my IBM notebook computer awhile back. When the copy was done - the new HD wouldn't boot. Mutter mutter.

So I tried cloning the drive with Terabyte's CopyWipe. Still wouldn't boot. And each of these cloning operations took many hours. Grrrrr..

I kept getting messages from Windows 7 that something or other was missing, and that I should try the Windows 7 Recovery Disc. Duh. It often helps to follow error messages :-).

After several whacks with the Windows 7 Recovery Disk, interspersed with some playing around with boot order in the computer's BIOS, I now have a beautifully cloned system with 812GB of free space.

That ought to hold me for a couple more years of photo shooting! :-)

Posted by Paul at 08:50 PM

August 26, 2010

Ripping Old LPs to MP3

I've finally gotten around to starting a huge project - digitizing over 300 LPs, most of which I haven't listened to in over 20 years.

When I moved to Japan in 1985, the LPs went into storage in my late Mom's garage, and she and her husband Barry carried them around with them through several moves - - thanks!

When my wife Yumi and I moved to Canada, initially we were in a small apartment, so I didn't take the albums back until we'd bought a townhouse. I bought an inexpensive Sony PS LX250H turntable some years back (it has a built-in pre-amp so is ideal for plugging straight into a computer's sound card), but never listened to many of the albums. I figure if I get them on my computer and thence onto my iPod, I'll start listening to them again.

A few days ago I bought the Spin it Again software app and tried it out with an album. It worked quite well, so the project is now underway, an album or two at a time.

I'm surprised at how good the albums are sounding, and how they bring back memories. Tonight is Heart night. Started with Dreamboat Annie and am now doing Dog and Butterfly.

LP_ripping_setup_20100826

The setup in my office is not ideal - I can't get any desk space close enough to plug in the turntable, so it's sitting on the floor next to my Windows 7 tower. But that's OK, bending over every 20 minutes or so is good exercise :-).

BTW, I believe this is all legal. I'm simply shifting mediums for music that I own licences to. If I were to rip all my LPs to MP3s and then sell or give away the LPs, that would be crossing the line, since I would no longer own the licences. So to my understanding, I gotta hang on to the original LPs, even after they're all digitized.

Posted by Paul at 09:19 PM

August 23, 2010

Massive Cross-Posting Dilutes Value of LinkedIn et al

I'm getting increasingly irritated at people who use various apps to simultaneously post to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Or perhaps I should say that I'm getting increasingly pissed off at social media sites that open up their APIs to any and all apps.

When I'm on LinkedIn I'm not looking for used cars. When I'm on Facebook, I'm not looking for references.

This shotgun approach is eventually going to adulterate and dilute some of these media to the point that they will become useless. I for one, feel they should be kept separate and focused upon their niches.

We've lost the basic filters.

I would have thought that LinkedIn would never allow "I'm selling my car" posts. Well, last time  I looked at my LinkedIn home page, more than half of the "network updates" were of that ilk. So where's LinkedIn's uniqueness now?

Posted by Paul at 08:45 PM

August 17, 2010

Rainwater and Sustainable Communities

This is an excellent website for sustainable stormwater management practices. I really like the "Who are you?" links that tune the perspective toward elected officials, municipal stormwater managers, developers, and the general public.

Thanks to Waterbucket for the link!

Posted by Paul at 12:41 PM

August 13, 2010

Pride Kills: 25th Anniversary of Deadliest Single-Plane Crash Ever

I was surprised to see that it's the 25th anniversary of the world's worst-ever single-plane crash that killed 520 people and left only 4 survivors. I vividly remember news about JAL Flight 123 because it happened the year I arrived in Japan for what became a 14-year stay.

The memories also revive my anger at the Japanese government's response to the crash - something that you don't see much of in the news of the anniversary. US Forces were the first to pinpoint the mountainous site of the crash, and US rescue crews were standing by for insertion from helicopters, but the Japanese government refused all offers of assistance. The Japanese Self-Defense Forces didn't arrive on site until the next day.

One of the four survivors chillingly recalled how sounds from more survivors diminished through the night as the injured succumbed to shock and exposure.

Fingers can be pointed in many directions in this tragedy: at Boeing, at JAL, etc., but I still think that misguided national pride was one of the most stupid aspects.

To some degree I can understand the sentiment that Japan wanted to take care of its own, and didn't want to acknowledge that the always-contentious US bases in Japan had troops with the initiative, the training and the gear to accomplish what the JSDF could not.

But was pride worth those lives?

Posted by Paul at 08:25 PM

July 30, 2010

PC Mag Gives Time Capsule 5/6 Stars – Huh?

The August 2010 digital issue of PC Magazine awarded Apple's Time Capsule NAS five out of six stars. Not bad, considering every other product is rated on a five-star scale!

5_out_of6_PC_Mag

Posted by Paul at 04:39 PM

July 02, 2010

New Acer Liquid E Smartphone

Rogers sent me a loyalty upgrade smartphone offer the other day, and after perusing reviews online I settled on the Acer Liquid E (note this is a link to a video with music), running Android 2.1 for only $19.99. That was for the razor. The blades are an extra $25/month for the basic data plan :-).

I used to have a razor, a Motorola Razor colour-screen flip-phone, but somehow it landed in the washing machine many months ago, so I regressed back to a Motorola 280 with a teeny monochrome screen. At one point I considered an iPhone, but it was too early in my contract cycle to get it at a decent cost. And while I have an iPod Touch, I was interested in checking out the Android platform.

It's still my first day with the new gadget, so I have a lot to learn, but so far it looks great! Now I can do email, Tweet, and Facebook on the go.

I used to say I'd never succumb to this, but I'm a prolific emailer, Tweeter, and Facebooker on my office computer, so what the hey, hey? Actually I wonder at how long it took me to get here, as I'm usually an early adopter. . .

motorola_280_vs_Acer_Liquid_E

The old, backup Motorola 280 next to the Acer Liquid E

It appears that the Acer Liquid E is a hot little item at the moment. I first cycled over to Metrotown, the largest mall in BC, but Wireless Wave didn't have it, and the Rogers store didn't have it either. Which irked me, because if you sent me the loyalty upgrade brochure, why don't you have the offered items in stock?

The trail finally led back to a "Rogers Plus" store just a 5-minute cycle from our place, but an outlet that it never even occurred to me to go to because I consider it to be just a video rental place.

Was I ever wrong about that! The Rogers video rental place on Royal Oak and Rumble not only had the Acer Liquid E, it also had a superb store manager by the name of Arjun Tyagi who calmly and deftly took me in hand, fulfilled my loyalty upgrade to perfection, and gave me a great demo of the Liquid E to boot. Thanks, Arjun!

Posted by Paul at 09:13 PM

June 29, 2010

D-Link DNS-323 NAS Initial Impressions

I am a firm believer in multiple backups of my computer data for several reasons:

1) As an editor, my livelihood/business relies on computers

2) As an avid photographer, ever since I went completely digital many years ago, I've accumulated over 350GB of digital photo files

For years I've had dual HDs in my main computers, and some time ago added an external hot-swappable USB2 HD cradle which works great.

But I've been hearing a lot about NAS (network attached storage) and about a week ago I picked up a D-Link DNS-323 NAS device from NCIX, along with a couple of Seagate 1.5TB hard drives. Total damage? C$299 before tax, so cheap for the additional backup peace of mind. I set it up as RAID 1, which means that the two 1.5TB drives in the D-Link mirror each other.

The salesperson at NCIX warned me that the DNS-323 would run only as fast as my network, but I didn't think much of it. I should have!

Backing up those 350GB of photo files took more than 30 hours over my 100Mbit LAN (local area network)! Mind you now that the initial backup has been done, updates will go much more quickly. Still, I now do have my sights set on a gigabit router/switch :-).

The other great thing about a NAS device is that any of the computers on my LAN can back up files to it.

The unit itself is compact, about the size of two fat paperback novels, but it does require an external power brick. I haven't set up or tested some other cool functions such as remote FTP access, or serving up music files across the network.

Posted by Paul at 08:23 PM

June 10, 2010

Are Email Disclaimers Enforceable?

I noticed the following at the bottom of an email message:

This email may be privileged and confidential. Any dissemination or use of this information by a person other than the intended recipient(s) is not authorized. The sender accepts no responsibility or liability for any errors and omissions, loss or damage from use (including damage from viruses), or breach of any confidentiality related to the contents of this message which arises as a result of email transmission.

This strikes me as being so strange.

What does it mean, "may be privileged and confidential"? How do I tell?

How do I know who is the intended recipient? Sometimes that is not evident. How do I know for sure that I may not be an intended recipient? Isn't the onus on the sender to ensure the message is being sent to the correct address?

And what's this "damage from viruses" bafflegab? It's your responsibility to keep your computer secure, not mine.

As for the claptrap about confidentiality of information, email by nature is a wide-open medium. Messages pass through dozens of servers on their way across the Internet. If you want/need to ensure confidentiality, well, encrypt the message.

Posted by Paul at 11:24 PM

May 08, 2010

Northern Voice 2010 Social Media Conference a Blast

I was happy to get registered for Northern Voice this year - last year by the time I heard registration was open all the tickets were sold out!

Northern Voice is a social media conference that has featured great speakers and stimulating discussion from its inception. This year was no exception.

Today I took in:

How (Should) Journalists Use Social Media?
with the CBC's Lisa Johnson and Vancouver Sun managing editor Kirk LaPointe 

More Drawing On Walls - The Power of Making Things Visible
with Nancy White

Flog Your Blog: How to Turn Your Blog Into a Book
with Angela Crocker, Kim Plumley and Peggy Richardson

Art and Social Media
with Rebecca Coleman, Rachel Chator, Deb Pickman and Sara Genn

If Machiavelli and Montaigne Grew Mushrooms
with Dave Cormier and Jon Beasley-Murray

I didn't want to lug my laptop with me as I've been having some back trouble the last several weeks, so I took only a few handwritten notes. I will try to flesh out this post, but right now, I'm tired!

Posted by Paul at 07:50 PM

March 23, 2010

Cybercrime ‘Hotspots’ – Huh?

There was an article in today's Vancouver Sun called B.C. is a cybercrime hot spot. It went on to list several cities as being "among the most dangerous in Canada." The problem with this is that cyberspace is not a geographical space or place. While the article goes on to say that it's the security of individual computers that affects their vulnerability to cybercrime, in combination with user behavior, it muddies the issue by attempting to scare people with a meaningless list of dangerous cities. The article is based on a study by security firm Symantec, but it appears some additional thought into how the data could best be presented to the public would have been useful before pen hit paper. :-)

It matters not where your computer is located. If you don't have a router, a firewall, up-to-date anti-virus software, etc., you are more vulnerable, no matter where you are. My online activity does not somehow become more risky if I move from one town to another.

Posted by Paul at 01:44 PM

February 20, 2010

Killing Game Feeds in Facebook – What a Relief

When I looked at my Facebook page this morning, half or more of the posts were automated updates from game applications like Farmville and Mafia Wars. Frankly, I don't care what games my friends are playing, much less what level they are at, or what "support" they need. Grumble, grumble.

Well, it's darn easy to kill such feeds without knocking off your friends (see, I don't even play MW and I'm picking up the lingo). Just hover over the top-right corner of such a post, click on the Hide button that appears, and then choose to hide the app, not your friend.

This is what happens:

kill_farmville_mafia_wars_facebook

Ah, peace at last!

Posted by Paul at 07:20 AM

February 13, 2010

Sign In? Sign Out?

Confusing choices on my iGoogle home page:

google_chat_20100213

So am I signed in or not?

It's not a huge question, as I've never used Google Chat, but it is an interesting conundrum.

Posted by Paul at 10:01 PM

February 01, 2010

Dell U2410 Monitor

Received the 24" Dell U2410 LCD monitor today that I got for around 33% off the regular price - about C$500 compared to C$750. My first impressions? This is one bright, sharp, gorgeous screen. It's clearly head and shoulders over the 20" Dell 2007FP that I have it paired with on my desk, and it leaves the old 19" Benq FP931 that it replaced in the dust.

The 24" screen with its native 1920 X1200 resolution is impressive, but it's the underlying technology that really makes it shine. It's an IPS monitor, designed for high-end graphics work, and it's colour-calibrated at the factory with sRGB and Adobe RGB presets. No matter how much I fiddle with the settings on the Dell 2007FP, I can't get it to match the U2410's fidelity and clarity. I'm just eyeballing the two screens side by side, but I suspect that even with colour-calibration gear, it would be tough to get the 2007FP looking as good as the U2410.

I'm look forward to developing photos on the new screen, along with having significantly more space for document editing and desktop publishing work.

Posted by Paul at 02:21 PM

January 20, 2010

Word Press Founder Mullenweg on Work

Ran across this great article on Inc. about Matt Mullenweg, founder of Word Press, on how he works and runs a virtual company.

I really like this quotation in the article:

People write a lot of comments on my blog, and I actually read and manually approve every comment before it gets posted. I think the broken-windows theory -- that a broken window or graffiti in a neighborhood begets more of the same -- applies online. One bad comment engenders 10 more. I'll happily approve a comment from someone who completely disagrees with everything I believe in, but if I get a positive comment with a curse word in it, I'll edit it out. My blog is like my living room. If someone was acting out in my house, I'd ask that person to leave.

I think that's a great approach, and I wish some major media outlets would get their monitors (do they even have monitors?) to follow it. When comments deteriorate into slanging matches, I'm gone.

Posted by Paul at 09:59 AM

January 03, 2010

iPod Navigator

For a couple of months now I've been trying to catch this gizmo on sale at Canadian Tire. It plugs into the cigarette lighter on a vehicle to power an iPod, and it also transmits music from an iPod using a selectable FM band. (Our faithful and stalwart '98 Subaru Outback has no aux input for its stereo. . .) Such devices are often in the $40-70 range, but this no-name brand has been available at Canadian Tire for under $20 off and on, but has always been sold out when I get to a store.

Well, I finally found one during Boxing Week sales at a CT for $14.95. It's pretty flimsy, and it sticks out so far that I cannot put the vehicle in park without removing it, but hey, it works! When I finally saw one, I turned it over and over, wondering at its cheap appearance, and a fellow came along and said, "Hey, works great, I've got three of them!"

I just realized that I badly dated myself - does anyone call them cigarette lighters anymore? I believe the politically correct term now is auxiliary power outlets.

Posted by Paul at 08:23 PM

December 29, 2009

Getting Into Hot Water

In response to a series of negative posts regarding on-demand water heaters on a mailing list:

While we have a gas-fired tank hot-water heater in our townhouse, I'm a bit surprised at the number of negative anecdotes regarding on-demand heaters.

As mentioned, they have been in widespread use for decades in Asia and Europe. I had several apartments in Japan with on-demand heaters and never experienced running short of hot water, or being subjected to spurts of cold water. And no matter what the outside temperature, it never seemed to take more than 10-20 seconds to get a steady flow of piping hot water -- certainly not any longer than it takes now for us to get hot water in the upstairs shower from the tank heater in the basement.

My wife's parents' place is in northern Japan, and it gets bloody cold up there for 4+ months each year, yet the suitcase-sized on-demand water heater in their house has never exhibited any such negative behaviour in 20 or more years of use.

If I may be so bold, I'd also venture that Japanese are among the greatest lovers of hot water in the world, and most have a tolerance, nay, an affinity, for soaking in water so hot that simply dipping a foot in it makes me want to scream :-).

Many Japanese shower/baths have faucets with a colour-gradated blue-red dial, accompanied by degree C markings. The top end of the red zone abuts a safety interlock button, which one can depress to be able to turn the faucet even further.

I wonder if some of this can be chalked up to a lack of experience in NA? I admit that when our hot-water heater died several years ago, we replaced it with another tank heater, but that was mostly due to the limited availability and greater initial expense of on-demand heaters here, combined with seemingly little knowledge or experience with them in local stores and among local plumbers.

Posted by Paul at 09:26 PM

December 18, 2009

When All Indicators are On

When all indicators are on, all the time, on an apparatus that is supposed to indicate network traffic, that doesn't tell you anything.

I'm happy to be back online, back on the Internet, having replaced my dusty Terayon cable modem with a brand-spanking new Motorola SB5102 modem from Shaw.

But it concerns me that all of the indicator lights on the new modem are ON - all the time.

Power? ON, and steady.

Receive? ON, and steady.

Send? ON, and steady.

Online? ON, and steady.

PC/Activity? Flickering like crazy, ALL the time. . .

So what does this tell me? Nothing.

At least with the old Terayon modem, you knew when your computer, or another one on your LAN, was talking to the Internet. With everything ON, all the time, I now know nothing. . .

OR

During this modem upgrade/router replacement I have been taken over by some evil botnet. . .

Later: According to Motorola, this is normal behaviour, though I still wonder. . .

motorola_sb5102_20091218

Posted by Paul at 10:08 PM

New Motorola SB5102 Cable Modem from Shaw

Got a new cable modem today - it's a long story - and it seems to have resulted in a snappier Internet connection. When my net access went down today, the Shaw cable phone tech advised me to replace our ancient Terayon modem (which entailed a mad rush into downtown Vancouver to Shaw's office before they closed at 5pm). I also ended up having to replace my Linksys BEFSR81 router with a new one (Revision 3.1 vs Revision zip on the old one) - dunno why both the modem and the router appeared to die the same day. . . Anyway, perceptually, the net connection feels faster now, and here are some test results from DSLreports.com:

Speed Test #83733229 by dslreports.com
Run: 2009-12-19 00:15:08 EST
Download: 8794 (Kbps)
Upload: 481 (Kbps)
In kilobytes per second: 1073.4 down 58.7 up
Boost: 8816
Latency: 65 ms
Tested by server: 3 flash
User: anonymous
User's DNS: shawcable.net
Compared to the average of 133 tests from shawcable.net:
* download is 37% better, upload is 26% worse

I should add that the Shaw tech also said that our line strength appeared to be low, and that a service person would come out in a couple of weeks to check it out. Oh, yeah, I also had a splitter on the line in my office so that I could watch news on a small 14" TV as I work (the tech and I tested the connection with/without the splitter and he said it still appeared weak), and today's test results were with the splitter removed. And one last note: we're on regular Shaw High-Speed (stated to be "up to 7.5 Mbps" down and "512Kbps" up), though the new modem would allow us to try High-Speed XTreme (at "up to 15 Mbps" down and "1Mbps" up) or High-Speed Warp (at "up to 25Mbps" down and "1Mbps" up) if we wanted to cough up the extra $$$.

Posted by Paul at 09:21 PM

December 08, 2009

Computer Upgrade: Windows XP to Windows 7

My main Windows XP Pro box became increasingly flaky over the last few days and finally refused to boot yesterday. I have multiple complete image backups and data-only backups, but a combination of needing to get back to work fast, plus a lingering hope that I may be able to revive the XP box for backup, plus plain old techno lust for an up-to-date box with the latest OS resulted in coughing up $669 for a new machine with Windows 7 Home Premium, 64-bit edition.

Here's what a little over C$700 with tax gets you computer-wise these days:

  • AMD Phenom II X 4 Quad-Core processor at 2.8GHz
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 640GB HD
  • Radeon HD4350 video card with 512MB RAM
  • Lightscribe-capable dual-layer DVD drive
  • Loads of USB 2 ports and a Firewire port
  • A multiple-format card reader built in
  • Keyboard and Mouse (included but not needed since I already have good ones running through a KVM box to multiple computers)

Not bad. I didn't need to cough up for software, because I planned to install all my favourite programs that had been on the XP box. Good thing I got the new machine, because a CHKDSK /R of the main HD on the XP box is now at 74% after running for more than 30 hours.

So here I am after two days of installing apps and restoring data from backups. It's amazing how time-consuming this is. Installing apps is a pain - tracking down CDs, re-downloading some apps, entering all the registration data. . . Restoring data also takes hours: my photos alone tally around 250GB, and that took 4 1/2 hours to copy from an external USB 2 HD onto the internal HD of the new machine. Not to mention several dozen gigs more of My Documents, Music, etc.

So far, so good. I'm finding Windows 7 to be fast and clean. Love the 64-bit OS with 6GB of RAM - can keep lots of programs open without slowing things down. I find Windows 7 quite intuitive and not much of a learning curve compared to XP. I never had a machine with Vista, so can't comment on that OS. So far I haven't encountered any issues with running older 32-bit software on the 64-bit OS. I did have to download new 64-bit drivers for my printer, and I haven't got the scanner hooked up yet.

There have been a few strange occurrences along the way. I recently switched to Outlook 2007 for calendaring and to-do lists after years of Palm Desktop. I sync to an iPod Touch, and somehow the first sync with the iPod after restoring my Outlook.PST file resulted in a slew of strange, repeating calendar entries that went on for decades. I thought I'd zapped the errant entries, only to have them all reappear on a subsequent sync. Zapped them all again, forced a one-way sync from the Windows 7 box to completely overwrite the calendar on the iPod Touch, and. . . knock on plastic, it seems to be OK now.

I figure another day, and I'll have about 80% of the apps and 95% of the data from the old machine on the new box. The balance I'll deal with on an as-needed basis. Some of it I likely won't miss at all. HDs are so cheap these days that I've kept the main HDs from my last three or four Windows boxes on hand, just in case I missed transferring something to a newer machine along the way. I have an external USB 2 SATA HD cradle so I can easily pop drives in and out - it's cheap insurance to keep the old ones around and not overwrite them.

Posted by Paul at 08:00 PM

November 02, 2009

Twitter Woes

Somebody hijacked my Twitter account today, with the usual routine of sending followers direct messages. I seemed to regain control by changing my password a couple of times, but now I've been knocked off because it appears somebody keeps trying to log into my account, trying various passwords, which results in me getting booted off for "too many failed attempts to sign in." I also got a lot of spam DMs today from others that I follow, so it seems to be a bad Twitter day. Hope they figure out a way to get this cleaned up.

twitter_lockout_20091103

Update Nov. 3: Still getting the same message.

Update later on Nov. 3: Twitter sent me a message to reset my account with a new password, which I did. Things seem to be working again, but I can't get logged on with TweetDeck. And if I try more than a couple of times, I get locked out again. Sigh. Perhaps I'll try completely uninstalling TweetDeck and reinstalling it.

Posted by Paul at 09:54 PM

October 26, 2009

Metro Vancouver Solid Waste Management Plan

I attended a Metro Vancouver luncheon on solid waste management on behalf of the Burnaby Board of Trade Environmental Sustainability Committee.

Here's my distillation of the presentation materials and the ensuing discussion:

Top priority is to reduce, reuse, recycle.

Now diverting 55% of waste.

Goal is to divert 70% of waste by 2015 (Metro Toronto has set this goal for year 2010 and is nowhere near achieving it).

MetroVan population projected to grow from ~2 million to ~3 million, so increasing diversion from 55% to 70% has little effect on remaining solid waste.

Even with a 70% diversion rate there will still be over 1 million tonnes of solid waste to dispose of every year.

Three scenarios:
1) waste-to-energy (incinerate)
2) landfill mechanically/biologically treated waste
3) landfill

Key point: When it comes to overall emissions, solid waste management contributes 1% or less in the Fraser Valley, under any scenario.

MetroVan says studies show no discernible health impacts from WTE (waste-to-energy) plants. Many EU nations have WTE plants located in major cities. EU no longer allows landfills.

Key point: What about the "fourth R" in addition to reduce, reuse, recycle? REVENUE (or cost).

WTE, because of heat and electricity generation, has a 35-year NET REVENUE of $20 million in the MetroVan scenarios. The other two options COST between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion over 35 years.

MetroVan is strongly promoting WTE as the solution.

What about 100% diversion? It becomes uneconomical at a certain point - diminishing returns.

MetroVan feels it's not winning the PR/media war on WTE. Needs to present clear, understandable message to the public. In greater Vancouver, 60% in favor of WTE, but in Fraser Valley only 37%.

I used to question WTE, but I've come around for several reasons. I don't see 100% diversion as being achievable, I think the emissions/health impact from running diesel trucks up the valley to a landfill would be far more detrimental than a new WTE facility, and finally WTE is the only alternative (at least according to MetroVan's consultants) that makes economic sense. In fact it makes $ from producing electricity and heat, whereas the other options cost billions of dollars.

My other observation is that few people even seem to be aware of the WTE facility that has been operating in my home town of Burnaby for years. I'd say 80% of the people that I talk to don't even know it's there.

Posted by Paul at 05:55 PM

October 21, 2009

Apple Store Won’t Let Me Order

I'm trying to send an Apple iTunes gift card to someone in the US and I'm in Canada. I tried Apple's US website, but it would not accept my Canadian province and postal code in the purchasing address. I tried Apple's Canadian website, but it would not accept the US address as the shipping address.

Perhaps I'm just missing some option, but you'd think they'd make carrying out a transaction as KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid, er, Silly) as possible. Dunno if it's Apple being silly or I'm being stupid, but after a couple of failed attempts I guess I'm off to Amazon - at least I know Amazon's gift certificates work cross border, and that I'm able to place orders with both the US and Canadian Amazon websites.

Posted by Paul at 07:53 AM

October 19, 2009

My Digital Photo Stats Over 8 Years

My Nikon D300 DSLR "rolled over" yesterday: the photo counter hit 9,999 and started fresh. I began using it in August 2008. My Canon S5IS superzoom rolled over on Sept. 19 this year, a bit over two years after I bought it in July 2007.

My first digital camera was a Kodak DC4800 with which I shot the first photo on March 30, 2001. That camera still works but has been retired. It was followed by a shirt-pocket-size Canon SD400 that died in February this year, being replaced with a tiny Canon SD780 for everyday carrying around. I took the SD400 nearly everywhere in pockets, belt packs and briefcases, and it did yeoman's work for about three-and-a-half years before succumbing to the regular battering with a dead LCD screen.

The D300 and S5IS 10,000-shot milestones got me thinking about my digital photo statistics, so I did some poking around my hard drive.

As of today, I have 45,330 files in 960 folders under the My Photos directory, totaling 221GB. That includes perhaps a hundred photos scanned from film pictures, and a few dozen short movie files shot using the movie function on my Canons. I have no idea how many rolls of film I've shot since I began taking pictures some 40 years ago, and that's another project - to scan the better slides and negatives into digital files. . .

That means that since I shifted to digital photography, I've been keeping about 5,330 photos/year. As I explain in the next paragraph, that means I've been shooting about 6,500-7,000 photos/year. Not bad for an amateur, eh?

When I transfer digital photos from my various cameras to my computer, I immediately cull the worst of the lot - the badly underexposed or overexposed, the out of focus, the motion blurred, etc. I also usually zap severely unflattering shots of people, near duplicates of the same scene, and so on. I figure that I trash 15-20% this way. But I need to do more.

While my photos are fairly well organized in chronological folders and topic folders, I've never used a tagging/archiving program to keep track of them, and with 45,000+ images that needs to change. Since I returned to SLR shooting last year after about a 15-year hiatus, I've also gotten more serious about my photography again, and need to keep better track of my better work.

I've started using Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe Bridge CS4 to do some basic tagging over the last few months, and am investigating digital asset management options such as MS Expression Media, ACDSEE Pro 3, etc.

As time allows, I aim to go back and do more culling, while adding metadata to my old photos. I ought to be able to cut at least 10-20% of that 45,000. And more importantly, tag the best 0.1 - 0.5% (1 - 5 out of a thousand??) that may be worthy of printing for display, or attempting to sell.

It will be interesting to revisit this topic once this gargantuan project is done, and see how the numbers turned out.

Posted by Paul at 08:16 AM

October 16, 2009

Enjoying Book Camp Vancouver

Have had a great morning at Book Camp Vancouver, and am settling in for the afternoon sessions. This morning sat in on Open Source business models and publishing, and a session on newspapers, magazines and books in the digital age. Next up is Getting to Zero: Who Gets Paid When Books are Free?

Lots of people are covering the conference in real time on Twitter at #bcvan09.

Posted by Paul at 01:03 PM

Riding Translink’s SkyTrain Incubator

Being a good, green citizen, I took the SkyTrain to downtown Vancouver this morning to attend Book Camp Vancouver. When the doors of the train opened at Edmonds Station, a wave of hot, humid, fetid air washed over me on the platform, and I cringed as I stepped aboard.

Why the heck was the heat on? You do not need heat when you have people packed into an enclosed space. What a waste of energy! Has TransLink never heard of thermostats?

It must have been pushing 30C in the car as people stood packed shoulder to shoulder, the windows fogged over and rolling with condensation. It was a perfect incubator for the flu season. H1N1? I guess TransLink has never heard of it. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the heat off and external air circulation cranked to the max?

Moisture was soon rolling down my body too -- sweat. Sweat trickling down my back, and eventually even down my legs.

We all stood there suffering silently, station after station, like good sheep-like Canadians, until some brave soul finally cracked a window a couple of stops before the end of the line.

I'm a firm believer in the benefits of mass transit, but TransLink has to provide a better atmosphere for commuters. You're not going to get more people on the trains if they dread the ride.

Posted by Paul at 11:15 AM

October 15, 2009

‘Please RT’ Flags Messages to Ignore

I don't understand why people include "please RT" (re-Tweet) in Twitter messages. To me that's waving a red flag that the Tweet is likely spam, or blatantly commercial or self-promoting. It's gotten to the point that as I scan TweetDeck, I skip over messages with "please RT" in them.

If a Tweet is compelling, and stands on its own merits, it's a given that I'll RT it, eh? So why waste the nine characters just to irritate me?

I find this particularly ludicrous when I see so-called "social media experts" littering their Tweets with "please RT." Oh, please. Stop.

Update: @WritersKitchen tweeted a link to this study printed on Fast Company that shows that retweet pleas do seem to work. Thanks, but they still rub me the wrong way!

Posted by Paul at 08:00 AM

October 13, 2009

Turning Cities into Sponges

I never thought I'd be quoting a publication called the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, but I'm willing to learn from anyone. An article entitled Philly's bold stormwater management plan leads the way caught my eye - it's an initiative that I'd like to see in more cities, and promoted by ones like my own Burnaby.

I love the following quotation from the article:

The plan reimagines the city as an oasis of rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, thousands of additional trees, and more. The idea is to turn the city into a giant sponge to absorb as much rainwater as possible and delay the rest in its journey to the nearby Delaware and Schuykill rivers.

Now that's vision! Or simply going back to what used to be . . . Most cities were once giant sponges, because that's what most land used to be before we built on it. So it makes sense to return to what worked for Mother Nature for millennia, eh?

How about this?

The new plan announced last month would "peel back" a lot of the city's concrete and asphalt and replace them with plants - rain gardens, green roofs, landscaped swales in parking lots, heavily planted boulevards, and small wetlands.

Yes! Streamkeepers and other concerned citizens have dreamed of this for years. The main issues dogging urban creeks are massive flows during rains because of all the water that goes shooting off of roads, roofs and parking lots straight into street drains, and pollution from oil, antifreeze, brake-lining dust, rubber, soap, other chemicals, etc., washing off our streets. Rain gardens, ponds, swales - they would all help with both problems, slowing peak flows and filtering out pollutants.

I believe all municipalities in British Columbia are required to produce ISMPs (integrated stormwater management plans) for all of their watersheds, and Burnaby is no exception. The City has been working on a Byrne Creek ISMP for some time now, and I have sat in on stakeholder sessions as a representative from the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers.

Unfortunately, I haven't witnessed much imagination in the process so far. I get the sense that there's more talk about more pipes, than there is about rain gardens, swales, street-edge alternatives, trees and plants. More pipes? That's so 19th and early-to-mid 20th century, eh? Let's be forward-looking!

Posted by Paul at 04:25 PM

September 29, 2009

Time to Put the Fax Machine Out to Pasture?

I stayed out of the last "do I still need a fax" discussion on the Editors' Association of Canada mailing list, but recent events are prompting me to comment.

We've used fax machines extensively in our work for around two decades. The amount of work that arrives by fax has tapered off over the last year or two, but the machine is still connected, still on.

When a fax arrives, there's a "distinctive ring," and since the machine was in my wife's office, if she wasn't home, I'd jump like Pavlov's proverbial pup every time I heard that signal. It occurred to me just now that when I hear that signal these days, I usually ignore it. Why? My initial reaction to this self-question was because we're getting way more spam faxes.

Upon further thought, I realize that, no, not really. We're not getting more spam faxes, we're just getting a tenth of the business-related faxes that we used to receive, but we're still getting about the same number of spam faxes.

Yet the result is the same: the signal-to-noise ratio of this particular communication medium has fallen to the point that I've lost the signal in the noise a few times in the last couple of days. I've ignored the distinctive ring until I happen to be passing by the machine on some other perambulation, only to find that -- Yikes -- there's actually a fax from a client and confirmation about something is needed ASAP.

The fax machine is crying wolf much too often. Perhaps it needs to be put down - or only turned on when a client specifically needs to fax me something. Or, perhaps, go completely digital with an online fax service.

P.S. Dear clients, if perchance, you somehow interpreted that last metaphor to mean that I consider you to be sheep, please be assured that was not my intent!

UPDATE: As I was writing this post, what did I hear but the distinctive ring. Not once, but twice. I have retrieved those faxes, and the first asked if I wanted to book a dinner cruise, and the second told me that "We can market your business at LESS THAN 1 cent per fax. Fax 100,000 businesses in the Lower Mainland for only $799." I kid you not.

Posted by Paul at 12:07 PM

September 18, 2009

The Big Notebook Computer Debate

There's been a debate on the Editors' Association of Canada mail list recently about what notebook computers people recommend.

As you can imagine, the thread has run wild. I love A. I hate A. I had a great B. What?! No end of trouble with B.

Do I dare get into the PC vs Mac minefield?

Some thoughts:

I suspect you deal with outliers when you ask people for recommendations. I think people tend to remember, and gravitate toward, their best and worst experiences, and the best and worst things that their peers have told them.

I lean toward doing some initial research with PC Magazine, and other trusted industry publications, because the reviews/results tend to jibe with what my friends and associates talk about. PC Mag rates some Dells great, some lousy. It rates some HPs great, some lousy. It rates some IBM/Lenovos wonderful, some weird. And though it's a Wintel-centric publication, it rates some Macs fantastic, some lacking.

And there are personal-preference intangibles such as keyboard feel -- I happen to love IBM/Lenovo notebook keyboards because to me they best replicate the full-size, full key-travel, clicky IBM keyboards of yore. I dislike "chiclet" keyboards, and soft keyboards, but some love them.

So be it.

And appearance -- I think the plastic white Mac notebooks are ugly, and like my matte black, businesslike IBM. But that's my personal perception. I think Macbook Pros look cool, though I've never had one.

So I think that people should check Consumer Reports, PC Mag reviews and surveys, and on that basis dump the worst-performing/reviewed 20% of all the available notebooks out there, and then go out and try a dozen or more machines in real life. Use them. For more than a minute or two.

And then decide what you want to interact with every day, what feels right, what moves YOU. You're going to be spending hundreds of hours with this hardware.

If you love it, and it lasts 18 months, you'll still remember loving it. You'll excuse its early failing -- because you loved that hunk of circuits and plastic.

If you're uncomfortable with it, and it lasts five years, you'll still give it at best grudging respect.

Happy Hunting, Paul.

Posted by Paul at 10:33 PM

September 08, 2009

PowerPoint Peeves

People should be licensed to use PowerPoint, and each copy should be registered as a dangerous weapon.

There should be a three-strike rule: if you hit the wrong button three times (going back when you meant to go forward, or minimizing the display, or whatever user-caused technical glitch), sorry, but your presentation is over.

If you ever say, "You can't really see this but. . ." your presentation is over. If we can't see it, why is it in the slide show?

If you ever read an entire slide word for word, your presentation is over. Well, OK, maybe it's an important quotation - but dang it, if you read three slides in a row verbatim. . .

If you have green text on a purple background, or vice versa, your presentation isn't even starting!

I could go on, but the boil is gone and I'm down to a simmer.

Posted by Paul at 08:15 PM

September 02, 2009

Why No Comments?

Recently I've been asked why people cannot comment on this blog. The answer is mostly sloth and comfort with the status quo. When I began this blog many years ago, I had comments enabled, and was soon hit with comment spam. The easiest solution back then was to shut off commenting, and that's what I did. Software evolved, making it easier to set up comment registration, bot detection, white/black lists, etc., but I was loath to to tinker with a stable setup and have not gotten around to upgrading my blog software.

When I do think about upgrading now, I run into other questions - since my Movable Type installation is several generations behind, it appears it may no longer be that simple to upgrade. I'd have to go through several iterations through the series to do it safely. Then there's the nagging thought that if I have to go to (what I perceive as) all that trouble, why not try, say, WordPress? But then I'd be upgrading between systems.

So there you have it - sloth, happiness with the status quo, fear of the unknown - all those human frailties :-). Hm, now that I've named them, perhaps I can confront them - someday.

Posted by Paul at 01:20 PM

A Plague of Plagiarism?

There's been some discussion on the Editors' Association of Canada mailing list recently about plagiarism and how to detect it. Here are my perceptions of overall trends:

I believe there is an ongoing technological and cultural shift that is blurring the issue of plagiarism in people's minds. We have become a copycat, copying world, and the digitization of content has made it effortless to make exact copies of text, graphics/photos, audio and video. This is not by any means a new idea or concern, and I'm sure there is research on this trend, but here are a few words off the top of my head.

In my youth we learned relatively simple analog copying from LP to cassette, from TV to VCR; however, such copying took as much time to accomplish as the length of the original recording. Now everything is digital files that can be copied and transferred from medium to medium in seconds or minutes at the click of a mouse. Kids have grown up with digital audio players (iPods et al), personal video recorders (PVRs) that amass hundreds of hours of one's favourite TV programs, and computers and the 'Net.

This digitization also makes it easy to non-destructively break down files and use snippets of original works. Kids are now encouraged to do "mashups" using text, graphics, audio and video, and web designers "suck" and "scrape" data from all over the 'Net for inclusion in re-purposed or re-branded websites. It's par for the course for bloggers and Twitterers to copy and use ideas/data, though most abide by precepts of acknowledgment, including citation, mutual linking, blog rolls and the RT (reTweet) function.

When I did my MA a couple of years ago after a 20-year hiatus from the halls of higher learning, I was pleased, amazed, and finally shocked at how easy it was to "do research" by logging into the university library from the comfort of one's home computer, and copy and paste relevant bits from peer-reviewed papers in respected journals downloaded in their entirety from databases. I kept such notes and quotations in a different font to make sure they stood out on the screen as I wrote papers. A far cry from physically entering the library, combing through the card catalogs and stacks, and taking notes by hand on 3 X 5 cards!

I have encountered situations in which people have copied copyrighted and trademarked material wholesale and passed it off in their "own works" -- entire swaths of writing, not just a sentence here or there -- only to have them deny that they'd done anything wrong. Pressing the issue resulted only in anger, incredibly (to my mind) broad definitions of "fair use," or a blanket dismissal that I wasn't with it.

Now I believe there are upsides to this technological/cultural revolution. I'm a fan of open-source movements that originated in software development and are gradually encompassing photography, audio/video production, and publishing. I appreciate the benefits of "open-source learning," which entails a lot of collaborative group work in educational settings. The key here is that people who honestly contribute original work are recognized by their peers in a self-policing atmosphere of mutual respect, acknowledgment, and encouragement.

Whether or not the positive influences of such open-source concepts overcome the temptations of cut-and-paste plagiarism remains to be seen. The bottom line is not technology, despite my focus on technological developments. Technology doesn't set ethical standards, though I wonder if it can undermine them. It's the people using the technology that need to know better.

Perhaps the cookie jar of original research and artistic production has become too easy to access and copy. A strange statement coming from me, since I despise DRM (digital rights management) and censorship. But I realize that I am human, and when there are cookies easily accessible, I know I'll be tempted to gobble them up, though if I had to bake them from scratch I'd think twice about the effort. At least I know that I wouldn't pass off store-bought cookies, or the neighbour's muffins, as my own!

I see that my argument is getting mired down, and my mind is not keeping up with my fingers on the keyboard, so I'd better quit now before I get stuck. Time to get back to work. Perhaps I'll write another mini-essay extending this topic another day.

Posted by Paul at 12:39 PM

July 08, 2009

Testing Windows Live Writer

I'm testing Windows Live Writer with my Movable Type blog.

So far so good.

Bold Italic Underlined Strikethrough

Let's try adding a photo with a drop shadow.

Having trouble getting Live Writer to upload the photo.

Hm, if I can't easily upload photos, Live Writer will be useless.

paul_sockeye_20090705.jpg

Well, I uploaded the photo using the MT Web interface, and then pasted the code into the "Source" window in Live Writer, and that worked. There I am, getting ready to carve a sockeye into steaks.

OK, still working on getting photo upload to work.

Let's try again with a Deer Lake mallard.

deer_lake_duck_20090705

Yay! It's working. I had to log in to my 1&1 account with FileZilla to get my FTP settings figured out, but it's OK now.

And here's WLW from my notebook computer, OK?

OK!

Posted by Paul at 09:35 PM

July 07, 2009

Updated Nikon D300 Firmware

I'm still exploring the capabilities of my Nikon D300 DSLR little by little though I've had it for nearly a year. Lots of menu items to tinker with, settings to try.

I was cruising Nikon's website awhile back, updating some of the software that came with the camera, and was a bit surprised to find a firmware update for the camera. Then on second thought it made perfect sense -- digital cameras are to a great extent computers with dedicated processors and software programs.

The update provided a number of potential improvements, and I finally got around to installing it today. I had a moment of trepidation fooling with "the guts" of this expensive machine, but then again, I've updated BIOSes on computers that cost just as much. There were two files to update, and one worked fine, but the camera didn't want to recognize the other one. I finally got it to load by deleting the second file, leaving only the one choice on the CF card.

So I now have version 1.10 of both "A" and "B" firmware files on board.

If you have a DSLR, it might be an idea to check your maker's website for similar updates.

Posted by Paul at 09:28 PM

May 25, 2009

Blog Back Up As 1and1 Restores Data to New System

Until last week I was a happy 1and1 customer -- then the server that hosts this self-installed Movable Type blog crashed.

While 1and1 did get the site back up with all data intact, it took them nearly 5 full days to do so. I also didn't hear anything from them until I complained, after which I received an email detailing the problem, and an email when the system was back up again.

So points for saving all my data, but overall I don't think it should have taken that long to get it migrated to a new system, and the communication could have been more proactive on their part. I'll give them a second chance and will continue to keep this blog there, but I'll be doing my own backups more frequently.

I also have a couple of sites at pair.com, and they have been rock solid in around twelve years of use.

Posted by Paul at 10:31 AM

April 27, 2009

Lenovo Website Offers $9,840 Hard Drive

Was taking a peek at the Lenovo Canada website, and found a 500GB HD notebook upgrade for a measly $9,840. Yowza :-)

lenovo_hd_20090427.jpg

Posted by Paul at 03:34 PM

March 24, 2009

200km of Light Rail or 1 Bridge?

UBC sustainability experts say that for the $3.1 billion cost of a new Port Mann bridge "the government could finance a 200-kilometre light rail network that would place a modern, European-style tram within a 10-minute walk for 80 per cent of all residents in Surrey, White Rock, Langley and the Scott Road district of Delta, while providing a rail connection from Surrey to the new Evergreen line and connecting Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge into the regional rail system."

Read the full article.

Seems like a no-brainer, eh?

Posted by Paul at 07:50 PM

March 16, 2009

VanLUG Newbie Night

I enjoyed the Newbie Night put on by the Vancouver Linux Users Group this evening. I hadn't been to a VanLUG event in a couple of years, but since I proposed one of the topics, it was time to go again :-). The turnout was on the low side, but the audience was enthusiastic. I also got to see the LAMP (Linux, Apache [web server], MySQL [database], and PHP) stack in action, with demos of installing WordPress and Drupal. Of course with experts running the show it appeared very easy!

Ben Holt addressed this topic from from Paul Cipywnyk:

As a non-programmer, non-sysadmin who has played with Linux a bit off
and on, and considers himself a newbie, I'd be interested in learning
more about LAMP. It seems to me that LAMP is one of the huge strengths
of the open-source community. How do I install things like WordPress,
phpBB and Drupal on a local Linux box, and once I have a blog or BBS
or CMS set up locally to my liking, how do I transfer the whole
shebang over to my web host?

Kim Kulak addressed running Windows applications on Linux as suggested by
Jel Coward:

Virtualbox rather than dual boot.

Folks often get scared by partitioning - and running two OS's
concurrently is cool - and folks are often impressed how much faster
Windows runs in a linux virtual machine than it does natively.

Rob McCrea moderated a discussion on the subject put forward by Jose Da Silva:

My Windows98 computer got sacked with 100 viruses and nothing runs.

Should I install Debian or Redhat?

Will it run games?

How do I do it?

Posted by Paul at 10:18 PM

February 24, 2009

Twitter Overwhelmed?

Ran into this Twitter error message today:

Twitter is over capacity.

Too many tweets! Please wait a moment and try again.

Posted by Paul at 12:59 PM

February 23, 2009

Upgraded to Thunderbird from Eudora

I finally moved from Eudora 5.1 to Thunderbird 2 for my email client. Eudora choked on a couple of messages this morning, turning my XP desktop into a video mess. This has happened several times over the last while, so after using Eudora for around 14 years, it was time to say goodbye to the orphaned software.

The shift to Thunderbird was relatively painless, though I'd been putting it off for years. Here's what I did:

  1. Backed up my Eudora folder
  2. Deleted unused Eudora personalities
  3. Emptied Eudora's Trash
  4. Compacted Eudora's mailboxes
  5. Intalled Thunderbird
  6. Used the Tbird import wizard to import Eudora mailboxes and address book
  7. The above step took an hour! (I have a lot of archived mail :-)
  8. Opened T-bird and tweaked various settings to my liking

So far, so good. I'm pleased to have a modern, Unicode capable, mail client. It'll take awhile to get as comfortable with Tbird as I was with Eudora, but I'm on my way.

Posted by Paul at 10:44 AM

February 20, 2009

Canon SD400 Psychedelic Screen of Death

Walking through the park this morning I came across some lovely frost on grass and leaves. I pulled out my omni-present Canon SD400 teeny weeny digital camera, only to find the LCD screen had died -- now all it shows is a psychedelic pattern.

Sigh. It was a great little camera. It was extremely portable and easy to use, with good quality. The only drawbacks were the lack of an image stabilizer and poor performance in low light. I carried it around in shirt pockets, coat pockets, belt packs, and briefcases for years, so I certainly got my money's worth out of it.

I think I'll go Canon again for an ultra-portable camera, though Olympus has some interesting models that are shock and water resistant...

dead_canon_SD400.jpg

Posted by Paul at 03:14 PM

February 02, 2009

Twitter - Getting Up to Speed

I'm taking a second crack at Twitter, and am finding the experience much better than the first time 'round. I thank Gillian Shaw for her article in the Vancouver Sun that got me going again. The article lists several ways to find interesting people to "follow."

A few observations:

Don't be shy. People like to help and are generally friendly. As a fledgling Twitterer emulate what others are doing and how they are doing it (but be sure to give credit and cite sources.) Hint: read the little bits at the end of Tweets to see how people are accessing Twitter using various helpful applications.

Don't feel intimidated. I'm following several tech gurus, communications gurus, corporate leaders, authors of famous books... and they're all human. At least half of them were commenting on the Super Bowl yesterday :-), not discussing issues of earth-shaking importance. But they do share gems of info, too....

Don't feel overwhelmed. When you add people to follow you'll initially get a bunch of their tweets, and it can seem like a mass of info, but it will quickly settle down.

Don't feel compelled to Tweet. You don't have to post every hour. Once or twice a day is plenty, and people don't care if you post once a week if what you say is interesting. As with so much in life, it's not quantity but quality that counts.

When someone starts following you, check 'em out and follow them back even if you've never heard of them. Twitter is a massive conversation. If someone does end up boring you, or turns out to have texting diarrhea on inane topics, don't be shy about dropping those feeds, just like you'd politely disentangle yourself from someone at a party.

BTW, I'm paulcip on Twitter :-), and aim to stick around this time.

Posted by Paul at 08:10 AM

January 30, 2009

What a Bummer - Northern Voice Sold Out

What a bummer! The Northern Voice 2009 conference was sold out before I even heard about it. I attended the last couple of years, and I'm surprised there apparently was no notification to previous attendees that registration was open. Not that I'm a super blogger by any means, but I have enjoyed the previous conferences....

I guess I should have stayed subscribed to the RSS feed, but I don't see how an email to previous registrants could have hurt.

Posted by Paul at 02:08 PM

January 26, 2009

SATA Hard Drive Dock

Ever-increasing file sizes for digital photos are eating up hard disk space. I have a 16GB CF card in my Nikon D300 DSLR, and can fill that up in a day's shooting no problem. (To think that the first hard drive that I bought and installed in a computer around 20 years ago was a measly 32MB -- yes, that's MB, not GB! And it seemed huge in the days of DOS 3.X...)

Of course when I download photos to my computer, I immediately trash any that are out of focus, badly framed, poorly exposed, etc., but I've found HD space disappearing at an ever-increasing rate. The other issue is archiving, or backing up files. Even DVD-Rs seem small when it takes a dozen or more -- and growing daily -- to back my photo folders.

Enter the Unitek SATA Hard Drive Docking Station. I'm not sure if this is the maker, but anyway, this website has some nice photos and a good description of this cool gizmo's specs.

sata_dock_20090126.jpg

Basically it's an external dock that plugs into a USB 2.0 port, and you can hot-swap SATA hard drives into it. It also has a couple of downstream USB ports and a slew of memory card readers for good measure. I picked one up today at NCIX in Burnaby for $39.99, along with a Seagate 750GB 7200 rpm SATA2 hard drive for $89.99.

That ought to hold me for a bit, and the great thing is that you can simply pop additional HDs in and out of the dock as you please for backup, offsite storage, etc.

Posted by Paul at 07:49 PM

January 14, 2009

Eudora Blast From the Past

There was some discussion recently on the Editors' Association of Canada mailing list about email software, and several of us admitted to still using Eudora, which was orphaned over two years ago. It was first released in 1988, if I recall, and I'm still plugging away with version 5.1.

Some ardent fans are looking for replacements, as the Penelope project that was going to meld Eudora into Thunderbird doesn't seem to be progressing much.

Most people cited HTML-formatted email and display of other languages as two reasons to move on. I've come close to switching to Thunderbird several times, but the momentum of using Eudora for well over a decade keeps me shying away. Change! Learning a new interface and keyboard commands!

But I'll have to bite the bullet one of these days, because while I also have all of my email sent to Gmail, I still like downloading mail to my local computer.

Anyway, when I was poking around looking for Eudora-related material on the Web, I ran across this blast from the past:

"QUALCOMM's Eudora Software Selected by Microsoft for Distribution with Internet Explorer; Agreement joins most popular Internet email application with state-of-the-art Macintosh Web browser to provide integrated Internet messaging capabilities"

Business Wire, June 17, 1996

How times have changed...

Posted by Paul at 12:52 PM

January 10, 2009

Testing Photo Posting With ScribeFire

Let's try posting a photo with ScribeFire. I'm having some trouble doing this....



OK, that finally seemed to work after I configured the FTP settings to my blog...

Except I don't see any way to add a border to the photo without going into editing the tag manually...

ScribeFire also seems to be doing something strange with paragraphs -- rather than using "p" tags it's using double "br" tags...

Posted by Paul at 10:19 PM

Trying Out ScribeFire

I am testing the ScribeFire blogging app from Firefox 3.0. It took awhile to get it to log in to my MovableType platform...

Posted by Paul at 09:37 PM

January 09, 2009

Upgrading IBM T42 Notebook

I decided to upgrade my IBM (now Lenovo) T42 notebook computer with more RAM and a larger hard disk. When I bought it some three years ago, it came with 1GB of RAM and a 60GB disk. In these days of massive photo files, 60GB disappears in a hurry, so I ordered a 160GB drive and a RAM kit to upgrade the machine to 2GB of RAM from CanadaRam.

CanadaRam's service so far has been excellent. A rep called me as soon as I filled out my order on their website to confirm things, and to let me know that the Seagate drive that I wanted was out of stock, but they had an equivalent Samsung drive. Never having bought a Samsung HD before, I asked what sort of reputation they had, and he said the drives seemed to be fast and reliable. A quick Google search confirmed that general experience, so I went ahead with the Samsung.

The package arrived in a day, and I got to work on replacing the RAM modules first. There were two 512MB modules in the notebook, one easily accessible beneath a panel on the underside of the machine, but the other entailed removing the keyboard to get at it. There are good RAM replacement instructions here.

Unfortunately, after I replaced the two 512MB modules with the two 1GB modules that I'd ordered, the computer kept freezing on boot, or occasionally Windows XP would load, but the machine would freeze upon trying to open an application. That can indicate a wonky RAM module, and when I shuffled one of the old 512MB units back into the computer, it ran fine. So for now I have 1.5GB of RAM, and will speak with CanadaRam about swapping the apparently defective 1GB module.

Next up, replacing the hard disk. Instructions for the physical swap are here. Before doing the physical swap, I installed the new 160GB Samsung drive in an external USB 2.0 enclosure, and used Acronis True Image Home 2009 to "clone" the old drive to the new one. Cloning means that all of the contents of the old drive are copied to the new drive sector by sector so that *everything* is exactly cloned -- OS, applications, data, the works.

After cloning the new drive, I did the physical swap, booted up, and everything ran perfectly. There was no change at all, aside from free space increasing from 4.7GB to 97.8GB. Success!

Posted by Paul at 03:55 PM

December 08, 2008

Mapping Multiple Benefits of Marine Ecosystems

Interesting article on a joint project between Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund to develop software to assist in mapping the economic benefits of marine ecosystems.

I like the following quotation:

"'People tend to look at nature in one of two ways,' added Michael Wright, managing director of the Natural Capital Project. 'We either ignore the values it provides altogether, or we focus only on one specific commercial value, such as fisheries,' he said. 'We see individual pieces, not the whole. As a result, the collective value of nature is diminished. Through this grant we want to develop tools that do not just maximize the fisheries but capture all of the interests that depend on the oceans.'"

Any effort to broaden the way we calculate the "value" of nature is to be applauded.

Posted by Paul at 04:13 PM

November 21, 2008

Waiting for Dell... and waiting... and waiting

Do I stay or do I go? A new laptop should arrive from Dell today, seven weeks after I ordered it, and nearly five weeks after the supposed original delivery date. So I'm hanging around the office, hoping... though I do have errands to run...

Dell's customer service appears to have collapsed. If you Google "Dell" in the news, the company is in trouble, and from my recent experience, rightly so.

Over the past ten years I've ordered several computers from Dell, and have never experienced the delays and breakdown in communication that have dogged this last order.

I specifically wanted the new laptop ahead of a two-week vacation, and when the order form informed me that the estimated delivery date was Oct. 13, and I was departing on the 16th, I went ahead, assuming I had a cushion of a couple of days for any delay. Right.

Despite Dell's avowed policy of updating customers regarding any delays, I did not receive any notification, and left on my vacation without a new machine.

When I returned, over two weeks past the original estimated delivery date, there was still no computer. So I fired off an email to customer service and a day later received a reply apologizing for the delay, proposing a new estimated delivery date of Nov. 21 (today), but no mention about why they didn't proactively inform me about what was (not) happening.

So I sit here, and I check my order page online, and it still has a projected delivery date of Oct. 13, not Nov. 21... And the progress bar indicates that the notebook is still "In Production." Yet what do I believe, the apparently never-updated order status page, or the email from the customer service rep?

Argh!

How can you run a business like this? How can a company tumble so far?

Posted by Paul at 10:34 AM

August 11, 2008

Fish-Friendly Car Wash Kits

Having a car wash fundraiser? Make sure you're not polluting your local creek while you're at it -- all street drains lead directly to local waterways with no treatment. So what's the solution? A salmon-friendly car wash kit. I picked this up from the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation bulletin board and think it's a great idea.

Check out this info on the kits from our neighbours to the south in King County, Washington.

It would be great if the City of Burnaby would get a few of these kits and make them available at community centres!

Posted by Paul at 01:37 PM

July 14, 2008

Lotto Show Home Eco-Challenge

In this age of burgeoning fuel prices, water shortages, and rampant over-consumption, how about offering environmentally state-of-the-art show homes as prizes in hospital and other charity lotteries?

I'd much prefer a technological masterpiece, a well-crafted jewel, instead of the bloated, rambling, poorly finished, overdecorated monster houses that are par for the course for charity lotteries in the lower mainland of British Columbia.

I challenge these charities to take up the sustainability challenge!

Compete on the following features:

- Enviro-certified lumber and wood products
- Low/No-emission paint and carpets
- Low-flow water fixtures
- Dual-flush, low-flow toilets
- On-demand water heaters
- Passive solar water heating assist
- Supplemental active solar electricity generation
- The best in wall insulation and thermal windows
- Rain barrels
- Moisture-sensing drip irrigation
- Landscaping with no lawns
- Landscaping with native plants
- Vegetable gardens
- And on and on, the possibilities are endless

Any takers?

Posted by Paul at 09:18 PM

July 12, 2008

Lexmark Z816 Inkjet for $19

I picked up a Lexmark Z816 colour inkjet printer today at a second-hand shop for $19 -- the box had never been opened. I didn't know much about the printer, but I figured I couldn't go wrong for $19.

When I got home and checked the Web, I discovered the Z816 had originally been priced at $79, had already been discontinued, and had received middling reviews, but I tried a few test pages of colour text and photos, and was pleased with the results.

Heck, for $19, when the ink that came with the printer runs out, I could toss the whole thing in the trash anyway. Not that my anti-consumerism conscience would allow me to do so, but it's rather frightening to think of how easy it would be to do just that. What with the price of inkjet cartridges, it makes more personal economic sense to buy another $19 printer!

There's something wrong with this picture... What a wasteful society we live in. One that does not calculate the true economic costs of producing and trashing stuff like Lexmark Z816s...

Posted by Paul at 06:05 PM

June 17, 2008

New Sandals Reek of Rubber, Chemicals

I got two pairs of sandals today (Coast Mountain Sports had a buy one pair get the second at 50% off sale), a pair of Keen Newport H2 Hybrids that are designed to get wet and should be perfect for canoeing, streamkeeping, and beach walking, and a pair of North Face Sea Wrath Convertibles for more mundane everyday use over the summer. One of my old sandals blew out the other day, beyond gluing repair...

(BTW who comes up with these names? I checked the "Sea Wrath" labels several times, and yes, they really say "Sea Wrath" whatever that means... Was it supposed to be "Sea Wraith" and something got lost between here and China? As for the Newport H2 Hybrids, well Newport has the flair of a famous port, but H2? H20 as in water? Tough as a Hummer H2? Hybrid as in eco-friendly? Hybrid as in land and sea?)

Anyway, I think I'll like both sets of shoes, but man, that "new car" smell! When I brought them home I put the boxes in my office and opened them up to show them to my wife. When I went back down to my office a few hours later, whew! A rubbery, chemical odour had pervaded the room. I immediately put them in the garage to air out.

What with the news the other day of the toxins released from plastic shower curtains, the odour from the new sandals appeared to be cause for concern. I have no idea if the smell is associated with harmful chemicals, but when something turns your stomach, it's a good bet it isn't friendly to your system.

I don't intend to finger these two companies in particular, as I'm sure their competitors use similar materials. I've heard both try to do their bit for the environment. I just wonder about that initial smell!

Posted by Paul at 08:06 PM

June 01, 2008

A Trip Down Software Memory Lane

It's office cleaning time, and I'm purging the shelves and filing cabinets and storage boxes of stuff I'll never use again. Today I ran across a couple of boxes of ancient software -- no, not 5 1/4" floppies, those I got rid of some years ago -- but a lot on 3 1/2" floppies and CDs.

I found several versions of DOS, Windows 95 and 98, memory managers like QEMM and RamDoubler, all sorts of defunct utilities, etc. XyWrite, Word Perfect 5.1, ECCO, ProCom Plus, Central Point PC Tools.... Ten-year-old versions of Norton Utilities and Norton AV. Yikes!

It got me thinking about all that lost code, and the tens of thousands of person-hours that went into creating it. It's too bad it just falls by the wayside. It would be great if a lot of the old programs were open sourced, so the code could be studied and used in other initiatives. I loved a lot of those programs in their day!

I tossed most of it, just keeping a few editions of DOS and early Windows for nostalgia purposes. I also kept an ancient oddity of a DTP program called PFS First Publisher, because I ran across a backup disk of newsletters in PFS format that I used to write for a running club I belonged to when I lived in Japan. Dunno if I can even install it on any of the machines I have now...

Posted by Paul at 09:33 PM

April 03, 2008

Computer Disintegrating?

Strange things have been happening with my main work computer. The first sign of trouble with the Windows XP machine was when I became suspicious of louder than normal seeking noises from the hard drive and ran a CHKDSK on it a few weeks ago. The scan found a corrupted file which it proceeded to "repair," resulting in all the dates in my Palm calendar disappearing. Fortunately I synch with the Palm fairly often, so I reinstalled the Palm Desktop and synched back 99% of my schedule.

Then a few days ago Eudora froze while going through email and while trying to shut it down, XP crashed completely. When I rebooted, the computer would get to a point in the boot cycle and fail, going into endless rebooting loops. Oh-oh!

I used the XP install disc to boot into the Recovery Console and ran CHKDSK with the /R (repair) parameter. Once it finished, the computer booted OK, but very slowly. It also appears there are problems with the sound driver and that USB 2.0 ports have dropped to USB 1.1 speeds.

I backed up the hard drive and have been using the machine for a couple of days, but am worried about its flaky condition. While the HD is no longer chattering, I get the sense that it is likely going south, and perhaps there are issues with the motherboard as well, so it appears shopping for a new computer may be in order. In the meantime, I'm backing up My Documents and my email daily to a second internal hard drive, and every couple of days to an external drive as well.

Technology is great, but it also sucks when it takes up hours of your time fixing it. I wonder how many hours I've put in over the years replacing defunct hard drives and reinstalling software and restoring data? I've dealt with toasted hard drives at least three or four times for our own machines, and twice for family members.

So remember, it's not IF your hard drive will die some day, it's WHEN it will die. Some people are lucky and go years and years without encountering such problems, but my experience indicates that after three to five years of intensive use, HDs start developing Alzheimer's. Multiply that over four or five computers in our house/office and that's a major meltdown once every year or so.

Backup, backup, backup!

Posted by Paul at 10:41 PM

March 11, 2008

Shaw Email Outage Drags On

Email services through Shaw have been down for over two days already, and the outage is getting very frustrating. I first noticed that I was not receiving messages on Sunday. I kept sending test messages to myself and to my Gmail account, and I finally appeared to catch up when messages began trickling in through Shaw on Monday morning, but by later in the day, email was out again. As I write this at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Shaw's email is still down. I have spoken to others who are experiencing the same problem, so its not just me. I don't understand how it could be down so long...

UPDATE: 3:44 p.m. My domain provider says that Shaw is blocking messages from my personal and business domains. They will work on getting Shaw to stop the block.

March 12 UPDATE: Apparently some of my domains were forwarding substantial amounts of spam to my Shaw email account -- something that I was not aware of. My domain host and I have implemented measures to get control of the situation, but I am still bothered that Shaw never told me what was going on, and implemented the block without informing me.

Posted by Paul at 07:04 AM

January 24, 2008

Cheap Latch Could be Deadly

The other day my wife was leaving the house and the door wouldn't open. I thought she was kidding, but when I went down the stairs and turned the handle back and forth, it wouldn't open for me, either.

Eventually she left through the garage while I attempted to fix the problem. I took the lock apart, and discovered that the latch portion had worn out, so that when you turned the handle, the "cam" did not draw the "slide" and nothing happened (Note: I'm not a locksmith so I'm making up my own terminology here...). I took a closer look at the part and was dismayed to see it was made from plastic and flimsy metal.

Yikes! What if the house had been on fire?

I replaced the part with a slightly sturdier-looking one from Rona (albeit still stamped metal and plastic), and remain a bit unnerved by the sensation of not having been able to open our door to get out of our house!

cheap_latch_1.jpg

cheap_latch_2.jpg

Posted by Paul at 07:22 PM

December 19, 2007

Ludicrous Price for Car Remote Entry Fob

The remote entry (door unlocking) fob to our '98 Subaru Outback cracked the other day, so it fell off my keychain. I knew replacing it would be expensive, figuring perhaps $50-60. So I called the dealer, and was told, get this, $144. Yikes!

Now you've got a couple of square centimeters of molded plastic and a tiny circuit board -- I'd be surprised if the cost to make one of these gizmos exceeded $4-5. Toss in a couple of bucks for shipping, a few more bucks for labor to order and stock the thing, and I still don't see how it could cost more than $10. Oops, how about programming it? OK, let's add $10 for at most ten minutes of work. Ah, the time to write up the invoice and run my credit card... Another $5? We're now up to $25, and unless I'm really missing something, that's generous.

That's quite the markup!

Anyway, Yumi sewed a little leatherette casing around the cracked case, I drilled a hole in the corner of the leatherette, and voila, it's back on the keychain and we saved $144 (not to mention taxes...).

Posted by Paul at 08:01 PM

November 24, 2007

C$ Rip-Offs: Apple Computers

I haven't bought an Apple computer in 15 years, but admit to technolust that drives me to visit the Apple website every month or two. Now that the Canadian dollar has been stronger than the US dollar for some time, I thought I'd compare prices on the Apple Canada and Apple US websites. I was not surprised to see that the Canadian prices were higher, because Canadian consumers have been ripped off by most companies for many years.

apple_ca_prices_20071124.jpg
Base prices on the Canadian site.

apple_us_prices_20071124.jpg
Base prices on the US site.

Update on Dec. 4, 2007: OK, the Canuck buck slipped back below the US greenback by a smidgen today...

Posted by Paul at 09:17 PM

September 25, 2007

Intuit Comes Through on WillExert Problem

Awhile back I wrote about my frustrations with Intuit's WillExpert program, and came to some harsh conclusions. In all fairness, I must update that judgment. I gave the program one more shot today, still couldn't get it to print, and then grasped the final straw -- a call to tech support.

I hate calling in for support because I usually end spending hours on the phone. My negative feelings were bolstered when the automated call system told me that Intuit no longer provided telephone support for WillExpert and that I should email my problem in.

What the heck, I did just that, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a response in a few hours with instructions that solved the problem. Thanks!

Posted by Paul at 06:58 PM

September 05, 2007

Great Info on wikiHow

I just ran across a site called wikiHow "The How-to Manual That You Can Edit."

It has several entries related to streamkeeping and stormwater management.

Here is an entry on creating a rain garden.

And another one on how to
reduce stormwater runoff at your home
.

Looks like there are plenty of other goodies, too.

Posted by Paul at 07:39 PM

Embedding Google Maps

Google Maps can be easily embedded on other websites. Here I'm testing it out with a map of Byrne Creek Ravine Park, where we do a lot of streamkeeping work.


View Larger Map

The odd thing is, no matter how I adjust the map, and copy and paste the new HTML, I keep getting the original map I searched for. I've deleted my cache, and no joy.

Hey, shutting down Firefox and re-starting it finally shows me the new map! What gives? Hm. It's not an image, so the cache should have nothing to do with it. It's a line of HTML code, but why wouldn't Firefox read the changed code?

Hey, again, the map is still live, so you can play with right from my blog! Cool!

Posted by Paul at 06:34 PM

July 18, 2007

Apple MacBook HD Mixup

Was browsing the Apple Canada website and ran across this interesting option:

macbook_hard_disk_mixup.jpg

Yes, it took me a moment to spot it -- the text says you can choose from among 80, 100 or 120GB hard disks, but the clickable options include only 160 and 200GB drives :-). The error is only with the black MacBook and also exists on the Apple US website.

Posted by Paul at 06:10 PM

July 13, 2007

Intuit's WillExpert Sucks

I am fed up with Intuit's WillExpert. I am generally a fan of Intuit products, using Quicken for my personal finances and QuickBooks Pro for my company, but I've had nothing but trouble with WillExpert.

I bought a copy of WillExpert a few years ago, and it refused to run unless I signed on as an Administrator in Windows XP. This is plain foolishness -- you should never be logged on as Administrator unless you need to do system maintenance tasks. Then eventually WillExpert just refused to let me use it -- I forget if it thought I'd printed too many copies, or whatever, but I never successfully completed a will using it.

Recently I bought a new edition of WillExpert, and it refused to even install on my main Windows XP computer. So I tried another Windows XP box, and it began to install but then it wanted to install Acrobat Reader 5 because the already installed Reader 7 was an "older version." Huh?! I told the installer I didn't want Reader 5, so it refused to install WillExpert. Sheesh! That's as far as I've gotten and I don't know if I want to waste more time on this software lemon.

The hours I've wasted on WillExpert would have paid for a lawyer...

Update: July 17, 2007

I finally got WillExpert installed on a backup computer by allowing it to install Reader 5, even though Reader 7 was already on the target machine. I ran through the Wizard, asked it to print out a draft will, and it shut down with an error message. Tried again, same outcome. It really is a lemon!

Posted by Paul at 08:57 PM

July 09, 2007

Learning the Telephone Computer Game

Several times over the last few months our call-screening has been evaded and we've picked up the phone and said "Hi" only to hear a digitized voice respond: "Sorry, that is not a valid response."

So tonight I received a call from "Private Number" and picked up the phone to hear "Congratulations!" Before the recorded message went any further, I intoned: "Sorry, that is not a valid response" and hung up.

Of course it was not a victory in any sense at all, but it felt good just saying the words :-).

We occasionally get snookered by the "Private Number" display because that's what often comes up when family and friends call us from Japan.

Posted by Paul at 07:21 PM

May 16, 2007

The Demise of CRT Computer Monitors

When my Mom died last month, I inherited her three-year-old Dell computer and newer 20" LCD monitor. I replaced my 21" Dell CRT monitor with the 20" Dell LCD because they both have 1600 X 1200 resolution, and the LCD takes up less space and uses less power. I also have a 17" Sony CRT and a 19" Sony CRT sitting out in the garage, so I decided to put all three CRT monitors up for sale. After a bit of research I discovered that you can barely give these units away!

Those three monitors -- the Sony 17" and 19" units, and the 21" Dell -- had an original combined cost of over $2,000, but I'll be lucky to get $100 - $150 for the lot these days. It's a shame because they're all excellent units, but it appears CRT monitors are dead. I know CRTs are still preferred for some applications, but those who need them already have them.

I hope tens and hundreds of thousands of CRT monitors aren't being dumped in landfills around the world. My city, Burnaby, accepts computer equipment for recycling at the Still Creek recycling center.

Posted by Paul at 09:01 PM

March 09, 2007

Cory Doctorow on The Totalitarian Urge

Science fiction writer and Internet and DRM activist Cory Doctorow spoke about The Totalitarian Urge: Total Information Awareness and the Cosmic Billiards at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby this afternoon.

MP3 files of two talks Doctorow gave at SFU are available here.

A few notes:

People are hard, technology is easy.

The Internet has stimulated amazing works of collaboration that arise spontaneously. Collaboration is now so cheap that you don't even know it is going on. Anyone who has ever linked to a web page has contributed to collaborating. And now we have tagging of blogs and images.

The Open Source movement built by volunteers is amazing, and has changed our notion of what can be done by loosely controlled groups of volunteers.

People will use technology for freedom faster than it can be walled off. Company employees treat systems administrators as damage and route around them.

The more control there is, the less efficient we become.

Net neutrality vs quality of service -- it is more efficient to simply provide more bandwidth.

The Internet is also open to adding more control. Total information awareness is the idea that if we have enough data we can understand the world. This is leading to black lists, no-fly lists. Yet when you're watching everyone, you are watching no one. The Stasi in East Germany had a file on everyone, yet they didn't know the Wall was coming down. We need to distinguish between technologies that track us for our own benefit, and those that track us to spy on us.

RFID (radio frequency identification tags that are increasingly embedded in products) are setting us on a course for non-stop identification and tracking. We are being conditioned to live in a surveillance state.

Forward valuing is hard to do, but we must learn how to do it both in regard to privacy issues and a sustainable environment.

Posted by Paul at 07:07 PM

February 13, 2007

Toshiba Tecra 530CDT RIP

It's amazing how attached we get to lifeless chunks of technology, and how hard it can be to part with them. My Toshiba Tecra 530CDT notebook computer was a recent addition to the scrapheap. I tore it apart a couple of weeks ago -- it hurt, but I wanted to make sure nothing could be recovered from it, should someone try to scavenge data from it.

I bought it back in 1998, when I learned my Dad had prostate cancer and I quit my job in Tokyo and flew to Saskatchewan to see him. Even then it was a discontinued model that I got at a deep discount, but it kept me in touch with my wife while I was away, and it helped start the business I am still running today, when we moved to Canada in January 1999.

The Tecra sat for years on my desk, though I used it less and less, and replaced it with an IBM T42 about a year and half ago. With a 166MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, a 2GB hard drive, and Windows 98b the Tecra had become a door stop long ago. It was a solid machine, though, and I miss its presence in a strange way. A lot of good, and bad, times flew from my fingers into its keyboard, to wife, relatives, friends, and clients.

toshiba_tecra_530CDT.jpg

Posted by Paul at 08:21 PM

November 14, 2006

Firefox 2.0 Slow to Load Pages?

Firefox has been my browser of choice ever since it came out, but the latest version, 2.0, has been irritating. It seems to be very slow at loading websites, especially after it's been up and running for some time. I can run Firefox 2 and Explorer 6 on Win XP Pro, and sites that never finish loading on Firefox load in a flash on Explorer. If I shut Firefox 2 down and restart it, it loads sites just fine, but gradually slows to a crawl again.

I also found that I had trouble downloading a bunch of programs from Adobe using Firefox 2 recently. I was finally upgrading to Macromedia Studio 8, and downloads of Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, etc., kept choking and dying mid-stream on Firefox 2. When I switched over to Explorer 6, I downloaded all the applications in the suite with no problems.

Hm. I didn't have any such issues with Firefox 1.5.X. I don't see a huge hue and cry about this on the web, though there are a few complaints out there. Whatever it is, I hope it's rectified soon, 'cause I love Firefox!

Dang, it's happening again! I was looking for URLs to add to this post, and Firefox 2 began choking up again. It just doesn't load pages, or gets stuck halfway through.

Posted by Paul at 07:57 PM

October 13, 2006

Eudora Going Open Source

My long-standing email program of choice, Eudora, is going open source in collaboration with Mozilla's Thunderbird project. This is cool!

See the press release.

I've often considered switching to Thunderbird, but I've been using Eudora for so long that it's tough to change. I'm looking forward to great things happening.

Posted by Paul at 09:28 PM

May 04, 2006

Privacy and Digitizing, Networking Health Care Records

The issue of digitizing and networking medical records has appeared in various panels at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference that I have been attending.

Here is some info on the Canadian initiative.

And here is a US patient privacy rights website on some of the privacy and security implications of what has been happening in the US.

This is something that very few people are aware of, particularly the security and privacy implications. Who gets to access such a database? How are those people authenticated? Can they download and save information to local computers? How are those computers secured? Can they print out information? Can I access my own information? How do I authenticate myself? If I think there are errors in my information, can I correct them? How? How are patients identified? Is there a common identifier across all of a person's records, or are there firewalls between various sorts of data? Can my dentist access what my gynecologist can access? Can insurance companies access that data? Can other branches of the government? The police? Are warrants required? Where is the data hosted? If it's in the US, other laws may apply, and the US government may be able to access that data secretly using anti-terrorist directives... It goes on and on.

One panelist said hey, forget it, the insurance companies already know all this stuff about all of us....

Posted by Paul at 11:14 AM

Spychips: Laying the Ground for Pervasive Computer Surveillance

Katherine Albrecht from CASPIAN, or Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, spoke on the potential negative privacy and security impact of RFID tagging at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference. Albrecht has written Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID, and there is a Spychips website.

Good info on RFID technology. Companies are experimenting with RFID tags in clothing and in indvidual items that you might buy. The problem is many of these initiatives are secret and consumers are not being told what the technology does.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation represented the other side of the debate. He said that the debate is all about whether we are for progress and optimism or not. New technology always creates fear. America has always made the choice for excitement and going forward. He did agree that secret tagging should be illegal, but overall felt tagging had many benefits.

Yet concerns remain. Some business models are very invasive. Some companies are placing RFID tags into clothing labels and into shoes. One plan wants to plant RFID readers in cell phones so that when we are walking down the street and see someone wearing something we like, we can scan them and find out where the item is sold. Uibiquitous readers are planned so that the moment you walk into a store, a doorway reader can scan a tagged customer loyalty card and know your complete purchase history.

I see the benefits of RFID, however I'm certainly going to check out the security and privacy concerns.

Posted by Paul at 07:52 AM

May 03, 2006

Northern Exposure: Lessons From Canada?s National Privacy Law Regime

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) made a presentation on compliance with Canada's national privacy law at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference in Washington, D.C., this afternoon. A few quick notes:

CIPPIC just released a report finding widespread violations of Canada's privacy laws, though Canadian industry was on board for implementing the law in the first place because consumers were becoming increasingly nervous about online ecommerce and other activities.

The PIPEDA federal legislation began being phased in about six years ago. The act applies generally and provinces can enact their own legislation based on the act.

Companies must designate a chief privacy officer and must have a privacy policy. What information is collected and how is it used and disclosed? To whom is it disclosed? How can consumers access and correct information, because organizations are obliged to correct mistakes and share changes with other organizations it has shared data with. Companies may not require consent for supply of service, beyond what is reasonably necessary.

What happens if an organization doesn?t comply? Anyone can complain and privacy commissioners have broad investigatory powers. However, commissioners have no order-making powers and courts are the next recourse.

CIPPIC found widespread non-compliance. In a survey, several companies had no privacy policies. Over half could not name the person responsible for privacy. Overall, 70% of privacy policies failed to fully comply with PIPEDA.

Other data showed that 86% of companies that did share data did not say in their privacy policies who they share with. Over a third of companies did not respond at all to access requests. Only 21% fully complied.

Enforcement is key. Companies need incentives to comply. Market forces are not providing these incentives. The law needs teeth. Companies are still not complying after five years. There is no real risk of penalty for non-compliance. Companies know they will only be slapped on the wrist behind closed doors.

In the question period the difference between ?reasonable? and ?necessary? information came up. PIPEDA keeps talking about "reasonable" however Quebec legislation states "necessary," and "reasonable" is much more open to interpretation.

Posted by Paul at 11:55 AM

Senator Patrick Leahy Opens CFP 2006

Senator Patrick Leahy opened the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference by pointing to three key trends: a post 9/11 interest in security; a coming digital data micro-monitoring revolution; and a rapid post 9/11 rise of partnerships between government and private data collectors, and outsourcing of data collection and management.

He said there has been a blurring of lines of privacy protection. Private data agencies are becoming akin to mini CIAs. We face many risks, but we have to get the balance between security and privacy right. The public doesn?t want false assurances or to be unduly alarmed. We want to actually be safer, and we have a long way to go to accomplish that. New technologies shape the way we understand privacy. There have to be checks. Modern databases, networks are the defining challenge for privacy.

We are on the verge of a revolution in micro monitoring that can lead to widespread surveillance of our daily lives. Governments are increasingly using techology to monitor people. Nobody is above the law, you can?t pick and choose. The FBI has infiltrated groups across the country?religious, environmental, etc. Suppose you protest a tax policy, the building of a road, an environmental issue?should your group be infiltrated by your government? In the current environment, the Bill of Rights would not be ratified. Is this what we want to give our children? We should use info-gathering technology to protect ourselves, but there is no blanket right to spy on citizens.

We want to encourage innovation but ensure privacy.

The government is retroactively classifying data. This devotion to secrecy is often to conceal mistakes.

Technology is moving faster than we can predict. If we give up the rights we fought for in the Revolution, the Civil War, and two world wars, what are we going to leave for the next generation.

Posted by Paul at 06:44 AM

May 01, 2006

Off to Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 in Washington, DC

We headed out to Washington, DC, where I'll take in the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference, along with some sightseeing. Yumi is tagging along.

We had a bit of excitement along the way in Toronto, where we changed planes. There was extra security on for flights into Washington's Reagan National Airport because of its close proximity to the center of government. We had to clear security again before entering the departure lounge, with all carry on baggage checked by hand.

We boarded the Embraer 175 and after awhile the captain came on the PA system and said there was a glitch with a computer and they would have to power down the entire plane and reboot it. It took about 90 seconds in darkness before they fired it back up. Then a few minutes later he came back on the PA with a command to deplane immediately and leave all personal belongings behind because a fuel truck near the plane was smoking. The plane was only about a third full so we scrambled off quickly.

After about 15 minutes back in the departure lounge, the captain said there had been an electrical problem on the fuel truck, and that the fire marshal had cleared us back onto the plane. An adventure to start the trip! We departed about 45 minutes late.

The ride in to Washington was spectacular in the dark with the major monuments and government buildings lit up. The approach to Reagan National provides an excellent view of the Mall, and you can see why they have the extra security for Reagan flights. It?s only seconds from the flight path to major sites. Yumi tried to snap a photo or two, but the turbulence resulted in smeared streaks of light.

The L?Enfant Plaza Hotel was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps it was a "4-star luxury" hotel 20 years ago? The TV in our bathroom is a tiny old thing, the toilet paper roll doesn?t stay seated, the furniture is somewhat "distressed" and there is generally a tired air about the rooms and hallways. The mini bar was not stocked, though I suspect that if it had been we would have avoided it anyway -- prices for room service and hotel restaurants are not encouraging for us hillbillies :-).

I was also disappointed to find that the hotel's wireless Internet access was not included but cost an extra $9.95/day or $24.95 for three days. I guess now that so many people are free from usurious hotel telephone charges, hotels are trying to make up the lost revenue in high-speed Internet access. Seeing as I have to do homework for my Royal Roads MA in Professional Communication course while I'm here and interact daily on online discussion boards, I had no choice but to cough up. Dial-up was an option, but it would have been irritatingly slow.

Posted by Paul at 11:52 PM

April 26, 2006

WiFi in California Parks

Just discovered that California is offering WiFi connectivity in some of its state parks. Will have to check out how common this is. Usually when we go camping, we're trying to "get away from it all," but then again, we could go camping for longer periods if we could do a little work too. Hm. Have to think about this one :-)! Wonder if/when BC parks would have such service?

Check it out.

The information isn't all that clear to me, but it looks like you can get access for US$7.95/day.

Posted by Paul at 02:47 PM

April 03, 2006

South Korea Zooms Ahead in Domestic Robots, Internet

Interesting article in the New York Times on South Korea's widening technology lead in communications and robotics.

"South Korea, the world's most wired country, is rushing to turn what sounds like science fiction into everyday life. The government, which succeeded in getting broadband Internet into 72 percent of all households in the last half decade, has marshaled an army of scientists and business leaders to make robots full members of society."

The initiative aims to get a productive robot into every home between 2015 and 2020, while one scientist would like to hit that goal by 2010.

As for Internet connectivity, "Since January, Koreans have been able to watch television broadcasts on cellphones, free, thanks to government-subsidized technology. In April, South Korea will introduce the first nationwide superfast wireless Internet service, called WiBro, eventually making it possible for Koreans to remain online on the go ? at 10 megabits per second, faster than most conventional broadband connections."

This is all well ahead of Canada, which is considered to be one of the most wired western countries, and way ahead of the U.S. Japan, too, is much more wired, and "wirelessed" than North America, and has a culture that is more accepting of robots. It will be interesting to see how this technology lead continues to play out in the future.

The NYT article goes on to say that there have been negative ramifications in terms of privacy, however the government is also developing "IT Ethics" curriculum for schools to teach online manners and respect.

Posted by Paul at 09:00 PM

April 02, 2006

Testing Qumana

I am testing the Qumana blog editor. It says "Content is empty. Nothing to publish."
 
Aha, but it worked after I added another sentence. Strange.
 
OK, but each time I modify this file and upload, it makes it a whole new post, instead of modifying the original post!
 
Ah, I have to double-click the post in the left window, and it opens up with an "Edit Post"  button.
 
OK, but can I save a draft and then change the time and date? I don't see any way to do so, and can't find anything in the help file.
 
Let's try inserting some tags.
Technorati Tags : ,
 
On the last update, Qumana froze and I had to use Task Manager to shut it down. This is supposedly the latest stable version -- 2.0.2.96. Not very promising... And when I look at the code that Qumana is producing, it's throwing out bunches of DIVs with non-breaking spaces to create paragraphs, compared to the simple "p" tags used by Movable Type if I edit using the regular Web interface. Hmmm....
Posted by Paul at 10:14 PM

Testing Qumana

I am testing the Qumana blog editor. It says "Content is empty. Nothing to publish."
 
Aha, but it worked after I added another sentence. Strange.
Posted by Paul at 10:12 PM

March 27, 2006

DRM = CRAP

"ZDNet Executive Editor David Berlind suggests that CRAP or Content, Restriction, Annulment, and Protection, is a catchier phrase than DRM - Digital Rights Management. Why does he think this technology is crap? Once you've bought music or other content to play on one device, it won't play on any other device because of the proprietary layer of CRAP."

Great little 3-minute video!

I have yet to buy a portable digital player -- I'm still catching up on ripping my CDs to my computer -- but when I do, I would certainly want it to be free of C.R.A.P.

Yeah, what a dinosaur :-). I'd be more likely to have an iPod or other player if I still lived in Tokyo and rode the train to work every day, but having worked from home in the Vancouver area for the last six years, I've had no pressing need for one.

That said, I admit I have been getting more of an itch to get an iPod -- they're just so darn cute -- but I'd likely limit what I put on it to C.R.A.P.-free MP3s and podcasts.

Posted by Paul at 11:05 AM

March 26, 2006

Logitech Z-2300 Speakers Rock

I bought a set of Logitech "Z-2300 Extreme THX?-certified 2.1 performance speakers" for my computer at Best Buy yesterday. They were on sale for C$99.99 from a list price of C$229.99, a deal I couldn't pass up.

I've spent the last couple of hours ripping dozens of CDs to my computer, listening to the huge improvement in sound quality as I do so. These speakers pump out 200 watts of RMS power, and are very crisp and clean compared to my muddy old GNT-5000 32 watt 2.1 speakers that cost about $45 new.

I hadn't been listening to music much on my computer, but that's going to change. The Z-2300s are a joy to listen to. The wired remote is also very handy, with a master volume, subwoofer volume, headphone jack, and power/standby switch. No more feeling around under the desk for knobs, switches and jacks!

Now I'm thinking about a Creative Sound Blaster X-FI sound card to augment the built-in sound on my Intel motherboard...

Posted by Paul at 04:48 PM

March 23, 2006

Passport Office Wait Times Wildly Off

I was applying for a new passport today so I checked the Canadian passport office website for times and locations.

I was happy to see that the site had average wait times posted. I saw that the Surrey office was averaging ten minutes and the Vancouver office was at 18 minutes. Surrey is a bit closer anyway, so I took the Skytrain to the office, arriving less than half an hour after I'd checked the website.

There was a line out into the hallway when I got there around 12:50 p.m. Hmm. I was assigned a number at 1:04 p.m. My number was called at 2:13 p.m. That's 69 minutes from getting a number to getting service, or seven times the wait posted on the website. The real wait was 83 minutes, or over eight times what was posted.

I asked a staff member how often the website was updated. She shouted down the row and a guy answered that it was refreshed about every ten minutes. Right. She said the wait time was always around an hour.

While I laud the government in its high-tech, near real-time efforts, what is the point of providing wildly innacurate data? Rather than smoothing the process, it just makes clients angrier because it raises false expectations.

When I checked the website again at 3:30 p.m., the wait time was posted as 18 minutes.

Just give us the truth, OK?

Posted by Paul at 03:30 PM

March 20, 2006

Shaw Mail Attachment Troubles Create Havoc

We received a barrage of phone calls and faxes from a client in Japan late last night regarding missing files that we had sent by email nearly 12 hours earlier.

It took until nearly midnight to resolve the problem, which initially was caused by problems with Shaw's mail server in handling file attachments, and was later exacerbated by a total loss of Shaw Internet connectivity.

It appears the problem began when Shaw's mail server would time out when uploading email with attachments. I've heard of other Shaw users complain about this issue recently. The bottom line was that our client in Japan did not receive our translations on time.

By the time we learned of the problem by telephone and fax, Shaw was down completely. Rebooting the cable modem, rebooting computers, nothing helped. Our Shaw connection was out for several hours.

I finally tried using my laptop to dial up using the ATT Business Internet account that we occasionally use on the road. I had trouble getting connected, and eventually got a message that my password had been revoked, however the dialup program allowed me to access only the ATT site so that I could re-enter my credit card number and set a new password. No explanation why the password had been revoked, however I had not used the account in seven or eight months.

Internet at last, at a blazing 26.6 kbps! I got the files to our client, and went to bed frazzled.

The ATT backup (after the revoked password issue was solved) saved our bacon.

Recently Telus has been badgering us to switch to ADSL, which is finally available in our complex after nearly four years of waiting though we're just a few miles from the Telus head office. I was tempted to get it in addition to Shaw for backup, but backed out after reconsidering the $30/month cost.

Then again, that would be a small price to pay to ensure our business has Internet access 24/7.... Hmm.... But would we really have 24/7 access? I've heard of problems with Telus, too. Sigh.

For the occasional Shaw problem, the ATT barebones dialup account for $12/month will probably do.

UPDATE: I heard from Shaw on Thursday, March 23, that its mail server had been added to the SORBS spam-blocking list in error, and that Shaw is trying to correct this as soon as possible.

Posted by Paul at 08:39 AM

March 17, 2006

Ephemeral Blogs, Computer Records

Through this entry on Doc Searl's blog I found a link to Jeffrey Zeldman's blog in which Zeldman writes:

"Anyone who has worked long and hard on a blog, zine, or web product realizes how ephemeral they are. (We are Ozymandias.) Preserving blogs is a multilayered task involving curatorial and editorial acumen, systems and programming skills, an understanding of copyright law, and more. If the preservationists do their job right, people 25 years from now will have some inkling of what we have created in this time. If they get it wrong, our work turns to sand."

I've thought about how ephemeral blogs can be unless there is some system for archiving them. If I die, or stop paying my Web host, all of the writing in my blog would disappear. Of course I keep backups, but who knows how to find and access them? Not even my wife knows. And it's not only my blog. I have all sorts of information on my computer and scattered on the Web on various services.

When I had a health scare that put me in the hospital for a week awhile back, I suddenly realized that so much of my life was on my computer, and that my wife, or an executor, would have no idea what to look for, where to find it, or what all my user names and passwords are. I'd told my wife the password to my encrypted password-management program, however she'd long forgotten it, or that the program even existed.

Or how about the Web sites I administer? I don't have many, but I do have a site for a client and a few non-profits that I volunteer with, and nobody aside from me knows how to access them. Not good.

I need to have a plan in place, and information in a safety deposit box to cover for me. Nobody likes thinking about their own demise, but people had better start thinking about what they have on their computers and parked all over the Web, and how others would be able to access that data.

Posted by Paul at 08:27 PM

March 14, 2006

Gmail Slowing Down?

Is it just me, or is Gmail experiencing growth problems? Several times over the last couple of weeks I have run into trouble accessing the service. I use Gmail only for schoolwork, and keep my personal and business email separate, but it has been irritating on occasion. It also makes me wonder if I would ever trust all my email to Gmail or another Web email service (I use Yahoo as backup for my regular business account) -- not that I've never run into glitches with my regular mail services...

gmail_oops.jpg
Oops indeed!

Though I have yet to use it, the Gmail chat system also seems to be having problems.

google_chat_problem_20060314.jpg

Posted by Paul at 05:26 PM

March 12, 2006

USB Port Zaps Computer

When I started to plug my Canon SD400 digital camera into a USB port on my main tower computer today, there was a short, sharp static hiss, and the computer died. Yikes! I'd recently read about improperly grounded USB ports frying motherboards, however I'd plugged the camera into that handy front port dozens of times with no problem.

With a final paper due for a course in my MA in Communications program at Royal Roads University later today, I was a bit perturbed, to say the least, though I'd synched with my laptop a day ago so I had a fairly recent version of the paper on it. I also have an external Maxtor USB drive backing things up automatically.

Hitting the power switch did nothing, so I unplugged the computer, waited a couple of minutes, plugged it back in and hit the power again. It finally booted, but Windows XP Pro took a lot longer to get to a login screen than usual.

I finished my paper and posted it, and then I tried the camera again. Zap. So I did the unplug routine again, and tried the camera one more time. It finally made the USB connection without shutting down the computer, however a popup window informed me that the download from the camera would be slow because I was not using a USB 2.0 port. Huh? It used to be a 2.0 port!

Rather than roll the dice on the front port again, I plugged the camera cable and my Palm cable into rear ports, however they too are now running at the much slower USB 1.1. I haven't solved the mystery yet, but if the motherboard hasn't been crippled, perhaps reinstalling the USB drivers might do the trick.

Update March 17, 2006: I checked the BIOS settings today and discovered that USB 2.0 "High Speed" had been disabled. I enabled it, and now downloads are zipping along like they used to. I'm still avoiding those front USB ports though!

Posted by Paul at 08:01 PM

February 16, 2006

Doctorow on Blogs, DRM, Privacy

Great interview (part one, and
part two
) with Cory Doctorow in Red Hat Magazine:

"I don't think that... information necessarily wants to be free or doesn't want to be free or whatever. I just think that...if your business model is based on bits not getting copied you are screwed."

"I think that in order to be a technology activist, you have to be an optimist and a pessimist. You have to be an optimist in that you believe that technology can be a tool for genuine liberation ... and positive social change and for democracy.... You have to rather devote your energy to seeing to it that those positive outcomes from technology come to being."

Posted by Paul at 03:47 PM

February 13, 2006

Effects of Blogs on Mass Media

A few fellow learners in the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program at Royal Roads University have asked to see a paper I did on blogging, so I've decided to post it here. (Newsdaily Canada has linked to this paper.)

The Effects of Blogs on Mass Media
From a Media Theory Perspective

by Paul Cipywnyk

Introduction

This paper explores the effects of Web logs, or blogs, on traditional mass media with reference to media theory. It covers the evolving relationship between blogs and mass media since the first blog was set up at the end of 1997 (Lyons, 2005), and how the blogging medium may face the imposition of regulation in the future.

The premise of this paper is that this simple, yet powerful communication medium has already had a significant impact on traditional mass media. While this impact will increase in the future as this technological change challenges traditional social discourse in a post-modern fracturing of the social equilibrium, there are also signs that normative effects may tame this publishing free-for-all to some extent over the next decade, along with the possibility of increased legal constraints and attempts at greater corporate control of the medium.

The Rise of Blogging Technology

Blogs have become an increasingly prominent means of communication on the Internet, and continue to proliferate rapidly. "A hundred thousand new blogs are created every day, more than one new blog per second, says Technorati, a firm in San Fransisco that tracks the content of 20 million active blogs" (Lyons, 2005, p. 131). Many companies, including major Internet players such as Google and Microsoft, offer free blogging services that allow users to easily post text, photos, and audio and video files to a blog simply by using forms through a Web browser, without having to know the underlying markup languages. Blogs typically present a series of chronological posts with the latest at the top of the page, with earlier entries being pushed downward, and eventually archived onto separate pages. Bloggers usually provide links to news or events or products that they write about, and commonly include RSS feeds that enable readers to monitor new posts to blogs they are interested in through automatically updated aggregators on their computers, or through Web sites that offer such aggregation services.

Blogging's Impact on Traditional Mass Media

The free-wheeling, personalized phenomenon of blogging exemplifies a post-modern world driven by technological change. "According to Marx, the capitalist class ? the bourgeoisie ? control the 'production and distribution of ideas' because of their control of the 'means of material production'" (Williams, 2003, p. 37), yet these days, anyone with access to the Internet can have a free or inexpensive printing press. The blogging phenomenon was enabled by technological change, and in turn is forcing mass media to modify long-standing journalistic practices. While Internet access is far from universal, technology has enabled individuals to challenge traditional mass media in ways that were impossible as recently as a decade ago.

The development of blogging has enabled individual reporting on events from a personal point of view, and when masses of bloggers question or directly confront reporting in traditional mass media, their collective power can be persuasive. For example, bloggers focused attention on racist remarks by former U.S. Speaker of the House Trent Lott, elevating a back-page story to a campaign of criticism that forced his removal (Kahn & Kellner, 2004). In another case, bloggers created "a media frenzy over the dishonest reporting that was exposed recently at the New York Times? (and) set upon the newsprint giant, whipping up so much controversy and hostile journalistic opinion that the Times?s executive and managing editors were forced to resign in disgrace" (Kahn & Kellner, 2004, p. 92).

According to post-modern media theory, audiences have the power to passively or actively resist media messages, and they cannot be fooled or manipulated by the mass media (Williams, 2003). Now, with the interactivity and personal publishing of blogging, mass media are facing a "community (that) is far from shy about going after journalists for offenses real and imagined, shocking thin-skinned journalists unused to being scrutinized the way they scrutinize others. Everything? is now subject to public analysis, comparison and fact-checking" (Singer, 2005, p. 180). Williams (2003) writes that the liberal theory of press freedom posits that "the smooth operation of the political system depended on the free expression of public opinion" (p. 39), and that the press acts as the voice of the people, and is accountable to them, as the fourth estate. Blogging is to some extent removing this intermediary function, and is putting the power of the press into individual hands. Blogs go beyond the structures of traditional journalism, drop much of the gatekeeping and filtering done by mass media, do not rely on corporate sponsors, and are even scooping the mainstream press (Wall, 2005).

Yet traditional mass media are not going away, and are not losing their influence. Bloggers often cite, and link to, material provided on Web sites run by huge media conglomerates. Research about war blogs that mushroomed after the invasion of Iraq in spring 2003 shows that nearly half of all links were to "mainly mainstream news outlets, primarily from the USA and the UK. In the USA, this included outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, etc." (Wall, 2005, p. 164). As for blogs run by mass media outlets, of 20 sites examined in one study, only three allowed direct commenting from readers, indicating they were unwilling to give up their gatekeeping role, so "it is still about vertical communication, from journalist to user, rather than horizontal communication that positions the journalist as a participant in a conversation" (Singer, 2005, p. 192).

Wall (2005), however, points out that the popularity of the war blogs arose at least partly because "mainstream media, as is historically its pattern during war, became less critical of the government and military actions and more prone to repeating propaganda?. leading increasing numbers of Americans to turn to the Web" (p. 153).

Are Blogs a New, Post-Modern Journalism?

Is blogging a new form of journalism? Are bloggers changing how mass media report the news? Wall (2005) argues that blogs are post-modern journalism:

This analysis suggests that these blogs represent a new genre of journalism ? offering news that features a narrative style characterized by personalization and an emphasis on non-institutional status; audience participation in content creation; and story forms that are fragmented and interdependent with other websites. Ultimately, these shifts suggest that some forms of online news such as blogs have moved away from traditional journalism?s modernist approach to embody a form of post-modern journalism (pp. 153-154).

Traditional journalism is supposed to be objective, or at least fair, yet the "voice of the typical current events blogger is personalized, opinionated, and often one-sided. Indeed, an opinionated voice is a hallmark of blog writing and those mainstream journalists who fail to reflect this are criticized as not being true bloggers" (Wall, 2005, p. 161). Readers of newspapers and watchers of TV tend to be passive; however, "on blogs, audiences are often invited to contribute information, comments, and sometimes direct financial support. In effect, audiences sometimes co-create content and also serve as patrons" (Wall, 2005, p. 161). While journalists are taught the inverted pyramid of story writing, "with blogs, the story form has changed into a fragment, one that is often incomplete without following a link and, thus, is seemingly never closed" (Wall, 2005, p. 162). All of these hallmarks of blogging make for a very different experience than reading or watching the packaged stories provided by mass media.

Kahn & Kellner (2004) propose:

Bloggers have demonstrated themselves as technoactivists favoring not only democratic self-expression and networking, but also global media critique and journalistic sociopolitical intervention?. blogs make the idea of a dynamic network of ongoing debate, dialogue and commentary central and so emphasize the interpretation and dissemination of alternative information to a heightened degree (p. 91).

While mass media may be retaining their influence and their audience, the post-modern fracturing of the mostly one-way communication of traditional media into the millions of inter-linking blogging voices has created a new openness and the ability for individuals to share their personal interpretations of the world to potentially global audiences. Bloggers are providing alternatives to mass media. "Large political events, such as the World Summit for Sustainable Development, the World Social Forum, and the G8 forums all now have wireless bloggers providing real time alternative coverage" (Kahn & Kellner, 2004, p. 93).

Blogs Surpass Mass Media in Raising Political Consciousness

In addition to offering an alternative to corporate mass media, blogs are raising political consciousness in a manner traditional media have been unable to do. Because blogs are personal, they have an ability to attract readers in a way that traditional media do not. This is shown by the experience of Blog for America, the blog that helped galvanize Howard Dean's campaign in the U.S. primary race starting in March 2003.

Alternately informative, cheesy, silly, self-absorbed, innovative, and brilliantly effective, Blog for America turned tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people into political activists and united them in collective action that extended beyond cyberspace?. This is something mainstream journalism could never accomplish (Kerbel & Bloom, 2005, pp. 20-21).

Blog for America may be viewed as a revival of the public sphere described by J?rgen Habermas. "Central to the operation of the public sphere is the free flow of information and communication, and media institutions are essential to its effective working" (Williams, 2003, p. 68). Williams (2003) goes on to say that eventually "the public sphere became corrupted by the growth of the power of the state, the emergence of corporate capitalism and transformation of the media into commercial operations" (p. 68). Blog for America became a forum to foster and harness the free flow of information in the public sphere, revitalizing the political process.

However, here too, there are cautionary notes.

As a third-tier candidate with few resources, Dean had little to lose by doing things unconventionally, and as we noted, discussion on the Dean blog became more conventional as the candidate started playing for keeps. For blogs like Blog for America to become routine, future campaign managers will have to weigh the obvious benefits of cultivating a loyal, active following against the potential loss of message control inherent in a decentralized campaign structure where anyone can participate. What is clear is that without some degree of decentralization, blog communities cannot thrive. It is the nature of the technology to buck centralized control, and it is the thing that generates feelings of empowerment (Kerbel & Bloom, 2005, p. 24).

Post-Modern Blogging

So while on one hand it appears that blogs are impacting mass media by providing alternative forums for shared self-expression, by confronting and challenging conventional journalism, and by enabling public discourse in a global manner heretofore unheard of in history, on the other hand it is also apparent that at least so far mass media are retaining much of their authority. Yet blogging may just be getting started, and has the potential to further spread its influence in the future as more citizens around the world come online and share their individual, unique perspectives. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, for as with any technology, it cannot simply be assumed that blogging will only lead to greater good. Overall, however, the benefits could outweigh the drawbacks.

Today, blogs embody the contradictions of postmodernity ? they may balkanize interest groups and cater to partisan audiences but they may also encourage the creation of a multitude of virtual communities in which ordinary people feel free to participate and discover their own political voices. That is, blogs may ultimately pull more people into public conversations and perhaps provide opportunities for collective problem-solving. Those who fear the demise of the great society created in part by national media are perhaps overly nostalgic for a media that rarely reflected the entire community or allowed ordinary people much of a voice (Wall, 2005, p. 167).

Conclusion

While blogging's Wild West milieu has already had an impact on traditional mass media, and will continue to require mass media corporations to adjust to the onslaught of individual voices, there are doubts if the medium's free-wheeling nature will last forever. Blogs may undermine societal equilibrium, and to take a page from functionalism, "all components of society including the media are organized and structured and operate to maintain social stability" (Williams, 2003, p. 50). While blogging may fundamentally be of an individualistic, fractured, post-modern nature, in five or ten years some of the regulations that apply to traditional mass media may be extended to cover the Internet, and bloggers.

Indeed, Lyons (2005) describes the anonymous slander of individuals and corporations by packs of bloggers, and cries out for means to control them:

Google and other carriers shut down purveyors of child porn, spam, and viruses, and they help police track down offenders. So why don't they delete material (from blogs) that defames individuals? Why don't they help victims identify their attackers? Because they are protected by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which frees a neutral carrier of Internet content from any liability for anything said online (p. 136).

Lyons (2005) goes on to cite a victim of a concerted smear campaign who "argues that Yahoo and other carriers should step up: 'They make money selling ads on these message boards, and the controversial material generates the most traffic. So they're benefiting from this garbage. I think they should take responsibility for it'" (p. 138).

While millions more blogs will be created over the next decade, and Web sites run by mass media corporations will gradually offer more interactivity and more opportunities for reader feedback, pressure from corporations and political forces that fear the libertarian blogging environment will likely lead to the imposition of regulatory restraints on the Internet, and by extension the blogging medium. There will be bloggers who will continue to resist any attempts at control, and a technological war will continue for decades between those who attempt to impose restraints, and those who will seek ways to outflank them.

References

Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2004). New media and internet activism: From the ?Battle of seattle? to blogging. New Media & Society, 6(1), 87-95. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from Communication Studies: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database.

Kerbel, M. R., & Bloom, J. D. (2005). Blog for america and civic involvement. The Harvard International Journal Of Press/politics, 10(4), 3-27. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from Communication Studies: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database.

Lyons, D. (2005, Nov. 14). Attack of the blogs. Forbes. 128-138.

Singer, J. B. (2005). The political j-blogger: ?Normalizing? a new media form to fit old norms and practices. Journalism, 6(2), 173-198. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from Communication Studies: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database.

Wall, M. (2005). ?Blogs of war?: Weblogs as news. Journalism, 6(2), 153-172. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from Communication Studies: A SAGE Full-Text Collection database.

Williams, K. (2003). Understanding Media Theory. London: Arnold.

Posted by Paul at 09:41 AM

February 11, 2006

Northern Voice Blogging Conference Day 2

Northern Voice 2006 Day 2

Starting With Fire: Why Stories are Essential and How to Blog Effective Tales
Presenter: Julie Leung

Moving presentation on the power of storytelling and its importance to blogging.

Sifry on the Blogosphere
Presenters: Dave Sifry from Technorati and Tim Bray

Why did I build Technorati? I wanted to know what are people saying about ME. It?s a social thing. We tell stories, interact with each other. Even someone who disagrees with me probably has a lot in common with me. Searching the web uses the language of libraries, we talk about pages, indexes, directories.

Search engines don?t understand the concept of time. Google news and Yahoo news are the periodicals section of the library. Library is enormously powerful metaphor

Documents are created by people at certain times. So build something that goes beyond keywords and hyperlinks as votes of attention. Page rank still uses library concept.

Blogs can be thought about in a new way. They are the remnants of a person?s attention stream over time. When you write you are spending the most important thing that you have ? your time. So you can understand who a blogger is. So rather than look at pages look at people. Who is linking to whom. I built it because I wanted to know who was talking about me. And many other people and companies wanted to know who was talking about them.

Look at the Web as a living thing. Doc Searls calls it the World Live Web.

What are the blogging stats today?
? Technorati is tracking 27 million blogs
? 75,000 new blogs created every day
? How many people are still actively blogging after three months: just over 50%
? 11% blog once a week or more
? Just under a million blog at least once a day
? About 50,000 posts/hour
? The news cycle cannot be measured in hours any more
? How do I make sense out of all of this?
? Blogging is incredibly many to many.
? Top bloggers become one to many, turn off comments etc. or else they are overwhelmed.
? There are about 115,000 blogs in the magic middle: they have between 30 to 1,000 people linking to them. Authorities in niche areas.
? Such bloggers become local authorities yet remain very two-way because the traffic is manageable enough to carry on a conversation.

What if we look at two important things. Do you really write about what you say you write about. And do others who write about what you write about link to you? Open this up to the world. People started tagging themselves. 870,000 have tagged themselves. Over 2,500 interesting tags on which bloggers are writing.

Tagging is a sloppy thing. Clay Shirky writes about this. As long as you make it really easy to tag and make people accountable, an emergent system starts to occur. Greater than the sum of its parts. As long as there are people who can tag in multiple languages, relationships start to form. The system itself become more intelligent.

Bray: what are you worried about, what could go wrong?

Sifry: This can?t go on if you extrapolate the rate of growth. It has to top out at some point. We are still very much at the beginning of all this. Spam is a problem. Comment, trackback spam. Splogs. Cory Doctorow: all healthy ecosystems have parasites. The cool thing about blogging is that it always resolves back to a web page somewhere, and that leads to some accountability. What I write becomes part of my permanent record. I can temper what I know about you by all the things you?ve said over time.

Concept of network neutrality. Potentially most dangerous threat to the ?Net. Collapsing of number of backbone providers. Now these companies are saying we deserve to be able to do preferential pricing. You?re going off our network so we?re going to charge you 6 cents a minute. If you want to do video streaming, you?ll have to pay extra. Preferred providers. This is enormously bad for innovation. Protects the winners. These guys are going in front of Congress and saying of course this is the way we have to go. Only we can prevent this. They won?t hit consumers, they?ll go to companies behind the scenes. But that will hurt the small guys in the garage startups.

Bray: I have no idea who?s reading my stuff through RSS feeds.

Sifry: RSS is not really push. Your RSS feeder is constantly downloading stuff, but are you reading it? Feedburner uses graphics to ping back to show that someone actually read something. But still don?t really know. The way Bloglines understands things are read is different from NewsGator understands things are read. People are waking up to this issue. Hope to start resolving these issues cross-company soon.

Crowd question: What about federated blogging?

Sifry: Poor pay. Some coops are developing to split income more equitably. Natural outcome of shift in publishing economics. But a lot of people don?t have the skills to do marketing, advertising etc. Guild system developing. Can you write with quality? Can you make enough money? Right now people are spending 70 of leisure time online, but only 4% of advertising is online. This should start to equalize, so there are enormous opportunities here.

Snow White and the Seven Competencies of Online Interaction
Presenter: Nancy White
See her slides at link above -- a lot of great stuff I have no space for here.

What are competencies we need to interact online?

Blogs are developing faster than any other tool. When we go online we lose f-t-f cues. We are global. We may no longer have a shared cultural context. Bridging language, belief systems. A world of small annoyances. In f-t-f life our presence as a human being is still there. We need to bring that into online interactions. Bring heart and soul and spirit into online life.

Sometimes we go online and choke and die. We move too fast online. I wrote it so you must have understood it. The new medium goes laterally rather than top down. This freaks out organizations. Networks can totally disrupt organizations. Open source learning.

Competencies are emerging: Scan, See patterns, Write, Image-inate, Vocalize, Intuit

When do you stop scanning and go deep? If you can?t write you?re screwed. Think about multiple modalities that help people have an experience.

Approach online life with an open hand and let people take your stuff.

We glorify expertise, but by being unknowing we learn so much.

Online you don?t have to participate. How do you create an invitation that people will respond to? Online we are in a fundamentally open space.

I have to speak from a space from which people can hear me. I cannot always speak from my default culture. Go live in the world. Learn other languages.

Shouting that I?m right and that my issue is right, is not working.

A lot of us come from a single domain. Engineer, Economist, Artist? We have to be able to switch our inner context.

Outsiderness is a gift. We?re all outsiders, and if we embrace this we can use it in a positive way. The magic of the periphery.

The most importance competency is self-awareness

We all bring both bright and dark things to the world. Self-aware vs self-absorbed.

See: openspaceworld.org

The Changing Face of Journalism
Presenters: Mark Schneider, UBC School of Journalism;
Robert Ouimet, At Large Media;
Michael Tippett, NowPublic.

The news is dead long live the news

Tippett:

Tectonic shifts in the marketplace
Fundamental economic shifts in how news is produced and consumed
Audience is now becoming a supplier
News orgs have to change relations with readers
Readers can make their own news.

Does it make sense to have readers contribute news. Why are people participating? Hyper-local, know their neighborhoods. We have numerical superiority.

Shift from network to cable news. Same thing is happening with people. If you happen to be ?there? and have a camera, you can report the news.

Shift is happening faster than big media expected. Tsunami, Katrina. Latent army of citizen journalists everywhere waiting for something to happen.

Ownership of news has passed into the hands of the public.

Ouimet:

Internet driving big companies crazy. Look for landmark moments in the way in which people consume content. I?ve never been in a room with so many people using so many computers taking notes, and I used to be a professional journalist.

Profound changes in which content is consumed. In old days big media owned all the parts. People are gathering and transmitting stuff like crazy in this room.

Media fragmentation. Pie is becoming increasingly fragmented. Big media have smaller and smaller market shares.

Schneider:

The news is really sick. It makes us sick. There is a toxic quality to what we are consuming. Noxious vapour. Crazy human instinct to want to be frightened.

News should help responsible citizens be citizens. There is a huge appetite for change.

So what can be done? How can we rehabilitate news? Blogging and journalism best practices. There are still valuable skills that journalists have. If you make mistakes, you?re instantly under the spotlight. Have to have an open mind. Can?t go in with mind made up. That does not produce quality journalism. Practice of corroborating evidence, sources. Journalists have an incredible urge to get the story, even putting themselves in danger. Yet journalism is tired. It needs waking up and perhaps you are the ones to do it.

Very rare to hear of journalist on the take, still a miraculously clean profession. Almost a dichotomy with stats on public distrust of the mainstream press.

Things we can do together:
? Create news wikis and other ways to collaborate
? Insist on more transparent media
? Support news certification (see definition below)
? Share skills and support one another

News certification: what went into the story, and what was left out. What couldn?t we answer, and invite public to fill those holes. We?re at a very primitive stage in this yet.

News ml: news markup language. Helps the good stuff rise to the top.

We?ve always been attracted to intelligence and creativity. We feel deeply compelled to tell our truths. Create tools to find the brilliant in blogs.

Audience comment: when you tailor newsfeeds you can totally miss what others are talking about.

Ouimet: We have this notion about this open mass media but it?s crap. You never know what was NOT printed. Editorial focus is about rejecting.

I want to be surprised I want to be challenged. People are smarter than we give them credit for.

Mainstream media can be brilliant because it has the resources to actually throw in a trained, skilled observer?. To ask questions that the neighbors never even thought to ask.

Posted by Paul at 09:42 PM

February 10, 2006

Northern Voice Blogging Conference Day 1

Northern Voice 2006 Blogging Conference Vancouver

General Comments:

A stimulating event that brought together big blogging names and tech gurus along with interested members of the general public. The first day was a series of relatively informal, self-organized sessions, followed by a more structured conference on the second day. Participants included XML developer Tim Bray, Microsoft blogging guru Robert Scoble, Technorati founder Dave Sifry, etc.

I?d say over half the 250 odd people present were banging away on laptops, blogging the conference in real time and uploading photos to Flickr. (Enter the tag ?Northern Voice? to see thousands of photos of the conference.)

Due to time pressures, this report has a minimum of structure and formatting, and will tend to be a collection of rambling notes. Follow the URLs for more info, presenters? blogs, etc.

Moose Camp, Friday, February 10, 2006
(Relatively informal small-group sessions)

Personal Media Outlets ? We Are the Media
Presenter: John Anthony Hartman multimediame.net

We now have the ability to make and distribute media. We can create our own personal media outlets. We are redefining how we make and distribute media. Content on demand.

This shift is sending shivers down the spines of media executives. Afraid of material being stolen. But people don?t need to steal what is free.

Shift from major media monopolies. Major media outlets need to get onboard now. They no longer have a grip on media. People are looking to more sources.

The web is evolving into rich media. It is empowering individuals. The power of the web and individuals is unstoppable.

Time-shifted media is now available. Want to shift media because of premiums on time. Mass media caught in proprietary codecs.

Individuals now have power of editors. $100 MIT laptop project to give poor people everywhere hand-crank powered laptops with mesh networking built in.

Blogs are more than just the written word. Mashed up culture. Take stuff and repurpose it. Creative Commons copyright licensing means I tell you how you can share my stuff, not how I prevent you from using it.

Look up video blogs by Josh Leo, Jay Smooth.

Ourmedia.org puts up your content for free. ?The Global Home for Grassroots Media?

Real Time Reporting
Presenter: Michael Tippet of NowPublic
?The News is Now Public?

Anyone can be editor, photographer etc. Stories ordered by popularity. Collaborate in building news together. Share news you?re reading, writing, etc. News as conversation. Can add your own photos and videos. Can send stuff in from camera phone. Had 2,000 people reporting on Katrina. Can comment on items that others have submitted. Or get permission to use other people?s material.

Relationship to ?professional? journalists.
Dan Gilmour, Howard Reihngold are NowPublic advisors.

Traditional journalism is less important. This is reporting from a first-person perspective. Gilmour trying to elevate blogging into better journalism. Or educate readers. Is it really true? Learn to question the news. Take everything with a grain of salt.

Are there any copyright issues? Don?t cut and paste entire stories, simply point to them. Just take a snippet of a story and add your own value-added commentary. People are happy to get traffic.

Can post comments to stories and make suggestions for corrections. Are thinking about making stories Wiki-able.

We?re All Journalists Now
Presenter: Mark Hamilton, journalism instructor

Everybody is walking around journalizing their lives. I felt naked when I discovered I?d left my house without my camera on the way to the conference this morning. The whole world is being recorded.

We have this combination of professional and amateur coming together to create a new media world. Lone reporters can do text, audio and video. Walls are breaking down between print, TV journalism. Newspapers, TV stations do both on their websites.

Now individuals can do broadcast quality video.

No longer reliant on traditional media structure to talk back. But what does this all mean? What does it mean for journalism? What does it mean for how we are finding out about the world? Breakdown of one to many media to many to many media.

Every year it?s getting harder to filter and edit.

Professional journalist have lied all the time, we just never had the power to correct them.

Yet there is an education level and an access level to blogging that many don?t have.

Extensive coverage of niche topics now that were never covered before.

In terms of mass media we have never been as involved as we are now. Mass media still has a lot of flaws, but it?s not as bad as many people make it out to be. Some really good community journalism being produced. Going out and talking to people. Collectively people are smarter than any one journalist. The human voice is coming back into media.

Dave Weinberger (RSS/blogging guru) on tagging. Speaking a few years ago he said tagging was very messy. Mass media right now is messy. Newspapers are freaking because circulation is dropping. TV viewing is dropping. Movie attendance is dropping. It?s changing the metrics of the system. It?s messy. Dave said maybe it?s going to be messy forever. But is that so scary?

Non-Profits Taking Advantage of Bogging
Presenter: Nancy White

?A Place to Capture and Share Ideas and Links about Online Interaction, Community, Distance Learning??

Online community is just another channel for face-to-face communities. Some are pure online communities.

Communities of like-minded people. Very powerful sharing. Levels of engagement change over time. Context is everything. See: shareyourstory.org.

Activists. Different rhythms of engagement. Activism is campaign driven. You have to have a core group. People self-select themselves. Get them involved in your project. All you need to do is support them. People are catalysts. Events are catalysts. Evoke a need to do something. What?s going to change my behaviour.

Katrina, tsunami, Pakistan, were responses by individuals. How can I be a catalyst for a network of individuals to respond?

We need to develop a new set of competencies to live in the online world. We?ve been perfecting face-to-face for millennia. It?ll take time to figure out this online stuff. It helps to have blogging buddies. Practice writing all the time. Read all the time. Just do it.

Getting away from a model of control over messaging. Online you can get your message out in diffuse ways. Your PR person may not be comfortable with giving up control over your message. Have to learn to let go. You might lose some control of your message but you?ll gain so much energy.

The official message isn?t an effective blog. Yet there are times when a top-down message is very useful. You can?t confine yourself to any one approach. Combine approaches. You need the dry research combined with human stories.

Organizations that use blogs have to be thick-skinned. You?ll get feedback that you have never gotten before. We can only see so much, feel so much, experience so much. You can hold much more sand in an open hand than in a fist. Be humble. Willing to be wrong. Don?t take yourself too seriously.

Get organizations more open to the craziness of the online world. Most non-profits are still in very early stages of becoming comfortable with online world.

What happens when you get too much negativity? Need to have it part of your communications strategy. What if people slag your donors? Need to have guidelines in place. You can?t argue. The world is a much more open place than it?s ever been, yet you need to monitor what other people are saying about you.

Tools for monitoring blogs:
technorati.com
pubsub.com
icerocket.com
feedster.com

Tools that help us to visualize conversations. You might have a constituency out there that you don?t know about.

If the object is to keep as much sand in your hand as possible, you keep it open, but you might need to shelter it from the wind a bit. There are negative people out there who will try to take you down.

Netsquared.org
?Remixing the Web for Social Change?

Knowledgegreen.com
"The idea is to share knowledge that we can use to support our work for social change and achieve greater work/life balance.?

Blogging and the Future of Media
Presenter: Kurt Cagle, Mercurial Communications

Things are changing dramatically, authority etc. Foundation of an entirely new way of dealing with social infrastructures.

Rebellious people at this conference. Undermining the infrastructure of authority. Changing the nature of media. Mass media are very scared. We are shifting the rules of the game. M. McLuhan ? when he was writing there were few channels of communication. The way information is presented has a huge fundamental impact. The mechanism of passing symbols. That was 50 years ago.

Channel characteristics c. 1960s. In 1960 dominant media was still print. Minimally interactive. Expensive presses and distribution costs. Radio and records. Minimally interactive. Expensive? TV and Movies, minimally interactive, studios, distribution. All previous are 1 to many. Telephone 1 to 1, moderately interactive.

This resulted in the formation of privileged gateways. High entry costs. Ease of collusion. Centralized control. The gateway companies were able to create large, structured media.

Fast forward 50 years to the Internet. Is not just another medium. Complete and total change to old media rules. Ability to link, to persist, to establish relationships. Every single channel that was out there has migrated to the Internet. The old media still exist, but the rules are changing.

Gateways are disintegrating. Low barriers to entry. Evolution of open standards. Elimination of distribution costs. Production costs drop to labour costs. Networks reroute around obstacles.

Authorities are getting scared. When it gets down to lawsuits you know they?re running scared. The problem is basically one of copyright. We have to rethink what we mean by ownership. We are trying to use rules that apply to an old situation. Many new competitors. Markets are fundamentally different, kids are aware they are being marketed to and don?t want to be pigeonholed.

Blogging and Building Communities
Presenter: Nancy White

What does community mean to you? What is the language of blogs and communities? Community is linking.

Love the extended community. Know few people locally, feel closer to people who are geographically distant. It takes somebody to instigate to keep things going. The process of invitation. RSS is a sort of invitation. Community means you?re actually trying to understand the other people. Ephemeral micro-communities that come and go.

Corporations are turned off of blogging because of the community aspects. Too personal. That view is starting to change. With that mindset they are bound to fail. The tipping point came in 2005, when companies started understanding how to use blogs.

I will give you credit for being human even if I disagree with what you write about.

Posted by Paul at 09:08 PM

February 07, 2006

Blog Sees More Visitors

This blog received 336 unique visitors on Jan. 26, a new record. I know that's not much, but I still wonder who they are :-). I usually get about 110-180 unique visitors per day, so that was a significant blip. The post that day was a couple of photos of a mayfly.... Hm...

Posted by Paul at 07:46 PM

January 04, 2006

Tedious Task of Fixing Mom's Computer

My mom's computer began behaving oddly a week ago, with programs slowing down and freezing, and instances of Internet Explorer opening spontaneously with offers to download files. Norton AntiVirus was complaining, saying certain of its files were corrupt, and by the time I was called in to assist, I soon came to the conclusion that a reinstall of Windows XP Pro from scratch was in order.

I tried a few other steps but the OS seemed to be hosed with some virus. I could not access the Task Manager to see what was running -- it almost seemed like something was blocking access to several administrative tools. The rollback function also was not working.

I tried uninstalling Norton, because it was saying that the subscription had expired even though it had been installed in August of this year, with no success. I even downloaded several uninstall fixes from the Norton website to no avail. Reinstall of Norton AV 2005 kept crapping out halfway through, and so did attempts to install a new 2006 version.

I also had a heck of a time getting all of Norton Security off of my wife's computer awhile back when I had to uninstall it -- it leaves hooks and processes all over the damn place. I'm ready to try a different AV product...

Anyway, rather than waste more time, for $62 I bought her a new hard disk, that at 80GB was twice the size of her old one, and reinstalled Windows and all of her programs.

What a tedious job! In the end it took about seven hours. Just installing Windows XP on the new drive and then getting all the service packs and updates took several hours.

Thankfully she had been backing up her data to Zip disks, so she didn't lose anything. The data on the old drive was still accessible, however I didn't want to take the chance of installing it as a secondary drive to copy the stuff over, and instead played with a bunch of Zips to get her data back.

Even though people consider me a computer geek, I hate these episodes!

Posted by Paul at 07:43 PM

December 16, 2005

Frustrating Future Shop Website Order

I've had such a frustrating time with the Future Shop website over the last few days that I doubt if I'll ever order anything online there again.

Last night I decided to buy a Canon SD300 digital camera because Future Shop had it on sale at $299, down from $399. It's a teeny 4MP camera, not the latest model, but I wanted something I could easily carry in a pocket all the time to replace my aging and bulky 3MP Kodak DC4800.

I placed the order online, and chose the "pick up at a Future Shop" outlet option so I'd get my hands on it faster. This morning I received an email saying the camera was not available at the outlet I chose, so I should re-order. Well, the $100 discount was no longer available!

So this morning I decided to go for the 5MP SD400, which was on sale at $379 down from $429, and again chose to pick it up at my local outlet, which the website indicated had that model in stock. An hour later I received an email that no, it was not available at the outlet, so I should re-order yet again!

So I gritted my teeth, and re-ordered for a third time, asking for delivery to my house. An hour later, I received an email asking me to phone a toll-free number to confirm my order. Say what? I buy stuff online all the time and I'd never encountered such a request before.

Sigh. I called the toll-free number, and after asking for my order number, my name, and my address, was told the order would be processed. I don't get it. What was the purpose of this "confirmation?" I just parroted the exact same informationt that I had filled out in the online order form -- there was nothing new to add any extra security to the transaction.

Then, to top if off, less than a minute after I got off the phone, it rang, and I found myself listening to a bot telling me I had to call and confirm the order that I had just confirmed!

Arrgggh! I did receive an email that my order had been processed, but I wonder....

Posted by Paul at 07:38 PM

November 17, 2005

World's Biggest Internet Discussion?

How's this for an ambitious attempt to get people from around the world tackling social issues over the Internet!

"In a lead-up to the third session of the World Urban Forum (WUF), to be held in Vancouver, Canada, in June 2006, UN-HABITAT, in collaboration with IBM and the Canadian Government is holding what it hopes will be the world's biggest Internet discussion to date from 1-3 December 2005."

"...the Habitat JAM promises to give thousands of global citizens, rich and poor alike, a chance to present their ideas on-line for presentation at the Forum..."

"Topics for the online debate include improving the lives of people living in slums, access to water, environmental sustainability, safety and urban crime, finance and governance, and the future of our cities."

You can learn more about the JAM here:

And sign up to participate here:

I've signed up and hope to have time to join in the three-day discussion.

Posted by Paul at 07:31 PM

September 23, 2005

Old Computers Donated to Schools

I finally tired of having three old computers in various states of assembly and/or cannibalization in my office and decided to get rid of them. I searched for computer recycling depots in British Columbia and came across Computers for Schools, which refurbishes old machines and gives them to schools around the province.

I gave them an AMD K6-II 400, a Dell PIII 450, and an Athlon Thunderbird 800. The K6-II had no memory and just a floppy drive, while I gave them 256MB of RAM and CD drives in the other two. I kept all hard drives for backup use in the two computers I have left.

I'm happy some kids somewhere may get some use out of them.

As of this date they are accepting PIII 450 and higher machines. Ones that don't meet that bar will be properly disposed of for a $6 fee. They'll take monitors and printers too, so don't let your old equipment gather dust! The organization has offices across Canada.

Posted by Paul at 07:40 PM

September 16, 2005

Computer Suddenly Dies

About a week ago the clock in my wife's computer became erratic. I figured it must be the button battery on the motherboard, and since my backup computer is identical and was purchased at the same time, I bought a couple of batteries.

I replaced the battery on my motherboard (mobo) without incident, but when I replaced Yumi's, something strange happened. When I shut down Windows 2000, the operating system began the process and then hung on a black screen. So I killed the machine by hitting the switch on the power supply.

I changed her battery, turned on the power supply switch, hit the front panel power button -- and nothing.

Huh? I checked all the connectors, tried again, and nothing.

I had an extra power supply, so I installed it, and again nothing. This was strange. The power LED on the mobo was lighting up, so it appeared to be getting power, but it would not boot.

With work pending, I ended up popping her hard disk into my old compter -- like I said, they were identical machines, so the switch went smoothly, and she was back in business.

We bought a "barebone kit" from NCIX to replace her lost machine, and I put it together and have been installing programs on it as time allowed over the last couple of days. It's a mATX mobo and case (smaller than the regular ATX), so Yumi is happy that it will take up less space under her desk than the tower case she's using now.

Still dunno why her old machine died, though....

Posted by Paul at 08:29 PM

September 01, 2005

IBM T42 Notebook Looks Great

Recently I got a new IBM/Lenovo T42 ThinkPad to replace my aged Toshiba Tecra 530CDT that I bought at a "discontinued" discount seven (!) years ago.

I was still using the Toshiba occasionally on the road, but with a Pentium 166, 64MB of RAM, and a 2GB HD, it was pretty long in the tooth.

I got a nice package deal on the T42, with two batteries, a docking station, a snazzy case, two power adapters, a security cable, Windows XP Professional, and Microsoft Office Professional 2003.

So far I really like the new machine. I got the 1400 X 1050 screen and boosted the RAM to a gigabyte. While I haven't done detailed tests, it appears the Pentium M 1.8 GHz will last in the neighborhood of four hours on one battery.

It's also my first laptop with wireless connectivity, and I immediately added a wireless access point to our LAN. It works great, but the new mobility taking some getting used to.

Posted by Paul at 09:12 PM

February 22, 2005

Adding Storage to Tungsten E

I nabbed a 512MB Kingston SD card for my Palm Tungsten E today for C$49.

I find the pace of techonolgical advancement amazing considering that the first hard disk I ever bought was a 32MB 5 1/4" drive for over US$300 -- and that was 1988 dollars!

Posted by Paul at 08:47 PM

February 21, 2005

Tungsten E Ousts Palm Pilot Professional

A couple of weeks ago I finally upgraded to a Palm Tungsten E from an aging Palm Pilot Professional (PPP).

The PPP had served me well for seven or eight years, but its 1MB of memory and cramped, dark monochrome screen were limiting, and its HotSync cradle connectivity was becoming increasingly flaky.

I got a good deal on the Tungsten E and a wireless Palm folding keyboard combo, and now I wonder why I didn't upgrade years ago. The E is hardly cutting-edge technology, it's been around for a long time, yet I find its color screen and multimedia capabilities enchanting.

I like the ability to load Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the E. While I doubt if I'd want to do more than cursory editing of such files on the handheld, its nice to be able to carry the odd document or spreadsheet around for reference.

I also enjoy loading photos onto the E.

I wonder how many PPPs are still in action?

Posted by Paul at 08:27 PM

January 21, 2005

Review - Dreamweaver MX 2004 Missing Manual

Review - Dreamweaver MX 2004: The Missing Manual

by David S. McFarland

Another of the excellent books in the missing manuals series that I read from cover to cover. Yes, I know, there's something wrong with me :-).

It has comprehensive coverage of the powerful Macromedia Dreamweaver Web publishing program. I have yet to put Dreamweaver to use, though I've dabbled with it a bit, however I have a number of sites that I want to spruce up and make compliant with XHTML, so I'll be getting into the program soon.

Posted by Paul at 09:52 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 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

November 14, 2004

Adding Attic Insulation

Heading into our fourth winter in our townhouse, my wife Yumi finally convinced me that we had to add insulation in our attic. I hate working up there -- it's dark, cramped, dusty, and potentially dangerous. However, our top floor is heated by electricity, and poor Yumi was freezing in her office as she disliked the cost of electric heat.

Our attic had about 15cm of blown cellulose insulation, which works out to about R20, when new homes in cold climates should have as much as R50. It rarely gets below freezing here in Burnaby, but R20 is on the low side.

After exploring several websites, we decided to add a layer of R20 fiberglass batts.

I figured we needed about 675 square feet of coverage, which works out to 9 bags of R20 23-inch batts. We decided to start with 5 bags, which proved to be a wise decision, as even with the back seats down we barely squeezed 4 bags into our Subaru Outback, and tied the fifth onto the roof rack.

We also bought a respirator and some high-quality disposable masks, along with safety goggles.

We ran a halogen work lamp up the hatch, and hauled several 2 X 8s and 2 X 6s up and laid them out to provide walkways. Boosting the bags of batts up was a chore, as they barely fit through the hatch.

We then got to work, starting at the far end. Of course there was an obstacle course of awkward framing to wiggle through. Yumi opened up bags and passed me batts that I laid in place, being careful not to cover the soffit vents.

I have a low melting point, and even though the temperature in the attic was around 7C, I was soon sweating profusely, and my goggles began fogging up. I soon discarded them, trading off itchy eyes for any sight at all. Then my respirator began filling up with sweat and slipping around on my face -- what fun!

When I reached the area above Yumi's office, I was astounded to discover there was no insulation at all above part of her room! No wonder her office was frigid. The bay windows had been repaired some time in the past, and apparently the workers never bothered to replace the insulation above them.

We got nearly half the attic done today, and it already feels a bit warmer on the top floor. My thighs and lower back are stiffening up from all the squatting and crawling around, but Yumi is happy :-).

Posted by Paul at 06:24 PM

October 11, 2004

Amazing Book/Library Search Site

The NewsScan newsletter posted a link to a fantastic book/library search site today called RedLightGreen.

The site searches a database of 120 million books and can be refined by author, subject, language etc. Then you can find out if the books you're interested in are available at nearby libraries.

Check it out!

Posted by Paul at 06:49 PM

October 02, 2004

Telus Website Irritations

I went to the Telus website a few moments ago for my several-times-a-year check to see if high-speed ADSL Internet is available yet in my 101-unit townhouse complex in the same city as Telus headquarters. I've been doing this for three years now.

I'm on Shaw Cable, and am pretty much satisfied with it, yet it would be nice to have some competition available.

I used to click the "Availabilty" link on the Telus site, enter my phone number or address into a simple form, and groan every time when the response was that ADSL was not available at my address.

This time however, I was shocked to be turned away because I was running an "incompatible browser" -- Firefox on Windows 2000.

I copied the URL from Firefox, started IE, popped in the URL, and discovered that to use the Availablity Wizard, Telus wanted me to download and install some software!

What ever happened to simple Web standards? What ever happened to serving the broadest possible spectrum of customers?

Wait a minute -- what if I tried the "Mac Users click here" link, even though I'm on a Windows machine? Say what? There's that simple form where I can type in my phone number, even with Firefox.

Who thought up this site design? I don't get it.

And, by the way, I still can't get it. Telus ADSL, that is....

Posted by Paul at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2004

Quirky Motherboard Strikes Again

I've related before how I've struggled with a quirky Asus A7V motherboard. I resolved USB problems awhile back, and recently I had to deal with gaining access to a new Lite-on DVD+-R/RW drive.

I was having problems burning DVDs, even though I upgraded to the latest version of Nero 6 Ultra Edition. Nero often locked up my Windows 2000 box when trying to burn a DVD, and I'd have to do a hard boot to get it going again.

I then tried Terabyte's Image for DOS program that is supposed to create and burn complete hard drive images onto DVD+-R discs. The program complained that it couldn't even find a CD or DVD writer!

I could read data *from* CD and DVD discs, so what was going on?

I took a look at the BIOS, and strangely there was no entry for a DVD writer in the boot sequence. That got the grey cells stirring as I began remembering that there were issues with the Promise UltraDMA/100 controller and this particular motherboard. The board has four IDE channels -- a primary and secondary UltraDMA/100, and a primary and secondary UltraDMA/66/33. The 100s appear to Windows as SCSI devices, not IDE devices, so perhaps that was preventing the buring programs from seeing the DVD writer as an ATAPI device.

Sure enough, as soon as I moved the DVD writer to an UltraDMA/66/33 channel, Image for DOS happily churned out and burned a complete image of my hard disk spanned onto five DVD+R discs.

Maybe it's time to get a new computer and quit tearing my hair out over this ancient VIA-based system! I've also discovered that the AMD Thunderbird 800 cpu simply hasn't got the juice to handle some of the latest audio/video programs that came with the latest Nero. Honey? Can I buy a new computer?

Posted by Paul at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

August 31, 2004

Busy Summer Sees Blog Wither

Yikes, this blog has gone from near-daily posts to only nine so far in the month of August, and several of those have been rather short.

If I do have any "fans" out there, don't worry because in a way this is a good sign, for we've been very busy with work this summer. July and August both entered the list of top-ten earning months for our little company since we started it in February 2000.

It's nice to feel wanted, however we're back in the old home business dilema -- when you have plenty of free time you have little free cash flow, and when you're making money, you have no free time.

We have prevailed upon our major clients for a one-week camping vacation this autumn, and while we need the break, I also feel guilty as a few smaller clients are quite dependent upon our specialty of on-demand, fast-turnaround translation and editing.

I need a clone, or another translator-editor team I can trust to work to same-day in/out deadlines on occasion, using a variety of different style guides.

That's the other home business dilema -- at what point are you regularly earning enough to subcontract work out? Some months the hours pile up like crazy, however other months we've got plenty of time for streamkeeping activities and other volunteer work.

Well, the queue still has several items stacked up, so enough ruminating. Back to work.

Posted by Paul at 08:34 PM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2004

Discount Coupons Boost Computer

I had one of those "Duh!" experiences today. You know, finally seeing an obvious solution to a problem.

I have a four-year-old computer with a motherboard that supposedly supports up to 7 USB ports, and that came with 5 installed, none of which work. Years ago I tracked the problem down to a motherboard bug, and since I had other machines on our network that handled USB devices, I left it at that.

Today I was walking around Office Depot with $40 worth of loyalty reward coupons in my pocket, looking for something to spend them on.

And there it was, a Belkin Hi-Speed USB 2.0 5-Port PCI Card. Duh!

I grabbed it, brought it home, installed it in my USB-deficient machine, and voila -- I had USB connectivity. Why didn't this solution ever occur to me before?

Posted by Paul at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2004

Shaw Email Sucked Into Black Hole

All email sent to our Shaw email addresses disappeared for several hours this afternoon.

I know it happened, because I have our email processed by another hosting provider and forwarded to our Shaw addresses, plus I have our business email forwarded to a Yahoo email account for backup.

This has saved our bacon several times when Shaw's email servers mysteriously die. Our Shaw accounts are working again now, however many messages that the Yahoo account received have yet to show up through Shaw, many hours later.

Posted by Paul at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

Sluggish Computer Solved

In the last entry I wrote about my wife's sluggish notebook computer, and all the things I tried to bring it back up to speed.

Solved. Turning off Norton Internet Security brought it back to its former speed.

The mystery is, it ran fine before with Norton IS, so what caused the change?

I dunno, but this adds to my growing questioning of Symantec/Norton products after a decade of being a loyal user.

Posted by Paul at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

Sluggish Computer

My wife's IBM notebook computer is becoming increasingly sluggish, and I wonder if it's acquired some spyware program that's slowing it down.

It's protected by a router and anti-virus software, and I've checked it out with Spybot Search and Destroy, to no effect.

I just downloaded Ad-aware, and it has come up with a few extra suspects, however most are tracking cookies and none appear to be very malicious.

I've deleted all unecessary programs and defragged the HD.

If things don't improve, I might have to wipe the HD and do a fresh install of Windows ME.

Posted by Paul at 08:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2004

Quickbooks Pro 2004 Oddities

We subscribe to an Intuit Quickbooks monthly plan which keeps us up to date with new releases of the software and payroll management updates.

I recently upgraded to Quickbooks Pro 2004. I took my time because our accountant always grumbles that we upgrade too quickly, forcing him to do the same :-).

When I tried to email a client an invoice the other day, the program plugged in a link for online payment by credit card, instead of simply attaching a PDF of the invoice, as it had done in the past.

When I checked our registration information, I was suprised to see that we suddenly had an online payment "token." Hmm. Some years back we had signed up for Intuit's credit card processing system, but when they instituted a $35/month fee, we dropped out.

So are we suddenly enrolled again? I have yet to get a response to an email I sent earlier today. There better not be any extra entries on our VISA bill!

Posted by Paul at 06:47 PM | Comments (0)

Spontaneous Reboot on W2K Boxen

Our two main work computers both spontaneously rebooted at the same time today. It was eerie.

The machines are nearly identical. Both have Asus A7V motherboards, with slightly different revisions. Aside from one having 512MB of RAM and the other 256MB of RAM, and one having a CD writer while other has just a plain CD drive, that's about it for differences.

Both run Windows 2000, are behind a router, have the latest OS patches and updates, have updated antivirus software and Spybot software...

I hadn't installed any new software recently. I wondered about a power surge, however a old Dell box running Fedora Core 2 was not affected.

I searched Google, and there are many reports of W2K boxes spontaneously rebooting for a variety of apparent reasons.

This is the first time it's happened to us in the nearly four years we've had these machines. And why both at the same time?

I just hope it doesn't happen again, as I was in the middle of editing an article for a client. Fortunately only a few changes were lost.

Posted by Paul at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

Trying Open Office

I've been gradually trying out Open Office for word processing and spreadsheets. It saved my bacon the other day when a client sent me a file that kept crashing Word 2000.

I opened the file with Open Office Writer and started working on it. However, I soon discovered that I wasn't up to speed on OO, and I really needed to pump out the job quickly, so I saved the file and tried opening it again in Word, and voila, no more crashes.

One thing I've noticed that I miss in OO Writer is indication of cursor line and column position on the status bar. I get a lot of work editing newspaper articles, and I need to know these stats for headline length, etc.

I searched the OO website, and discovered that OO Writer can't do that, yet. However my search didn't turn up if the team plans to add the feature. I hope they do!

Posted by Paul at 07:42 PM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2004

Firefox Bug Resolved

I've been using Mozilla Firefox 0.9.1 for a couple of days now as my default browser, and it's been a smooth switch, aside from one bug.

When I'd click on a link in an email message, Firefox would fire up OK, however a "what program do you want to use" box would also pop up. After several annoying instances of this happening, I decided to choose Firefox, even though it was already opening.

That resulted in *two* Firefox windows opening each time I clicked a link in an email message!

There is a fix, posted by CritterNYC to the MozillaZine forums, and it can be found here.

1. Open Explorer
2. Select Tools and then Folder Options
3. Select the File Types tab
4. Select Extension: (NONE), File Type: HyperText Transfer Protocol
5. Click Advanced toward the bottom of the window
6. In the Edit File Type window, select open and click Edit
7. Clear the DDE message box (which should contain "%1")
8. Click OK, Click OK
9. Repeat for File Type: HyperText Transfer Protocol with Privacy

Posted by Paul at 07:22 PM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2004

Moving to Firefox?

I installed Mozilla Firefox 0.9.1 today. I'd been meaning to try out the browser for awhile, and the latest rash of MS Internet Explorer flaws was the final straw.

I'm writing this in Firefox, and it looks like a winner. It imported all of my IE and Netscape bookmarks, and it looks clean and fast.

I'd been gradually shifting from IE to Netscape, and love the tabbed windows in Mozilla/Netscape browsers.

I deleted Mozilla 1.4, which was several versions old anyway, and will now play mostly with Firefox.

Posted by Paul at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Do Something Now!

((((DO SOMETHING!) SMALL) USEFUL) NOW!)

I'm not a programmer, but even I could figure out that statement.

I picked it up off the NewsScan email list, and it was about the death of Bob Bemer, who helped invent the widely used ASCII coding system.

What simplicity and clarity!

Posted by Paul at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2004

Upgrading to Fedora Core 2

I upgraded my Red Hat 9 box to Fedora Core 2 last night. Everything appeared to go well, aside from a looooong, 2-3 hour install.

The speed was perhaps related to the old machine -- I use an ancient Dell PIII 450 with 256MB of RAM for my Linux machine.

I don't use my Linux box much, as I need MS products for work, however today I am posting this using Mozilla 1.6 on my Fedora machine, if anyone cares :-).

Posted by Paul at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004

Free Writing at EAC Session

We arrived home in Burnaby last night after a couple of days camping on the road back from the Editors' Association of Canada conference in Calgary last weekend.

I'll post a few entries over the next day or two about our travels, however first I'd like to share a free-writing excercise from the conference. We were asked to write "to" a thing, keeping our pens moving non-stop as soon as they hit the paper. I chose computers.

To computers: You seduced me with your power, the magic of green or yellow characters dancing across a screen. You let me combine work with play, and even let a bit of that adolescent hot-rodder continue to express himself into middle age with gigahertz instead of horsepower, graphics cards instead of mag wheels, oodles of RAM instead of Edelbrock intake manifolds. You have made me dependent upon you to put a roof over my head and keep it there. Without you, my business would die. You make me uncomfortable because while initially you empowered me, I am now almost totally dependent upon you. That's why I'm eagerly looking forward to spending three days camping on my way home, far out of WiFi and cell phone range, isolated from email and clients. Three days of freedom before I am bathed in the glow of your screen again, mesmerized.

Posted by Paul at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2004

Rescuing Old WP Files From Ancient Mac

The other day as I was cleaning my office I ran across my old Macintosh PowerBook 145B notebook computer, sporting a teeny 10" monochrome screen, 8MB of RAM, and an 80MB hard disk.

I plugged in the power cord and fired it up just for fun, only to have a cascade of memories come pouring down as I explored the HD.

This chunk of technology dates way back to my Tokyo days, and runs a hacked Japanese System 7.1 with English overlays. I used to carry it around with me on my English-teaching rounds, tapping thoughts and observations into Word Perfect whenever I had some down time.

I haven't used it in at least seven or eight years, and haven't used any Mac in that time either, but I need to rescue those files. I recall Macs had a utility to transfer files to DOS-formatted 3 1/2" floppy disks, and I am now in the process of scrounging a few to see if it will work. I can't remember the last time I used a floppy disk!

What an adventure....

Posted by Paul at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

Are People Really Reading This?

According to 1&1, the hosting provider that this blog resides on, I received over 140 unique visitors yesterday.

It was the first time I had bothered to check the stats, and I was astounded.

Yeah, I know, that's a tiny figure, yet it's far beyond my expectations of my wife, my mother, and a few friends :-).

Posted by Paul at 08:19 PM | Comments (2)

March 07, 2004

Is Sony Ripping Off Canadians?

Why is Sony charging substantially more in Canada than in the U.S. for the same products?

I saw a new Sony camcorder in a flyer today, the Digital 8 DCR-TRV460. Our old Sony Hi8 camcorder died nearly a year ago, and I'm interested in getting a Digital 8 model that can play back our old Hi8 tapes. The TRV460 can do that.

However, at Sony Canada, it's listed at C$699.99. At Sony U.S., it's listed at US$399.99. When I do the conversion, that's about C$530. Why is it nearly C$170 cheaper in the U.S.? That's outrageous.

I previously wrote about how much cheaper cameras and electronics are in Japan than in Canada, and I'm shocked to find such a huge disparity exists between Canada and the U.S.

Consumers ought to complain -- and loudly!

Posted by Paul at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2004

Those Pesky Bits and Bytes

The National Post screwed up bits and bytes in the Feb. 26 paper in an article on broadband ISP download speeds.

They took the data from broadbandreports.com which clearly states that it is measuring kilobits, however somehow all the references in the article became kilobytes. They further screwed things up by defining kilobytes per second as "kbps" which in fact is kilobits per second.

There is a good explanation of download "speed" on the broadbandreports.com site.

Posted by Paul at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2004

Reading Comprehension, Common Sense

People don't seem to read what they read anymore. Yes, I said, "read what they read." OK, comprehend. A fair chunk of the discussion I've seen lately on various email lists and newsgroups is of this nature. "You said...." "No, that's not what I said...."

People have also apparently become incapable of using common sense.

I hate to be a sourpuss, but over the last few weeks I've run into several examples, of which I will share two.

1) Our translation, editing and writing company recently received several unsolicited resumes by fax. The applicants were looking for jobs in the hospitality industry, food preparation in particular. Duh. I suspect they found us through our local board of trade listing.

Did I say "hospitality industry" and "food preparation"?

Cooks.

Is there any hope in hell that our company would hire them? Or if they were thinking that perhaps we'd pass their fax-spam on to our favorite restaurants, they are sadly mistaken.

2) I posted some problems we've been having with Norton software on a couple of email and news lists, along with this blog. I also posted how I'd resolved those problems, and thanked people who'd helped me.

A few days later, I received a long email message from someone I'd never heard of, who did not identify which list he'd found me on, regurgitating in his own words the steps I'd already taken and written about to solve the problem.

Double Duh!

All this wasted time.... Which I've just added to with my rant :-).

Posted by Paul at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2004

CD, Floppy Drives Reappear

Jim Tittsler pointed me in the right direction when he said it might be "overzealous" anti-virus software.

Sure enough, when I turned off AutoProtect in Norton AV, the floppy and CD drives became accessible again. Sheesh.

There is a document (the ID is 2003050715532006) on the Symantec site that says the problem has a "variety of causes" and "can be caused by a timing conflict between one of the features of Norton AntiVirus and another software program that loads on startup."

Nero software, in particular inCD is mentioned, and Symantec suggests upgrading one's Nero software.

I dunno, after being a loyal Norton user for years, in the past year or two I've been having increasing problems with their products. Time to investigate other options?

Posted by Paul at 02:11 AM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2004

CD, Floppy Drives Disappear

I tried to install QuickTax today to start entering data in preparation for filing our 2003 tax returns, and to see how maxing out our RSP contributions would affect our refunds.

When I popped the CD in the drive, nothing happened. I tried it on a notebook computer and on my wife's desktop and the install window opened, so the media was OK.

Back at my computer, I tried accessing the CD drive with Windows Explorer, only to get an "E:\is not accessible. Incorrect function" error message.

Music CDs played fine, and Windows 2000 claimed the drive was running just fine. Yet I had no access to data CDs.

I tried swapping the CD cable, with no success. I tried installing another CD drive I had sitting around, again with no success.

Then I noticed that my floppy drive was also not accessible. "A:\ is not accessible. Incorrect function."

Very strange. Is something wrong with the motherboard? It's an Asus A7V, which is known to have some issues, particularly with USB, however the CD and floppy drives had been working for years.

I still haven't figured this one out. I think I have a few more IDE cables and perhaps more old CD drives out in the garage...

Posted by Paul at 06:39 PM | Comments (2)

February 03, 2004

Musing on Blogs

About two weeks after starting this blog I'm doing exactly what I said I didn't like about many blogs - rambling on about multiplying numbers of topics in one blog.

In one of my first posts I said perhaps it would be more focused to have a blog on streamkeeping, a blog on technology, a blog on social commentary, a blog on writing and editing, etc. Then I discovered categories, created a bunch, and got sidetracked into throwing everything into this one blog.

So what am I going to do?

Dunno, yet.

I think I'll keep plowing along here using categories for a while. I still don't have a good feel for how often I'll be posting, or how prolific I'll be. It's been fun so far, but I'm far from developing a rhythm, or a guiding light.

It's also been a long time since I did a lot of writing. I've been editing almost exclusively for many years now, and I have to admit I find the blank page, or in this case the blank web form, a bit intimidating.

I used to enjoy writing columns and even got paid for some of them, so I suspect my blogging activity will continue.

Posted by Paul at 08:14 PM | Comments (1)

January 31, 2004

Raining Viruses

In the last 24 hours I've received at least three or four dozen emails with the W32.Novarg virus. Norton Anti-Virus appeared to stop them all, however a full-system scan nabbed four more copies.

I also get the feeling that a lot of major websites are slower than they usually are.

Posted by Paul at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2004

Canadians Ripped Off

I think Canadian consumers are being ripped off, particularly when it comes to high-tech products.

Let's take an example:

A Canon Powershot Digital Elph S400 goes for around C$650 at major Canadian retailers and webshops. Try London Drugs.

In Japan you can buy one for as little as C$460. Check out Kakaku, a Japanese comparative shopping site. If you can't read Japanese, take my word for it :-).

Does it really cost C$200 per unit to ship 'em over here? I doubt it.

Posted by Paul at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2004

Norton/Win2K Headaches

I've always used Norton software including Anti-Virus, SystemWorks, and Internet Security, and have usually found them stable, competent products. However, I've recently had two cases of problems upgrading Norton software.

My wife and I each had Norton SystemWorks 2001 on our Windows 2000 work machines. My Live Update subscription expired last autumn, and as the product was getting long in the tooth, rather than just buying a new Live Update subscription, I decided to upgrade to SystemWorks 2004. To do the upgrade, I had to uninstall the old version first, and that's where the troubles began....

For some reason, trying to uninstall SystemWorks brought up the uninstall screen for Netscape Communicator! I couldn't see any obvious way around this, so I uninstalled Communicator, however then Windows complained that there was no uninstall information for SystemWorks. Argh.

I couldn't delete many Norton files and folders manually, even as Administrator, as they were considered to be "in use" by Windows. I ended up searching startup folders and the Registry, and manually deleting all the references to Symnatec and Norton that I could find. After an hour or two of zapping files and rebooting, I'd killed enough of Norton that I could delete the directories and install SystemWorks 2004. (And re-install Netscape).

Yesterday, I went through the whole routine again on my wife's machine to upgrade her SystemWorks. Same problem, down to the strange Netscape uninstall linkage, but at least this time I was smarter and used Windows 2000 Safe Mode to zap Norton and Symantec directories and files, which was much faster as fewer were running.

Posted by Paul at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2004

Great Quote on Doc Searls' Blog

The Doc Searls Weblog : Tuesday, January 26, 2004

Loved this quote that Doc Searls put on his blog today....

They are the people formerly known as the audience. And they do not want your message.

Posted by Paul at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)