Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Things overheard

I love overhearing fragments of conversations, or walking in on very odd statements completely out of context. It adds a delicate touch of the surreal to any ordinary day. So I was pretty happy to discover In Passing, a collection of overheard comments that people find worthy of sharing. It looks like the home page hasn't been updated in a while, but people are adding new things, so dig around and you'll find some good stuff (click on the categories).

I feel like I've been getting more value from my web surfing these days. It's like having tapped into another branch of this tree we call the web. BTW, I wholeheartedly agree with Wired's style decision to make "internet" and "web" lowercase; it's time to consider it just another medium like television or radio, and writing someone about what you watched on Television last night would look rather silly, wouldn't it?

On a related note, when will the internet and web no longer be considered "new" media? I know, I know, that's been pointed out over and over since ages ago. But I do need to know, since I was just put down for an order of business cards with "new media developer" as my title. I like the term "new media". It still feels fresh-faced and exciting. I could've gone with "interactive" instead, I suppose - I like to have as vague a title as possible so that my job can encapsulate any number of things. (I am a generalist, without question.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blogging in academia

Here's an interesting bit from a woman who suggests weblogs have a valid place in academic writing and research, and feels that her weblog should be considered in her application for tenure. What I find strikes a chord with me is her wondering where her semi-personal weblog fits in; it's not traditional academic writing, nor is it purely personal, but she knows it has a place somewhere. Seems awfully close to how I feel about this blog - I'm not quite sure why it's here, but I enjoy it, and I think it'll become clearer to me as time goes on.

Perhaps blogging just is what it is - a new form that we haven't quite come to terms with, that hopefully remains more or less stable after the hype dies down. I'm curious to see what happens to blogging once everybody stops gushing about it. Will it suddenly become a faux pas to give out your URL? Will people roll their eyes and snicker when you say you maintain a blog? Will our comments become a wasteland of spam? I've never been particularily good at predicting trends (I remember the first time I saw Mosaic - I thought "um, the Web is just like Gopher but with pictures"). All I can say for sure is things change.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Pleasant Street

Last night we went to see a documentary called Pleasant Street at the Vancouver International Film Festival. It's about the two neighbours of the director, who herself battled breast cancer. One of her neighbours, Ken, has pancreatic cancer, and the other, Leida Finlayson, has metastized melanoma.

I knew Leida while we were both at university; the summer in between high school and university especially, I was part of a great group of friends of whom Leida was one. I didn't spend a lot of time with her individually, but she was a staple of the group, and a really super person. Eventually the group drifted apart, and I moved away, and never kept in touch with Leida; just got occasional news about her through a friend.

She was told in December 2002 that she had about six months to live; I heard about it from the other side of the continent, through our mutual friend. I was stunned, and hoped for the best, but I couldn't help feeling detached from it all - we hadn't been in touch, and I was so far away. All I felt I could do was send a card and hope. She made it through about seven months. She was 31, a year older than me.

Over a year later, I still felt disconnected from it all until watching the movie and seeing the last five months of Leida's life. At the start, she's just like I remember her, just a bit older, like any of us. Bubbly, vibrant, always positive - it sounds like such a cliche to say that about someone who's died, but it was true. She's the sort of person who makes people say "it always happens to the nicest people". She was.

And seeing her at the end, almost unrecognizable, bald, her face swollen from steroids, her words drifting from the painkillers, but still underneath it all the same voice, the same eyes, the same positivity; that's what brought it all home for me. That this is what she went through, this is what happened. This is what it was like.

I'd never seen that experience happen to someone I know. A friend of mine had Hodgkin's when I was in junior high school, but I never really saw its full effect on him, I just knew the radiation made him nauseous sometimes. And fortunately, he made a full recovery. I know someday I'll watch someone I know well sicken and die from cancer. Could be me. It's inevitable - it's a big unknown killer, and given enough people and enough time, the odds increase that someone you know gets it. But 31 years old! That's so, so young to be told that's it, that's all you get.

Right now I've got a cold - stuffy nose, sore throat, the usual - but all I can think is how Leida would love to be alive right now with nothing more than a common cold to complain about. Being alive and mildly ill is far, far better than not being alive at all.

Leida, I'm so sorry that we all take life for granted. Something like this happens, and we evaluate how lucky we are for a little while, and then it fades away and we're back to regular programming. I'm so sorry we can't even fully appreciate what you haven't got.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Distributed blogging

I find it interesting that you barely need a computer to blog. Having been working in web design & development since the web existed, I'm used to the arrangement whereby you have webspace on a server, and everything is centralized on that server: all your content, your stats, your mail. For this blogging experiment, on the other hand, I've got webspace at, my stats are handled by Reinvigorate, my pictures are handled by Photobucket, my mail lives at Yahoo, and I bookmark notes about it all at Furl. And so far, it's all free - and, importantly, ad-free, except for the little Blogger navbar and icon that I'm perfectly willing to grant them.

It gave me a strange nomadic feeling at first - like I'm homeless if all my content isn't cozily bundled together in one place - but it's growing on me; I like the interconnectedness of it, as if I'm part of something. So far you'd never know I'm part of something because I haven't received any comments and my traffic is probably next to nil, but all things in time. I'm trying genuinely to start from scratch here. I could leverage my existing sites and connections by linking them to this blog, but maybe not for a month or two yet; I want to see how this thing grows organically.

Let's talk about wikis for a minute. I quite like them. For the uninitiated, a wiki is a collaborative system for document building of pretty much any kind. It's anarchic - anyone can edit anything in the document. We use it at work for taking notes on various projects, and it's especially important in cases where other people might have to come in to the project partway through and need to get caught up. (I guess what I'm describing is a rudimentary knowledgebase.) I use one at home as well, but it's sort of futile, since I'm the only one editing anything and I haven't convinced anyone else that they have a need to share in it. But damn it, I just want to wiki.

I think part of what makes wikis successful is their pure & utter simplicity. In order to add information, you don't have to log in to a proprietary system with special software, check out the file, mark your changes in red, cross things out, etc etc. You just hit the page and go. No muss, no fuss. Well, you do need to learn a few markup codes, but really they're right there on the page with you so there's nothing to memorize. And we do actually have our system password-protected to discourage the occasional wandering vandal, but that's not unreasonable. Wikis are very malleable to whatever your purpose may be.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The nature of blogging

I thought one interesting application of this blog might be to see how easy it is to form a sort of detached version of myself on the Net. I have a lot of stuff online here & there, and it's not hard to find connections to me wherever. This blog could be a stand-alone entity, with no connections whatsoever to my normal existence, and it might be interesting to see what sort of social interaction forms around this disconnected-me, or if it becomes an inevitable trail of obvious clues that point to me.

But that also would limit what I could talk about on the blog. For example, I just set up a Furl account, and I was going to link to it from here - but then there it is, that same default name I use online, and it would be a connection to my regular online self. Does it matter? Well, no, not particularily, but it would defeat the purpose of the experiment if I did decide to make this blog an isolated event.

Huh, the sun just came out. I certainly wasn't expecting that.

Here's a thought about the vastness of the net. Before we had the internet, if you had a good original idea, you could play with it and coax it and build on it and think about where it could go. Now, when you have a good original idea, you can do a search for it on Google and immediately discover that six other people have already thought of it, produced it, and are capitalizing on it. Upon discovering this, you become disheartened and lose interest in your perfectly good idea. Or maybe it's just me.

Yesterday I figured out how to hook up & record my bass guitar through a Roland UA-30 to my G5 using GarageBand. It is sweeeeeeet. I feel a world of potential at my fingertips, etc. Of course, I also was browsing some old MP3s and found some songs I recorded of myself singing, accompanied by some weak attempts at keyboard. They made me very self-conscious and completely uncertain of any musical talent I may possess. I think this is why I play bass: it's an instrument that provides support rather than standing in the spotlight. I'm too self-deprecating to be a lead singer, however much I may dream about it. God, I would hate to be one of those amateur rock singers who thinks they sound really great while the audience
knows better. It's often a good thing to have confidence and all, but there are some people out there performing who should perhaps have a little less confidence than they do. (Do I even have to mention those American Idol auditions they show?)

But, um, to end on a positive note, I was really really really happy to start playing with music and my computer and I can't wait to get into it even more. There.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The blog begins to solidify.

Been reading a whole bunch about social computing today, particularily on how to encourage interaction in a group online. At work we're developing an online course about medical terminology, which has typically involved massive amounts of rote memorization. Some of that memorization is necessary; there's room, though, for critical thinking and expansion of ideas. However, there probably won't be as much testing on the critical thinking. So the question here is, how to get students interested in interacting with each other and sharing their knowledge when the topic material doesn't really encourage dialogue as much as other courses? I've got some ideas... posting them on the development site as we go.

I'm still not sure what this blog is, by the way. I notice there's a lot of social-computing blogs out there, and part of me thinks I'd like to go that route, but I feel I'm still at the sponge stage of my knowledge development: still learning what's out there, what's been done; I have thoughts but nothing to judge them by. Plus I would like to have space to ramble now and then about non-work-related topics, and whine about being very tired today, and if this was a purely work-related site I couldn't do that.

What's next, then? Political rants? I could go on about US vs. Canadian differences... that'll be a good topic someday. Links to other sites? Check out Show and Tell Music, a collection of record cover art. If you feel like being disturbed, go to "Christian cover art" and listen to the MP3 by "Lil' Markie", which is positively freakish. Let's just say it puts a new spin on Phil Collins' "Mama".

Oh, so I also finally changed the graphics on this site to something other than the default, having at last settled on a usable blogname. Guess I might as well flip the switch and make 'er live. I did notice an interesting bug in Blogger when using Safari 1.2: when you edit the CSS, sometimes when you save or preview the CSS, it nukes ALL the CSS in the file after the change you just made. Isn't that nice?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


So today I'm working out of our satellite office near Main Street. It has the advantage of being extremely near to my home, and very quiet. Very very quiet. Really, too quiet; I'm getting a little bit punchy and resisting the urge to IM everybody at work for no apparent reason, just for some kind of human contact. It also turns out that I MISSED a BBQ today at work - a welcome-back for all university staff. Sure, the ONE DAY I work offsite, and this is the thanks I get... ;)

One bonus when I was freelancing was that I could play with the dog and have all the comforts of home around... make myself a cup of tea, stare at the plants. This office is absolutely spartan, devoid of any decorations whatsoever. If I am going to work from here every once in a while I will HAVE to fix it up a bit... it's so barren it stifles creativity. On top of this, I can't even listen to music because I'm using an iBook I checked out for the day and the speakers are way too tinny. Maybe some headphones would help.

[minutes pass] The security guy just came by and we chatted for a few minutes - human interaction!

My new computer is sitting at home waiting for me, too, just waiting to be set up and for me to be dazzled by its astounding speed. I'm actually slightly intimidated by it, which never happens to me - it's more power than I need right now, but not more power than I might need in a year or so, and it's unusually tall and sleek and heavy. (It's a PowerMac G5.) It doesn't fit in my tower-holder on my desk. (I thought computers were getting SMALLER?) Anyway, I'm finding it hard to stay focused on what I need to do at work today... the environment of this office is uninspiring, the laptop is kind of cramped, and I know I've got sublime power waiting for me at home. Hey ho.

[a while later] I just spent about 20 minutes reading other peoples' blogs... something I haven't done in a while, because the last time I looked it was all fifteen-year-olds bitching about their traumas. This time I got something in Arabic I couldn't read, a few people blathering about sports and politics, someone who replaces "the" with "da" everywhere in every post, and a young black single mother of a 1-year-old writing out her day-to-days. The last I found particularily interesting because her life is so, so, so different from mine... reading what somebody writes about their lives, themselves, is far different from watching a TV show or movie about it, or reading an article written by a third party. It's actually kind of voyeuristic in a way - spying on someone else's personal issues, their fights with their friends, their relationships. And yet she's put this private information out for me and anyone else to read. I don't think I'll do that, myself! Sorry all you avid readers, but you don't get the dirty details. While I do love to talk about myself *sigh*, I am pretty reserved about anything truly personal, and the whole time I'm typing I'm aware that this is going out on the airwaves (how anachronistic).

...Actually, that isn't an anachronism at all, since I'm connecting with a wireless modem at the moment. Irony.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Music music music

I've gotten hooked on at work lately. I hate radio, so being able to set a playlist of stuff I love and let it randomly select from it is a sweet sweet thing. And I've been bemoaning the fact that since Napster went away I haven't been exposed to as much new music - Last also lets you listen to other peoples' preferred music or plays you a profile radio of stuff it thinks you'll like based on your preferences. I'm very much looking forward to having a decent computer setup at home so I can play stuff there.

Granted, it doesn't have EVERYthing I like (no Clinic, a few missing albums even of popular artists), and ideally it would be nice to be able to beam music wirelessly to the stereo or something like that. Someday... someday. Add it to the list.

New computer's supposed to arrive tomorrow. *crosses fingers* Ohboyohboyohboy.

Friday, September 03, 2004

All the best names are taken.

I've been ignoring this blog, as predicted, for several days, but it's still been in the back of my head. And I've been rereading some Heinlein I haven't read in several years. He makes use of the acronym TANSTAAFL fairly often ("There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch"), and it dawned on me that that wouldn't make too bad a blog name. But lo and behold, somebody's already got, and they haven't updated it in two years, damn it.

I've got a default name I use in situations like this, but I'd like to use something else for a change; branch out to something new. But of course everything I think of, somebody has already thought of in the years that Blogger has been around. I know I could host the site myself and call it whatever the hell I want, but I don't feel like it.

Thought crossed my mind today. As an adult, when was the last time you played leapfrog? Like, the actual children's game leapfrog, where one person squats down on the ground and the other person presses on their shoulders and hops over them? There's a game that adults simply do not play in polite, clothed company - it looks awkward and ungainly and potentially suggestive.

[30 seconds pass]...In a fit of optimism I just checked out, and that ALSO exists and hasn't been updated since 2002. Bloody hell. Of course, who am I to judge - I do have some blogs that sort of reached natural conclusions that I have no intention of updating. But these people appear to have just abandoned their blogs in midstream... much as I expect to do with THIS blog within a month or two. Hey ho.