Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I've moved!

Alright, I've got everything ported over to b2evolution except the comments, which I'll get to sometime this week, I suppose. Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds if you've got 'em: crowstoburnaby can now be found at http://www.crowstoburnaby.com. The new RSS2 feed is http://crowstoburnaby.com/xmlsrv/rss2.php?blog=2 - you can also get RSS 0.92, 1.0 and Atom feeds, just come on o'er to the site to find the URLs. This Blogspot site is most likely not going to be updated any more.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Expect service interruptions

for the next little while, as I move crowstoburnaby over to a new server. If you're accessing this from crowstoburnaby.blogspot.com, you won't be affected; if you're arriving via crowstoburnaby.com, bad things will happen. Basically I can't configure b2evolution until the domain name is pointed at it properly - I was hoping to set it up behind the scenes and then transfer the domain name, but noooooo, b2evolution hard-codes the domain name in so I have little choice. It'll be alright.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Take the blue pill

There's an increasing number of rants online advocating that Democrat/"blue" areas disassociate themselves from the Republican/"red" areas, and pointing out that the division isn't red vs. blue states, it's country vs. city living. So one site advocates that Democrats and urban dwellers focus all their efforts on the cities to make them the sorts of places that we want to live. Which is all very well and good, but it seems that city living makes you die sooner. I suppose that'll make the Republicans happy, especially if anti-Bush protestors keep killing themselves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What is hype and what isn't?

I get a warm fuzzy feeling from looking over del.icio.us and feeling like I'm seeing the pulse of browsers everywhere. I get a quiet joy from the ease and elegance of flickr's interface, a simple idea done well. And, as previously mentioned, I'm ridiculously happy about the idea of moving to a better blogging interface.

But there's a nagging part of me that wonders, especially after some conversations I've had lately, how much of it all is just another bandwagon. I do think there's some real value in all of these tools... but sometimes I feel a bit sheepish talking about them. Is it just the phenomenon of "it's so popular it's unpopular", which is what kept me from starting a blog in the first place? Is it a reluctance to sit on the crest of a great wave that'll inevitably crash, leaving me looking foolish in a wreck on the shore? Or is it just the simple realization that while these are all great tools, they aren't panaceas for anything that's wrong online, either in education or the rest of the net? Having a wiki doesn't mean people will use it. Having a blog doesn't mean your content is worth reading. And I still think it's only a matter of time before Furl and del.icio.us are obscured by spam, the way wikis are being overrun, the way you can't do a Google search on a popular topic without finding scores of meaningless sites all pointing in circles to inflate their scores.

The thing is, these tools are fantastic for people who are already motivated to use them. But there's still a fundamental need TO motivate the tech-phobic, the disinterested, the standoffish, particularily in education. And that has less to do with building cool tools, and more to do with basic interface design and basic content development.

I think what's great about the tools is that people are looking at building new kinds of software and new kinds of tools that they hadn't before, making collaboration more intuitive and streamlined, and giving people the power to adapt the tools themselves (such as the API for del.icio.us). That's what I can allow myself to get excited about, perhaps; not what's out there now, but what'll be out there next.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Goldilocks and the Three Bands

Went last night to sample some more New Music West shows, this time at Voda. The first band was... too derivative. The second bad was... too... ummm... just not my style. But the third band was juuuuust right.

All three were actually very, very good. The first was Whitfield, a three-piece Brit-pop-style band. (Their website says they're looking for a lead guitarist, if anybody's interested.) Very talented, enjoyed it a lot, but they do wear their influences on their sleeve; they could understudy for Coldplay. When not sounding like Chris Martin, the lead singer's vocal style is very, very obviously influenced by Thom Yorke - and hey, there's nothing wrong with that, but you get the feeling he hasn't yet found his own voice. Maybe in time they'll grow into their own. Maybe they won't. We'll see. Either way, they were more than listenable, and I'd check them out again.

Second band was Welkin. Also very talented, but more of a stadium-rock style, a bit too big for the room. Their site says their major influence is I Mother Earth, who I don't know, but if you know them maybe that'll give you a better idea. More of a heavy/prog-rock sound than I like - but that's just me. If you like that style, you'll like Welkin, I expect; they were good musicians.

Oceanic was last up. Whenever I've gone out to see random local bands, I've always hoped that somebody would play something I could really get into; I am often bitterly disappointed. This time I actually found a band I could get excited about. Thoughtful, dynamic, textured, lovely music; guitar-and-sample based with pleasing bassline patterns. I'll definitely see them again sometime, and I highly recommend you give them a listen or go to a show.

They did a beautiful cover of The Verve's "Life's an Ocean" - accurate enough that you recognize the song, different enough that they gave it their own feel. They also had a projection screen with a nice atmospheric slideshow. I bought their EP, and it's very good, though I was surprised that it seems to have more of a "same-ness" about it than I thought they had live. Still, I don't mind, since it's more of a good thing and so on. They've really got some potential and I hope they get the backing they'll need to get where they want to go.

(The bassist had the most gorgeous bass, too; I think it was a Warwick but I'm not sure. I've seen them in the store but they look much better being played. And a wonderful warm rich sound. Yum.)

While I'm in the habit of recommending local music, I must point you to Marcus Martin's solo work at projectarctic.com. It's great to watch Marcus live - he records his guitar loops as he plays and continues over them, adding new elements here and there; the result is a much richer and more intricate sound than you'd expect from one man with a solo guitar, and he's got a wonderful pure voice that weaves throughout it all. Go listen to some tracks.

Finally, a l'il anecdote on the way the Web works these days. I spotted Stephen Hedley at the show last night, and stopped him to thank him for suggesting the bands at Voda that night. Turns out that between my last blog post on Friday afternoon and the concert on Saturday evening, he'd Googled his name to look for any reviews, and found my comments! Funny - it had occurred to me that people I mention here might eventually turn up these posts, but I didn't think it would happen that fast. The virtual and real worlds don't just occasionally collide the way they used to; they are now fully integrated. By way of thanks, he kindly gave me a copy of his EP - you can listen to samples of the tracks at his site here. It's wonderful rainy-Sunday-morning-with-a-cup-of-tea music. And there's a lot of rainy Sunday mornings in Vancouver, so you're obviously going to need this music.

That's a lot of listening homework I've assigned you. Better stop reading and get to it.

Friday, November 12, 2004

This blog wants to MOVE.

Of course, as it turns out, there is no easy way to import Blogger posts into b2evolution. Ain't I lucky? There seem to be some tweaks you can try at the database level... but now since I'm not installing it myself I probably won't have that access after all. Tee hee; what fun. I've only got 30-some posts, so far (although here I go, adding to the list). Hopefully I can just set the timestamps so it looks like I posted them when I originally posted 'em. And I'll just add any precious comments into the body of the post.

It does seem a bit silly that I can't just export & import. Wouldn't XML/RSS be awfully handy for this kind of thing? Shouldn't I be able to just export a nice XML listing of all my posts from Blogger and then feed those into b2evolution and let 'er rip? Is this too much to ask for?

Other than that, I can barely wait. I'm quite geeked out about this whole thing. Categories!!!

Plans for the weekend: the New Music West festival has some daytime events over the next few days, but it'll put me in the wrong part of town for the East Side Culture Crawl. I'm volunteering with NMW - worked at the door last night at a show that featured the MacGregors, Stephen Hedley, and Myke Madison. (The MacGregors turned out to be a set of fourteen-year-olds playing cheery poppy songs; the harmonizing lead singer sisters also play some fiddle tunes. It's like Hanson except they actually are girls.) Liked Stephen Hedley's material a lot; good voice, nice harmonies, solid music. It was actually the second time in a week I'd seen him perform alongside a few other bands, and he was the standout both times. Myke Madison didn't impress me overmuch - loud, fidgety drumming overwhelmed what otherwise seemed to be a potentially musical and versatile group (more violins, at least).

NMW really is a neat way to see bands - if you don't like what you're listening to, take your wristband and wander up the street to see something else. I'm not sure if the conference section in the afternoon will be all that valuable to me - it's mostly about how to promote your music to A&R, publicize, manage, and so on. It's more schmooze-related, less about the actual music creation, which is what I would prefer to get into - I haven't written a song I'd want publicized, and don't expect to ever spend any time aggressively pursuing A&R types, so I don't expect I'd want to hang around with them any more than necessary.

Next weekend: The East Side Culture Crawl is always good (well, a large proportion of it, anyway). I'm beginning to get attached to Arleigh Wood's prints... mostly features crows, circles, leaves, and other natural elements worked into designs. She was at the Drift on Main a while ago - conveniently she has two studios and can take advantage of both events. Nice work.

But tonight: all-you-can-eat sushi followed by karaoke. Have yourselves a lovely little weekend. Maybe somewhere in all this other stuff I'll get a chance to start shifting things over to b2evolution. I'll post when that's happened, and you can update your bookmarks to http://www.crowstoburnaby.com. No idea if anyone's subscribed to my newsfeed, but I'll holler when that's changed too.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bass and beyond

I'm proud of my bass-playing calluses. I love it when my fingertips are tender after a bass practice. It's akin to having slightly sore muscles after exercise, just enough so you know you've done yourself some good. Of course, I'd far rather play my bass than exercise, so I'm starting to become more familiar with sore fingertips than sore muscles.

I also love the sound of the band downtuning before playing Muse's "Hypermusic". It's like an airplane getting ready for takeoff.

I'm getting better at singing while playing, too. It's still tricky when I first start learning a new song, and there's some songs that I doubt I'd ever be able to handle the bassline AND the vocals at the same time, but I'm getting more reliable. Marcus suggested practicing it by emphasizing just the words that are sung as you're playing a note (particularily when they're on the beat), and then the rest sort of fills in over time - that's helped a lot. I've even noticed that sometimes I can tell whether the lead singer plays an instrument or not while they sing, depending on how naturally the vocals match the beats.

Other miscellaneous notes for the day:
  • While I was scanning my spam folder for valid emails accidentally misplaced, I noticed the name 'Pat Pfirmphh" in one of the From fields. I didn't take note of what he/she was selling (no doubt the usual prescriptions, p3n1s enlargement, prizewinning notifications or the mystifying Christian Debt Relief) but I have to give some kudos to the spammer for coming up with the creative name of Pfirmphh. Come to think of it, it was probably for a prescription... the name sounds like an expression of great discomfort.
  • The bus I take to work passes a grade school. Usually I've got my nose buried in a book or my eyes closed, but I was looking out yesterday and noticed that instead of backpacks, many of the kids were lugging small suitcases, like flight attendants. I'm not good at judging ages, but these kids must've been around, what, 7-10 years old. Has the curriculum really gotten so intensive that the poor things have to carry around that many massive books at once? Are they learning that much more? Someone explain this to me. What's it like to be a grade-schooler these days? I've obviously missed out on the changes in the past 20+ years.
  • Finally, I think I'm going to switch this blog over to b2evolution sometime in the next few weeks, if I ever get time. It seems to be getting a lot of good feedback. Part of me really likes using a maintained system like Blogger - it's like having a day at the spa; some of it is stuff you didn't need or could've done yourself but it's just so nice not to have to worry about it. But I feel like Blogger is stagnating, and it seems kind of silly to go to TypePad when I can in fact host something myself on my own server. So we'll see how it goes. I hope there's an easy way to import old posts so I don't have to copy and paste all my archives... ugghh. Any tips? [UPDATE: I just found out that my host, Ace of Space, does provide b2evolution support - I just need to upgrade from an Admin Suite account to a CPanel account, something I've been thinking about doing for a while. Plus, they have wikis and more! WOOHOO! I can't wait!!]

Monday, November 08, 2004

So much for corporate activism.

There's a little conversation going on at blinkit here and here about the TELUSphere petition I started, which has pretty much died in its infancy. (You can see my response in the comments under the first link.) This is fairly typical of the response I've seen online - basically, if Telus wants to support a building, Science World should be happy and we shouldn't complain because we get improved services.

I'm kind of past discussing it any more - you can read my thoughts on it if you want, and if nobody else thinks it's worth kicking and screaming about then I'm not going to belabour the issue - but I'm honestly very, very surprised that this is the response in Vancouver. This is the city where Adbusters was born. This is the home of the makers of The Corporation. This is a city of activists, where there is a protest for the slightest infraction by any company or government.

Of course, it's also the city where there are two Starbucks on opposing corners, and people also write furious letters to the local papers complaining about bubble machines, so perhaps I should not be so hasty to assume.

Random Vancouver comment. Within one block of each other are two restaurants, Monsoon and Typhoon. Does this tell you anything about the quantity of water we receive every year? Luckily it's near the top of a hill, so the area is unlikely to flood.

Friday, November 05, 2004

So how's the blogging going, anyway?

To revisit some earlier ramblings, I set this blog up mostly as an experiment in blogging, and because one of my main computer interests has become social software - so I really ought to be involved in actually using the tools that interest me! And what do I think so far, you might ask?

Well, I'm hooked. I really am. I am starting to get to the point when I make mental bookmarks of things that I think would make good blog posts. I was ecstatic when I got a comment, and I love seeing my traffic grow (I'm using reinvigorate.net for site stats). The process of blogging has led me to all sorts of wonderful online discoveries that I wouldn't have made otherwise.

I've had my own web site(s) for years - aahlookout.com for personal stuff, outsideinthesun.com for business, back when I was freelancing. I chose to make this blog a stand-alone entity on blogspot.com because I wanted to see how easy or difficult it was to emerge from nothing on the Web. Of course, I got impatient, because I'd rather be part of a big network than a wallflower in the corner. Human nature and all. And now I've got a third site to deal with - crows to burnaby. I just bought the domain name and I'm pointing it to this blog; should be good to go in a few hours. Is this not a bit silly, though? crowstoburnaby and aahlookout should be lumped into one site, but I can't bring myself to part with either name.

I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with blogger.com forever. First, it's been having some server issues (coincidentally, the server started returning errors while I was writing this post, and if I hadn't copied it into the buffer, I would have lost it). Also, I'm finding myself increasingly impatient for some of the features that other blog services offer, like categories and TrackBack. And there haven't been any hints forthcoming from Blogger on when they're going to incorporate any of these features. I'm a bit surprised that they're so far behind, given that Google (who owns Blogger) is usually right on top of things and blogs are a pretty hot & trendy topic at the moment. Makes me wonder what's going on with them internally. Anyone care to enlighten me?

My other social-software dilemma is, of course, Furl vs. del.icio.us. I've grown to very much like Furl. I appreciate that you can make links private - not that I need to often, but it's nice to have the choice. I get the feeling when using del.icio.us that it's more of a broadcast to the world, whereas Furl feels like my personal bookmark collection that I just happen to be sharing with anyone who seeks it out. Maybe it's an illusion. In any case, I'm going to keep using them both for the time being - I've only been using del.icio.us for a few days, so I have yet to get a real feel for it. It seems a little less organized and haphazard than Furl, but that does have its own charm.

And Flickr still rocks.

Branding and indifference

Here's an article from Wired about how brands are becoming passe, and consumers are now so savvy that they have abandoned brand loyalty since they can do research online and find out which products are best. I do think this is partly true, though a little optimistic. We're so innundated with branding that eventually we just tune it out. Perhaps this is why I've gotten a lukewarm response to my TELUSphere petition - what's another big logo on the skyline matter when most of the available space is filled with ads anyway? (Or perhaps it's because @#$%^&* petitiononline.com has been down for the entire past day.) Many people are irate about the change, but a lot are just indifferent, and don't see how the TELUSfear is any different from GM Place or the CN Tower or the Scotiabank Dance Centre. Is it worth arguing over? I waver back and forth about it. It seems so insignificant compared to the politics going on just south of here, but at the same time at least it's something local and I should, in theory, have some say in the matter.

In other, unrelated news, my band has spontaneously renamed itself after my dog.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Preparing for the Exodus

Since this morning I've talked to three friends in the States who are wistfully pondering the idea of leaving the country. They're certainly not the only ones to think of it - Harper's offers a repatriation guide for the dissatisfied American, and there's a discussion on Plastic about people who threaten to leave if their guy loses.

It would be a wise move right now for Canada to loosen its immigration requirements for academics, scientists, doctors and innovators. The climate in the States for the next four years is not exactly going to favour innovation and scientific development, nor free speech and exploration. Here in Canada we're facing a shortage of physicians, and as always need to foster and encourage academic growth and technological innovation. Liberal and educated people in the United States, frustrated at the state of the country, are considering emigrating. It's a perfect match, and a good opportunity for Canada to bolster its capabilities in science and technology while the USA lets itself go.

In the meantime, any of our friends are welcome to sleep on our couch if they feel like hopping over the border to check things out. And you can learn more about Canadian immigration at http://www.cic.gc.ca. It's a tedious and sometimes difficult process, but it's worth it.

Election results

At the time of writing, John Kerry has recently conceded the election to George Bush.

I said that if Bush won I'd lose my faith in humanity, which is largely true. I expected that if Bush won again, I would rant about how I can't understand what's wrong with half of America, how can people be so blind, etc etc. But I've done that before and it isn't really the point any more.

Instead, I've shifted into a sort of resigned tolerance. If this is what America truly wants for themselves, then maybe it's what they should have. If their ideal world is a conservative, religious, semi-fascist regime run by a fear-mongerer who puts corporate interests above the needs of his people, then maybe they made the right choice. I really wanted to believe that there were enough sensible, rational people to carry things through. But it looks like we have hit that critical bump where the ignorant outnumber the rational. And ignorance has a way of begetting ignorance, so it's all downhill from here. I just wish that they weren't going to take the rest of the world down with them as they slide - our environment, our security, our economies will all be affected.

Watching this change in the United States has been rather like watching an acquaintance suffering from a long, slow, dehabilitating illness - and last night they finally passed away. It's upsetting, but at the same time I knew it was coming; it looked for a little while like there was some hope, but in the end it was inevitable that they slip away, out of reach.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Today's a day for the paranoid!

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too paranoid about not revealing statistics about myself like my full name and my employer, especially given that I work for a pretty cool university with people that do some pretty spiffy and forward-thinking things in e-learning.

Then I see something like this post from James Farmer, who has been warned by his (unnamed) university to "cease supporting and promoting weblogging, wikis or any other technology not officially supported by the University". It looks their admin is a little touchy on anything that might compete with their CMS, and does not wish to see commentary (read: criticism) on the topic. Never mind, of course, that blogs and wikis can be used to supplement and enhance a CMS; his research is apparently cause for disciplinary action.

That's a startling message from a type of institution, which is, in theory, supposed to be a supportive environment that encourages exploration and discovery. And of course, it may not be representative of the whole picture: perhaps it's just one or two members of the administration who are so short-sighted, and the other people there are actually quite reasonable.

But that's exactly why I don't make a big show out of who I work for and what we do; who knows if I've said something here, even unrelated to e-learning, that could piss off the wrong person. Perhaps Telus is a major sponsor of some program here and they don't want to see an employee of this university babbling about the TELUSfear. Perhaps one of the profs is a staunch Republican and wouldn't want to work with someone as anti-Bush as I am. I'd just rather be safe than sorry.

In other news for the paranoid, tonight's election night! Not that we're going to know the winner for quite some time, of course. The absentee ballots don't have to be in until the 9th, and they're expecting a large number of them this year. Besides, there'll be some recounts and some lawsuits and some appeals to go through in the meantime.

I don't really drink much, but I was thinking a drinking game might be appropriate for tonight: something like, chug every time you hear "too close to call", "a dead heat", or "neck and neck"... any other suggestions? It might make the process bearable.

I'm curious to see what happens after the election results are final, for either side. There's been an awful lot of pent-up emotions for the past year. Are we due for riots? I'm thinking there'll be some smashed windows, a few fights in a few cities. Nothing on a civil war level, hopefully. But it's been a pretty intense time, and people do have a tendency to vent when the pressure has been building... of course, the steam may very well die down over the course of the next few weeks while they decide the winner. We'll see.