Sunday, November 11, 2018

Derek Jul 2010

July 2010 Archives

I was going to write a long ranty post about the federal Conservative party's asinine plan to scrap the long form from the next Canadian census in 2011. But Beth did a much better job. What's puzzling is that Statistics Canada is renowned around the world for its excellent work, and I've never heard it accused of misusing or leaking census information.
Despite opposition from groups of all political stripes across the country, the government is being intransigent. I hope that if they do manage to screw up our next census by removing the long form, the Conservatives get turfed next election and the new government will reinstate it. I'm dismayed that senior ministers today seem either not to understand how demographic statistics work and must be used, or are letting a poisonous ideology override what understanding they might otherwise have.
Regardless, cancelling the mandatory long form (available from StatsCan, if you want to see the "controversy") is a stupid move, and a disservice to everyone in the country.

Flying at 1000 mph

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After yesterday's big bummer post, let's go back to something lighter and more fun. During our flight home from L.A. on Monday, I took a couple of videos using my Nikon D90 SLR, one on takeoff and one on landing. Now I've combined them and sped them up eight times:

The apparent speed of the plane in the video (our WestJet Boeing 737-700) is more than 1000 mph, which is why the landing seems a little rough. The sounds are sped up too, so the squeaky noises on takeoff comprise the flight attendant's announcements. Both parts of the flight are looking north from row 5.

Tumours growing again

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Since February or so, the aggressive, high-dose chemotherapy I've been taking since last December was shrinking the tumours in my lungs, an encouraging trend. But now, not so much.
In the three and a half years I've known I have cancer, I've come to expect a certain result whenever I meet with my oncologist Dr. Kennecke about a CT scan: after 16 or 17 of those scans now, I know that most often, my tumours have grown a little, not a lot, and there may be one or two new little ones. That's my default position going in, before I know anything. If things are better, I'm happy. If they're worse, I'm sad. But if that's roughly the result, I may be disappointed, but I'm not crushed, as I might be if I were a relentless happy-happy must-think-positively type.
And that was roughly the result this month. I had another scan a few weeks ago and met with Dr. K. at the B.C. Cancer Agency this past Tuesday, the day after returning from my family trip to California. As usual, things have grown a little in both lungs. Nothing has spread to any other organs, and there's no change in my left kidney, which has been slightly wonky ever since my major surgery back in 2007, when my surgeons managed to save it instead of having to remove the kidney altogether.
The growth is enough that Dr. K. thinks the current chemo is no longer working. Somewhat like antibiotic drug resistance, chemotherapy drugs often become less effective over time in patients like me, who take it over the long term. (Coincidentally, in fact, CBC Radio's science show "Quirks and Quarks" recently rebroadcast an excellent program from last October, which describes the phenomenon in the context of new treatments that allow people—again like me—to live with cancer as a chronic disease.)
Essentially, a particular chemo regimen poisons and kills cancer cells that are susceptible to it. But cancer is a disease of mutation, and there may be mutant cells left over that can resist the poisonous effects of the drugs. As the poisoned cells die, the more resistant cells can come to dominate, and then grow more tumour tissue, requiring a change to different drugs to poison them.
So that's what comes next. We're discontinuing my current three-drug cocktail of 5-FU, oxaliplatin, and leucovorin (known together as FOLFOX), and will replace it with another drug (which, like FOLFOX, I tried previously some time ago), called irinotecan, perhaps in combination with other agents. This is sucky news, yes, but as I mentioned, it's the kind of sucky news I expect and have encountered many times in the past few years—indeed, I've lost track of how many different drug combinations I've tried by now. For me, it's more a bummer than a crisis, though it's harder for the rest of my family.
There is one big, nice benefit. Dr. K. recommended that I let my body—especially my immune system—recover a bit from the FOLFOX treatments before I start the new stuff. So I'll have no chemo until after Labour Day, about six weeks away. I can enjoy the end of summer without being laid out in bed for three days every couple of weeks. Maybe, with luck, my oxaliplatin-induced neuropathy will abate somewhat too.
When I'm supposed to be taking things one day at a time, six weeks of summer in one of the world's most beautiful cities, and feeling what's likely to be somewhat better, is an unexpected bonus.

Taking pictures of fireworks or light shows or night cityscapes without a tripod is a fool's game. But sometimes I'm foolish, and try it—and sometimes it works. But you need to know a few things, so I'll give you some suggestions if you find yourself in a nighttime photography situation without a normal camera support.
These days, cameras (especially digital SLRs) are remarkably capable and smart. In most situations you can put them in Program or Full Auto mode, compose your shot, and press the button to get a good result. When I'm snapping family pictures, that's usually what I do. But when it gets really dark, the camera's smarts usually fail, even if today's amazing digital sensors can still pull good images out of the murk. But you need to figure out the proper settings in your camera's Manual mode. So I find having a few decades of photographic experience and nerdery under my belt helps me know what to do.

A sandbag substitute

Here, for example, is a shot of the World of Color water-and-light show displayed each night at Disney's California Adventure park in Anaheim this summer:
Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 15
For a scene like that to come out well, I needed to use my Nikon D90 camera's lowest sensitivity (ISO 200) to avoid nasty grain and noise, but that meant I also needed to use a fairly long shutter speed (half a second) and a small aperture (f/8) to keep details in focus.
Normally that would result in a blurry picture without a tripod, because a half-second exposure reveals all sorts of camera shake from unavoidably unsteady human hands. We just can't hold still enough. Here's how I sidestepped that problem:
  1. I was sitting down on a bench, with my Crumpler shoulder bag and one of my daughters' sweaters on my lap. I could set my camera down on them (as some photographers do with sandbags) and adjust the bag and sweater to keep it level and aimed in the right direction. VoilĂ —tripod substitute.
  2. The zoom lens I was using includes vibration reduction, which helps reduce camera shake electromechanically. I also zoomed out as far as the lens could go (18 mm focal length) so any visible blurring was reduced by the wide field of view.
  3. I took lots of photos, one after the other, and only kept the good ones. Some shake is still unavoidable, but since it's random, a few pictures come out sharp anyway. I could have used my wireless remote shutter release and self-timer delay to minimize shake further, but that was more work than I wanted to do.

Hold your breath

Okay, how about a picture of some fireworks from the next night?
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 16
In this case, there was nowhere to sit down, so my family and I were standing among the throng at the north end of Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. Ideally, there would have been some object (a rock, the edge of a lamppost, a fence support) that I could have propped the camera on or against, but no luck. Photographing fireworks without a tripod, standing up, and without any nearby supports is especially difficult, because not only are there shaky hands to deal with, but there's a shaky torso and legs too.
Fireworks require a slow shutter speed (at least one second, as here, preferably more) to record the pretty trails and bursts rather than freeze them as mere dots, and in this situation I used an f/8 aperture again most of the time, and ISO 200. What did I do to get reasonably sharp results?
  1. It was the same lens with vibration reduction, which probably helped a little, and I once again zoomed out a fair bit but not all the way (to 26 mm focal length this time), since the fireworks were a tad farther away than the water show the previous night.
  2. I stood with my legs a little more than shoulder width apart, feet flat, to be as steady as possible. Rather than keeping the camera up at eye level looking through the viewfinder, or worse, holding it in front of me to look at the LCD screen, instead I held it tight against my chest, once more for maximum steadiness, and pointed my lens in roughly the proper direction. Not looking through the finder also let me enjoy the show while watching it with my own eyes, instead of through a lens as might happen otherwise.
  3. Once more, I took lots of photos hoping for a few keepers by luck of the draw. For each picture, I squeezed the shutter release as gently as I could while keeping my other hand firmly pressing the camera body against my sternum, and I held my breath both before and during the exposure—something I've heard snipers do too, to steady their weapons. Thus it was inhale, hold breath, squeeze, wait for shutter, breathe out, inhale, hold breath, squeeze...and so on.
  4. Every once in a while, but not for every shot, I looked at the LCD screen to see if I needed to adjust anything, in case things were over- or underexposed. I tried sequences of pictures with different shutter speeds and apertures to see if they produced better images.
There were a lot of rejects, but a decent number of nice photos too. I was surprised how well the breath-holding method worked. But it sure would have been better with a tripod, when exposures as long as 8 or 10 seconds or more are feasible, yielding still prettier pictures.

When you have to crank the ISO

My last challenge came at the end of our flight home on Monday, as we passed over Washington and the B.C. Lower Mainland after the sun had set. I always enjoy photographing our local volcanoes, and this time we got great views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Baker, as well as the gleaming lights of Vancouver and its suburbs as we came in for a landing:
LAX to YVR - Vancouver and Grouse Mountain lights
Unfortunately, even a tripod would do no good in this situation (not to mention the awkwardness of setting it up on an airplane seat). By this time it was very, very dark: I could see the city lights, but could only barely make out the silhouettes of the mountains in the background. It looked a fair bit darker than the photo shows, in fact. And camera shake was not really an issue: the key problem was that the plane was moving at several hundred kilometres per hour. Long shutter speeds were out of the question.
This is when the drastically improved low-light sensitivity of modern cameras comes in handy. I guessed that the slowest shutter speed I could get away with was about 1/30 of a second, though even that was pushing it:
  1. I propped the front of the lens against the window and shaded it with my hand to prevent any reflections from the cabin lights.
  2. At a zoom of 50 mm to get the framing I wanted, the best aperture the camera could provide was f/5, which meant boosting the ISO (sensitivity) to 3200. (The D90 has an ISO 6400, but that's so noisy I never use it.) I set all that manually, and even then the picture was significantly underexposed as I shot it.
  3. Finally, because of the underexposure, I boosted the levels even more on my computer after I'd downloaded the photo from my camera. With that fiddling, the orange sky and water reflection emerged from the gloom, and the lights became starlike points rather than dull spots.
There are a lot of digital artifacts in the final result, particularly in the sky, but it's still quite pretty and I was happy to post it.

Eight days of photos

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I've now posted a complete set of photos from our trip to Southern California last week:
Disneyland day 1 - Miller girls on plane Disneyland day 1 - Derek on plane Disneyland day 1 - WestJet Disneyland day 1 - volcanoes Disneyland day 1 - Crater Lake Disneyland day 1 - fields
Disneyland day 1 - staying occupied Disneyland day 1 - irrigation Disneyland day 1 - Lolo and Dad Disneyland day 1 - Bunny Disneyland day 1 - Marina Miller Disneyland day 1 - LAX bus stop
Disneyland day 1 - The sprinkler Disneyland day 1 - Highway Disneyland day 1 - Sleepy Lolo Disneyland day 1 - Marina and Derek at Bubba Gump's Disneyland day 1 - Air and Lolo at Bubba Gump's Disneyland day 1 - Flashy glasses
Disneyland day 1 - Lolo in the A Disneyland day 1 - Girls on the L Disneyland day 1 - Mulholland Madness Disneyland day 1 - Evil Lotso Disneyland day 1 - Air on the barfy Ferris wheel Disneyland day 1 - Air and Lolo and the evil wheel
Disneyland day 1 - Sugar insanity Disneyland day 1 - Bug flyer Disneyland day 1 - Lady bug spinner Disneyland day 1 - That's it Disneyland day 1 - Professional sprinkler dancers Disneyland day 1 - Bridezilla
Disneyland day 1 - Award Wieners Disneyland day 1 - Muppet Beatle boots trunk Disneyland day 1 - 3D family Disneyland day 1 - Dinner at dusk Disneyland day 1 - Sundown Disneyland day 2 - Castle Inn
Disneyland day 2 - Shuttle buses Disneyland day 2 - Air and Lolo Disneyland day 2 - Pirates Disneyland day 2 - Who did it? Disneyland day 2 - On the train Disneyland day 2 - Fan time
Disneyland day 2 - Conductor Disneyland day 2 - Pleiosaurs Disneyland day 2 - Triceratops Disneyland day 2 - Train seats Disneyland day 2 - No boogie allowed Disneyland day 2 - Heavyweight
Disneyland day 2 - Bend the bars Disneyland day 2 - Hat sew 1 Disneyland day 2 - Hat sew 2 Disneyland day 2 - New hats 1 Disneyland day 2 - New hats 2 Disneyland day 2 - Fire 1
Disneyland day 2 - Fire 2 Disneyland day 2 - Space Mountain Disneyland day 2 - Autopia driver Disneyland day 2 - Hi Mom Disneyland day 2 - Hi Lolo Disneyland day 2 - Main Street
Disneyland day 2 - Matterhorn Disneyland day 2 - Bubbles 2 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 1 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 2 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 3 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 4
Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 5 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 6 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 7 Disneyland day 2 - Wet grizzly run 8 Disneyland day 2 - Stormtroopers Disneyland day 2 - Potato Head parts
Disneyland day 2 - Darth Tater Disneyland day 2 - Lolo and N Disneyland day 2 - Lego Darth Disneyland day 2 - Marina and Lego Disneyland day 2 - Lego concentration Disneyland day 2 - Unclear on the concept
Disneyland day 2 - Lego construction Disneyland day 2 - Pirate in the pool Disneyland day 2 - Floor plan Disneyland day 2 - New bears Disneyland day 2 - Rainforest Cafe Disneyland day 2 - Fish and chips
Disneyland day 3 - California Screamin' Disneyland day 3 - New toys Disneyland day 3 - The puker (a re-enactment) Disneyland day 3 - Ferris wheel view Disneyland day 3 - Mouse ears Disneyland day 3 - On the rocket 1
Disneyland day 3 - On the rocket 2 Disneyland day 3 - On the rocket 3 Disneyland day 3 - On the rocket 4 Disneyland day 3 - Caught Disneyland day 3 - Marina is a record catch Disneyland day 3 - Lolo is also a record catch
Disneyland day 3 - Space Mountain load in Disneyland day 3 - Space Mountain Disneyland day 3 - Marina drives Disneyland day 3 - Marina turns Disneyland day 3 - Air's the passenger Disneyland day 3 - Lolo drives
Disneyland day 3 - Big Thunder Mountain Disneyland day 3 - Big Thunder arrives Disneyland day 3 - Holy rollers at the gate San Diego - Surfers at La Jolla San Diego - M and L at La Jolla San Diego - Just Air and me
San Diego - Derek and Air San Diego - Surf or swim San Diego - Scripps pier San Diego - Lifeguard hut San Diego - Aquarium van San Diego - View of downtown La Jolla
San Diego - Palm trees San Diego - Mom at the beach San Diego - Marina and palms San Diego - Margarete and the rabbit San Diego - Yard bunny San Diego - Zoo map
San Diego - Marina and parrot San Diego - It's 24 years old San Diego - Peccary San Diego - Balboa Park tower San Diego - Lioness thinks we look tasty San Diego - Lazy lioness
San Diego - He's got a mane San Diego - The big guy San Diego - Getting food San Diego - Llama San Diego - California condor San Diego - Meerkat sentry
San Diego - Hyena San Diego - Wallabies San Diego - Sleepy grizzlies San Diego - Giraffe San Diego - Giraffe chews cud San Diego - Marina gorilla
San Diego - Marina koala San Diego - Funky skull San Diego - Duck and ducklings San Diego - Balboa tower, dome, jet San Diego - Mini-deer San Diego - Resting
San Diego - More peccary San Diego - Hi there gazelle San Diego - Gazelles and tower San Diego - Kudu San Diego - Lolo reads a book San Diego - Ride the polar bear
San Diego - Snoozing polar bear 1 San Diego - Snoozing polar bear 2 San Diego - Marina's helicopter San Diego - Lauren's helicopter San Diego - Marina bear San Diego - Marina in pith helmet
San Diego - Civilized zoos sell beer San Diego - Riding the American lion San Diego - Marina and mammoth San Diego - Underfoot San Diego - Air and elephants San Diego - Girls with tusks
San Diego - Ouch San Diego - Meet the sabre-tooth cat San Diego - Marina rides a cat San Diego - Food toy San Diego - Lolo face San Diego - Marina face
San Diego - Trucking for food San Diego - By the bars San Diego - Giant raptor and Lolo San Diego - Giant raptor and Marina San Diego - The elephant wall San Diego - One to stay one to go
San Diego - Lolo and elephant San Diego - High steppers San Diego - Camel San Diego - Two elephants and Marina San Diego - California condors San Diego - Wingspan
San Diego - Elephant sculpture San Diego - Atop the bus San Diego - Rhinoceros San Diego - Crazy bus party San Diego - Lolo on the bus San Diego - Whee
San Diego - Flamingo San Diego - S curve San Diego - Wild hog San Diego - Hungry panda San Diego - Ready to eat San Diego - Munch
San Diego - Aboard the escalator San Diego - Sleepy Lolo San Diego - Fast divorce San Diego - Les girls nude San Diego - In-N-Out Burger San Diego - In-N-Out interior
San Diego - Double double combo San Diego - Millers and Sandstedes San Diego - Triple open San Diego - Freshly opened blooms San Diego - Leaves San Diego - Garden decorations
San Diego - Hedge and flowers San Diego - Sunny blossoms San Diego - Dove San Diego - Bike San Diego - Grownups talking San Diego - Blue blossoms
San Diego - Glow disc closeup San Diego - Siesta San Diego - Giant blossom closeup San Diego - Mom's coat Relax day - rental Sentra Relax day - Lolo at Original Pancake House
Relax day - Wading pool 1 Relax day - Wading pool 2 Relax day - Wading pool 3 Relax day - It's a secret Relax day - It's a secret, don't tell! Relax day - Sisters in the big pool
Disneyland day 2 - Castle Inn panorama Disneyland day 4 - California Screamin' Disneyland day 4 - View from the Jellyfish Disneyland day 4 - Marina and Lolo on the Jellyfish Disneyland day 4 - Swingin' Symphony Disneyland day 4 - Around
Disneyland day 4 - And around Disneyland day 4 - And around again Disneyland day 4 - Splash Mountain Disneyland day 4 - Space Mountain Disneyland day 4 - Secret passageway Disneyland day 4 - Behind the scenes
Disneyland day 4 - Paradise Pier Disneyland day 4 - Mickey Disneyland day 4 - Zephyr lights 1 Disneyland day 4 - Zephyr lights 2 Disneyland day 4 - Zephyr lights 3 Disneyland day 4 - California Screamin' and Maliboomer
Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 1 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 2 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 3 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 4 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 5 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 6
Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 7 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 8 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 9 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 10 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 11 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 12
Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 13 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 14 Disneyland day 4 - World of Color 15 Disneyland day 5 - Paradise Pier Disneyland day 5 - California Screamin' Disneyland day 5 - Screamin' faces
Disneyland day 5 - Speakers everywhere Disneyland day 5 - Tower of Terror boiler Disneyland day 5 - Tower of Terror basement Disneyland day 5 - Tower of Terror outside view Disneyland day 5 - Tower of Terror crowd shot Disneyland day 5 - Crazy snacks
Disneyland day 5 - Indiana Jones line Disneyland day 5 - Splash Mountain Disneyland day 5 - Big Thunder Mountain fossil Disneyland day 5 - Teacup Disneyland day 5 - Autopia Disneyland day 5 - Monorail
Disneyland day 5 - Submarine 1 Disneyland day 5 - Submarine 2 Disneyland day 5 - Space Mountain Disneyland day 5 - Aboard the Monorail Disneyland day 5 - Lolo and Air discuss photography Disneyland day 5 - Lolo pose
Disneyland day 5 - Lolo and Air Disneyland day 5 - L and L mugs Disneyland day 5 - Lolo and Lego Disneyland day 5 - Lego Woody Disneyland day 5 - Lego Star Wars characters Disneyland day 5 - Lego Death Star
Disneyland day 5 - Lego Darth Disneyland day 5 - Lego Architecture Disneyland day 5 - Lego Fallingwater Disneyland day 5 - Lego giraffe Disneyland day 5 - Monorail arrives Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 1
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 2 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 3 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 4 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 5 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 6 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 7
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 8 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 9 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 10 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 11 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 12 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 13
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 14 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 15 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 16 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 17 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 18 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 19
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 20 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 21 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 22 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 23 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 24 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 25
Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 26 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 27 Disneyland day 5 - Fireworks 28 Anaheim - Statues Anaheim - New shoes Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 1
Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 2 Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 3 Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 4 Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 5 Anaheim - Bowling at 300 - 6 LAX to YVR - Never meant to fly
LAX to YVR - Our WestJet 737 LAX to YVR - Marina at charging station LAX to YVR - At gate 22 LAX to YVR - Refuel LAX to YVR - Waiting at the gate LAX to YVR - Ground crew dude
LAX to YVR - Southwest over In-N-Out LAX to YVR - Virgin Airbus LAX to YVR - TACA Air France Aeromexico LAX to YVR - Southwest posse LAX to YVR - Shoreline at takeoff LAX to YVR - Jet over Los Angeles
LAX to YVR - Shore and mountains LAX to YVR - At the seaside below LAX to YVR - Smog and sprawl LAX to YVR - Arid hills LAX to YVR - Hilltop LAX to YVR - Dam number 1
LAX to YVR - Dam number 2 LAX to YVR - San Andreas Fault LAX to YVR - Erosion LAX to YVR - Farms and foothills LAX to YVR - Forest fire LAX to YVR - Another Southwest jet
LAX to YVR - Lolo and Potato Head LAX to YVR - Potato Head in new garb LAX to YVR - Moonrise LAX to YVR - Moon and wing LAX to YVR - Mount Adams 1 LAX to YVR - Mount Adams 2
LAX to YVR - Mount Adams 3 LAX to YVR - Mount Rainier 1 LAX to YVR - Mount Rainier 2 LAX to YVR - Mount Baker and Bellingham suburbs LAX to YVR - New Westminster
LAX to YVR - Burnaby LAX to YVR - Vancouver and Grouse Mountain lights LAX to YVR - Vancouver-Burnaby border
In addition to pictures from Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, and elsewhere in the vicinity, I got some nice shots yesterday from the plane home.

The Internet connection at our hotel near Disneyland is fairly slow and flaky, so I haven't uploaded any pictures to Flickr yet because the full-size photos would take forever to get there. I'm going to wait until we get back to Vancouver to try them.
However, smaller photos posted to Facebook work fine, so if you want to see what we've been up to, you can check out our pics from Orange County and San Diego. The weather has been just about perfect (mid to high 20°s Celsius and mostly sunny), and even my health has been cooperating most of the time. You can see it in the images.

Feet don't fail me now

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After three days of Disney craziness, my whole family's feet were feeling sore, so yesterday we rented a car and drove from Anaheim to San Diego to visit our friends Henry and Margarete, who had never met the kids. Margarete prepared us a wonderful home-cooked roast chicken lunch (a nice change of pace from chain food), but unfortunately the marine cloud made it not quite beach weather.
So what did we do with our tired feet? Spent the afternoon traversing the San Diego Zoo, of course. I used to come to San Diego with my parents every summer, but I'd only visited the Zoo once, back in the 1970s. I hardly remembered it, so it was like a brand-new experience for all of us. (As a child, I preferred the Wild Animal Park, but that's a bit farther out of town.)
Afterwards we found an In-N-Out Burger for dinner, drove through San Diego's Mission Bay and La Jolla neighbourhoods, and then found our way back to L.A. just in time to see the Disneyland fireworks through our windshield as we were returning to the hotel. Surprisingly, despite some health issues early in the morning, I was much less tired at the end of the day than I expected.


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We're at Disneyland, my first visit in almost 25 years. I puked today—my own fault for a poor ride choice (the giant Ferris wheel's swinging, swaying cabins, oddly enough).
Otherwise it was a great day, despite our waking at 5 a.m. to catch our plane. Very tired. Back at it tomorrow. With luck, no more barfing then. I think I've learned my lesson.

This October will mark a full decade since I started posting entries to this blog. (Some version of this website, without very regular updates, existed for more than three years beforehand.) That's longer than I've worked at any job, studied at any school, or owned any car. The site overall is older than either of my daughters, and I've been blogging since before my youngest could walk.
Most blogs—most websites—don't last that long. Many bloggers are comfortable letting their writing peter out, or just stopping and deleting the thing, and maybe starting up another some other time. For some reason, even though I've never regularly written a diary, I've been more stubborn than that, and wanted to keep this thing going.
Some years ago, I set two guidelines for myself that seem to have kept this site from stagnating:
  1. Publish one post per day, on average.
  2. In each post, include at least one link.
That's it. It doesn't mean I write something here every day, but that some days I write one entry, some days two or three, and some days nothing. Some are a few words long, some many pages. Every once in a long while, I do a quick calculation, and now that I have thousands of posts online, my average has been a little over one post per day for a long time (as of today, it's about 1.03). At this point, I'd have to publish nothing for close to three months before that average would dip below my self-set guideline—and I can always collect some Twitter links to avoid that.
I tell myself to include at least one link because this is the Web, and that's what it's about. It also means that even if I write something really short, people reading this site will probably find it interesting, since it sends them somewhere else with more to look at.
Over time, I've also decided that my archives are important, and that I want them to stay online as long as possible. So instead of several personal blogs scattered at various domains, I've kept everything here. A lot of those outbound links I've put into posts are now dead, of course, but for the most part, if someone else linked here, even six or seven years ago, that link will still work.
Does it matter? It does to me, and the results seem to bring a couple of thousand people a day here, somehow. That's enough.

Not long ago I wrote about how much I like the current wry ad campaigns from Old Spice and Dos Equis. As anyone who was around the Web at all this week knows, Old Spice has now blown the doors off with its on-the-fly series of video responses to people on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and elsewhere.
What amazed me was not only that a major consumer-products company like Procter & Gamble would go for this kind of campaign, but that the team behind it would handle the process so deftly. The dozens and dozens of short videos they produced this week were consistently funny (frequently hilarious), often surrealist and bizarre, and stupendously successful in pretty much every way. Actor Isaiah Mustafa, who plays the impossibly handsome shirtless Old Spice Guy, walked the razor's edge of deadpan self-parody with the skill of Peter Sellers—and apparently often did it in one take.
There has, so far, been no cynical backlash online, which I find astonishing. I wrote myself on Twitter that I want to go buy something from Old Spice now, even if I never use it, simply to reward the group of people who made the last couple of days of my chemo recovery more pleasant with so much funny stuff.
My guess is that sales of their products will skyrocket, and deservedly so. Most interesting, they haven't changed Old Spice itself at all: Procter & Gamble still sells the classic-scent aftershave, along with a few different scents in different sorts of grooming products that they've introduced over the past couple of decades. They're still using the same whistled jingle, even.
The transformation is entirely in how they present the brand, and how we buyers have come to think of it as a result. A decidedly uncool, old-man's aftershave that none of us really thought much about has turned into The Thing That Won The Internet, mostly by making fun of itself and the style of its own macho-manly ads of 30 or 40 years ago.
Marketing and advertising people the world over have surely been standing, mouths agape, at that transformation. And wondering what on earth Old Spice will do next.

Fiddly fingers

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I've mentioned before how one of my current chemotherapy medications gives me peripheral neuropathy, where my fingers and toes are numb and tingly. Most of the time that's not too big an issue—it's annoying, not painful, and I can still do most things I like to do. Typing is fine (though I may be a tad slower than I used to be), the buttons and dials on my cameras are still easy to operate, and even playing guitar is okay, since I was no shredding speed demon on the fretboard to start with.
However, tasks requiring really fine motor control are difficult. For instance, the other day my daughter Marina asked me to help her put on a necklace, with one of those super-tiny lobster-claw fasteners in the back. While I could get my thumbnail under the catch, I didn't have the precise feeling in my fingertips to get the tension just right, to keep the clasp open yet not have my finger slip right off. I had to ask my wife Air to help instead.
Similarly, peeling labels off their wax-paper backing and even opening the pop-tops on soda cans are now clumsy manoeuvres for me. When opening a Diet Dr. Pepper, I now usually resort to prying the pop-top up with a butter knife or a car key, then using my fingers once there's some good leverage to open it the rest of the way.
I'm not sure how much worse it's going to get, or what else that was once easy might become harder. Some people have suggested treatments such as acupuncture which might reduce the numbness. I might try that if the neuropathy becomes at all debilitating. It's the end for any aspirations of my being a neurosurgeon, anyway. Good thing I never had those to start with.

Down the hole

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More chemo today, so expect little posting here for a day or two or three.


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On the pathway and dreamingYesterday around lunchtime I was pretty tired (cancer-treatment side effects, but I'll avoid detail today), so I went out in the yard with the dog and sat in the sun for a spell. I noticed that the stone pathway tiles down the side of our house had only recently been shaded from the sun, and were still very warm, so I lay down on them. It was like a hot-stone spa treatment, quite wonderful.
Then I closed my eyes and listened. We humans are primates, and thus vision dominates our senses. Most of the time we filter out sounds, but this time I focused on trying to detect everything I could hear from our suburban yard. It's not easy to pay attention to it all. There were lots of noises.
Rustling leaves in the trees. Flies buzzing around each other, probably mating. The slightly different buzz of bees pollinating flowers in the grass. Crows chattering or cawing at one another from tree branches or power lines. The occasional chickadee. A distant low continuous roar which, in a different century, could have been a river, but which I know was traffic on the Trans-Canada highway down in the central valley of Burnaby, north of where we live. The occasional car passing by. Commercial jets, one after the other with a few minutes' delay between them, flying overhead on their way into a long slow U-turn to Vancouver Airport. A distant siren—police or ambulance. A couple walking by with their dog, and our dog barking at them. The horn of a train, also down in the valley, and the deep thrum of its engine.
If I hadn't been paying specific attention, I might only have consciously noticed Lucy barking, and the planes. A couple of hundred years ago, our property was forest, so only the leaves and flies and bees and crows and songbirds would have been here. Despite all the different sounds, I was surprised how quiet it is around here, despite our proximity to B.C.'s largest mall and major streets like Kingsway.

iPad impressions

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iPad and Apple Bluetooth KeyboardI've now had the iPad my wife and kids gave me for my birthday for a little under two weeks—long enough to give you some early impressions. Rather than a review or a comprehensive pros-and-cons list, I'll simply note some of the things that surprised me about this device once I actually got it in my hands:
  • Battery life. Holy cow, I've never seen a gadget like this last so long on a charge. I've repeatedly used it for hours on end, to the point where my iPhone would normally be well into the red zone near depletion, and figuring I'd need to plug the iPad in—and then noticed that the battery was still as high as 72% charge. I likely get better-than-average battery life because I don't watch a lot of movies on it, and have the Wi-Fi–only model without the extra electricity-sucking 3G modem or GPS. Still, Apple's claimed 10-hour battery life actually seems conservative, in my estimation, and I've been able to leave the iPad for several days without a charge, and still have it ready to go.
  • Typing. No matter what some might claim, the onscreen keyboard sucks for typing anything of any length, especially if it involves numbers or punctuation, and especially HTML as I like to type for this blog here, with all its angle brackets, slashes, and quotation marks. It's actually worse than the iPhone's onscreen equivalent, because the iPad's screen keys are so much bigger and thus slower for my fingers to move between. I find I'm often typing letters in the bottom row of keys by accident when I mean to hit the space bar, for instance, and I have to position my hands in an exaggerated claw-like pose (like a concert pianist) to avoid triggering mistaken keypresses with other parts of my fingers and palms. So my first accessory purchase, made today (with one of my birthday gift cards—thanks!), is not a case, but a Bluetooth keyboard, which I'm using to write this post. Aah, much better. On the plus side, however, the screen keys are nearly silent, so I can at least type short stuff if I'm awake late, and not disturb my wife sleeping beside me.
  • Safari. Apple's advertising promises all the world's websites on the iPad. Well, sort of. There's the well-publicized lack of Flash support, but I can't stand most Flash-based sites anyway, so that doesn't stress me out much. But there are other peculiar incompatibilities, such as the embedded font issue I described earlier (now partially fixed, by the way, likely by Google's font team), and a problem where pasting text into my Movable Type blog editing window doesn't work properly. Both work fine on the desktop version of Safari. There are more, but it's obvious that mobile Safari and its desktop equivalent are close cousins rather than near-identical siblings. That means web developers will have to test with Yet Another Browser (probably more than that, since I'm not sure the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch versions of Safari behave the same either). That's kind of a pain.
  • Portrait and landscape. Until I started using the iPad, I'd forgotten how much I liked reading web pages, emails, and documents in portrait (vertical) orientation, something I did a lot with my old rotating Radius Pivot CRT monitor in the '90s and early 2000s. (The iPad has a higher screen resolution than that bulky Radius beast did, by the way.) But the ease with which you can flip the iPad around means it's easy to change from one orientation to another depending on what you're looking at or doing at any moment. There's also no wrong way: the display will reorient whichever way you twist it, even 180° upside down. Fortunately there's also a hardware orientation lock switch for when you don't want that to happen. (If someone takes an iPad to the International Space Station, they'll be using that a lot, I guess.)
  • Heat and weight. As our summer temperatures reached 30° C and higher this week, I appreciated that the iPad doesn't seem to heat up with regular use, not as much as my iPhone and certainly nothing like the baking underside of my MacBook. Again, not playing movies, running Flash, or having 3G or GPS surely helps, but so does having no hard drive, not multitasking much, and using Apple's power-efficient A4 processor. However, the iPad is also surprisingly heavy for its size. Nothing like a MacBook, but since you hold the iPad upright, rather than resting it on your lap, it can get tiring on your wrists and arms.
  • Books and magazines. Its weight affects the iPad's usefulness for reading longer-form, traditionally offline material, such as books and magazines. I have an Amazon Kindle too, and while nearly any document looks much prettier on the iPad's full-colour backlit screen, the Kindle is so much lighter that it's far easier to read for extended periods. (Notice that both ebook readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad don't prop up quite the way books do either, so while they might be lighter than a thick dead-tree slab of Tolstoy, the electronic readers still require more active holding.) The iPad's great screen means that complex colour layouts—particularly magazines with lots of artwork or photography—look far better than on the Kindle. But the Kindle's low-power greyscale electronic ink display is far less strain on my eyes for reading long swaths of text, like a regular book. Still, the Kindle app for the iPad is very nice too—I'd rather browse and buy books on the iPad, then read them on the Kindle. On the iPad, Apple's iBooks app is very good for reading PDF files, and other apps such as the Zinio reader do a decent job with some mainstream magazines. The iPad certainly gives you more choices.
  • Syncing and charging. Given Apple's usual laser focus on a product's market position, I was puzzled that the iPad seems to have a mixed opinion of itself: is it an adjunct to your computer or a standalone device? It's not quite powerful or flexible enough to be someone's only computing gadget, at least not for someone who wants to do more than the most bare-bones stuff. Indeed, an iPad won't even work unless it's been synced to a computer running iTunes first, and some tasks like subscribing to new podcasts are only really possible via iTunes on the desktop. But iTunes has evolved so far beyond its original role (and name) as a way to manage music on Macs and sync it with iPods that—while it still works okay—it seems creaky and overextended as a way to interact with Apple's mobile devices today. The list of tasks for iTunes now includes Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, iTunes U courses, Books and PDFs, Apps, Ringtones, Internet Radio, and iTunes DJ and Genius playlists, as well as CD ripping, audio file conversion, and file sharing for iWork documents. But while the iPad requires iTunes for some things, you can also buy songs, videos, and apps wirelessly on it, and set up email accounts, Twitter and Facebook profiles, and so on, without plugging in. I just wish you could do all your stuff (especially syncing) without requiring a sync cable. (Microsoft's Zune supported wireless sync back in 2006, you know!) Another funny things is that, since all our Macs are pretty old in our house, none of them can provide enough power through USB to charge the iPad up—they'll keep it at its current charge level when plugged it, but actually filling the battery requires using a USB wall-plug adapter like the one the iPad comes with. (Newer Macs and some PCs can supply enough juice via their USB ports too.) So sometimes the iPad wants to be the child of a desktop computer, and sometimes it wants to be its own thing. It's like a teenager.
  • iOS 4 can't come soon enough. Having updated my iPhone to iOS 4 as soon as it became available a few weeks ago, I find that the iPad's remaining at iOS 3.2 until later this year to be frustrating. The improved multitasking and recently-used apps interface, broadened support for background audio streaming, universal email inbox, and especially folders for organizing apps are all things I miss when I fire up the iPad after using my iPhone. So in some ways, for now, the user interface on my year-old iPhone 3GS feels more modern than the brand new iPad. That should change soon enough, and I expect the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad to receive OS updates in a more coordinated manner after that, but for now the iPad is behind.
  • Bigger really is bigger, though not necessarily better. Yes, on first glance an iPad does seem simply like a bigger version of the iPod Touch and iPhone. But sometimes quantitative differences—a bigger housing and screen and more pixels in this case—really do make a qualitative difference too. An iPhone or iPod Touch feels like a pocket-sized computing device for while you're on the go (and maybe when you need to make phone calls). The iPad isn't as likely to be something you'll use waiting in line for coffee or a bus, but for lounging in front of the TV or in bed, or at a restaurant or cafĂ©, or at a meeting or conference, or (in my case) out in the back yard first thing in the morning, it feels like much less of a production to bring along than a full-size laptop, and a more pleasant and immersive experience than pecking at an iPhone. It's different, and not yet mature, but it's a decidedly good experience, and does feel like the future.
How will the iPad change things? I won't predict or generalize too much, but I could see a specific scenario for our household: instead of replacing one of our aging MacBooks with another, I could see getting a desktop-bound iMac instead (which offers more power and a bigger screen for the same or less money) and using the iPad for lounging around elsewhere in the house. Maybe. We'll have to see how that really works out when the time comes.

Nerd glasses rock

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My wife Air has been talking for a few months about getting herself some new nerd glasses—you know, big ones with thick black frames, sort of old-school Mission Control style. They're coming back into fashion, and so aren't hard to find.
Well, she found an excellent set:
Air's nerd glasses
Hot, I say.

File:BBKing07.JPGThe one time I've seen B.B. King play live, more than 20 years ago, he didn't even have one of his famous Gibson guitars, nicknamed Lucille. His then-current Lucille was held up in transit somewhere, so for his gig at the 86 Street Music Hall in Vancouver, B.B. used a Fender Stratocaster rented from Calder Music (now Tom Lee Music) in North Van. As far as I know, they still have a photo on their store wall of him with that guitar.
King is one of the best-known guitarists of all time, and almost certainly the most influential one still alive today—maybe only Chuck Berry can compete. B.B. started his career in the late 1940s, and has largely outlived and outplayed his influences (such as Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker), contemporaries (Les Paul, Muddy Waters, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins), and even many of his musical descendants (George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan).
If you hear someone play an electric guitar solo—whether in rock, jazz, country, R&B, even metal and punk—B.B.'s tone and approach are almost certainly in there somewhere. Horn-like phrasing, artfully bent notes, and a wide, liquid vibrato, as well as a full yet piercing tone tinged with overdrive, sometimes verging on feedback: those are the sounds of electric blues music, one and the same as the sounds of B.B. King's guitar playing. The sound extends to every player who's ever sustained a note with a wiggled fretting hand while holding his or her picking hand to the sky.
That influence is entirely aside from King's also-substantial legacy as a singer and relentlessly-touring live performer. When I saw him in Vancouver, B.B. had already been on the road for over 40 years, but his infectious energy and obvious joy in playing to an audience were still fresh, and taught me how to put on a good show during my own 20-year live-music career that followed.
B.B. King is still playing a show almost every day, and he'll be back in Vancouver in November, a couple of months after he turns 85 years old.

What a great day

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Marina and DerekSummer finally hit Vancouver today, and various bits of our family went different ways to enjoy it: my younger daughter to daycamp, my wife Air and our friend Steven on a road trip, and my older daughter Marina, our dog Lucy, and me to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. I haven't been there in years, decades probably.
It was a longer walk through the forest to the water than I remembered, but once there we clambered over the rocks, snacked, explored a bit, and enjoyed the wonderful view before trundling back to the car, tired and sunkissed and ready for the beautiful drive home. I don't have good days all that often right now, but this was one.
After I grilled some meat skewers for dinner, Air and the girls went to a movie. Lucy has been asleep almost the whole time, exhausted from our trek today. I've been watching some TV, and then I'll clean up the kitchen.
Then? A beer in the yard as the sun sets. I feel good.

Clumsy bugs

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Last night, after sundown, I took our dog Lucy out in the yard a last time before bed. As we walked under one of our conifer trees, I heard a sound above me, a buzzing like an aging electrical box. I looked up and saw dozens of big, fat insects, like bumble bees, flying around the crown of the tree.
They weren't building a nest or a hive as far as I could see, mostly buzzing around the outside. Lucy and I moved around the yard a little, and a few minutes later I saw (and heard) that the bugs had moved to the crown of our chestnut tree a few metres south. They were gone from the cedar.
While it was too dark to see their coloration, I could see in silhouette how they were clumsily bumping into the big chestnut leaves. I could hear it too: thwack, thwack. They were all gone by morning.
Inside, my wife Air pointed out they were unlikely to be bees, which aren't nocturnal and generally fly more accurately. She noted they were probably beetles, likely June bugs or maybe the adults of the European chafer beetle grubs that have become a lawn pest across temperate North America.
By the morning, they were gone, and I don't think they were there tonight. The beetles have moved on.

Behold the Mandelbox

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Remember back in the '90s when we all went wild creating fractals on our computers, especially renderings of parts of the Mandelbrot set? (If not, you could be nerdier.) I certainly did it, creating desktop pictures galore. A late example is the image in my logo, which is a Julia set. And yes, I know it looks like a Philishave razor, with a nod to the CBC "exploding pizza" logo.
There's nothing especially complicated about the mathematics behind fractals, but to visualize them requires the kind of computing power that's only been available recently.
So, what is this thing?
Mandelbox by Jesse at Fractal Forums
Image by Jesse at Fractal Forums
No, it's not the Borg. It's a new fractal—yes, there are still such things. It's the Mandelbox, a multi-dimensional fractal (in this case shown in three dimensions), discovered earlier in 2010 by Tony Lowe. Again, it requires a lot of brute-force computing to see, but our computers keep getting more powerful, so we can find new stuff like it.
Depending on the colours you choose, parts of the Mandelbox can look like a massive cathedral, or a vast framework of skeletons, or a colossal jungle garden. Here's a video tour of the Mandelbox (via Andy Baio), with some complex 3D rendering including haze effects to give the illusion of distance:

But the Mandelbox doesn't actually have a size, big or small. It's just pure math—geometry, like a number line, or a circle, or a cube, or a parabola. Amazing, still, though.

Party party party

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My birthday was a few days ago, but the party was last night, to fall on the weekend, and to give me a few more days to recover from chemo. It was great. As we've done for several occasions these past few years, we just invited everybody and their dog (only one pup showed up), and most of them came. It was a fun happy mob.
In fact, it was so busy I had little time to talk to most of you, and have yet to open any of the gifts you all brought. So I'll say thank you in advance for those—and also to everyone for making time to come, and to those who couldn't make it, since I know many of you were out of town or otherwise occupied over the Canada Day/Fourth of July break. We've spent the morning collecting empties and tidying up, but there wasn't as much of that as I expected. (The big Rubbermaid bins labeled "EMPTIES" certainly helped last night.)
If you took photos or video, feel free to post them over on Flickr using the tag penmachine41, or to the Facebook event page in the photo section. I'd appreciate it.
I have a wonderful group of family and friends. Thanks for being here.

I wonder if Pixar will ever make a bad movie, or even a genuinely mediocre one. Okay, maybe Cars wasn't fantastic, but it still had Paul Newman and was a fun time. The company could probably release a film with no clues to its subject, just "New From Pixar!", and we'd all still go see it.
After Toy Story 3, I certainly would. While I might give its 1999 predecessor a slight edge on a better intro, marginally better villains, and funnier end credits, this might be the best of the trilogy, and quite possibly Pixar's best movie yet—which makes it a great movie, period. Disney had planned on making a third film in the series by itself before it bought Pixar (Disney had the rights). Luckily that earlier attempt was shut down, because in less deft hands a computer-generated, animated story about plastic toys could easily have been profoundly lifeless.
This story of toys is far from that. My daughter Marina, who's 12 and getting pickier about movies, said in amazement, "There were no boring parts!" All five of us who went today, ages ranging over four decades, were happily teary-eyed at the ending. And I'm always impressed with how thought out Pixar's plots are, even for brief moments. The toys, returning home, make sure to wash themselves off with a garden hose to remove the detritus of their many adventures, for example. Not as impressive as Woody's arm becoming re-damaged in the second film, but still, a detail worth noting because rendering time is expensive, but the filmmakers knew that detail needed to be there.
The Toy Story series, like Pixar's other work, defies the stereotypes of work done by committee. I guess all you need is a brilliant committee. A second sequel that improves on its excellent forbears is rare in big mainstream pictures, and in films generally. I'm tempted to say that Pixar should leave well enough alone and keep it a trilogy, a hat trick.
But you know what? If they decide that another Toy Story deserves to be made, I'll trust their judgment. They've earned that trust.
By the way, the opening short film (traditional with Pixar releases) does something I've never seen done with 3D before. Don't miss it.

It takes skill to create commercials that make fun of macho manly-manness, and yet appeal to both men and women at the same time. Old Spice and Dos Equis continue to do it:

You can also find out how the "I'm a Horse" Old Spice ad was made. Somehow, it's still funny all these months later too.
Oh, and happy Canada Day.

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