On James Gosling and the special prison reserved for creators.

James Gosling was in town yesterday and I took the opportunity to listen to what he had to say. He is an accomplished engineer who really cares about how the technology he creates improves the lives of others. This is the man who invented Java, a tool that is one of the cornerstones of my career to date. This was not just James talking about whatever he liked; the talk was hosted by Sun, the company he works for and I am indirectly partnered with.

A message that came through very strongly is that he detests being a mouthpiece for his employer. He started off his speech with "What the hell am I doing here." This almost works to lend credit to what he has to say; I'm a tech guy, he's a tech guy, we'd rather be creating technology instead of delivering and absorbing marketing messages. The talk was more interesting for witnessing how he is "handled" than anything else.

It was hard to tell what was James and what was Sun. He talked about model-driven IDEs, tools used to make programming easier and faster, as a way for experienced developers to make better use of less skilled programmers. Another interesting idea was the creation of tools built in such a way so that as the user becomes more proficient with it, they can remove and change layers that make up the tool. In a sense, this is how computers already are because when you are able to peel back a layer, well, you will. He used the term "anthropology in software", something I am interested in.

The talk was most interesting to witness the reality that the technology we build entraps us; the tech becomes married to the identity of the creator. The prison might appear to be more like a hotel, but a hotel you can't leave is still a prison.



I'm still in shock with how easy it was to install WordPress. Now I have an experimental wordpress set up, so that I can play with it and see how I like it.

In the works is an experimental Drupal setup, but that is slightly more involved so it will naturally come second.

Famine resolved

Famine has been resolved, life can continue on the slightly slower and less painful path to spiritual enlightenment. Hmm.

Lesson learned: squeaky wheels get grease, but like everything else, there is a skill involved in deciding how loud to squeak and when.



I added up my hours for March today and realized that I am falling very short of a full month. 1/3 of a full month. I thought January and February were tight, but not even close compared to how tight March has been. This will mean I need to take immediate and extreme actions to curtail spending and try to find cash in corners.

Probably this will be good, overall. It is good to starve every once in a while, it cleanses habits and forces change which might be needed. I will need to choose a couple of social activities carefully and be very frugal about it (there is a long-weekend trip I want to take part in that is certainly going to happen, that is for sure). No eating out, I will need to pack lunches and make dinners. I may need to sell some of my belongings. Some of my things have been just sitting in a corner, waiting to get sold, so that is not a bad thing.

Moving won't help, since it will be a month until I save any money. By then work will be under a new contract and no matter if we have work or not I will not be in this position. If it is not, then I will simply decide that I made a bad choice in careers, and begin major changes.

There is a core within me that wants to grow, wants to become more in everything that I do. This will be a time for exercising that core. Re-evaluating priorities, re-enforcing skills, and refining my ability to live efficiently.


Ten great things about the weekend

- Threw a good party for Neil, yeah that was fun!
- Maintained my resolve to not drink or smoke. It felt weird to party and not drink. Had a good time anyhow; life is very sharp and getting sharper, and I've decided to extend my teatotalism. The only question now is how long.
- Re-connected with some older and not-so-older faces; Mike, Claire, Sam, Hez, Erin, Simon, Heron, Hajar, Margo (Jen knows Margo, crazy!), Eve, Khoa. All at Mike and Claire's pre-baby shower. Good luck!
- Was called "Bennifer", heh. It's kind of cute but also not at all in character for the Ben or the Jen. Weird.
- Spoke my cranky mind and didn't die.
- Ran first roll of 120 film through a 55-year old camera. The shots look like... the 50's.
- Sunshine!
- Breakfast with company, twice.
- Ate cake, twice. Hmm. Birthday cake and baby shower cake.
- Discovered Shoppers Drug Mart's C41 film scan service is cheap, fast, and clean.


A few things learned this week

Blatantly copying good blogging ideas is a good thing. So, in the spirit of things, here are a few things I learned this week.

- Walking and climbing feel good and healthy and healing.
- Randomness is out there, and sometimes it runs up to you, screams at you, pushes you; and you react by throwing a balloon at its face. A yellow balloon.
- There is no replacement for a paper and pen journal.

And a few things I used to know and was reminded of;
- Old-school union politics are alive and well.
- We desire to cover up reminders of evil.
- The smell of the earth can be intoxicating. Also there's nothing wrong with talking about bugs.
- Sometimes a stranger needs to lean on your shoulder, just because you are there.


Ten great things about the weekend

This is a re-write of a previous post that seems to have vanished some where between writing and posting.

1) Discovered that it takes 25 minutes to bike from Oak & Broadway to Oak & 70th. It is amazing how fast a bicycle can move around the city, if the route is good.
2) Was given a journal, a Moleskine, by Jen. I love it, Thanks Jen! I've consumed 6 pages already, but I'm not worried about expending it too early. If anything this is an opportunity to commit to paper many feelings that are still fresh.
3) Rode my bicycle with Sam out to New Westminster, great ride!
4) Beautiful weather, we've been very blessed with the weather for weekends lately.
5) Found an Agfa Jsolette in an antique store.
6) Cleaning. Serious cleaning.
7) Moved most of my books onto a bookshelf. Re-discovered some of my unread and partly-read books.
8) Passed my belay test. Now I can belay in the Cliffhanger gym. This is great for my health and once the weather gets better, I really hope to make climbing outdoors a regular thing. Scheduled climbing with different people for Tuesday and Wednesday evening.
9) Enjoyed dinner with friends on Sunday evening; together we created something.
10) Had a discussion about free will, spirituality and the afterlife.

With every passing day I feel life is becoming sharper, bigger, more real. The thrill of existence was re-enforced.


Climbing, with Johnny Walker

Finally went out and did the introductory climbing course at Cliffhanger. The one other person in my class was a guy named "Johnny Walker". I kid you not, I have his business card to prove it! After passing my belay test tomorrow, I will be able to climb for free all week! Yes, friends of mine that climb, that means YOU!

I feel good about taking the course. The material could have been given to me by a friend, but there is a method (KISS) that they use and it works. Also built into the course is stuff like training your hands to do the belay motion so it becomes subconscious. As a final step before getting my belay ticket, I have to wait 24 hours, and then go back and show them everything I learned. So yeah, I'll be searching for people who want to go climbing Friday night.

Part of the course is "surprise falling", where one person climbs up the wall and then without any warning, jumps off. The belay has to save their life. Everyone does both roles, the falling and the saving. I jumped mid-reach, so there was more slack than I thought; as a result, I came within a foot of striking the instructor - who was standing on the ground. After my fall, you could hear a pin drop in the place for a few seconds - I fell too far and got too close to the ground. Consider that there could easily have been 50 people in there. It was a rush, that's for sure!

And the climbing was great fun. There's a special kind of bond, even between nearly perfect strangers, when you put your life in someone else's hands. The gear is pretty simple, and once you know what to do, it really is pretty foolproof.


Ten great things about the weekend

1) Told "Thank You" by a complete stranger.
2) One-on-one time.
3) Walked all over this city!
4) Refined the new art of paste-ups.
5) Was shown a new dessert place, Sweet Revenge, on Main St.
6) First big vandigicam event of the year!
7) Had fun on my birthday.
8) Beautiful sunshine!
9) Dinner with brother and step-dad.
10) Things are getting back to normal for a couple of people in my life, Lucas and Rachael (not connected), who have had some tough times recently. Rough times come and go, sometimes more than we'd like, and that's why we're here for each other.


VAG photo mob

A friend of mine passed this on to me and it is pretty interesting. Contact me for time & date.

Join us in an organized mob to photograph works of art within the Vancouver Art Gallery.

We believe that art must be shared and remembered to remain potent. Photography is a significant tool in our ability to discuss, share and remember things that matter. It is right to use photography to share and remember art.

Art galleries and museums play an important role in collecting and showing our history and our modern art. Some galleries have taken a policy of disallowing photographs. We believe this is wrong because it chills sharing, discussion and collaboration, and reduces the audience that can become interested in important works of art.

Only by sharing art and recordings of art can we interest more people in the art and spread it throughout our culture.

Join us in overwhelming the Vancouver Art Gallery's security by simultaneously taking pictures of the art that you find interesting. Contact the poster of this message to find out the date and time of the organized mob.

Several key points to remember:

- Keep your cameras concealed until you are well inside of the gallery and totally hidden until the designated time. The only way to overwhelm security is for us all to act as one, and begin photographing at the same time. Handbags are allowed in the gallery.

- For this to work, we need to spread the date and time by word of mouth only. Do not post the organized time on any forum or on any web page. If you read this message, ask the person that sent it to you or posted it about the time and date.

- No flash photography. We're trying to make a statement, spark a debate. Any perceived damage to precious works of art should not be a part of the dialogue.

Together we can send a message the gallery will hear. In the process we will help to spread the art contained within and generate more interest and revenue for our local gallery and artists.

Wordpress or Drupal?

My homepage needs a facelift, badly. The time has come to step away from the static HTML/CSS combo that I've been using for hacking together this little site, and towards a tool for blogging or content management.

So the question basically comes down to, which tool should I choose, Wordpress or Drupal?

Both tools satisfy some basic requirements:
- Open source.
- Large userbase.
- Mature technology.
- Run on linux.
- Can us MySQL as a backend database.

Most importantly of all, I have friends in several different circles of that use these tools. I've decided to evaluate both and go from there. It will take several weeks or perhaps a month or two for me to perform evaluations, and I also need to brush up on my MySQL skills before I can really hit my stride. The tools, especially Drupal, can require a hefty amount of base knowledge to get out of the gate.

It may simply come down to a simple question; what do I want to do with my home site?


Allergies got you down? Here's the answer

So this is the time of year when allergies start striking allergy sensitive people. I love flowers but my body has been breathing pure air all winter and all this pollen is a bit of a shock. I can play mental games with myself (relax now body, there is nothing to fear) which works ok, but it is kind of like trying to steer a car with a flat tire - a lot of work.

So a couple years ago I was turned on to a great idea that seems to work. Eat local bee pollen. Here in Vancouver we are lucky enough to have a wonderful pollen produced by the Chilliwack River Valley company, and sold by Choices. The one at 16th and MacDonald is in stock at the time of this writing; the one on Cambie is not.

The pollen itself is a sweet/sour mix, and when mixed with Liberty Mediterranee yogurt it becomes a dangerously tasty snack. The allergies have struck me pretty hard this year, due in part to my already reduced defenses and fighting off a cold, so I'm into the pollen.

As a final note, I've totally given up on antihistamines. For one, they don't work well with my teatotalling exercise (yes, they make me high), and also they can form a dependence which causes allergy-like symptoms once a tolerance occurs. Have fun coming off that drug.

Ten great things about the weekend

Ok, so a fellow blogger found ten great things to say about the weekend. Here's mine:

Ten great things about the weekend:

1) Woke up late but not too late, both days.
2) The Sun. Enough said.
3) Got the bike fixed and ready for the first time this year.
4) Did two laps around the Stanley Park seawall with two friends.
5) Had my photo taken by a complete stranger...
6) Helped some people on the seawall take a picture of them under Siwash rock. For some reason I love doing that.
7) Daffodils and Crocuses are in full bloom, the little white magnolias are blooming, and a host of other flowers have started to pop. The cherry blossoms bloomed all over the place.
8) Allowed an idea to manifest as action.
9) Practised a new art.
10) Felt relaxed and somehow satisfied.

How was your weekend and can you think of ten great things?

Secret Mommy, We Are Wolves

Went to see We Are Wolves at Richard's on Richards last night. The place was not as full as it was for Controller.Controller but by the time the main act was on stage the energy was pretty good.

One of the opening acts, Secret Mommy, really blew my mind. The act is similar to something I've heard before, Electrofuck playing at 1067 a few years ago. It involved heavy electronic manipulation and powerful stereo equipment so that you could really feel the noise. The thing about this is how the sound seems to creep into the body in a way that no recorded act ever could; the frequencies and noises generated seem to soak into the skull and penetrate the brain in ways music normally doesn't. It was as if Adam Dixon (aka Secret Mommy) was using his laptops and stereo equipment to control me; somehow his brain (although not his mind) was reaching out and directly controlling my brain, though my ears. I became his puppet.

The main act, We Are Wolves, was a very high energy show that really got all my joints a good workout. Their on-stage presence is phenomenal, they have amazing chemistry as a band. Also the manipulations done to the vocals turned the singer's noises into electronic instruments; that was new for me. Screams, hoots and clicks became vortexes of sound. In addition to synth, drums, guitars; this band uses their bodies as instruments and that is a central part of their work. The big heads were great too (and I love the eyes in the back).

One aspect of this show that was interesting for me was going as a teatotaller. At any normal time, I would require a few drinks of booze before I would be willing to cut loose and really just lose it on the dance floor. Not at this show (and also for Controller.Controller); I simply didn't car what other people thought and let the crazy dance flow. That seemed to be something that lots of other people were doing, so the togetherness of being wild and crazy made it easier.

I had a great time.



On Friday night I went with a friend to see the amazing new Toronto band Controller.Controller. Before I discuss Controller.Controller, though, I'd like to talk about their headliner, You Say Party! We Say Die!

The band itself was not bad, enjoyable even. The base player was the most interesting to watch, he would be climbing all over the stage, lights, and balcony as he played. This made for some tense moments as he knocked over equipment with his cord. The drummer was fun to watch too as the band's beat is very fast.

The more interesting part of the headlining band was the associated photographers, two of them. Both were situated right in front of the stage. One wore a yellow shirt, one wore a blue shirt. Both digital shooters. The yellow shirt one basically stood in one spot the entire show, snapping shots with what looked like a 20D with a zoom lens. He didn't pay any attention to the crowd, nor to what was going on with the people on stage; he reminded me of a robot. Something moves in front of him; snap. When he ran out of space on his memory card (I'm assuming), he switched to a point-and shoot digital. He did not move his feet the entire show.

The blue photographer took some time to set up; wasn't paying attention too much to what was going on as he adjusted his settings. He was shooting with what looked like a Nikon D70 with a prime lens, and an external flash. Once his camera was set up, though, he would put the camera down on the stage and dance with the crowd, really getting into it. Every once in a while he would reach over, grab the camera, snap a couple shots of the people on the stage, and start chest-banging with the crowd again. Very cool to watch, even more fun to watch than the musicians.

So on to Controller.Controller. Their stage presence needs work, but something I like about the band is the lead singer Nirmala is a dressed-down teatotaller kind of gal, who likes jeans and the female equivalent of wifebeater shirts. But thicker. Some problems slowed down the performance at first; the drummer's high-hat broke and he needed another. The band seems to be cursed with mechanical problems, including the breakdown of their van.

Once they got going though, they really cooked. Everyone got into it. Dancing in the rafters. Bodies surfing the crowd. You get the idea. It was one heck of a good show and the jam at the end was very memorable. It seems that the band reaches its best when all the musicians are 1 or 2 beers into a hangover, except Nirmala.

Now comes the hardest part. Waiting for their next album.


Brothers, Friends, and Sledgehammers

My younger brother is a very astute individual; I'm lucky to have him as my brother. In may ways we are complete contrasts; for example, he is pursuing a career in medicine, I am pursuing a career in technology. When we get together, we are both frank and share thoughts and feelings freely.

During a recent dinner, he made the observation that finding out your real friends is a simple enough task. You drive a sledgehammer and see what is left standing. If people can survive that, you know how strong the connection is. It's a shame to have to do it, but something that must be done.

Viewed in this light, trying times are not something to be regretted but something to build on.


The secret arts of technology

Here's a factoid that might not be well known. When it comes to building software technology, there is often a community of people driving it (for example, a company) and then there are individuals who are actually writing the code, the documents, etc. If the consumers of this technology are also technologists, then there is an interesting opportunity; the creators can send secret messages to the consumers, who are also creators.

This happens in my work all the time. I am a creator of technology; I create customized work that gets put to use by large Canadian companies. There is a layer of technology that only the most involved individuals will ever see, and it is in this layer that the secret messages may be sent. Management will never see it; even detailed work audits may never uncover these bits of communication. The message is created by individuals, and then shipped, copied, merged and managed by companies, totally unaware of the hitchhiking information.

So this special communication medium exists as a kind of transit between technologists. The discovery of these messages adds to the culture surrounding the work I do, in a way similar to but far less accessible than street art.

Tagging is common. The names of people and companies that created the technology may still be there, even though the people may have gone on to do something else years ago, and the companies that created the initial seed of technology has been purchased, merged, purchased again, re-named, and eliminated from the official records.

Less common but far more satisfying to find are dedications, curses, frank notes about the circumstances around the creation of technology, and even notes to potential finders.

Finding these tidbits is a rare joy; for some reason, there are many technologists who feel it is important to dry out the work as much as possible and will go to great lengths to "purify" the works. Personally I feel this is a shame and I try to create these messages wherever I can. To me, it is a sign of maturity of a technology; when enough hands have passed through a work, people like me always find a way to leave their footprints and find the steps of those who were before us.