On Libraries

This morning, a friend pointed me at The Complete Penguin Classic Library, now available at Amazon.com, for the low-low price of $7989.99 USD. (You save: $5,327.75!)

While the $8000.00 price tag (plus shipping costs, plus good luck finding shelf space) is outrageous, the book list itself is not. There are a huge number of books on that list that I really should read (or reread in many cases). So later today I’m going to go to the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library to get a library card. This is something I’ve been planning on doing for a few weeks, because I’m finally tired of paying for books I will read once every 10 years.

The Sunnyside library is a relatively short walk (or very short bus ride) down Bank, across the street from an excellent Thai restaurant. With the OPL catalogue online, I believe (and will verify later) that I can can use the online system to request any book from any branch of the library and have that book sent to my local branch. This is a very interesting and useful thing. I’m not sure why I expected libraries to still be stuck in the pre-internet era, but…I did. What a pleasant surprise.

Home again, home again

Back in Ottawa now. Yesterday’s travel went relatively well, save for a small delay in Calgary. Apparently our pilot can do the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs, however, and we made it to Ottawa only five minutes late.

This trip did nothing to change my opinion that airports suck. I’m sure there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make them suck less, but as yet they’ve just totally failed. They’re grimy, horribly laid-out, confusing, uncomfortable, difficult to get around, and generally just annoying on all possible levels.

The driverless “air trains” at SFO are pretty cool, but getting from the car rental drop off to Gate 23 at Terminal 1 involved something along the lines of: drop off car, walk to elevator, elevator up, walk to escalator, escalator up, walk to air train, wait; get on air train, stop at two stops, get off air train at third stop, walk to escalator, down escalator, walk to tunnel, walk into tunnel, get on moving sidewalk, walk, get off moving sidewalk, walk to escalator, up escalator, walk around a bit, get in line for check in, check in (finally getting rid of half my luggage); walk from check in toward gates, go through initial security screen, go through secondary screen (removing shoes), get laptop bag x-rayed three times (put on shoes, have lighter taken away), put laptop bag back together, walk to gate. I can’t imagine what it was like before the air trains were put in.

Once I was at the gate I had an hour to wait, so ended up going on two peripheral trips to 1) find and use the most disgusting bathroom I’ve seen in years, and 2) buy a $14 USD turkey sandwich since airlines don’t feed people on flights any more. Of course, the best part about airports is that no one wants to be there, so everyone — passengers, security guys, airport staff, airline staff — is cranky and bored. It really just makes for a fantastic experience from start to merciful finish. Ugh. At least the customs guy in Calgary was nice.

For what it’s worth, I doubt I’ll ever stop griping about airports. I used to think that I hated travelling or airplanes, but that’s not true — I don’t mind flying, and I don’t mind being other places. I just really hate airports. If it were practical, I’d travel exclusively on trains. Trains are cool.

Another Travel Day

I’ve arranged for a 7am PDT wake-up call and will be travelling basically all day tomorrow, finally landing in Ottawa at 12:12am Saturday EDT. Ugh. Oh well. It’s been a good week. Got to meet and talk with lots more of the Mozilla crew, which is always a fun thing to do. Naturally, I’ve been exhausted the whole time I’ve been here since I suck at jet lag, so I’m really looking forward to getting home again. I’m still not a really strong traveller.

Travel Day

Late late late. Got up at 5:15a EDT to catch a flight to Chicago then to San Francisco. It’s now 10:45p PDT, which is, like, a million o’clock EDT. Sleepy. Got in around 1pm, made the mistake of pinching pennies and taking the airport shuttle to the hotel. An hour and a damned half later, finally get to the hotel. Ho ho. Screw the airport shuttle. Got in, met up with shaver, headed in to the office, finally managed to get out for dinner. Excellent food, but now I’m just exhausted. And so it goes.

New Theme

Yesterday I decided I was sick of my old weblog theme, so started hacking a new one together, based on the theme I cooked up for my photoblog (which is already falling behind, but such is life). I finished it this afternoon, and here it is.

The biggest change is that it’s finally flexible-width rather than fixed width, which I much prefer. It seems to work fine in Firefox, Safari, and Camino (on Mac), and kinda-sorta mostly in IE on Windows. I haven’t tested it in any other browser/OS combos at this point, so if you’re seeing problems with it anywhere, let me know. Oh, the photoblog archive pages are still messed up in IE, but I’m starting to not care. I’ll fix it eventually, I just mostly can’t stand browsing in Windows because it renders fonts like poop.

On Writing Well

Five points if you know the book from which I’ve stolen this title, and five bonus points if you’ve read it. I’m going to go dig up a copy of it later today (assuming I find a free hour in the afternoon to go to the bookstore). It will be my airplane reading next week, assuming I manage to actually get an eticket-enabled flight.

Writing well — like photography, music, martial arts and all other such disciplined human endeavours — is difficult and requires a lot of practice. I need to practice more. I write a lot, but due to the nature of the media I’m usually writing in, I tend not to revise rigorously. Email, weblogs, wikis — all of these are built for speed. Here we have rocket engines and racing stripes on our pens. Disciplined revision is tossed aside as email are dashed off at top speed. Brevity and concision take time, and so are abandoned to the wolves snapping at our heels. Churning out copy by the truckload is fast and easy — the raw materials effortlessly fall out of our heads and into the keyboard — but shaping that material into something of quality is much, much more difficult. These media also allow everyone to be a publisher, so there are few gatekeepers to remind us that sometimes quality counts.

I’m overstating the issue, of course, but the combination of new media and high-speed lifestyles simply encourages quantity over quality. Just this morning I sent out an email that contains a seemingly random comma. It’s just there, right in the middle of a sentence, exactly where a comma shouldn’t be. Had I taken the time to revise properly, that comma would have been extracted before I embarrassed myself in front of dozens of people. I can only hope that everyone reads that mail as quickly as I wrote it.

Writing well takes time, so in order to improve my writing (and photography) I’m going to have to find more time. To find more time, I’m going to have to do fewer things while not letting the remaining things expand to fill all available space. This is where real discipline will be required.

If you’re also interested in improving your writing, you might want to make some time to read these: Fifty Writing Tools.

On Photoblogging

So, you might ask, “why a photoblog, dria?” There are two answers to this, each with a number of layers. One is a relatively succinct answer. The other is (so far) three pages long. The three-pager only deals with photoblogging incidentally, but the subject of those three pages is actually more why I started a photoblog than the short answer. I’m just going to give the short answer today, because I’m not finished writing the long answer.

Here’s the short answer.

I have started a photoblog for the following reasons:

  1. I like photography a lot. I very much enjoy both taking and viewing photographs. I get a fundamental sense of satisfaction when I manage to take a decent photo, and I find viewing at other peoples’ photographs to be very rewarding. Photographs are akin to poems, in my mind, in that really good ones manage to capture a moment with an efficiency of composition that communicates volumes. I admire the craft behind these compositions, and I admire the discipline of the composers.
  2. I want to become a better photographer. The only way to become a better photographer is to practice photography. My photoblog is intended to be a catalyst, driving me to be more disciplined about my photography. Wanting to become a better photographer is, as they say, easier said than done (demonstrated by the fact that I’ve been saying it for years).
  3. I have been inspired by other photobloggers. In particular, daily dose of imagery (a brilliant Torontonian photoblogger), and chromasia. These guys are actually out there with their cameras almost every day. They demonstrate the sort of discipline I want.
  4. I want to justify purchasing a high-end Digital SLR camera before I run off and drop a few thousand dollars on one. I would really, really like to buy a Nikon D70s kit, a couple of additional lenses, and a big fat CF card. Right now I do not use the gear I have nearly enough (or nearly skillfully enough) to justify that. If I can maintain a photoblog for six or twelve months, posting new photos on a more-or-less daily basis, I’ll have a much better reason to engage in that sort of rampant consumerism.
  5. It will be fun.

Note: The photoblog RSS feed is still semi-broken. It validates, and it works fine in NNW, but Firefox and Safari both dislike it. Hrm.

Update: Photoblog feeds should work now. Thanks Vlad 🙂