An embarrassment of volume control

Old Radio, by Rob Mac, 2005
Old Radio, by Rob Mac, 2005

The electronics age is saddled with many weird contradictions, brought on as layer after layer of gadgetry or software is pasted onto legacy systems in the holy name of upgrade. Eventually, inevitable, the whole conglomeration becomes so unwieldy that it’s thrown out for a fresh start. Or it becomes  a permanent ironic footnote, like the Windows trope of having to click the “start” button to stop your computer.

Continue reading “An embarrassment of volume control”

Pinball browsing

After months travelling with my book-sized Asus EEE PC, with it’s micro keyboard and mighty 7-inch screen, i’m finally working on a fast computer with a large screen and a real keyboard again, for a while at least. (Thanks, Robert!)

firefoxIf you’re not on the Firefox browser wagon yet, i suggest you get with it. It’s free, community-developed, and open source — the way of the future for broad-spectrum apps, in my opinion — and far superior to the Internet Explorer experience. I can hardly believe how cumbersome and nonintuitive IE has become in recent iterations.

Firefox’s spell-checking and form-filling features alone are worth the switch. Download Firefox here for free.

Still better are the hundreds thousands of Firefox add-ons you can get, also free. Most are frivolous, but here are four i’m working with right now that i really like:

  1. Foxmarks Bookmark Sync — This automatically stores all your bookmarks on-line so you can get to them from anywhere, including public computers at whatever divey hostel you’re staying at. And they don’t get lost when your hard drive crashes. Even better, it’ll sync those bookmarks on multiple computers — and who doesn’t use more than one computer these days?
  2. Mouse Gestures Redox — This one lets you execute common commands (like forward/back, close tab, new tab, etc.) by clicking and “drawing” with the mouse, or just clicking its buttons in order (right-left for “back,” for example). Takes a few minutes to get used to, but greatly speeds up page navigation and reduces moving around the screen to use the toolbar buttons on top.
  3. Grab and Drag — Ooh la laa! I installed this little beauty yesterday and i love it. It lets you scroll by “grabbing” the page and moving it, just like in Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Even better, by enabling “momentum” you can grab the page and “throw” it so it keeps on scrolling, slow or fast, until you click again. I had to reduce the “time” and “deceleration” parameters to fine-tune it, but it turns every page into a little video game. Perfectly intuitive once you get the hang of it. It’s nice to work with meticulously designed software.
  4. Adblock Plus — The Internet, and life in general, has for me become an exercise in avoiding advertising, which is the mental equivalent of choking air pollution. Banner ads are endemic on many sites — i won’t even use the Yahoo service anymore. Adblock replaces (many of) the ads with empty boxes of equivalent size. You can still click on the box if you want to see the ad. I used it six months ago and liked it; hopefully it still measures up.

Now if only i could work up the nerve to make the switch to Linux, and get out from under Microsoft’s demanding thumb for good.


We must learn to be flexible … to perceive the ever-changing world as it is and react to it as such, even (or especially) when it does not measure up to our thoughts and plans for it. UBC was not to be today as I hooked up with old friend Erica later than planned. We had beverage at Turks, then spent about two hours on the grass in the sun in Grandview Park, catching up on nearly ten years apart. She’s one of those rare people with whom that doesn’t feel weird at all. Lotsa frank Zen/Buddhism talk — she’s a Taoist, which doesn’t mean a heck of a lot to me but apparently puts a “coming to the world” spin on basic Zen. Crap, i can’t decide what to have for lunch; how am i ever going to figure out what principles to live by?

Erica, she’s slowly coming round to making a virtue of what she calls “bumbling” — her word for trying out one thing after another, without (in the “householder” sense) sticking with any of it. (Though as she herself admits, three university degrees, plus a couple of diplomas in alternative healing techniques, kind of belie the not-sticking-with aspect.) She used to think of bumbling as kind of a soft form of failure, but now she’s looking at it more as a choice and a way of living.

Like me, Erica has accumulated little material wealth to show for her efforts. So we consoled ourselves somewhat by counting our immaterial accomplishments. I tried to take a picture but the camera battery died.

Later, in the wet dreams department:

  • I discovered a nifty “subnotebook” the size and weight of a hardcover book, for a paltry $400. I’m tempted, i must say. Computer access is highly addictive, especially once you realize that almost every cafe on the Drive has free wireless. I could spend a lot of time in cafes like that.
  • I went into Bikes on the Drive and test rode this Dahon folding bike. I’ve known about them for a long time but never had the chance to try one. It rode well — a bit flexible and a bit cramped, but overall very satisfactory as basic transpo. And nicely designed, too.

Plans for tomorrow: dinner for four at a noodle joint and then the KRAZY anime exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery (it’s cheap Thursday). Rob helped install part of the exhibit, so we’ll get the (over-)guided tour.

Oh, and a rule i plan on sticking with (until i break it): Once it’s in the blog, no editing allowed. Sorry, all you perfectionists.

PORTC (Probability of Returning To Coast) factor today: LOW