Not that it would be too easy to confuse us. He plays guitar way better than I do, and I have no aboriginal ancestry either.
OSWD is a bunch of open-source web designs, most of a bloggy style. There are more than 2000 of them so far, and you can contribute your own—at least if you have better web design skills than I do.
I'm Canadian, and can't vote in the upcoming U.S. elections. But they affect me, as they affect everyone on the world, so I have opinions.
I think—as most seem to—that John McCain or whoever wins the Republican nomination would have to work miracles to win the general election this time around. And I think that's a good thing. His party has damaged his country and its relations with the rest of us in the past seven years, and they do not deserve to keep running it. I hope its citizens agree.
On the Democrat side, there were a number of strong candidates, now down to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As Larry Lessig notes in his video today, their policies do not differ especially radically (although Obama's policy document and website state without equivocation, "I will close Guantanamo," which is enough for me right there). I think either one would make a good president of their nation, and obviously make history doing it.
Where I agree with Lessig, and why I think Obama is a better choice, is that he is inspiring to watch and to listen to in the way no other presidential candidate is, from Clinton to Edwards to McCain and the rest. There is a danger with Obama, as Tom Negrino notes:
What bothers me the most about Obama is his core message, which boils down to "I'm magic, and I'll be able to bring everyone together to move America forward."
What I've seen of his policies seems more concrete to me, but it is true that many of his speeches are long on rhetoric and short on details.
Yet rhetoric is not evil if it not empty, if real action follows it. I think Obama can inspire a politics of "hope and common sense," rather than one of "fear and ideology," as he says. To lead the United States, he need not know the answer to every question—that's why presidents hire smart staffs—but he does need to listen, and to prompt action.
I think one reason he inspires so many already is that while he does give speeches crafted by a team of top-notch writers, he doesn't sound like a machine while he does it. He comes across as a human being. Clinton may be smarter, more knowledgeable, and more experienced, and I hope if Obama wins she can find a place to execute her ideas in his administration. (And if she wins, I certainly hope he can find one in hers.)
But she is not more inspiring. America and the rest of us need inspiration now. America's citizens need to say to us, and to themselves, "We have been on the wrong path, and we will choose a different and better way." To see and to listen to Barack Obama as president will demonstrate the beginning of that choice. If I'm right, I think he will win.
That's because today I started my ninth chemo treatment (out of twelve total) in this cycle, which began in October and will finish at the end of March. I'll spend most of tonight in bed watching Iron Chef America and MythBusters. I'll probably also be lying down most of tomorrow.
But right now I feel just gross. Bleah.
As someone who's been a Vancouver blogger for more than seven years, and podcasting here for almost three, I often hear the question in the title of this post. But that's not what the questioners usually mean. What they want to ask is: Can you make a living from blogging and podcasting?
The short answer is yes, but don't go and quit your day job just yet. I didn't say that just anyone should try to pay for your food, lodging, and transportation needs (plus those for your spouse and kids) from blogs and podcasts, or that you could make a huge living from them. It's possible, but I don't do it, and haven't even tried. You should be aware that, just like anything else, making a living online would be a job, not some sort of free-money fantasy life.
My wife, who's also a blogger and podcaster, and I were talking about it this morning before she went to work (she's had the same stable, rewarding, good-paying professional day job for more than 15 years, and isn't planning on quitting that anytime soon). For us, our online activities are hobbies. They bring in a little money from ads and sponsorships, usually enough to cover their costs and maybe buy the occasional dinner.
The people I know who work as bloggers, like Arieanna, work hard. She writes at least five different work blogs (plus others) all day, every day, sometimes until late at night. (If I had to scour the news for links about Mischa Barton all day, I'd probably go batty. And that's just one blog.)
If you look at blogs that are popular enough to pay people's salaries—like Arieanna's and the others at b5media, or the Weblogs Inc. network that includes Engadget and its siblings, or successful independent blogs like Daring Fireball—they tend to be very focused and updated many times a day.
They often attract lots of comments, which require moderation and feedback, and their posts tend to be well sourced or individually researched, and also well written and concise. In many cases, the words are carefully crafted to attract search engine traffic, and the blogger may spend quite a bit of time writing about things he or she isn't all that interested in, or at least (as in any job) may have days where the job is just a slog, rather than a joy. Money-generating blogs take a lot of effort, skill, and time to maintain. They're work.
In other words, don't expect to dash off a paragraph every couple of days about what your kids ate for breakfast and have the ad revenue pour in.
Now, if you can find a day job where you spend a significant part of your time blogging, that's another matter. If I weren't on medical leave right now, I'd be doing that over here (notice that the "Daily Blog" isn't very daily while I'm absent). But that blog—and private internal blogs and wikis the company runs behind a firewall—is just a slice of my day job, not the whole thing, so I don't think it counts either.
Podcasting, as an even newer medium than blogging, has an even less-established income stream. Search engine optimization and contextual advertising don't work as well for podcasts, audio or video. Like most bloggers (and like me), the vast majority of podcasters do what they do as a hobby. They (like me) might bring in a bit of cash from sponsors and podcast network advertising and so on. But podcast production is even more labour-intensive than blogging, and unless you put out shows quite frequently and build a significant audience on an appropriate topic (or topics, if you can manage several shows), it will be pretty hard to pay a mortgage.
Even Leo Laporte, whose This Week in Tech (TWiT) network attracts some of the biggest audiences in podcasting (numbering the hundreds of thousands each week), and who runs an extremely efficient podcasting operation largely by himself, still has a day job. Several, in fact. He remains a widely syndicated radio host, as he has been for decades, and also helms a cable TV show on which I've appeared (as a guest paid only in exposure and with a free take-out lunch) a few times.
Leo probably could make his podcasts a full-time gig, but presumably chooses instead to funnel what money he gets back into the network and to honoraria for his guest hosts. Others, like podcast pioneer Adam Curry, have used venture funding to create a buffer while they try to build businesses like PodShow into something large and viable.
Individual podcasters who work hard can also make a job of it. No one I know well does that, but among the tens of thousands of podcasts out there, a small number can keep their hosts fed, clothed, and housed. Again, those tend to be focused, well produced, frequent—and lucky. If you got into the game early, or happened to hit a certain niche at just the right time, or worked hard on a concept that struck a chord with the (still relatively small) podcasting audience, and then hustle like hell, you might be able to quit that day job, if that's what you want.
In many ways, being a podcaster or blogger is like being a musician. Far more people play music, or blog, or podcast, for fun than make a living at it. I was a full-time musician for awhile in the early '90s, and it was tough work, with long hours, lots of low-budget travel (not a requirement online, fortunately), and crappy pay. I quit after I got married, because that life wasn't what I wanted long term.
The people I know who have made a career of music—and several of the guys in my band do just that, even though I haven't—aren't Rock Stars. They're working professionals. They do a lot of different things: they teach music, work as studio sidemen, tour with established acts, make instructional videos, play at casinos, entertain at weddings and corporate meetings, compose soundtracks, produce and engineer other acts, give seminars, and record jingles. They keep accounts, pay taxes, save money for retirement, buy health insurance, and run their careers as businesses.
I think anyone looking to work in blogging in podcasting is going to have to do something similar. Be professional, work hard. Use your online activities as leverage to do other things. Even in my blog's early days, it didn't make me any direct money at all, but it brought in plenty of work when I was a freelance technical writer and editor. Similarly, being an expert blogger or podcaster (or even better, both) can help you make money in other ways—such as helping other people and organizations make blogging and podcasting part of what they do.
If you're going to make money online, you'll need an entrepreneurial impulse, or you'll need to work with others who do. You need to know how these new media work, and how to promote and take advantage of them in all sorts of ways.
The Web and its technologies are still a frontier, and you'll probably have to bust your butt to succeed. You need to flexible and see opportunities you might not expect—selling cool T-shirts and mugs and stuff might make you more dough than any kind of sponsorship or advertising, for instance.
Or, if you're like me, you might prefer to let your blogs and podcasts be fun things that you do on the side, not something that you have to do every day, and which might burn you out after awhile.
The Internet is pretty damn cool, but it's not magic. Those who succeed on it are the same ones who succeed anywhere: they're smart, skilled, and have good ideas. They make realistic plans and knuckle down to put them in action. They hustle. And sometimes they fail and have to try again with a wiser view.
I've never run a business any larger than my own solo writer-editor endeavour, and didn't enjoy the paperwork of that very much. I don't like reading business magazines, I don't play the stock market at all, and most financial analysts on TV, radio, the Web, and newspapers give me the heebie-jeebies. So I'm no financial expert.
Still, in the past few years, I couldn't understand why anyone in the U.S. could think a subprime mortgage (better called a "high-risk mortgage" or a "poorly qualified mortgage") would be a good idea for anybody. I heard some stories about them, but it wasn't really an issue in Canada, so I thought these mortgages were a silly, fringe thing and pretty much forgot about them.
People borrowing from banks and mortgage brokers and other finance companies who offered these mortgages were betting that house prices would keep going up indefinitely and interest rates would stay low, no matter what. The firms and financial analysts were, insanely, betting the same. Sometimes the companies loaned people more money than their houses were worth at the time on that assumption—and didn't check on their customers' ability to pay either!
I'm only 38 years old, but I've seen several economic booms, busts, and recessions in my lifetime. I remember when interest rates were 17% and higher in the early '80s, and my junior high school classmates and I—barely comprehending teenagers at the time—laughed out loud when our teachers said loan interest used to be 4% and lower. We never thought that would happen again. And if it did, we knew that could change. The dot-com boom and bust are less than a decade old too.
So I agree completely with Daniel Gross when he writes at Slate that bankers and financiers, now getting pounded in the markets because the subprime mortgage situation (which is vaster than I could have imagined anyone letting it get) is now shooting holes in the U.S. economy, are acting like a bunch of spoiled toddlers:
Children typically display an unwillingness to reckon with the consequences of their own actions. They look to parents to pick them up when they fall, and spare them from responsibility for their misbehavior. And parents will go to great lengths to insulate their offspring from the jolts the world can deliver.
The same might be said about Washington's current economic ministrations. The nation is now nursing a seriously skinned knee because of reckless housing and credit practices. But rather than force consumers, borrowers, and bankers to face the consequences of their own actions, Washington is functioning as a helicopter parent.
As we face another recessionary slump (maybe insulated a bit here in Canada), we're all going to pay for that childishness, because governments don't have enough money to do anything but cushion the blow a little. Steven Pearlstein put it even more simply in the Wall Street Journal almost a year ago:
Bankers shouldn't make—or be allowed to make—mortgage loans that require no money down and no documentation of income to people who won't be able to afford the monthly payments if interest rates rise, house prices fall or the roof springs a leak. It's not a whole lot more complicated than that.
What I do wonder is, when people are losing or walking away from homes they shouldn't have been able to buy in the first place, and also losing jobs as the economy weakens, why do the well-paid supposed mavens of Wall Street, and other finance types around the world who bought into this scheme, still have jobs?
And why do investors continue believe them when they're wrong more often than weather forecasters used to be before we had satellites?
I think if the merger happens, it will take ages to bring the two companies together, Yahoo!’s best people will bail out, and by the time the smoke clears, Google will have lapped Yahoosoft/Microhoo several times. Bad for both sides, and in the end for users, in my opinion.
Then again, I know nothing about running a business. These are just my instincts.
Here's what some other people had to say:
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is infamous worldwide. Even though it's home to thousands of people from all walks of life, most folks here and elsewhere know it for its poverty and widespread drug use.
When my mother was young, it was our city's main shopping and entertainment district. Her parents often visited for dinner and dancing. Even when I was a kid in the '70s, we went there all the time, to Woodward's, Army and Navy, Gastown, and elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Then, when Woodward's shut down in the early '90s, the area's gradual decline became an implosion.
But it's part of a much bigger picture. The Downtown Eastside is the symbol, but Greater Vancouver's poverty and addiction problems are widespread. There are hotspots of dealing in New Westminster, Surrey, and other places too. Beyond those, the consequences—illness and disease, property crime, street prostitution, violence, despair—are everywhere in my hometown, from the city centre to its most far-flung suburbs.
Yet this is still a delightful place, a wonderful one to live in, beautiful and clean and vibrant and diverse. How can that be?
I've never been an addict, nor poor, nor in danger from addiction or poverty, but I know people who have, some of them very close to me. When they are part of that world it is like they pass through the looking glass, into another realm, a parallel city that is here, beside the rest of us. Or inside, but largely divorced from the green transparent condo towers and the parks and the trendy shops and the well-maintained Vancouver Specials.
In that shadow city, people steal from friends and relatives for money to buy cocaine, booze, heroin, and meth. They and their associates get abused, beaten up, and threatened. They live in crappy apartments or basement suites or rooming houses or run-down hotels or on the street. Or in decent places they fear they could lose in an arbitrary moment. They hang out with gangsters, frequent places I'd rather not know about, flick lighters and burn lips, or tap needles and hunt for veins.
Those of us on the bright side of the glass encounter touches from the other side. Should we believe the rumours: are those 99-cent slices of pizza so cheap because the cheese is fenced by addicts stealing from supermarkets? Should we buy those steel screen doors because our houses have been burglarized and our CD collections stolen once too often? When we see that man or woman begging on the street, or sleeping in a wet mummy bag under the overpass, or standing in line on Welfare Wednesday, can we look them in the eye?
Closer to home, more bitterly, we see people we love, or want to keep loving, drift back and forth across the glass, sometimes healthy and engaged and employed, sometimes ill and disconnected and aimless. We can't tell which version is real, because they both are.
So Vancouver, like many other cities, is amazing and happy and prosperous, not just on the surface, but all the way through. Also all the way through are the other, hollow parts that might be hard to see, or simply hard to look at. The parts intertwine, they interlock, they form the social structure of our city. If you slip through the looking glass into the hollows, it can be hard to find the way back, even when the other side, and your old life, is right there.
I don't have a solution, or even an ending. Smarter people than me are working hard to try to figure things out. But maybe these things resist figuring, resist logic. We are all here, and there. We don't know which road, if any, leads out of the wood.
A bunch of stuff I've been accumulating over the past few months:
I was right that Nikon would introduce a new digital SLR soon, but totally wrong about where it would fit in their lineup. The new D60 is an introductory-level camera that doesn't seem to incorporate many of the revolutionary new technologies from Nikon's high end D300 and D3.
No-nonsense photographer Ken Rockwell thinks it's a higher-end machine than I do, with image processing that may give the D80 a run for its money. But to me, the D60 looks like it will replace the D40 and D40x—it uses the same body design, but adds some interesting new features such as a stop-motion movie mode, next-generation sensor dust removal, and a digital rangefinder for focusing lenses manually.
That last item is useful, because like the D40 and D40x, the D60 lacks an autofocus motor in the camera body, so only newer Nikon-mount lenses with the focus motor in the lens (called AF-S and AF-I by Nikon) will focus automatically. Many nice lenses, even ones Nikon still manufactures, such as the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 I use—as well as numerous older lenses, both primes and zooms—can therefore only be focused manually with the D60.
Still, it is a nice camera, and a strong direct competitor to Canon's new Digital Rebel XSi announced a few days ago. Nikon's aging D80, like Canon's EOS 5D, remains in the lineup, and unless both manufacturers have further surprises up their sleeves, that's the way it looks to be for the next little while. Despite the D60's niceties, my D50 (released back in 2005) remains a better camera for my needs, primarily because it still has that autofocus motor for the three of my four lenses that lack their own.
Vancouver artist Basco5 is once again designing the fabulous poster for the upcoming fourth annual Northern Voice blogging and social media conference here in town. (Last year the organizers were kind enough to give me one of Basco5's big 2007 posters, which now hangs in our bedroom.)
This year, Basco5 and the NV crew would like your input to help design the poster, so head on over to Flickr and leave a comment if you have ideas or suggestions.
I already like this year's tiki text/"squishy volcano" look.
Cosmic bowling and a birthday party at the bowling alley are an energetic experience with a mob of kids all around age eight. There was even a conga line.
Our youngest has been especially excited to turn eight, as she did today, because now she's allowed to swim in local public pools (including going down the waterslide) by herself—we adults can simply sit at the side for a change. She's been planning today's bowling party for over a month.
The kids had a good time. Hot dogs, cake, chips, pop, presents, and flashy lights and music. Everything an eight-year-old needs.
And, of course, later we had to tackle the inevitable blister-pack packaging. Argh.
Todd Cochrane, one of the hardest-working guys in podcasting, and his team at RawVoice have just launched podcastFAQ.com, which looks to be a great one-stop resource to learn about podcasting: what it is, how to find shows, how to make shows, and so on.
As someone involved in three podcasts (Inside Home Recording, Lip Gloss and Laptops, and my Penmachine Podcast), I often get questions about podcasting from both prospective listeners and people interested in making their own shows, so I expect I'll be pointing quite a few people in podcastFAQ's direction.
I haven't written all that much about my cancer treatment recently, but that's not because things are winding down. Rather, it's simply grinding along as it has since mid-October. Every second Wednesday I go to the B.C. Cancer Agency, take some blood tests, maybe see my oncologist, and then sit in a chair for a few hours while various chemotherapy poisons are fed into my bloodstream. At the end, I'm hooked up through the same IV to a "baby bottle" of 5-FU chemo, which I take home and keep on for 48 hours.
Two days ago was one of those Wednesdays. In a way I'm lucky to have been an insulin-dependent diabetic since 1991. Needles don't bother me. That was good on Wednesday, because in the morning I took two different insulin shots, then had blood drawn for tests, then took some more insulin with brunch, then got plugged into the chemo drip, then had an atropine injection to avoid some side effects, then took more insulin at dinnertime, then took two more insulin shots at bedtime, then finished off with my daily blood thinner needle.
So what's that? Ten needles in one day, some to take fluids out of my body, others to put them in. Whew. And I'm not even counting the finger pricks I do at least four times daily to test my blood glucose. Lots of people don't get that many needles in a year. Today I get the bottle taken off, which is always a relief. (I can't get my chest wet while the chemo is on because of the needle taped to my body, so my Friday post-unhook showers feel amazing.) This will continue until at least late March.
If you met me on the street, other than my increasingly-scraggly hair, you'd be hard-pressed to know I was a cancer patient until I told you. Or unless I let you examine my fingers and inner elbows and chest for all the needle and lancet scars. So it's pretty hard for me to forget what's going on.
UPDATE: Via John Gruber, here's an excellent introductory article on buying a digital SLR camera. I think author Mike Davidson should expand from his emphasis on Nikon and Canon alone, but all his essential advice is good regardless of brand. As you'll see in the rest of my blog post here, though, you might want to see what Nikon announces in the next couple of weeks.
In advance of the upcoming PMA photo tradeshow, camera manufacturers have started spewing out announcements about their new products. I'm most interested in information about digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, because a Nikon D50 SLR is what I use now, and SLRs (film and digital) are what I have used for most of my photo-taking life, which stretches back almost 30 years to when I first started to figure out my dad's old film Pentax with "Asahi Pentax" viewfinder cover.
The DSLR market is especially hot right now—I was amazed at how many pre-Christmas ads were not for the regular point-and-shoot digicams most people still use, but the bulkier yet more powerful and flexible SLRs that enthusiasts prefer. It helps that the DSLRs are a whole lot cheaper than they were even a couple of years ago. Now that digital is the way everyone shoots, it makes sense that a good number of average buyers would be hitting the limits of their little cameras and wanting to take nicer pictures—not to mention that manufacturers get more money out of both the higher-priced cameras and the greater range of lenses and accessories we love to buy for them.
So far I've seen news about new intro-level DSLRs from Sony (who bought out Konica-Minolta's old camera business), Pentax (who also have a new higher-end model), Samsung (almost the same as the Pentax, since the two companies collaborated on the design), Canon, and even an almost-SLR from Fuji, which has a fixed lens but the bonus of a flip-out LCD screen and a movie mode, which true SLRs all lack. Nothing from Olympus, Panasonic, or Nikon yet, but that will come.
Since Canon and Nikon are the heavyweights in this field, Canon's new Rebel XSi (a.k.a. 450D) is the highest-profile of the bunch, though I have to say that Pentax, after languishing for some years, is really coming on strong with their recent DSLR range. The Canon XSi is a descendant of the Rebel XT (350D) my dad owns—Canon's Digital Rebel DSLRs have hugely dominated the market since they first appeared. On Flickr, for instance, it looks like there are more photgraphs taken with the XT and XTi than all other DSLRs combined. (Canon also overwhlems all other point-and-shoot makers too, by the way.)
Since Nikon (and Canon) recently introduced new high-end prosumer and multi-thousand-dollar professional SLRs, I'm wondering whether Nikon might have something less spendy to counter this new Canon model. The low-end D40 and D40x are already a success, and are not especially old either. So while I could see a new introductory Nikon, I think it's much more likely that we could see a successor to the D80, which came out in 2006, around the same time as the XSi's older sibling the XTi (400D).
Features that the D80 doesn't have, but which are becoming common in DSLRs, include dust reduction, live view (like point-and-shoots all have) on a large rear LCD screen, and of course faster-better-more in burst shooting, image quality, and maybe megapixels—although Nikon has been surprisingly smart in not letting the megapixel wars infiltrate their SLR sensors too much.
So, a D90 (or whatever) would be cool to fill in the (rather wide) gap between the D40x and the D300, and once again to fit in nicely among Canon's midrange and pro offerings, which now include the 40D and full-frame 5D—also showing its age, even if it is the current favourite among many professionals.
Wired has a nice list of Apple's most notorious flops, including the Newton, the Macintosh TV, and the Lisa.
It's a short, decent list, but I'd argue that the Apple IIc was actually reasonably successful; why they didn't list the disastrous Apple III (or the thermal-paper SilenType printer that went with it) in its place, I don't know. Maybe the Apple III was so bad that Wired blocked it from memory.
Or PowerCD, anyone?
Oh, how I love the view from our front window on a sunny winter day:
In fact, I think my older daughter's new set may be the funkiest spectacles anyone in our family has ever owned. They're clear and colourless, except for groovy brushed-metal strips on the sides and a "Vogue" brand logo. She loves 'em, and her sister, who doesn't yet need glasses, is a bit jealous.
And she apparently did very well in her Royal Conservatory of Music grade 1 voice exam today (where I took the photo). She didn't seem at all nervous, but still refuses to let the rest of us listen to her practice singing at home, so she does that in the basement.