March 30, 2005
How conventional wisdom gets made

Tucked into Time Canada's Arcade Fire piece:

As illegal online file sharing and CD copying translate into diminished sales, the big companies complain they have little extra cash to gamble on new artists.

That's a lot of wrongness packed into one sentence. One, no, sales aren't down, and two, if they were, there's not a lot of evidence that it's due to P2P. This is then followed one sentence later by:

Indies’ market share in Canada grew from just over 14% in 1999 to nearly 19% in 2003. It dipped a little last year, but that’s mainly because one of the majors, Universal Music Canada, stepped up its distribution of indie records, which means those sales aren’t counted among the independents.

Gosh, if only I could figure out some other plausible explanation for why major record labels' sales might be dropping (if they were). If I think a little bit I'm sure it will come to me.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 07:48 AM
March 29, 2005
EVDB Followup

A bit of a follow-up to my earlier post on evdb: there's a bit of a conversation in the comments, with notes from both an evdb person and the developer of upcoming, which recently got a nice upgrade. Jon Udell has a good post with lots of linkage to reports of an evdb demo, and discusses the importance of services not locking-in your data.

I'd like to discuss something else, though, which is that neither are answering my complaint, which is lack of data. Both services rely on user-provided data, which is fine but is prone to error and incompleteness. What would be nice is if the big holders of that data (ticketmaster, pollstar, etc.) realized the benefit of opening up to services like evdb and (or, more likely, they come to a license agreement to use their data). Until this happens, I'm unlikely to be too jazzed about a service, no matter how open and cool it is, because if I can't trust that it's going to inform me of an event I'm interested in (and in a timely manner, i.e., before tickets go on sale), I'm not going to put my trust in it. Yes, it's great that I can let people know that I'm going to be at an event and all that nice social-network whatnot, but that isn't the main reason someone (well, someone like me anyway) would use an event site: I use it so I know what events are coming up. That, to me, should be the bare minimum for an events site: good events data. Without it, no amount of cool data slicing/splicing/sharing is going to be of use to me. With it, I'll put up with a lack of other features (which is why I still use, even though it sucks in every other way).

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 11:37 AM
March 28, 2005
Photos what I have been taking

Railway Club

Originally uploaded by icathing.

So, my new camera means I've been taking a lot more pictures lately, and I'm using flickr to post a lot of them.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 10:52 PM
Bands what I have been seeing

Two excellent concerts in a row:

  • Mono. Great show. I could rave and gibber on about Mono, so I'll just sum up: it was transporting. You can also check out several of their live shows on
  • Low. Good show, I like the heavier sound they are working with now.

One thing I've been wondering about: why do people pay money to go see a band and then TALK LOUDLY DURING THE QUIET PARTS? This was especially evident at Mono, as it was at a tiny club. I'm not looking for symphony-style level of hush, but some respect for the mood an artist is trying to build would be nice.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 10:39 PM
Books what I have been reading


  • Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy. Cheery book set in an unnamed part of the old west about a young woman trying to find her son that had been left to die by her brother, who also fathered the child. That McCarthy makes this readable is evidence of his mastery of language and style; it reads like a fairy tale before the brothers Grimm got to them: dark, twisted, horrible. Recommended if that sounds like a recommendation to you.
  • The Life of Hope, by Paul Quarrington. One of Quarrington's earlier books, and typical for him it's very funny - it made me laugh out loud in several spots. The tale of an alcoholic writer fleeing Toronto to a small Ontario town called Hope in the hopes of finishing his second novel. Complications ensue, as they are wont to do. Recommended, as is pretty much anything by Quarrington, I've yet to be disappointed by one of his books.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at 10:21 PM
March 27, 2005
Events site that doesn't suck

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if evdb doesn't suck, it could be really cool. Om Malik has slightly more info. Judging by their jobs page, they might just have the right idea: "Linux, Apache, Perl, PHP, PostgreSQL / MySQL, Javascript, XHTML, XML, RSS, Atom, and iCalendar."

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 02:59 PM
March 26, 2005
Post-It Notes: 25 Years

Nicely detailed story about the invention of the post-it note. Some interesting bits - post-its were originally a skunk-works project:

At 3M, however, there is a long-standing policy that permits employees to spend fifteen percent of their time working on projects of their own choosing.

The inventor, Art Fry, really had to sell the product, both within the company:

Fortunately, he had a wider range of closing techniques than the average luggage salesman. To prove that the necessary conversion machines wouldn’t be quite so hard to fabricate as the engineering department was imagining, Fry built a prototype machine himself, in his basement. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough to show that it could be done. There was just one problem; by the time he was finished with it, it had grown bigger than he’d anticipated it would be. "To get it out of my basement, I had to take out the basement door, then the door frame, and part of a garden wall that was outside," he said. Fry loaded the machine into his pickup truck and drove it to 3M. And, really, what self-respecting engineering division of a huge multinational isn’t going to respond to a gambit like that? The necessary enhancements were made, the production process was perfected, and eventually, it was time to see what the public thought.

and to the general public:

Like every inventor at 3M, Fry had some experience with unhappy endings. Most of the projects he worked on, for one reason or another, never made it to market. But he also knew how much people liked his notes once they were taught how to use them. Even many of the naysayers were habitual users. Why, when it was so popular inside 3M, would it not be popular elsewhere? "We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, 'Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong,'" said Gaudio Edwards. "Because it couldn’t be the product--the product was great."

To see for themselves how people outside 3M responded to Post-it Notes, two 3M executives, Geoff Nicholson and Joe Ramey, decided to return to one of the test cities, Richmond, Virginia, to conduct their own one-day market research expedition.

Echoing Fry’s efforts at 3M, the duo cold-called offices throughout the city, giving away free samples and showing people how to use the product. The responses they got were substantially more enthusiastic this time. "Those things really were like cocaine," said Steve Collins, who ended up working on the Post-it Notes account for more than a decade and is now the president of Martin/Williams. "You got them into somebody’s hands, and they couldn’t help but play around with them."

On the dark side of the post-it:

At the FBI, they’ve even coined a special acronym for the product. "They call them FLYNs," said Fry, who learned this one day when an agent interviewed him for an FBI newsletter. "That stands for 'funny little yellow notes.' Except I'm cleaning it up when I say 'funny.'" Fry clarified. "When field agents submit a report and it comes back with a lot of notes on it, that means it’s a lot more work for them. So they’ll say, 'Man, I’ve really been flynned.'"

As they say: read the whole thing.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 01:05 PM
March 24, 2005
Anansi Boys Sneak Peek

Neil Gaiman just posted an excerpt from his next novel, Anansi Boys

It begins, as most things begin, with a song.

In the beginning, after all, were the words, and they came with a tune. That was how the world was made, how the void was divided, how the lands and the stars and the dreams and the little gods and the animals, how all of them came into the world.

They were sung.

The great beasts were sung into existence, after the Singer had done with the planets and the hills and the trees and the oceans and the lesser beasts. The cliffs that bound existence were sung, and the hunting grounds, and the dark.

Songs remain. They last. The right song can turn an emperor into a laughing-stock, can bring down dynasties. A song can last long after the events and the people in it are dust and dreams and gone. That's the power of songs.

There are other things you can do with songs. They do not only make worlds or recreate existence. Fat Charlie Nancy's father, for example, was simply using them to have what he hoped and expected would be a marvelous night out.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at 10:16 PM
Nifty use of amazon services

[ This is awesome. ] Some sample searches to get you going: Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, PJ Harvey.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 12:49 PM
March 23, 2005
Mono mp3s

Mono (who I'm going to see Friday night, bring your earplugs), has posted some mp3 files. It has somehow escaped my notice that they had a remix album out; it even has a remix by Calla on it!

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 09:14 PM
Customers vs Employees

Without comment:

Used book store bad-employee horror stories: here, here, here.

Used book store bad-customer horror stories: here, here.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 03:25 PM
March 20, 2005
The Fountain

Somewhat fluffy set report for Darren Aronofsky's third movie, The Fountain, which is described as " a science-fiction epic that spans three historical periods and rides on a bit of time travel". No word on gangrenous arms or malevolent refrigerators.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 06:07 PM
March 18, 2005
Mark Kingwell on Shanghai

Mark Kingwell on Shanghai:

Every architecture student, really every city dweller, should visit Shanghai for a lesson in the aesthetics of architectural ambition. Complain as we may about the design compromises forced in Western cities by overlapping interest groups, setback restrictions, health standards, and public financing, the results at the other end of the scale are far more unnerving. At the asymptotic edge of design freedom lies a sparkling, overgrown, hyperscaled city of bright nightmares, sometimes beautiful, often strange, always oppressive. Shanghai is modern urbanism on a speed high, rambling and incoherent, with a lump of shopaholic emptiness at its center. Nowhere else is the promise of architectural emancipation, that dream of modernism, more vividly broken. Architecture will not set us free, no matter how hard--how high and fast it tries.


The press of humanity here is multidimensional, omniolfactory, inescapable, and loud. Like its citizens, Shanghai's sights, smells, and sounds crowd in from every direction, thick walls of sensory noise that snap out signal as fast as your learning-curve brain can take them in: an English sign in purple neon, the mingled scents of frying pork dumplings and rotting watermelon rind, the unmistakable sound of a businessman in gangster-cut suit and broken-down leatherette loafers voiding his nostrils onto the sidewalk. Dirty water and fish guts spill into the street from sidewalk stalls that cluster under spaceship high-rises and five-star hotel ballrooms, all washed in KFC and McDonald's neon, Prada and Gucci signage, the inevitable Starbucks green.

A tiny man with the weathered face of an ancient god under a Nike toque huddles in a corner selling seven mismatched batteries and a bundle of wilted scallions. Touts with knock-off luxury goods are so persistent, repetitive, and hectoring that you may begin to think your name actually is Rolex Montblanc. Toddlers in embroidered split-crotch pants, imperial hats, and decorated surgical masks stare at you and point. In fact, everyone you pass stares hard, with an indecipherable mix of curiosity and hostility. Roundeye go home.

Long, but well worth the read.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 03:50 PM
March 17, 2005
Bloglines Bliss

If you answer yes to all of the following:

then you might just want to head over to my geek(ier) weblog and see what you can do about it.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 05:30 PM
March 14, 2005
Roald Dahl: The TV Show

A while back I posted about the possibility of Robert Altman making a TV show based on Roald Dahl's stories. What I didn't know is that there was a series on British TV in the late 70s/early 80s that did exactly that called Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. Set 1, Set 2.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 09:44 AM
March 13, 2005
Recent Reading
  • Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte. Currently a darling of the lit weblogs, and with good reason: this book is one of the most profanely funny things I've ever read. Framed as a series of letters to a high school alumni newsletter, the main character (nickname: Teabag) confesses to his abject failure to do anything with his life since highschool. Not for the easily offended.
  • A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick. Kind of odd that I am so excited about the movie without having read the book, but that was based on the PKD I have read, as well as my general fondness for Linklater. If the movie captures half of the paranoia and fractured sense of identity of the novel, I'll be happy. As for the title, a brief explanation and then the relevant quote from the text. The main character is a cop undercover who has taken so much of a drug called Substance D that his personality has split and the drug dealer he is pursuing (and has under active surveillance, or scanning) is actually himself:
    What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me - into us - clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.
  • Stump, by Niall Griffiths. I raved about another Griffiths novel, Sheepshagger, but was a bit let down by this one. The narrative is two-pronged: one, a first-person account of the day of an ex-addict/alcoholic living in Wales who lost an arm due to an injection infection; and two, a third-person story of two thugs who have been sent from Liverpool to avenge the addict's theft of some money. It was the third-person sections that didn't work for me, Griffith's use of biblical-style language, which worked well in Sheepshagger, just seemed out of place, alternating as they do with the rather mundane musings of the thugs. E.g.:
    And nomads of quite another order, these two in this car are. Nothing in them or their quest of truth or beauty nor justice morality or law but of some species of warfare of a sort that is played out on the outer peaks or in the roots of the wind-twisted trees bent arthritically earthwards. Gnash in this landscape, slash in this landscape tooth and talon on and in always this hard landscape once soft and gouged by claw or by flesh inured enough to have too been claw. From ravenous rippings in the pocks and pits of the soil too thin here to sustain growth other than that which from these buried feeding became the hacking hand of man and rocks ripped out and shaped and stacked to form a fortress both protection from and site from which to propel still more flesh-render, surrender and submit, to the screeching machines which shred the sky hourly and somewhere within this history unending this small farting automobile spluttering smoke and the faulty flesh-weapons, launched torpedoes of skin and bone inside it.
    --Yeh still narky? Still got thee arse?
    Darren shakes his head.
    --Then why the friggin deadhead, lar? I mean yer've been blankin me since
    --Oh shut yer fuckin gob will yeh, and giz a piecer that fudge.
    This high language/profane language dichotomy happens enough that I'm pretty sure it's deliberate, and perhaps even meant to be funny, but it kept taking me out of the text. An enjoyable (and quick) read, but not a great one. I'll still pick up whatever Griffiths I can find though.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at 07:56 PM
March 11, 2005
Color matching gizmo

Now this is a gadget with potential - Benjamin Moore - The Pocket Palette Device:

This convenient hand-held electronic palette search instrument allows you to match colors to the entire Benjamin Moore color system accurately and easily with the touch of a button.

Priced for professionals only at $299 USD, though. If they're smart, they'll be giving these to home improvement stores to lend out to customers.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 10:16 PM
March 09, 2005
Fruit trees in Vancouver

Here's an interesting project: planting fruit trees throughout Vancouver.

Another thing I didn't know: Vancouver has a " fruit tree program through which excess produce grown by local residents is collected and distributed": The Fruit Tree Project.

(via, which I found here, which I found here. I tell you, this hyperlink thing is really going to catch on.)

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 01:21 PM
March 04, 2005
Theremin, you will be mine

I'd been thinking for a while that when I have some disposable income I'd buy a laptop. I think I might change my mind and get this beautiful, beautiful theremin. (Review at, where else, theremin world.)

If you would like a clue as to what a theremin is, start here.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 08:35 PM
March 01, 2005
Bad Parenting II

Stephen Elliott has a follow-up post about his ongoing (and unfortunately public) battles with his father. All I can say is that I really admire Elliott for his courage and dignity in dealing this this stuff:

There's a history lesson in here somewhere but I'm not sure what it is. When we write about ourselves we involve the people who were catalysts in our stories. That might not be fair to our parents and siblings and lovers, all of whom have their own interpretations of events. In better times my father has joked, "I only handcuffed you to that pipe one time and look how many stories you've written about it." I guess a writer who gets over things is not much of a writer. I think there was a time when I thought I was over my childhood but now I know with certainty I will never be over it. That, for better or worse, I am mostly defined by my life starting when I left home and finishing five years later when I started college. And while it's ridiculous to identify myself as a "group home kid" now that I'm thirty-three and a lecturer at Stanford, still I do. And for my father I forgave him once and it was a mistake. He steals my history. I won't forgive him again.

One more thing: read his books.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 03:12 PM
Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace and Gromit Curse of the Were-Rabbit trailer. (Direct link.)

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 08:13 AM
New DFW Essay - Host

David Foster Wallace has an essay in the April issue of The Atlantic on talk radio; it's available as a PDF. Haven't read it yet, looks like they've taken an innovative approach to his footnotes: they appear as color-coded sidebars next to the text. And yes, there is some nesting action.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at 07:35 AM