Courtenay's Field Sawmill, Before and After

It didn't occur to me to take a picture of it while on Christmas holidays, but the lot that once housed Field Sawmill in Courtenay is now empty. I just came across two photos I took of it, one in 2003 (Flickr mirror), and another taken this July (Flickr mirror). The mill was a fixture, almost a landmark, in Courtenay, my hometown, right next to the 17th Street Bridge. My dad worked there, before he worked for the union representing the workers there, and every day the bus drove past it on the way to and from school (in Comox, where I attended French Immersion). I don't know what they're going to build there now, but it's a prime spot for residential development, being right on the bank of the Courtenay River.

I posted the photo here on my site back before the photo-sharing service days, of the sawmill in full operation, 3 years ago today. (I'm rediscovering a lot about my weblog—and myself—because of the On This Day module I wrote for the site.) This might prompt a trip to the library to see if there are any other photos and memories of the old mill since Google doesn't turn up a lot—except a list of mill closures from 2005 to 2006, a watercolor painting (bottom) and another.

Wow, You Know It's Christmas

It's juvenile, and possibly PG-13, but I thought "Dick In a Box" (YouTube mirror) with Justin Timberlake and Andy Sandberg of Saturday Night Live was hysterical. Jason Kottke has some Ikea instructions, and there are already parodies like Boobs In a Box. I thought "box in a box" might be a little more clever, if a little harder to pull off.

This year I sent text messages to friends wishing them a Merry Christmas. Next year, though I'm thinking, as a new year's resolution, to get as many addresses as possible and go retro, sending out cards, possibly even homemade. To you and yours, hope your holidays are as happy as mine, spent with my girlfriend Karen, in Courtenay with my parents and family.

What Should I Do With sillygwailo.*.com?

I have a Vox site, a LiveJournal site, and a site at,, and, respectively. The Vox site where I used to make brief quips, when I should really use it for more community-like things; the LiveJournal site I use for writing a private journal to my LJ friends; and the site I used for cynical search engine optimization experiments, though I'm thinking of using it something else (see below). I'd like to continue using all three, but two of them suffer from the same limitation that doesn't affect the LiveJournal site: on Vox and you can't post without a title and reliably get a nice permalink. Both and Vox require titles, while LJ does not. With technically you can, but in the themes I've tried, the permanent link doesn't appear on the front page. For those that don't actually read blog posts but look at tables, here are the services broken down:

Service Requires Titles Permalinks For Posts With No Title Domain Pointing
Vox Yes N/A (title required, though they suggest some if you don't add one yourself; permanent links based on the title, using underscores, shudder) No?
LiveJournal No Yes (all permanent links have the post ID as the 'slug') Yes No No (it makes permanent links, using the post ID as the 'slug', but they don't show on the front page) Yes
Drupal/Bryght Yes Sort of. Yes*

(I totally snuck "Drupal/Bryght" in there since the company I work for offers a Drupal-powered hosted service and I made sure I snagged while it was available. You can fake permanent links in the theme, and I have an asterisk * with the domain pointing column since you would have to 'rename' the site to a domain, effectively losing the suffix.)

So what should I do with the sites that aren't Because I have them, I'm morally obligated to do something with them. is the best candidate for a "Richard asks questions he's too lazy to research himself", and Vox seems to have more community features built-in than the others, other than LJ, which I use for private stuff. Domain pointing is nice, but not really necessary for me, at least not now. (Though I understand the importance of domain pointing, in that it gives you flexibility if, for whatever reason, you want to change services so that you don't have to change URLs. Flickr, I'm looking in your direction.) Is there a service like LJ—that, y'know, isn't LJ—that gives me a subdomain, has permalinks on the front page but doesn't require a title for each post?

Transit Stories

Vancouver bloggers recently have been writing stories of what they observed on transit here. The weather in the Lower Mainland has been a little nutty, first with a snow storm then storms of other kinds (today a wind storm that caused traffic snarls (e.g. power failure at VCC-Clark SkyTrain Station). Here are a few of the stories I noticed:

Any that I missed from the last couple of months?

One of the ideas I had for a Vancouver transit community site was a "transit stories" section, since a lot of crazy stuff happens during the day when a group of people from a wide range of backgrounds share an experience for an hour or two each day.

Positive Contact

For the last while—who knows how long—my contact form wasn't working because of DNS wonkiness. That should be fixed now, so you can now get a hold of my by email. (In case you might want to arrange for, among other things, the delivery of free stuff.) Also, my about page is marked up in hCard (styling hCard seems a bit much, but it's possible), and to prove that it would take me about 10 minutes to do it, the front page is marked up in hAtom. I have no idea if it's done right, since there doesn't seem to be a microformat validator. Instead, I reverse-engineered how others did it, just like the last time (table-free XHTML + CSS) we bloggers did this.

Did I mention that my bookmarks syndicated here are marked up in xFolk wrapped in hAtom?

6 Years

Today marks 6 years of blogging for me, and I can't remember why I do it. Jason Kottke said he does it because of 'intertia', but "because that's what we've always done" usually sounds like a bad reason to do something. Maybe I need a blogging strategy, but that looks like it's for people who want to get started, not for experienced bloggers who lost the thrill or forgot the raison d'être. If I knew for a second what change I wanted to effect, I might try to use my soapbox. That is, if I believed I felt like I was part of the conversation.

(Yes, I get inbound links and comments every now and then. But my participation never feels sustained.)

Todd's post from August 2005 keeps ringing in my ears. Except for hobbies, which I don't yet have to replace blogging in my life, his reasons for blogging lack of enthusiasm match mine. He wrote exactly a year later explaining that his site would be deprecated. It seems like the wrong thing to do for Just a Gwai Lo, since with it I have an identifiable 'personal brand'. A week ago I wondered if I should discontinue this site. I still can't decide. So inertia it is. Here's to another year.

Doesn’t Seem Like a Good Fit For a Rapper Trying to Make Himself Look Tough

Max O'Keefe: “My limited understanding of the rap game and all that it entails was surpassed when I turned on MTV and I saw a rapper wearing a Winnipeg Jets jersey. (Unfortunately, I cannot remember who it was). For all of you out there not familiar with the history of the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets were a professional hockey team that eventually got moved to Phoenix in 1996. Maybe it’s me, but a currently non-existent hockey team that was once based in Canada doesn’t seem like a good fit for a rapper trying to make himself look tough.”

The rap video that featured the Winnipeg Jets jersey was Da Youngsta's "Hip Hop Ride", and the team existed when the video came out in 1994.

So incongruous it seems to have black American rappers wear jerseys of a sport popularized by white Canadians that I decided to add a 'wiki' page of hockey jerseys appearances in rap music videos (I put 'wiki' in quotes because you can't edit it). So far I know of 4 videos with rappers in hockey jerseys (Smif-N-Wessun's "Let's Get It On", Black Moon's "I Got Cha Opin", Nas' "The World Is Yours", Da Youngsta's "Hip Hop Ride"), but if you know of more, send me the link to the video and I can add it to the list.

Setting Aside: Watching China

After upgrading it to the fancy new beta of Drupal 5, I've decided to give Watching China a rest. The front page is now the aggregator category of weblogs related to China (which has a firehose RSS feed, which I've unsubscribed from), but I've disabled comments, new user registrations, and posting on the site. For a while my bookmarks tagged with 'china' got syndicated over there too, but I pressed the pause button for that too.

Over the weekend, I'll go through my list of sites on that server, including this one, Just a Gwai Lo, and make a decision on whether to continue updating them or not.


Reading Doc and AKMA on an article in The New York Times on home schooling (called "unschooling" in the article, which sounds like people could think it means "uneducating", but is instead meant to distinguish from the the traditional or status quo, much like the word "unconference"), I find similarities with arguments like those of John Taylor Gatto. Gatto writes in his essay—not mentioned in the article, perhaps because it's outside even the home schooling mainstream?—that traditional schools only teach confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, and surveillance—compelling, if checked by the fact that my sister, an elementary school teacher, loves her job and her students, and whom I believe is a good teacher loved by her students and their parents.

Both Doc (and Julie, whom I thought of immediately reading Doc's piece linked at the top) are familiar with Gatto, which would lead me to guess that Gatto's omission from the New York Times article, its embarrassing correction and all, is puzzling (because of his influence on homeschoolers) or explainable (ditto). My research on the subject consists only of stumbling on links, since I'm childless (my plans for the foreseeable future—May 2007, if you must know—assume that continues). Always in the back of my 28-year-old mind, however, is the question "how would I educate my child(ren)", and while I can't make a decision now, among the values and personality traits I'd like to instill, or would like their teachers and mentors to instill in them would include love, strength, playfulness, seriousness, intelligence, athleticism, grace, and above all, curiosity.

That, in the hope that they will learn from the mistakes of their father, a regular sleep schedule.

Northern Vox

Another year, another Canadian blogging conference. Northern Voice 2007 is open for registration, and until this Friday, open for speaker submissions. I went to the first two conferences and really liked them, with last year introducing Moose Camp, a more informal conference, to the mix. The organizers this year are holding the conference not downtown, but at UBC's main campus. This means a longer commute for us suburbanites, and those from out of town will want to book their hotel accordingly (or wake up earlier than last year) and take the bus or taxi.

(From downtown, there are lots of transit options, including a trolley or three that go there directly to taking two express buses, one from downtown to Broadway and Granville, and another from there directly to UBC.)

I have a hand in developing the conference's site, which ended up including updating documentation for the Drupal module that runs banner advertisements (in this case, Northern Voice uses it to display sponsors' logos on the sidebar). That said, I registered just like everybody else, paying full price for both the conference and the t-shirt. For two days worth of interesting conversations (based on last 2 years' experiences), in a most excellent looking venue, UBC's Educause Review Forest Sciences Centre, 70 bucks is a pretty great deal.

Vancouver will host 2 other technology conferences in February, and Web Directions North from Feb. 6-10th, and Vancouver PHP Conference from Feb 12-13th. So you might as well book a hotel for the whole month.

Morally Superior

Sarah: “as anyone else observed the phenomenon of non-TV watchers who will spend hours watching shows on DVD and think that it's somehow morally superior, since you avoid the commercials?”

Unless If You Generate News or Spend a Lot of Money Advertising

From Sacha Peter's response, itself worth reading in full, to my article on young school trustee campaigners (and young campaigners in general): “Young campaigners are worse off, but not for the reason specified. They are worse because they typically have less connections with the public and less name exposure. One major factor in the re-election of a lot of municipal governments is incumbency - when you look at a ballot of 27 nominees for council and 19 for school trustees, most people tend to pick off the names they know. These people are typically incumbents. Getting media exposure for a school trustee election is very difficult to do unless if you generate news or spend a lot of money advertising.”

Numbers on My Nokia N70 Stopped Working, But Now They Work Again

Yesterday evening, my Nokia N70 stopped working properly. That is, the numbers 1, 5, and 6 didn't respond. After a day of adding phone numbers to my Powerbook's address book and using iSync to add them to my contacts list, and trying straight rebooting the phone (turning it off then on again), and worrying that I would have to get another phone (which would have been my 4th this year, beginning with Siemens S55, then Nokia 7610, and then now with my N70, not including the Nokia N80 I had for a while), it works again. I couldn't hard reset the phone—7370# or, star seven three seven zero star number-sign—because I wasn't able to type in the code it asked for (12345) since, well, the 1 and 5 weren't working. What made it work again was the following: open the phone, take out the battery and SIM card, blow around a little bit, then replace the SIM card and battery and turn it on. Voodoo, I know, and probably not a permanent fix. But here's hoping it is, because I paid my right arm for it.

The Georgia Straight, Now Powered By Drupal

I knew it was happening, if not when, but Vancouver's alternative weekly's website, The Georgia Straight, is now powered by Drupal. Old URLs go to the same content, just at a new location (if you look at my short post about Vancouver Specials, the old URL linked there redirects nicely the new URL). Though I can guess by URL hacking, I'd love to see a page where the RSS feeds are for various sections, including the front page. I can guess at some of the modules they've used by looking at the raw code. They say the site is still under some development, so I'm looking forward to what they have in store. And by the way, this is not much of a scoop, since the newspaper announced their intention to move to Drupal back in April.