g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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 3/28/2005 -   4/3/2005
 3/21/2005 -  3/27/2005
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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
 11/8/2004 - 11/14/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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  8/5/2002 -  8/11/2002
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  7/1/2002 -   7/7/2002
 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
 6/17/2002 -  6/23/2002
 6/10/2002 -  6/16/2002
  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
 5/20/2002 -  5/26/2002
 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, January 7, 2007
23:20 - Tiny little square glasses

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VSP resets at the end of the year, so...



Now I can author a Web 2.0 app!

Saturday, January 6, 2007
15:11 - When eating your own dogfood doesn't work
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,241578,00.html

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Interesting story her on user interface design—particularly so in that it could have just as easily been written in 1995 or even 1985. We're still using terms like "save" and "load" in our user interfaces, and they're apparently still just as confusing to novice users as ever.

This is why interface design is so deceptively hard. Any geek might think he knows how to make a program simple to use; but he's a geek. He doesn't think like a user who doesn't have an instinctive understanding of how the underlying software works. The article focuses on your typical Microsoft apps, but even a program like iTunes is chock-full of quirky little behaviors that nobody in their right mind should be expected to expect; like why does it take half a minute for a manually-mounted iPod to disappear after you've clicked the Eject button? Why do you have to "import" songs from your CDs into the iTunes Library? Why does the Pause button change to a Stop button if you switch to another input source while you're playing music? All these things make sense after a technical explanation, but only if you're the kind of person to whom a technical explanation is relevant. That doesn't count most people.

Here's something I hadn't realized:

People who write software programs value control. The user, on the other hand, just wants something that's easy to operate.

To illustrate his point, he notes that computer programmers tend to prefer manual transmissions. But not even 15 percent of the cars sold in the United States last year had that feature.

I'll bet that's true. Geeks I know, particularly interface geeks, love the opportunity to tweak levers and buttons, to give themselves more power and control; it's of a piece with why they write software to begin with. But their audience doesn't speak the same language, and very few interface guys—only the really, really good ones—are multilingual.

Via JMH.

Friday, January 5, 2007
09:06 - In the name of science
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHzdsFiBbFc

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I'm sure we've all seen the photos of the effects of various drugs on spiders and their web-building. But I don't think photos really do it justice; you have to see the video to get the—snort—full effect.

Via CapLion.

Thursday, January 4, 2007
14:25 - Re-vulcanize my tires, post-haste!
http://stevenf.com/2007/01/wherein_i_predict_the_future.php

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Steven Frank's got a very entertaining and highly sensible set of thoughts on the upcoming Macworld announcements, including the (slim to vanishing) possibilities of Mac Tablets and ApplePhones. The latter inspires such gems as:

The other problem with the cell phone market is it is designed from the top of the food chain down to screw you, the customer. Some enterprising Korean company makes an awesome cell phone, an American carrier picks up the exclusive rights to carry it, strips off half the features because they might interfere with selling you 30 second ringtones for $2.50, lock it to their network, and make you sign a two-year contract to get one.

How do you see this fitting with Apple's established retail experience?

Apple's about "the whole widget" and I can't imagine them making you suffer some idiot at a Cingular store who can't figure out which data plan you need, but it's probably this one 'cause he heard that MACs have a problem with this other one because MACs don't use TCP/IP networks or DNS and you have to use the AppleTalk Chooser or something I dunno Gary the Apple Guy should be back after lunch but check out this awesome RAZR.

Hee.

What? My predictions for Macworld, you ask? Hell if I know. I suspect, though, that it will be something entirely new and previously unrumored, like the iPod was when it first appeared. Something nobody will have seen coming, and that Slashdot will poo-poo, and that Paul Thurott and Rob Enderle will ridicule, and that Apple will sell a billion of.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007
17:35 - Listen up, Sony
http://www.autoblog.com/2007/01/02/volvo-so-tell-us-what-you-really-think-about-our-

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Now this is interesting. Apparently thinking that the Dodge Caliber's "Anything but cute" campaign just doesn't go quite far enough, Volvo is taking customers' apparently mixed collective reaction to the new C30 and running with it:

Volvo has come up with an interesting new ad campaign to harness the polarized reactions to promote its new premium hatchback. Using the tag line, "That's one opinion. What's yours?," Volvo is breaking the 4th wall in its new commercials and asking people what they think of the C30's styling. And the company isn't cherry-picking the results, either. Apparently, it's OK for some people to dislike the car.

The campaign, which includes 16 short films, started in the UK and will be used in the States later in 2007. The theme of the series is "Product of free will." You can see all 16 shorts now at volvocars.com/freewill. This interactive website is pretty cool with an animated figure loving the car and then vomiting on it after some contemplation. For every 10-second negative clip, there's an equal length positive one though.

Now that takes some guts. And if the guiding lesson here is "Any publicity is good publicity", Volvo certainly seems to have found a better—and more likely to be successful—expression of it than Sony's recent astrorurf debacle.

I think the car looks quite nice, myself.


10:45 - "That belongs in a museum!"
http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20070101-093229-6805r

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Wow. Has it really been nineteen years since the last Indiana Jones movie?

Via Tom G., who also provides the title, which I can't improve on...

UPDATE: As I e-mailed to Stephen Rider:

Somehow I don't know if I'm thrilled by the idea of a 60-something Indy. And aside from that, the trilogy had a certain nutty cohesion, since each of the three movies had a completely different look and feel, from the crunchy noir of the first, to the pulp swashbucklery of the second, to the cornball slapstick of the third. As a kid I remember appreciating the latter the most, but these days it's hard for me not to focus on the first as the purest expression of the concept. And yet somehow the three of them make for a convincing unit, one that ends appropriately enough with a riding-off-into-the-sunset scene, almost a curtain call. To reopen the series—to pry open the Ark, as it were—feels almost more wrong than doing horrible prequels of the Star Wars movies.

But hey, these guys are geniuses. Believe in them and their ability to come up with new and unique ways to ruin a good thing.

Monday, January 1, 2007
02:12 - World's Most Oppressed Majority

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I haven't gotten a great deal done this holiday season. But I'm not feeling all that bad about it, because I think my excuse is a good one: I've spent the whole time since Christmas reading, with great gusto, River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon, the well-loved geographical chronicler's tale of his journey by water across the United States. It's of particular interest to me because, as detailed as the narrative is in terms of the land through which it passes, from the East River to the Hudson, the Erie Canal to the Allegheny, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers, and over the Rockies to the Salmon and Columbia Rivers along the path followed two hundred years ago by Lewis and Clark, I get to follow it visually, page by page, every town, every labeled riverbend, every historical point of interest: a copy of the book in one hand, Google Earth in the other. I tell you, as wastes of time go, it's one I'm having a hard time not justifying.

Yet it's not without its teeth-gritting moments. Now, I've long since reached the sorry conclusion that unless I were to tune in to The 700 Club or some country music station from Boise, there's no way that I'm going to find anyone in the movie industry, TV, music, voice-acting, comics, animation, or fiction or non-fiction writing worlds who isn't of a certain political bent; indeed, people writing scripts and books and the like not only write from a certain perspective that they treat as some persecuted minority, they unabashedly fill their texts with its protocols in the seeming surety that their audience is behind them 100%. Zack Parsons of SomethingAwful.com, when I e-mailed him to probe his feelings on this point, put it like this:

Good political comedy leans away from power. The Republicans, until two weeks ago, have totally and utterly dominated politics since I started writing for Something Awful. With many of the old comedic foils gone or fading into obscurity, you will probably see a lot more comedy from people mocking Democrats. It won't (and shouldn't) do a 180, but it will draw at least somewhat closer to the middle as the nation shifts away from far right wing ideological saturation in government.

Which is fine, except: a) it's not always (and seldom is) political comedy I'm talking about; and b) River-Horse was written in 1999.

In short, you know, I can handle the apparent fact that everything I watch, see, or read is written by liberals. But couldn't they, you know, just keep that fact private once in a while?

To wit: given the author's name, it's not like I could have expected the portion of the journey that travels through the Indian country of the Dakotas not to be one long, excruciating guilt-trip, indulged by an almost-white man for the benefit of his self-flagellating white audience, and so naturally it is. But there are also these periodic stumbling blocks, things I wasn't expecting, yet that I keep seeming to bang my shins against and swear under my breath the way he describes his little crew's reaction whenever the propellers of the Nikawa bang against a hidden snag or shoal:

The Photographer, a retired lawyer who had spent years protecting Missouri rivers, told him of the fellow he'd met on his morning walk who was running for some state office and who agreed with not a single sentence from our man expressing concern for the environment. The Republican politician had concluded his preachment with, "Lookit, Nature's got to give if people won't." Pilotis said, "Well, let's just hustle on down to that recalcitrant Missouri River and tell it to shape up and flow right." The Game-and-Fish man, who did not object to being called a wildlife agent, said, "While you're at it, tell the plovers to learn to nest in trees like sensible birds [rather than in sand bars in the middle of the river which get inundated if the river is channeled]." And the Professor: "With more than eighty percent of Americans in favor of strong environmental protections, why do Republican politicians typically oppose them?" Said the agent, "The eighty percent isn't paying for their campaigns."

Now, even leaving aside the curious attitude of "persecuted hubris" (or something) that it must take to throw something like this into a book that presumably people of all political stripes might—just might—be reading, blithely unconcerned with who might be put out by the intrustion of partisan politics into his primarily impartial narrative... could there be a more perfect distillation of exactly the kind of mentality and reasoning that I'm talking about here? I mean, you start out with a statistic of dubious provenance—80%+ in favor of strong environmental regulations—and then hint darkly at the conspiracy of Big Business and nefarious powers in Washington and state legislatures that withhold real governing power from The People, who apparently can't help their infantile selves to vote on any criteria but who spends the most on their TV ads. Every day I have this kind of thing rubbed in my face by someone like a Canadian friend who told me that he'd tried to help Americans of his acquaintance move north of the border "back when the people didn't want Bush to be re-elected"—as I pointed out, uh, apparently "the people" did want him re-elected; governmental power doesn't rest solely with those people with whom you happen to agree, nor with those whom—because you hang out with them all day—you might mistake for the entirety of the country.

So after the whole book's been spent talking about how humanity is just a blip as far as Nature is concerned, how ten thousand years from now the rivers will be unchanged and primeval even when we're all forgotten—still, the upshot is, let's-all-ridicule-the-guy-who-dares-to-put-humans'-interest-above-fragile-evanescent-Nature's.

And in this case it's even more fun, in that you've got the whole seething philosophical mass resting on the pillar of a "cute puppies" statistic: yes, I'm quite sure that four out of five Americans favor strong environmental regulations, in the sense that they like pretty mountains and chirping river birds and don't like smoke-belching factories. Word the question sufficiently leadingly, and I'm surprised the percentage isn't more like 120%. Just as you'd have a hard time getting less than four in five respondents to say they're in favor of cute puppies. But if you should, say, word the question like this: Would you be in favor of stronger efforts to capture and eliminate the stray feral dogs currently roaming the neighborhood where your kids live, even if it means putting them to sleep?—somehow I think the number of "yes" votes would exceed one in five. Similarly, if you asked all of America whether they would be willing to put up with insufficient power supplies and unpredictable floodwaters threatening population centers if it meant tiptoeing around a species of bird that lives on sandbars or not building a power plant next to the river, suddenly you're going to start getting numbers far less unbalanced than the 80% who liked the question back when it was about "protecting the environment".

To brew up a metaphor soup of the type favored by the author: grand ideals that work well in generalities tend to smash themselves to bits on the rocks of specifics.

Oh, and the real icing on this quotation is how the pious generality is spoken by "The Professor". I have to wonder how many of his students have learned, by the end of the term, that the easiest way to ensure an "A" is to put the phrase "When will people wake up and realize..." somewhere in each paper.

UPDATE: A bit later, approaching Great Falls, Montana:

The chasm the Missouri has cut through the dark and renitent sandstone just above Belt Creek is mostly easy bends and continuous rapids between and below the five big cascades, all within only a dozen miles of each other, and lying like steps, ledges which for years have been either inundated or topped with hydroelectric dams. Small by Missouri River standards, the first was completed in 1890 and the last in 1958; it's hard to believe a power company could persuade the public today to allow, for the sake of a few megawatts, so massive an impairment of one of the most magnificent riverscapes in America. Indeed, some people are finally starting to talk about the eventual removal of the dams and arguing that the value of tourism to such a series of cataracts could overwhelm the income from selling electricity and, what's more, put money not in the already-full pockets of a few electro-magnates but spread it more democratically across the area. (To megawattmen, the motto on the old electric company building in Helena has a special meaning: EX AQUA LUX ET VIS, From water, light and power.) Now, having complained, I'll admit the dams could be worse. Three of them sit several yards back from the ledges of the falls, so a visitor can yet see something of those cascades when the river is high enough to let a great volume of water top the spillways. Still, Meriwether Lewis's description of "this sublimely grand specticle [as] the grandest sight I ever beheld" points up what Americans have lost through an unregulated pursuit of wealth by a powerful few. There are many places and ways to generate electricity, but the Great Falls of the Missouri are unique, and they cannot be moved.

"Many places and ways to generate electricity". Yeah, like those coal-fired plants you spent the first half of the book complaining about? Here I thought hydroelectricity was supposed to be one of the good ways to get power. And yeah the Great Falls of the Missouri are unique; that's why they built hydro dams there, you great ninny! If you build them in a place where there's no major vertical drop, you end up with these massive reservoirs that cover hundreds of square miles of virgin river valley, like the Fort Peck Reservoir, which you also hated. Pray tell, how are humans supposed to get their electricity? Or were we supposed to huddle around campfires made from scrounged brush, the natural way? I'm sure the only reason they built those dams in the first place was to sell electricity, after all—to convince people they wanted this trifle, this luxury item, this status symbol. "Electro-magnates"; for Pete's sake. I can just see those top-hatted, monocled Monty Burns figures crackling their knuckles in glee at the idea of all the precious, precious money.

"Persuade the public". Dude, it's the public that demands the power, not the other way around.

It's all to the good if the good people of Great Falls decide they don't need "a few megawatts" after all and can blow away the dams in favor of some other power generation system; but I just hope you can contain your shock when it turns out not to be some magical beam of energy from a space satellite or wherever you think it's going to come from.

Ye gods! No wonder the only ones who oppose oil drilling in Alaska are the people who don't live there.

UPDATE: Oh, this is even better. Here's how Least Heat-Moon describes the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the true headwater area of the Missouri River:

We proceeded on, following the Red Rock around its turn eastward into the long, wide, wet meadow of Centennial Valley, a prehistoric lake bottom still spongy enough to hold a rather new reservoir and two ancient pools, today heavily silted up by just 120 years of Euro-American activity. Once about twenty-five feet deep, neither Upper nor Lower Red Rock Lake will now cover a short man's head, and they are well on the way toward eutrophication and the attendant demise of the last indigenous population of grayling in the forty-eight states, as well as a colony of trumpeter swans.

And here's how Wikipedia describes it:

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a remote refuge located in the high altitude of the Centennial Valley, in the southwestern region of the U.S. state of Montana. Adjacent to Gallatin National Forest and near Yellowstone National Park, the refuge is an integral part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Red Rock Lakes is best known for being the primary location for the efforts saving the Trumpeter Swan from extinction, which by 1932 had less than 200 known specimens in the United States and Canada. By the year 2002, an estimated 3,000 trumpeters were wintering on the refuge, many having migrated south from their summer range in Canada. The trumpeters are now so plentiful that efforts are being undertaken to help them reestablish historical migratory routes to areas further south in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin region. The elegant Trumpeter Swan is North America's largest waterfowl, with a wingspans of 8 feet (2.6 m] and they can weigh up to 30 pounds (13 kg).

Damn swans! Don't they know they're supposed to be helping prove a point here?!

UPDATE: On a raft heading down the rapids of the Salmon River:
In evening, conversation about a sign we saw a few days ago: HUNGRY? EAT AN ENVIRONMENTALIST. Such antagonism, often manufactured by big self-serving corporations or Farm Bureaus, makes solutions ever more difficult.

Yeah, because nobody would ever make a quip like that on his own, without being goaded and trained by a CORPORATION (dunt dunt duuuuuuhhh).
Overhear passionate P in discussment: "Of course William Carlos Williams could have written 'The mind can never be satisfied,' but there's no poetry in that. The poetry is in what you call 'wordy': 'It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.' Don't you hear the difference? I'll bet you're a Republican." Steady, I say.

Jeebus. I gotta say, I am seriously getting sick of this guy.

UPDATE: Descending the Snake below Clarkston/Lewiston:

Despite other pretexts, these dams [on the Snake and Columbia] exist primarily to employ the Corps of Engineers and make big corporate money selling power to citizens as far away as California who simply must have their cans of beef stew opened electrically, their roofs outlined with Christmas lights, and their socks dried by turning a dial to number 7. A bumper sticker I once saw in Oregon: HATE THE DAMS? SQUEEZE YOUR ORANGES BY HAND.

Written in derision. As though hand-squeezing oranges is something we ought naturally to do. Same with hanging our laundry out on lines (between brownstone windows from which chamber pots are emptied, perchance?) and our cans opened painfully by hand to save that immensity of power consumed by electric can openers. Christmas lights? If they have to keep a river dammed because otherwise the Christmas light draw in December would oversubscribe the grid, then it sounds like they need more dams, not less. Or nuke plants or something. Whatever we're allowed to get energy from these days, if anything.

Ugh. Only about forty pages to go, and I don't think I'm going to make it.

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