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:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, July 25, 2003
19:28 - Paranoid conspiracy theory

Chris brought this one to my attention.

About three days ago, SCO-- the UNIX vendor that has been suing IBM over its use of Linux, in one of those easily recognizable end-of-life intellectual-property-hoarding death-throes-- announced the acquisition of a company called Vultus, Inc. under terms that were not disclosed.

One of the investors in SCO is a company called the Umbrella Corporation-- er, excuse me, the Canopy Group.

Vultus, Inc.-- a company that "has developed tools for creating Web-based applications" and presumably is a leading supplier of polysyllabic words and other strategic business solutions-- is wholly owned by the Canopy Group, and shares their building.

Now, as Chris noted: What better way to siphon money out of a dying subsidiary company in a clandestine end-game than to have it buy a company that you wholly own?


UPDATE: Well, well.

As Chris says, the best part is how SCO says that their acquisition of Vultus is a "good match" for their UNIX business-- while Vultus' web-development software is Windows-only.

17:47 - Meanwhile, on a different planet...

Sharpton: "I agree with what Bush is doing, and support more of the same! Shame on him! He's a racist!"

16:20 - What do you want from us?

Arab Street: "We will not believe that Uday and Qusay have really been killed unless you show us pictures of the bodies."

US: "Okay, here they are."

Arab Street: "Aaaahhh! That's un-Islamic!"

Geez louise. As Lileks said back in late March or so, whatever.

13:22 - Saber-toothed cow

Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Bill Gates!

Microsoft's new Windows operating system Longhorn will be so different from its predecessors that users may not like it right away, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said yesterday.

"Longhorn is a bit scary. We have been willing to change things," Gates said during lunch at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting in Redmond.

Now that's good PR.


Wait a minute. Scary to whom?

Thursday, July 24, 2003
14:09 - PseudoPod


They just keep a-comin'!

While the iHP-100 certainly lacks the iPod's styling, it does have some neat touches of its own. Like the latest iPods (but not the 10GB version, it has to be said), the iRiver device ships with a remote control unit, but the iHP-100's version has a full-size backlit track information display screen. The iHP-100 also offers digital optical audio input and output ports, and you can hook up any source to digitise sound directly to the player's hard drive. There's a built-in microphone too. The iRiver also contains an FM stereo radio receiver.

But you apparently navigate it using a thumb-dimple joystick, and the screen is cluttered up by the usual Aiwa/Tokyo-at-Night display-candy. Plus it loses out to the iPod in price. (?!)

The iHP-100 connects to a host PC via a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed link. It plays MP3 and Windows Media Audio files. Neatly, you don't need jukebox software to transfer files to the iHP-100 - Windows Explore will do.

Which I guess means no playlists or ID3-tag-based organization, or auto-synchronization. But hey! It's more conveeeeenient! Plugging it in and having it automatically sync everything is too restrictive. Oh, and is that USB 2.0 2.0, or USB 1.1 2.0? I'm sure it's the former. Such naming schemes have the consumer's best interests at heart.

One of these days I'm going to have to put that "PseudoPods" page together, showcasing all these game attempts at, um, flattery.

13:14 - Insanity

Mike at Cold Fury has done what I don't have the will to do: written a cathartic post about the stupefying reaction we've been seeing from the Left to the deaths of Uday and Qusay. It's not a long post, nor a very refreshingly vitriol-filled one; rather, it's faltering and even a little bit resigned-- the way I've been feeling, the reason why I haven't been able to write anything on the subject. I think I know now why I've been feeling so very tired over the past couple of days.

I know that kids under, say, 16 really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to politics; they'll happily espouse completely horrifying viewpoints just because they sound cool. That's all I can imagine explaining this:
Doesn't a part of you wish that Queasy and Duh-day were alive?

I'll admit they're scum and rightfully so, but anything that lands as even more humiliation on W's grotesque shrivelled face is that much the better.

It's sad, really, that as despicable as they are, Saddam's family seems to be the lesser of two evils when you compare them to the wretched little bastard occupying the White House and destroying America in the process...

And I only quote that one because it's particularly representative and memetic, not because similar sentiments (slightly more tactfully worded) haven't been soaking the online and broadcast world, across the mainstream spectrum.

All I'm saying is, shouldn't there be some kind of age requirement for getting on the Net?

Not that that would help. Apparently people from all walks of life are having a hard time seeing why killing Uday and Qusay is a good thing. The fact that Bush exists trumps all.

Lest anyone get the impression that I'm some kind of unquestioning Bush supporter, um, no, I'm not. I think there are many things he could be doing far better. There are also many things he could be doing far worse. About par for the course for a President in an extraordinarily trying historical time.

But I swear, I am so goddamned physically drained after seeing this unrelenting stream of utter bilge from the reactionary Left, especially in reaction to what should have been an unquestionably uniting and praiseworthy event, that I can't even sleep well. I saw some of those conspiracy-theory-munching goons in my dreams last night.

For a long time I've been able to reassure myself, based on poll numbers during the war and such, that most of this country was too smart, too moral, too mentally clear to be sucked in by the endless "yellowcake" bleating and the hammering of these legions of hateful little trolls; but I'm afraid. I really am. I'm afraid that enough people take news sources like the BBC seriously enough, and ascribe enough credibility to any headline that stays on the news for more than two days, that the Left's tactics-- if tactics are what they are-- are working. And if so, it means my faith in the American public to make the right choices is seriously shaken.

That's such a depressing thought that I'm going to have to avoid this subject altogether for some time.

UPDATE: Specifically, some people seem to have the same vacuous, unresearched understanding of the word "McCarthyism" that they do of the terms "Free Speech" or "First Amendment".

God, I hate when people don't do their homework and then get treated like rock stars. It's like high school all over again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
14:52 - There's a name for that sort of thing

Several people have been commenting on this speech by Dick Gephardt in which he says with complete seriousness that the greatest threats to this country are those created by our unwillingness to cooperate with international legal bodies, for our own safety and security-- for instance, the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty.

Now, never mind the arguments that have already been put forth and dished about, for instance by Bill Whittle, who notes that "Even the proponents of Kyoto admit that if fully ratified, it would only delay their own worst-case model’s warming by two or three years over the next century. And all we have to do is wreck the world’s economy." While that's certainly worthwhile, I have a different observation to make.

The other day I heard (on NPR, where else) some guy moaning about how we hadn't signed the Kyoto treaty, thumbing our noses at the rest of the world and the 178 countries who have dutifully signed the accord. He said that countries like Russia have signed it, and their greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily dropping ever since; but over the course of the 1990s, while the US had made some token statements to the effect that we would be attempting to scale back our emissions over time, each year our emissions grew significantly. We appeared, in essence, not only to not be cooperating, but to not be trying to cooperate.

But this guy on the radio noted a critical little piece of information: that Russia's emissions were falling not because they were working to comply with the treaty's regulations, but because their overall economy is shrinking. Industry is scaling back. Factories are closing. So naturally their greenhouse gas emissions are dropping.

Kinda makes the US look a little less malicious, unless you consider success in itself to be malicious. And, we now know, some do.

It also throws some perspective upon those 178 countries that have ratified the treaty. For the vast majority, it was no huge leap to be able to do so. Did anyone fear that Ghana or Nepal were likely to be significant contributors to global warming? It's a no-brainer for non-industrialized nations to sign, or even industrialized nations with small populations. The treaty, it becomes clear, is really only aimed at one specific rogue state.

But that's not even what I was getting at-- it's just the warm-up. The guy on the radio went on to describe how because Russia's economy is shrinking, they are not using their full allocation of "emissions credits"-- and are therefore selling some to the US.

I was coming up to a red light when I heard that, which is fortunate because I would have slammed on the brakes anyway.

Emissions credits?!?

So if I understand this properly: if you're a country that is not in compliance with the Kyoto treaty, or whatever treaty it is that provides for these "credits" that we are a signatory to, you can either put yourself in compliance-- or you can purchase a waiver for yourself in the form of these "emissions credits", buying them from countries that aren't producing enough pollution to be using all the credits that are allocated to them.

In other words, the treaty isn't concerned with pollution at all; it's merely concerned with identifying the successful countries, the ones who can't comply with the treaty's terms without destroying their own economies, and siphoning money out of their coffers and into those of countries that can't help but be in compliance because they're unsuccessful. You can go ahead and pollute, but you have to pay off the poor countries around you.

When the Catholic Church did this, it was called indulgences.

Nowadays, it's mostly known as a bribe.

Or, in slightly different terms, a "sin tax". Levied on the successful, assessed upon the level of success. For the purpose of redistribution of wealth.

I believe I now understand where reasoned cynicism regarding environmental regulation comes from. How come nobody had a booth explaining these stipulations at Earth Day at my high school? If they had booths for Negative Population Growth, Inc., why not this?

Yeah, I know. Stupid question.

13:56 - But is it "Good Enough"?

So the first declared competitor to the iTunes Music Store has been launched: the BuyMusic.com site by Buy.com. 79 cents a song! Wow! They sure undercut iTunes 99 cents, didn't they? I guess Apple is doooooooomed!

... Or not. Judging by the raucous laughter coming from all corners of the tech press today, the new service qualifies as a "Nice Try" at best.

Wired sez:

Although online retailer BuyMusic.com will offer more than 300,000 songs from the five major recording labels, users of the service will not necessarily have the freedom afforded customers of Apple's iTunes service. That service permits transfer of music to multiple computers, portable devices and compact discs.

Jobs secured uniform licensing deals from all the recording companies that allow all iTunes songs to be burned onto CD an unlimited amount of times, save for a restriction against making multiple CDs with the exact same song lists. All songs on iTunes can also be transferred to up to three different computers and to the iPod, a portable digital music player.

Songs purchased at BuyMusic can't currently be played on the iPod.

Blum was not able to obtain uniform licensing rights from the recording labels and artists. As a result, different songs on BuyMusic have different restrictions on how often they may be burned onto CDs or copied to other PCs or portable music devices. They can all be burned onto CDs at least once.

"It doesn't work on the iPod". Sounds like partisan boo-hoo'ing at first, until you realize that the iPod has become far and away the definitive, iconic MP3 player that has defined the modern market. It's multi-platform, it's easy, it's sexy, it's fast, it's full-featured. Everybody takes the iPod seriously now. Not supporting the iPod is like... like... well, like releasing a piece of software that doesn't run on Windows. (Ahem.)

It's all WMP 9's DRM, too, which is a lot more onerous than iTunes' AAC protection. The comments get a lot more fun when you start venturing into the Mac commentary world, such as this post at Geek.com:

Buymusic.com has successfully copied the entire idea of the iTunes music store. The website looks like it was designed by monkeys who were strapped to chairs and forced to stare at the awful color scheme of Windows XP. Hopefully it will flounder based on its failure to adhere to simple guidelines. Some songs can be burned a bunch of times, others can only be burned a few. This will, indeed, be hard to keep track of, but I guess Windows users are used to not being able to keep things organized.

There's a Top 10 Reasons Why BuyMusic.com Sucks list at TheMacMind, which is well worth a read. Chaosmint and Damien Barrett each give it a drive-by panning. But the best bit of all is the one at The Mac Observer, which provides not only a series of incisive observations, such as that the search function doesn't work, and this:

BM's singles downloads begin at 79¢, but we found it difficult to find any. There were some that were priced at 79¢, though there aren't as many as you might hope based on BM's marketing message. Some of Cher's songs are available at that price, which might be why somehow she has the top album in the Top 100 Pop/Rock category. The artists that are more popular, such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly, 50 Cent, Eminem, and Coldplay are priced at 99¢ for a single. This is the same price as the iTMS.

However, if the singles are the same price, why are the EPs and singles with b-sides priced so strangely? American Idol's Clay Aiken has a two-song EP for sale on both BM and the iTMS. Both retailers are selling each song individually for 99¢. The iTMS has both songs together for US$1.98, the price of the two singles added together in one simple "add album" button. It's the BM page that is confusing. Both singles are 99¢, but to buy them simultaneously will cost you $9.49. What?

...But also includes a luscious series of head-to-head comparative screenshots of the various parallel features. Commenters on the article have noticed other shortcomings, like missing thumbnail images and the fact that the reason why the search function doesn't work is because someone programmed the link to it with a backslash (\) instead of a forward slash (/). "C'mon guys! A little bit of testing!" said the commenter in question. Hear, hear.

Now, as many of the aforementioned pundits are carefully noting, it's a Good Thing for the industry, to see another store of this type emerge. Apple's going it alone meant that the labels' willingness to continue to cooperate with the idea of per-song downloads and limited DRM was contingent solely on Apple's success with the iTunes Music Store, and millions-of-downloads-a-week or no, Apple's market share is still fairly negligible compared to what they'd be getting if, say, iTunes were avilable on Windows. Now that there's another player to pander to the Windows side, the labels will be able to see some real, significant income from download sales, and before they know it they'll be entrenched in a new business model, beyond the point of no return. And that's the critical battle.

Still, though-- it's hard to mask the disappointment at seeing such a blatant ripoff of a service shamelessly stepping into the spotlight, making snarky comments like BuyMusic.com's CEO calling Steve Jobs "a visionary, but he's on the wrong platform"-- or, indeed, our schadenfreude at seeing just how badly it sucks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
15:27 - About frickin' time

CNN's big alert banner has pictures of Uday and Qusay on their respective playing cards, with the headline TRUMPED.

Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, were killed Tuesday in a gunbattle with U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said.

Their bodies were identified from "multiple sources," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad.

"They died in a fierce gunbattle," Sanchez said. "They resisted detention and the effort of coalition forces to apprehend them."

Of course, now it's anybody's guess whether Saddam's still out there. But it's immensely gratifying that finally we've bagged some really, really big fish.

UPDATE: And, of course, the usual suspects are reacting to this news with every conceivable emotion except for happiness: they're accusing the US of having had the bodies in freezers for weeks, to trot out in order to push "yellowcake" off the headlines; they're lamenting our cold-blooded assassination of two men who should only have been arrested at worst; they're even latching onto the word "sons" as though it implies that Uday and Qusay were innocent kids. And it's not just these slimy little web worm-dungeons either-- the BBC is even putting scare quotes around the word "dead" and what we callously refer to as "good" news.

That's it. I am through with trying to make sense of how people like this can consider themselves moral and rational and informed human beings.

If I were a praying man, I'd pray that they were fewer than they appear.

13:02 - Amazing coincidence


No connection; no connection at all.

Oh, and read the comments; there's a contributor by the name of "evariste" who makes for some fascinating reading.

Monday, July 21, 2003
15:56 - Smirk me up that grid square

One of the side effects of having all my worldly possessions-- which primarily consist of things that had been stacked on bookshelves, many of which are in fact books-- strewn about my floor in stacks without any particular place to put them is that I'm tempted to do something I haven't really done in years, since before college: reading.

Now, granted, I never was that much of an adventurous reader. I loved big thick books, but only certain big thick books; I would find a few favorites and read them over and over again. I've been through The Silmarillion some twenty times, for instance, and Watership Down fifteen, and the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series until the covers fell off and the paperback spines split. I can't say what the commonalities are between the books I've tended to like, except that I know a book I'll hate the moment I pick it up. Almost all sci-fi/fantasy falls into that category; Tolkien's the one exception to a genre that nearly uniformly makes me furious. And in any case, once I went off to college, my reading time was severely curtailed, and I never really did pick it back up again.

So now that the house work is gradually and slowly beginning to asymptote off, and the things I am doing usually involve a work path as follows: Apply a bead of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; spray a layer of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; apply fingerfuls of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; sand, caulk, prime; paint on a coat of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; repeat; repeat -- I find myself with a number of temporal interstices into which I would normally insert networking time, doing e-mail or blogging or tinkering with code or some such. But that's not possible until the phone company should ever get my house's correct address into their head (they've tried three times now to install the T1, and gone to the wrong address each time, resetting the Beseech a Favor From the Bureaucratic Monopoly clock with each dimwitted call from the middle of a parking lot somewhere miles from my house); and so I find myself sprawling on a couch and reading.

And what should I pick up but the various books by Bill Bryson? They're always a lot of fun, though I should note that they're always funniest the first time through. A long sojourn away from them will also pep them up a little, but I find that if I'm anticipating some cute trick of wording or visualization that I know is coming, such as his extravagant fears in Neither Here nor There about what should happen if he should buy a rubber love doll in Germany and it should flop out of his suitcase and self-inflate in the middle of a crowded subway car, it doesn't give me the lingering, delectable guffaw that I suffered the first time I read that passage-- on a transcontinental red-eye flight, under the dim reading light on my window seat, my paroxysms of silent laughter provoking increasing irritability in the guy sitting next to me and gamely trying to sleep as we soared through the midnight sky over Ohio.

I've always been a fan of Bryson's, I should point out, ever since I was handed a copy of The Mother Tongue by an English teacher at my high school. It's one of the most engaging, comprehensive tomes on the subject of the English language that I've ever run across, and I've read quite a few, many by much more distinguished linguists than he, such as Jespersen and Pei. But I always come back to Bryson. Why? Because there's something about his written wit that I like. It's hard to pin down. He's often described as a Keillor/Kerouac/Barry admixture, but I don't know if that comes near the mark. Bryson spends so much time talking about how bewildered he is by things in the world that I usually find perfectly understandable, and I'm not just talking about computers here, and yet has such a vast wealth of statistics at his fingertips with which to bolster some narrative point or other, that I can never tell if he's as endearingly feckless as he makes himself sound, or if his endless bumbling and gape-mouthed wonder at things like cell phones and underground walkways is all just an elaborate put-on. In which case I find my respect for him is diminished by a significant amount.

Which, I also should note, is the impression I'm regretfully left with after plowing through I'm a Stranger Here Myself, a collection of his columns that he wrote for a local paper after returning to America after living in England for twenty years. Now, I'd loved The Mother Tongue for its wealth of fascinating information wryly delivered; I'd found The Lost Continent, his trek across America, to be uproarious in the best Bryson tradition, though I can't find that one in my bookcase at all now; Notes From a Small Island, about England, was marginally less diverting, mostly because of its monotony; same goes for In a Sunburned Country, on Australia, its interest coming chiefly from the alien nature (to me) of the place. Neither Here Nor There, about his travels through Europe, is the magnum opus, unless it were A Walk in the Woods, the one that really put Bryson on the map, as it were-- his northward hike along the Appalachian Trail. It's in that book that you start to get a glimpse into Bryson's priorities in life, and in I'm a Stranger Here Myself he continues the trend through to its conclusion-- he's willing to devote months toward becoming a wild and scruffy mountain man, able to hike thirty miles a day through sweltering, buzzing mountains, but at heart he's really a cosseted American dad who putters in the yard and wrestles with his taxes and writes long sarcastic tirades about his computer being incomprehensible and unreliable. (DOS-prompt jokes in a 2000 book, even. I wonder.) He spends his Appalachian adventure bemoaning the changing landscape, whose decay he's careful to point out is not always the result of simple crass American industrialism eating away at the natural world-- often it's just, for instance, that the Ice Age is only just now ending, and climates are still changing rapidly, in a geological sense. But over the course of that book and the columns collected in the next, Bryson's disgust with the modern world begins to stick out in sharp relief.

Sure, he remains funny in his later books; that's not in doubt. If I were to characterize his style, I'd say he's what you get if you were to take James Lileks, excise about two pounds of clue from his head along with his conversance with popular entertainment and any smidgen of fascination with modern technology, and instead replace it with several encyclopedias' worth of fascinating environmental and economic and political statistics relating to the past twenty years' worth of American and British history. Also, scoop him up from decidedly practical Minnesota and transplant him to the Imagineered quaintness and contractually quintessent Americana surroundings of New Hampshire, where his neighbors are no doubt the nasally and insufferable cast of Family Guy. And pull the political ripcord and let the spin begin.

There are a lot of points in I'm a Stranger Here Myself where I find myself saying, "Yeah, yeah, I'll let this one slide," with reference to some particularly incisive and slanted barb about something I hold dear. I can take his extravagant rants about the unnecessary complexities of design in personal computers; hell, I write those myself. I can handle his moaning about how the old modular diners from the 30s and 40s are all gone now due to disinterest, but people flock to modern simulations of them like Johnny Rocket's. But I do take exception when I run across those gee-aren't-I-clever statements that I find now and then: If we as a people are advanced enough to send a man to the moon, measure the most distant stars, and cure seemingly incurable diseases, then why can't we design a turn signal that turns itself off if you're not making a turn? or whatever. Things that have very rational explanations, but that I can't explain to the author because this is print media and I can't make myself heard by shouting at the book.

When Bryson spends a column on his slack-jawed stupefaction at the amount of choice you get in American goods and services today, he comes dangerously near to crossing the line: One of the hundreds of cable channels that I get is a twenty-four-hour cartoon network. Perhaps the most astounding thing about this is that the channel has advertisers. What could you possibly sell to people who watch Deputy Dawg at 2:30 AM? Bibs?

Uh, no, Girls Gone Wild videos, of course. Jackass.

Anyway, I understand that Bryson has a new book out in which he denies his statement from I'm a Stranger Here Myself-- that he is competely, woefully clueless about all things scientific, whether physical or chemical or biological or mathematical-- and chronicles the history of the universe and all its component sciences, all in typical smirky Bryson fashion. It might well be fascinating, and I suppose I'd better give it a look, as it stands to reason that it will resemble The Mother Tongue the most closely of all his previous books. And that suits me just fine.

After all, I ought to be able to tell when he's making a salient and amusing or startling point, or when he's blowing a verbal booger like When you are overwhelmed, what is the whelm you are over, and what does it look like? out his nose.

Friday, July 18, 2003
20:57 - Now that's classy

I heard about this yesterday, and went to find it myself; it's not hard. Apple and Volkswagen are running a promo to sell VW New Beetles equipped with iPods. Both companies are prominently featuring the promo, and the popup Flash tour is accessible from either apple.com or vw.com.

I suggest you take a gander at it, too, if you're so inclined. It's one of the most delightful, artfully produced little Flash pieces that I've ever seen.

It was inevitable, really. When two groups of people have so much in common, eventually they find each other. Volkswagen and Apple. Buy a New Beetle. Get a new iPod. And the kit that brings them together (plus a lot of other cool stuff like free music and a $100 Apple Store coupon).

They're right. The two companies do seem made for each other. I bought a Jetta in 1999 because VW seemed to have as likeable a corporate attitude as Apple does, as much as because I liked the car so much; they both have a certain quirky but restrained and very tasteful design sense, and that "cult of corporate personality" thing that I know is a myth in actuality to the employees in the trenches-- though knowing, as we do, the very real differences in corporate atmospheres between, say, Microsoft and AOL, it could well be that companies like Apple and VW can in fact be cut from the same stylish cloth. I love the way my Jetta looks; I love the muscular whirr of the VR6-- just like I love antialiased fonts and FireWire. Both companies make products that people identify with and, indeed, fall in love with. And VW has been pushing relentlessly upmarket-- we're in Touareg and Phaeton country now.

"Pods Unite" is what they're calling the promotion. Watch the ad linked from Apple's site for yet another of those little frissons of well-being like the one you get when you open up a box and are greeted with the word "Enjoy", or when Zephram Cochrane cues up "Magic Carpet Ride" on the sound system of Earth's first warp-ship as it launches from a missile silo.

The kit you get with your Beetle is pretty nice, too. Granted, it's at heart just a cassette-adapter setup, not a line-in option on their in-dash player or anything; but they've done an excellent job packaging the flexibility of what they do have. All the components are white, including the Sony tape adapter and the Monster audio cables and the trick little cupholder insert. Plus VW gives you a couple of CDs' worth of drivin' music, a $100 off coupon for the iTunes Music Store (provided you dump a grand into it), and a 'zine that says YOU ARE NOT A HERD OF CATTLE on the cover.

Seductive. It's like, the way the world would be if materialism-- lovingly crafted materialism-- were the highest form of art.

Is the alliance of companies like Apple and VW a harbinger of a whole new kind of demographic, a white-clad yuppie generation that listens to techno music and goes to raves and surrounds itself with purring technology that just melts into the walls? Or is it the other way around-- that demographic is already here, and it's just waiting for the mothership to call the iPod People home?

16:48 - Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard!

I had meant to post about this a little earlier, when I picked up my iSight, but I got sidetracked by a number of things; but James, who was struck by it just the same as I was, reminded me:

"I nearly wept when I saw that. It's so frickin' Apple."

It's little surprises like that that are just so much fun. When you're a Mac fan, it's Christmas every day.

12:44 - Sunny Day in Arizona; Janeane Garofalo Still a Moron

Forum this morning had Janeane Garofalo and some other Hollywood turd-- Hector something-or-other-- from "Artists United To Win Without War", as I believe they're now called. God-- I've never heard such a circle-jerk in my life. Garofalo kept bleating out statements like, "Of course Iraq was going to be a Vietnam-esque quagmire; anyone who thinks otherwise is alarmingly ignorant, and I hold the popular media criminally responsible for click!" Actually I don't know if she actually said click; maybe it was just me turning off the radio.

Of course, nowhere to be found in the show was the apology that Garofalo had promised to render if the Iraqis should-- inconceivable!-- welcome the American troops.

The assumption under which these people were operating was interesting indeed, though: it was all focused on the fact that the media is too unconcerned with the negative aspects of the war, too conservative. They blamed the news outlets for focusing on Laci Peterson and Kobe Bryant-- okay, granted that they're guilty of that-- but that instead of that, all the media had to do was to poke just a little bit into the Truth and they would crack wide open this massive scandal of a monstrous Lie that was foisted upon the American public, a war that was fought purely for evil reasons masquerading as righteous force. "Americans have an emotional need," Garofalo said, "to believe in the mythology of America-- that America is always on the side of good and right, and whatever the President says-- unless, of course, he happens to be a Democrat-- goes."

The people behind the Drudge Report, the Coulters and Hannitys, she also said, are doing their work not because of any political reasons, but just because of an emotional need for that same mythology that "right-wingnuts" need to fill. And naturally that extends to all the popular media, all the news organs, all the services that claim to be "giving the people what they want". When they show things like Bush landing on the aircraft carrier, it's the government happily using Hollywood as long as it suits them. And of course now there is new fodder for these people to use in leveraging themselves back out of the woodwork-- videotapes of soldiers wanting to come back home, reports of the casualty count exceeding that of Desert Storm-- which they're happily pouncing on (making sure, of course, to paint on their Sympathetic Sad Faces before wagging their fingers on-air and blaming the families of the soldiers for not knowing what kind of corrupt bloodthirsty military machine their sons and daughters were signing up for).

What's most stunning about this whole matter is just, as I have to keep telling myself, because otherwise I just can't believe it, that these people have honestly convinced themselves that our invading Iraq was a bad thing.

I wonder how well one of Garofalo's cynical stand-up routines would play in Baghdad?

Thursday, July 17, 2003
15:49 - Turn off the light

Netscape is dead.

And I don't mean it in some sniffy, pseudo-poetic, God-is-dead kind of way, the way we've all been saying it with resignation since the Judge Jacksons of the world gave way to the Judge Kollar-Kotellys. I mean it quite literally. Dead, buried, paved over. Debranded.

I found this Register story this morning, but heard the sad tale last night from a friend (whom I'll call "Fred", because he still works there), and The Reg has it just about right. Except for the on-the-ground stories, such as of cranes taking down the last Netscape logos from the walls, and hundreds of employees being instructed to report to Security so as to have their badges overlaid with AOL decals to obscure the once-proud N, the Company Who Must Not Be Named from now until forever.

Orlowski points out that when AOL acquired Netscape in 1998, it had market-share parity with Microsoft Internet Explorer. It had more than that, as Fred noted. It had something like 59%. Because IE at that point was so slow, buggy, and lacking in basic features, nobody really imagined that IE's growing slice of the market had anything to do with technical merit; rather, everyone knew it was because it was included by default in Windows 98. Get it under everybody's noses first, and then worry about people's petty demands for functionality. You can't compete with "free" or "ubiquitous", even with a demonstrably superior product. And so Netscape, starting with a seemingly unassailable lead, was falling further and further behind in the market, no matter what it did.

But the real fucker of the matter, Fred mentioned, was this:

On the one hand, the corrupt suits at AOL failed to appreciate the majesty of the Mozilla code, pulled features (such as blocking pop-up windows which AOL's advertisers loved, but users hated), forked willy-nilly, adding adware where they could, and generally betrayed the Great Project.

Feature after feature, innovation after innovation, Netscape's dogged developers would come up with something brilliant-- something nobody else had done-- and just on the brink of release, AOL would step in and decree that it should be removed. Pop-up blocking, ad blocking-- Netscape had it first. Where is it in the shipping 6.x/7.x? Nowhere, because AOL refused to let them ship it. (Actually it seems to be present in 7.1, released three weeks ago, in what was clearly now a last spore-flinging death throe.) Spam filtering and image blocking suffered similar fates, being allowed into the open-source Mozilla version, but yanked from the AOLified Netscape. About the only thing AOL allowed them to keep was the Gecko engine. Meanwhile, all the other browsers implemented these features lavishly and well, so that now the only browsers that don't have things like pop-up blocking are-- that's right-- Netscape and IE.

And that's the thing: Netscape wasn't falling behind its competitors because of a lack of effort or achievement, but rather because of active suppression of such achievement by AOL's suits. After all, pop-up blocking would conflict with AOL's advertising revenue, don'cha know. And the result of AOL's acting like this towards what was once a world-changing piece of software is that instead of Netscape being allowed to bow from the market in 1998, to well-earned applause and the knowledge that it left the game with its honor and respect and good name intact, AOL kept the brand alive just long enough to totally slaughter the reputation that Netscape had built up for itself. AOL didn't euthanize Netscape, which would have at least been respectful; instead, they put it in a nursing home, chained it to a bed, and read it nursery rhymes until it went mad. And then they killed it.

Fred's stories of how AOL is managed internally are nothing short of appalling. Upper-level execs micromanage from across the country, without a clue about what exactly the line people do; they take a department deep in the operational trenches that has a 99% customer satisfaction rating, change the rules of metrics so that they're judged on the same basis as call-center people (must solve problems within ten minutes or bump it up a level-- never mind that the problems this department handles take days to solve, and there's no upper level to bump things up to), and find to their astonishment the following month that it's now the worst department in the company! They impose an onerous corporate culture on employees of acquired properties; they agitate about people not wearing ties or not being in their cubicles at 7:55AM each morning, a culture shock that the Netscape employees never did quite acquiesce to. Even the Time-Warner work environment was unbearably casual to the AOL execs, who forced a culture of clueless top-down micromanagement and structure and process upon a massive organization of loose and disparate work environments, all of whom would undoubtedly have been able to work much more efficiently even than the aforementioned 99% sat rate if only they could be left alone. Employees were even, on their periodic self-evaluations, required to submit a paragraph describing their feelings on loyalty to the company. East Coast corporate politics, clearly, don't sit well with the Silicon Valley seat-of-the-pants style characteristic of just about every notable computer or Internet company except for AOL.

So I won't mourn for AOL if it collapses in on itself. But I do mourn for Netscape, a good name that suffered a knockdown punch (from Microsoft) and then a lingering, poisonous convalescence that led to a thoroughly-- undeservedly-- ignominious death.

There are some lessons we can learn from this, however. We've known for some time, from first-hand experience, the problems with integrating a web browser into an operating system, both made by the same company. Even aside from antitrust-style arguments, it's been shown that having IE woven into Windows introduces a whole plethora of technological and user-interface issues, not least of which is the decidedly ill-informed effort to blur the line between local files and web-based resources, between your own desktop and a Web page. (Surely poor users are bewildered enough without having to try to cram these wildly disparate metaphors into the same mental boxes.) A bug in the browser, such as the one in which IE goes into a brain-dead loop if it encounters a JPEG with XML data in it and refuses to load any more images until you kill the process or reboot, can hobble the OS and its usability. Having the same company in charge of an operating system and a web browser is a dangerous business, and the interface between the two concepts has to be much more carefully managed than Microsoft was willing to accept was the case back when it first floated its inspired integration plans in 1998.

But we also now know that a potentially much larger conflict of interest can arise when the company that makes the browser is also a media company. It was in Netscape's interest to provide its users with the means with which to block unwanted ads, but it was in AOL's interest to keep unfettered access to its users' eyeballs. The two divisions were thoroughly at odds. A media company is going to behave like AOL/Time-Warner does, turning a web browser into a conduit for advertising and purchasing; whereas a company whose goal is to simplify and empower the user of a web browser for its own sake will develop features which defeat that very commercializing tendency. And so this is perhaps a greater risk still to the success of a browser than a clumsy attempt to integrate a browser with an operating system.

The problem, of course, is that browsers are now supposed to be free; so who has the resources to provide free browsers? Let's see: the company that makes the OS, who can bundle it for free; advertising-supported media giants; and open-source tinkerers.

Maybe Mozilla will survive in the hands of the third group, but I'm not terribly optimistic. I'd like to believe that the reason why the Mozilla developers have spent so much effort on what Orlowski calls "esoteric frameworks and note-perfect bug tracking systems that only a nerd could appreciate", rather than actual useful features, is purely AOL's onerousness, and that now that they're free of that they can concentrate on competing head-to-head with players like Opera and OmniWeb and Safari. But it may be too late for that. As Safari has indeed shown, even the Gecko engine is now too big and bloated and full of idealistic mumbo-jumbo to be as workable as the light, quick, but full-featured KHTML. The torch has removed itself from Netscape's supine hand and jumped to a new carrier, and while there will always be contenders against IE-- which after all still has woefully inadequate CSS support and none of the user-convenience features that AOL wouldn't allow into Netscape either-- they're not going to be following Netscape's ideological example anymore.

We have AOL to thank for that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
20:28 - G5 ad


Short and sweet and glib. Just the way we like 'em.

Also, this is interesting-- they've broken out the sound composition/loop development software from Final Cut Pro into its own standalone $299 product, Soundtrack. Damned if I'm not feeling like that might be something worth playing with.

13:08 - Pay attention now






13:02 - Stupid Nature

So I was stripping caulk (huh huh) off my bathroom sink last night in preparation for touch-up painting and recaulking, when I looked into the bathtub and noticed that there was a large stream of ants pouring out of a tiny crack in the grout and milling around down in the drain area. Now, ants are one of the things I'd hoped I had left behind in the old house, but I'm thinking that that was a fool's hope; even after the house had remained effectively empty of food for some three months before we moved in, the ants came billowing out of the woodwork with the very first Coke can that was left out on the counter overnight. So it's either regular tent treatments, or a stepped-up Grin-N-Bear-It campaign.

I've been grinning and bearing it for a few weeks now, and to their credit the ants have been behaving themselves better after that initial night of Coke-induced carousing; they've only made scattered and inexplicable appearances, such as swarming over a plate in the sink with baked-on chicken juice, while bypassing sniffily a whole open box of cookies. I've given up trying to understand the little buggers. Their tastes bewilder me, but if they don't like our cooking, I won't lose sleep if they complain.

So imagine my surprise when I saw-- in my otherwise spotless bathtub-- this cloud of ants gathered around a mysterious puddle of material near the drain. On close inspection I couldn't determine its nature. I looked up at the ceiling-- did something leak through and drip down? Is there a dead candy clown in the attic? Nope. Did the paint touch-up I'd done the previous day somehow fall bodily off the wall and curl up in the tub? Did ants like latex paint? I wouldn't put it past them. But no, that wasn't it either.

Then I noticed it: the round metal cover above the drain, under the faucet, the thing that has that weird toggle lever in some tubs but not this one, was slightly open along the bottom, in a slit along the tub line, as though for ventilation. Into this slit was stuffed a dead moth.

Whether it had crawled in there itself or had been dragged in by amazingly industrious land wasps, this moth was now being carted away in bite-sized pieces into the crawl space. I sat on the toilet and stared at the spectacle for a good ten minutes before grabbing up tissues and noxious chemicals and embarking on the vigorous cleaning process. It would probably behoove me to caulk up that slit while I'm at it, unless it's actually important for drainage or something. But all throughout, all that occupied my mind was a general sense of wounded pride and baleful stolidity, the kind you get if some jokester dupes you after long and careful skepticism into believing some bizarre tale, upon which he laughs in your face and goes SUCKER!

I kept thinking, Yeah, very funny, nature.

Monday, July 14, 2003
18:47 - Well spotted, Bruce!

It is a small world...

Report on Bay Rait and Weta at the Aussie FX and Animation Festival
Tehanu @ 5:00 pm EST
Lolly's Report from the Australian Effects and Animations Festival held in Melbourne back in May, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square. This happened back in May, but I don't think we got such a detailed and funny report as this at the time.

Lolly writes:

Firstly Bay introduced himself and gave a brief run down on his role at Weta, which in TTT was building hero facial systems. He discussed what would be discussed and shown, and we were treated to a 50 minute tape of behind the scenes.

I do believe that's Bonnie Raitt's nephew Bay Raitt, who graduated from my high school, Ukiahi, after my freshman or sophomore year. He was always a performing-artsy type, big and imposing, with a deep booming voice. (He played Charlemagne for the school's production of Pippin, and boy did he look the part.) Everyone expected great things from him. I'd heard offhand that he had gone into film animation, and thence to Weta Digital, where he was working on the Lord of the Rings movies.

And now he's in the spokesman's role, giving demos at animation festivals.


13:11 - Any port in a storm, eh?

There seems to be a problem with a certain lack of critical thinking in America today. At least among the media personalities. If there weren't those opinion polls which stubbornly insist that most people still think going to war was the right thing to do, I'd be starting to despair that this mental laziness were becoming an epidemic.

NPR all throughout the weekend-- particularly on Saturday, to and from the concert in Sacramento, which featured Three Dog Night, Lou Christie, and The Association, among others-- was giddily gleeful in all its headings. The dubious information that was used to justify the war in Iraq! To hear these headlines, you'd think someone had just sleuthed up a secret dossier titled EYES ONLY: OPERATION SCAPEGOAT. ZOG CENTRAL.

On Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, as usual, they led off with their typical raucous Bush-bashing; it was all the more maddening given the recent flap over the Nigerian yellow-cake business. According to the hosts, when confronted with the evidence of prevarication and subterfuge, Bush responded with wide-eyed confusion befitting a toddler. The hosts giggled and dished back and forth for a few minutes, then mentioned that Ari Fleischer had said, "I think the burden of proof lies with those who said Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction-- it's up to them to say where they are." Clearly going for the "You can't make up stuff like this" vibe, one of the hosts followed this up with, "What, is Ari going for a stand-up comedy career after this? I mean, at some point you have to just sit and marvel." Another added, "Hey, it's Comical Ari!"

And that's the infuriating bit: unless you think about it, Fleischer's comment does seem like the stuff of ripe parody-- unless you think about it. I wanted to reach into the radio and grab those guffawing hosts by their lapels and do what I've grown far too tired of doing: explain the reasoning behind the statement. That being that everybody knew Saddam had WMDs, including the UN, Hans Blix, Bill Clinton, the State Department, France, Germany, Russia-- nobody was disputing any of that. We knew Saddam had used WMDs, against Halabja, against Iran, and against our troops in Desert Storm. Iraq had many of those same weapons when the inspectors were expelled in 1998. This was a fact, never in any doubt. Where the weapons went between 1998 and now-- if indeed they aren't in Iraq-- is an interesting question, and one that ought to be answered (if only because we'd rather find them before al Qaeda does); but there is no logical means by which the failure to find the weapons constitutes a lie on the part of the administrations of the US or or Britain in the lead-up to the war. Nor does it change the fact that nit-picking at the dotted I's and crossed T's of the pre-war justification is not just petty and stupid, but an insult to the people of Iraq, some six to nine thousand of whom would have died in the time since March if we hadn't removed Saddam, and whose children would still be in prisons, whose family members would still be in torture chambers, and whose compatriots would still be buried in unmarked mass graves. Complete the sentence: Though none of the other grievances against him are in any doubt, Saddam may not in fact have tried to buy yellow-cake from Niger. Therefore: __________________

(I know! I know! Therefore... he wasn't a bad guy after all, meant us no ill will, never harbored a WMD program, and was loved by his people-- and we ousted an innocent man!)

Statements like Fleischer's seem like self-parody only if you don't think about them. And that's what really gets me: apparently the majority of the American public is able to see and grasp the logic of his reasoning, while the visible media personalities to whom they tune their radios and TVs-- whose job it is to keep up with and interpret the news-- can't. To them, it's all just the obfuscation of a bunch of unelected dunderheads steering this country to ruin, and isn't that just so tragic that we have to laugh to keep from crying?

They also made fun of Ah-nuld's chances at the California governorship, and his recent statements wherein he compared himself politically to Nelson Mandela. Apparently never having listened to a word the man has said on political subjects, they dismissed him out of hand on the basis of-- what? Apparently the fact that he's still making movies as a character actor. "Schwartzenegger's potential voting constituency is bodybuilders, pro wrestlers, movie fans, and Howard Stern," the hosts quipped, adding that "Well, hey, that's most of California." They then said that the next thing to expect would be Keanu Reeves explaining in a press conference why he's like James Madison.

It's funny, so it must be true.

We've trained ourselves not to accept anything on face value-- to assume that there's always more to the story, to assume that whoever's in power is trying to dupe the public, especially if they're Republicans. There's always some nefarious subplot. If one isn't obvious in what people say, then that's just evidence of conspiracy.

It must be an amazingly unfulfilling life, to be that suspicious all the time.

Now people are calling in to Greg Kihn's radio show and stating bluntly that "There are no weapons of mass destruction." And, presumably, there never were. Nor was there ever a Saddam Hussein or an Osama bin Laden. Or a World Trade Center.

UPDATE: Oh, and even Congresspeople are getting into the act. Some guy who said he voted for war is saying that he's shocked, shocked, at the recent revelations. When pressed, he won't say he was "duped" into voting for war, but clearly, clearly the war was fought under false pretenses and therefore for some sinister purpose of the Administration's. Condi Rice knew! She told Tenet to take the fall! Bush didn't know because he's an imbecile! Now an innocent dictatorship has fallen and a people has been ruthlessly liberated to their own destiny! Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

The cognitive feedback loop on the left may have become such that there won't be a voice from there that anybody can take seriously until after a major shakeup-- like on the scale of the death of certain political parties. Bring back the Whigs and Federalists!

Friday, July 11, 2003
21:03 - You can't make this stuff up

There was probably a time, back in the Enlightenment days, when it looked for all the world as though the longer the planet Earth lasted, the more history unfolded, the more knowledge humanity accumulated, the wiser all people would become. People would try grander and grander experiments in science and social engineering and justice and government, and the good ones would succeed and the bad ones would fail. And the cumulative effect of these shared dabblings in the human experience would make us all happier, richer, more decent individuals with an advanced understanding of how humanity works commensurate with the luxury in which the poorest of us live our lives compared to even the richest nobility of earlier ages.

Boy, would they have been surprised to see 2003.

French virtuoso keyboardist François-René Duchable plans to end his career this summer by destroying two grand pianos and burning his concert suit to protest what he sees as the bourgeois elitism of the classical music world, The Times of London reports.

According to The Times, Duchable, 51, told the French Catholic newsaper La Croix that his life as a touring pianist has been "hell" and he delivered blistering parting attacks on some of his fellow musicians.

Alfred Brendel's latest recording, Duchable said, is "discouragingly artificial." Maurizio Pollini has "worn himself out from repeating the same things" and Martha Argerich has "managed to become a myth by always playing the same four concertos."

Duchable told La Croix: "The piano is a symbol of a certain domineering bourgeois and industrial society that has to be destroyed. Used as this society uses it, the piano is an arrogant instrument which excludes all those that don't know about music."

The pianist says he plans to create a sensation with his final three concerts, according to The Times. The first concert, scheduled for the end of July, will end with a piano crashing into Lake Mercantour. The second will finish with his recital suit on fire and the third will culminate with the mid-air explosion of a grand piano to make the statement that "the concert is dead."

After the concerts, Duchable plans to strap a portable keyboard to his bicycle and pedal around France giving impromptu performances, the Times says.

"I have had enough of sacrificing my life for 1 per cent of the population" Duchable said. "I have had enough of participating in a musical system which, in France at least, functions badly and limits classical music to an elite."

Where did we go wrong, Mr. Whittle? How has humanity come to such a pass? Why is it that the closer we get to soaring into the stars, the more we yearn to live miserable thirty-year lives in primitive villages surrounded by wild beasts, fearful even to build a campfire for fear that it would pollute the air, or to murder an animal for food?

Why is it that rather than a dapper and urbane inventive adult on the brink of cosmic enlightenment, our species resembles nothing so much as a suicidal teenager?

(Via a commenter at LGF.)

18:03 - Why I hate MDI

MDI, the Multi-Document Interface, is one of those "innovations" that purportedly makes Windows just so much more convenient and simple to grasp than its nameless competitors. The idea is that you have a "container" window, which can take up an arbitrary amount of screen space, including being maximized to the logical borders of the screen; then, inside the big gray box that the container window forms, you can have an arbitrary number of other windows-- open documents-- that can be moved around within the application's own virtual space. Just like windows on the desktop, document windows in MDI can be overlapped and moved out of the visible screen area.

This is supposed to make it so you can group your application's controls in a modal fashion, so you can control multiple documents within the same application, or show and hide the whole lot of them, with all their functionality subservient to the app itself-- while making the application subservient to the top-level control metaphor of the desktop. Web browsers shun MDI, as well they should; though often it would be nice if you could control all your browser windows at once, or shut down the whole browser app. (The Mac OS, since the active application takes over the whole desktop space and the global menu bar, provides for this functionality and obviates the need for MDI.) But other apps, like Word and Photoshop and Excel, don't; they heartily embrace MDI, regardless of little complicating elements like sharing files between computers with different desktop settings and unalterable anchor positions against the top and left and so on.

So: could someone please explain to me exactly what the flying fart I'm supposed to do with this?

Whee! The document window is too large to show completely in the MDI window, even if I maximize Excel. Not only that, but all its control surfaces which can be used for moving or resizing the window are inaccessible.

I guess I need a bigger monitor!

Either that, or Window->Arrange. Ugh. While Panther is moving the bar with Exposé, when it comes to Excel I'm stuck in 1992.

Thursday, July 10, 2003
18:51 - Seek for the plot point that was broken


Wow, I really have been out of it. I entirely missed this revelation, spotted by Hiker, of the first poster for Return of the King to hit the rumor circuits.

The key sigh-of-relief generator being, of course, the sword.

Shyeah. Like Peter Jackson was going to do things like include the Jack Black/Sarah Michelle Gellar "Council of Elrond" scene on the DVD, and render the Andy Serkis/Gollum MTV Awards acceptance piece, and yet manage to forget about having Andúril enter the story. I was never worried.

Okay, maybe just a teensy bit.

15:43 - Tetris is so unrealistic

Blame Chris for this one. Actually I get the feeling I really should have known about this site for a long time, but it somehow slipped my attention. It's bash.org, a database of quips captured from IRC sessions. Some are obviously staged, but many aren't, and if you look at the Top 50 you'll get all the best ones right off.

<BombScare> i beat the internet
<BombScare> the end guy is hard


There are times when I really feel like I just don't get something. Like I'm totally out of the loop, like I'm missing some huge piece of the puzzle, leading me to do things that I just can't sensibly rationalize, like (for instance) continuing to torment myself with NPR every morning.

A few days ago, over the weekend in fact, there was a show that I heard a part of while driving somewhere, whose subject was the animator/director Gene Deitch. The hosts had on a few guests, such as Deitch's son, and various other luminaries of the animation world, and they spent the hour according Deitch the same kind of praise that Den Beste (rightly) heaps on Genndy Tartakovsky.

This I don't understand. Gene Deitch, acolytes of animation know, is a man most notorious in mass-market circles as the guy who scored a contract from Hanna-Barbera in the late 60s-- dawn of the the Dark Age of Animation-- to do six Tom & Jerry cartoons at his studio in Czechoslovakia. These cartoons were unspeakably awful. They're the ones where the characters grow big puckery vertical Cathy Guisewite mouths under round perky cheeks in their asymmetrical faces, uttering sounds that were apparently recorded inside a tin garbage can rolling down a hill. Ever see "Dicky Moe"? How about that one with the Carmen Miranda dancer who appeared to be drawn out of an Ed Emberley book? The steel-drum tropical one? The one that inexplicably took place in ancient Greece? I think what happened is that nobody bothered to explain to the estimable Mr. Deitch exactly what Tom & Jerry was supposed to be about; granted, it's not going to be a complex writer's bible, but in order to screw up such a simple concept as badly as he did, the situation would have to be explained by nothing less scandalous than a set of hastily scrawled model sheets wrapped around a brick with a roll of unmarked bills and dropped from a long black limousine into an alley in Bratislava. Remember "Eastern Europe's favorite cat-and-mouse team, Worker & Parasite"? That's what we're talking about here. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Deitch's work is exactly what it was a parody of.

So how exactly did this guy get to stand among the giants with Chuck Jones and Tex Avery and Ub Iwerks and Ralph Bakshi? ...Oh, wait. I think I just answered my own question.

See, there's experimental art, and then there's crap.

On the NPR show, the sycophantic tribute to Deitch covered things like some project about jazz that he had done, presumably with lots of impressionistic geometric shapes airbrushed onto a foggy, gray background. There was probably a lot more, too-- after all, it was a full hour show. I admit I don't know more of the man's work than just those painful Tom & Jerry episodes, but in the opinion of this philistine, nothing else he's done can absolve him of those crimes against humanity.

If you're going to "reinvent" a beloved old show, just go all the way and take it to the level of merciless parody, as John Kricfalusi did with Yogi Bear. Now that's at least funny.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003
18:31 - So that's where we're going

According to Andrew Sullivan, AOL will be unveiling blogging software soon; apparently whoever's in charge of the project "gets it", and that's all to the good. Far be it from me to cheer for AOL, but I've got to admit that even the ads are starting to get a little less annoying. (That one with the Franciscan Friars is actually pretty funny.) And now that they're in an earnest fight against MSN, they're actually starting to incorporate some useful features, like (gasp!) the ability to sort your e-mail. Trivial, one might say, yes-- but there's something to be said for keeping the interface even simpler than, say, a Mac's-- because for the vast silent majority of users, missing features are far less important than the ability to just do and understand the basics. All they have to do now is overhaul their pathologically dire support infrastructure, and they may have a fighting chance.

As for the blogging software: hey, good. Sure, maybe it means they're just giving birth to another LiveJournal; but if these reports are correct, they're not going after LiveJournal's target audience. They're going after the kinds of people who demand the sorts of features you get in Movable Type-style blogs, plus unique perks like the ability to post straight from IM clients. Cool.

Now, it must be said that blogging software is not rocket science. One thing that's mystified me for the past couple of years is just how difficult a time some of the blogging systems have had in keeping things straight. BlogSpot has had its perennial archiving/permalinking problems; Movable Type had some scandal recently. What's the problem, exactly? Blogging software is in fact stupefyingly easy to write. I wrote mine in just under three hours, a year and a half ago, and have barely had to modify it since then. I'm not saying the design of my system is any good, either-- there are some design decisions I might have made differently if I had it to do again, but that wouldn't have made the project materially more difficult. It's really a very simple concept. A blog is a degenerate case of a message board, itself a very straightforward piece of code to write. All you're doing is providing a schema whereby one or more people can write messages into a database, and then display the last few entries. Even the ancillary features aren't hard. Searching? Easy if you know how to do it. Comments? No problem. TrackBacks? Takes a little cleverness, but there's not much to it. Archiving? Depends on how you do it, but it can amount to almost nothing under the hood. XML? Easy. I'm not saying I speak from some kind of oracular position on the subject here, but compared to some database-driven web applications, blogging is an absurdly simple proposition. So how come some outfits have such a tough time of it?

Mostly load management, I think. Server-side execution can really kill things on a heavily centralized system, especially if a post gets Slashdotted; generating static pages is one solution, but it's not a total one. In order to really hold up, you've got to have a dedicated server farm with lots of redundancy and backups, and there aren't many services out there with more of those things than AOL.

So does this mean blogging is about to "grow up"? That the floodgates are about to be opened, with the legitimacy granted the Web upon the release of Netscape 1.1? Could be. Then again, it might be the death of the blogosphere as we know it; it might morph into something we don't recognize, something too big to handle, something where the current nexuses of attention lose their tether points and get washed away in the tide. I remember when AOL opened up USENET access to its users; the classic newsgroup structure was effectively useless from that day forward. It might have died the same death by spam and Me-Too-ism anyway, but AOL certainly hastened its demise.

I wonder if AOL's getting its hand into the game means a formalization of the tip-jar concept, too?

Nothing to do but wait and see, I suppose...

16:14 - Because We Can

No, it's not a Mac post; nor is it a hot-off-the-presses article (I've been woefully lax in posting lately-- not having net access at home will to that to you; you try posting by screeching like the TX into the phone. The HTTPS handshake is a real bitch).

It's still cool, though:

dB (as in decibel) drag racing is an obscure but growing international "sport" in which competitors go head-to-head for two or three seconds at a time -- hence the name drag racing -- to establish whose sound system is loudest. The 2002 record, set by a German team of secretive audio engineers, was 177.6 dB.

The roar of a 747 on takeoff is usually quantified at about 140 decibels, although there's really no way to correlate the wide-spectrum noise of jet engines in open air with a low-frequency pure tone inside a highly reflective enclosure. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, with every 10 dB increase equivalent to a doubling of perceived sound (otherwise known as noise), dB drag racing enthusiasts create some seriously loud tones. (Another rule of thumb: All else being equal, every three dB of increased sound from a typical dB drag racing system requires a doubling of amplifier power.)

This is one of those "This is the kind of thing we do for fun, you other-people's-technology-hijacking throwbacks!" things, it seems to me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003
17:24 - Get those eyes peeled

A couple of folks have sent me this link, though regrettably I haven't had much time to look into it deeply; but since I'll probably be getting an iSight of my own in a few weeks, once I have a network on which to use it, I figure the link is worth entering here so I can come back to it later. Sounds like fun!

By now you've probably iChatted with all your buddies and are wondering what you can do next with the iSight. As I explained in the weblog, Want to Do More with the iSight than Chat?, this little "cheese grater" of a videocam packs a lot of potential beyond serving as a simple webcam.

The iSight is a well-designed autofocus camera with a fast f-2.8 lens that focuses from 50mm to infinity. But what makes it so powerful is that its FireWire cable plugs into years of Apple QuickTime development lurking within your Mac. In my view, QuickTime is an underrated technology. And I think lots of people are going to discover QuickTime's versatility thanks to this $149 gem of a camera.

Streaming video with QT Broadcaster. Yay!

Monday, July 7, 2003
14:37 - What'd I miss?

Now that's what I call a good long weekend.

Boy-howdy, did we ever get stuff done. We've cleaned out the garage, for one thing; that was sorely needed. With the help of doughty friends, we dragged everything out of there and sorted it in the driveway into piles of stuff to a) keep, b) give to Goodwill or someone, and c) hurl away. The third pile, it should surprise nobody, ended up dwarfing both the others. Enough so that I just ordered another 12-cubic-yard debris box to pile it all in. The sooner the better, too, because hidden in the piles of crap are lots of boards with nails in them and other such slobbering-alien-repelling weaponry, and there are inquisitive toddlers roaming around the cul-de-sac and just aching to discover new sharp objects on which to brain themselves. It'll be arriving tomorrow.

So then we were able to start moving the boxes from inside the house into the garage, which means we can now walk around more or less with standard human mobility, instead of navigating through towering cardboard canyons in every room. Naturally the dog is all used to the canyons now, so he's watching worriedly as the boxes gradually dissolve from his field of view. "What-- are we moving again?" he asks.

We got the major drapery done, too-- the living room now has our elegantly hung green curtains, with an 8-foot span across the bottom part of the picture window and then a peaked and stapled upper part that we're quite proud of. See, we (actually, Lance) took a six-foot curtain rod and mitre-cut it so it could be screwed together at a 90-degree angle. Then we hung that against the peaked top of the picture window, and hung curtains from the sloped sides so they sort of bunch together in the middle, but in a cool way. They can be separated and gathered at the corners of the peak so as to let in the sun, or pinned behind the TV to keep things cool. It works very well indeed, and it preserves the shape of the window even when closed. Slam-dunk.

My bathroom is just about done; I've finished untaping most of it, and the mirrors are up, with matching frosted edges against the green background. I still need to finish some touch-up painting, the door trim, and the crown molding up top; and the toilet could stand to be replaced. But that's something that can happen at our leisure. There's a new shower head, so I can now take showers without feeling like that shrieking guy at the end of the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is pointing accusingly at me.

Oh! And I've gotten moving on the new book; at least, I've finished putting together the proposal TOC. This was an interesting adventure. See, the book is supposed to cover 10.3 "Panther"; and thanks to benevolent forces which shall remain nameless, I have such a beast in my hot little hands. So I thought I'd install it on my G4, which has two disks; see, the way the Panther DP works is that there's no upgrade path from it; you can't upgrade from it to the final shipping version of Panther, you can only do a wipe-clean installation, which will trash all your installed drivers and such. So I wanted to put 10.3 on the second disk, leaving the 10.2.6 on the primary disk untouched. But the installer didn't want to cooperate. Taking a cue from Windows 2000's installer, it seemed dead-set on thwarting me. Here's what happened: I would put in the CD; it would say, "Oh! you want to install, do you? Press Restart and the installation process will begin." And it would write to the boot blocks that it wanted to boot from CD, and restart. It would boot into CD. Or not. See, it would get to the gray Apple logo screen, and then freeze. It wasn't a hard freeze; the little twirly "wait" icon would still twirl. But it would never get anywhere. So I'd reset, and the same thing would happen; I'd reset and hold down "C" (to boot from CD); the same thing would happen. Or wait! No! It's actually booting-- though it took like half an hour for it to happen. So I don't know whether it would have finished booting all those other times if I'd just let it sit, or what. But it finally got to the installer screen, after nearly an hour, and plodded through the installer process unnecessarily slowly. In fact, it took some six hours to complete. (I know because I'd opened up the installer log, and it had convenient timestamps for all the events as they happened.) Then "Installer requested restart," said the log, and it rebooted. But apparently it hadn't cleanly installed, because it booted right back into the CD (it came right up this time), and started installing all over again. Crumbs.

So I aborted the process and tried booting from the hard disk. See, on a Mac, you can hold down Option after booting, and it will give you a listing of all bootable volumes. (You can bet this will get a special mention in the "Tips and Tricks You Probably Didn't Know About" chapter.) Select one of the icons and press the Boot button, and off it goes; it's non-persistent, though, and to permanently set the boot device, you have to use the Startup Disk preferences. Anyway-- so I tried booting from the half-installed 10.3 disk; and it ... got to the gray screen and froze. For hours. I went to sleep, got up later, and it was still there, twirling glumly away on the logo screen in the gray pre-dawn. So I shut it off and gave up.

Then it occurred to me: something that had been nagging at my mind ever since I'd read the Read Me file, absorbed its contents, and filed it away in the "Root around in later after you realize you threw something away that you needed" bin. And that was the stern warning that you could only install 10.3 on a Mac selected from a strict list (I was), that had an Apple-supplied video card and no third-party PCI cards (I wasn't). I knew it-- I knew I'd regret installing that new ATI card six months ago and throwing away my old factory Rage 128. Blah! Plus the machine has an Adaptec SCSI card in it. So I figured that had to be the culprit. The DP of Panther probably doesn't have all the third-party drivers done; since the system would occasionally boot (the freeze point was always right after it probed the USB devices, as I could tell from booting in Visual mode-- Command-V), and since it had the nice mouse drop-shadow and everything, I figured the video card probably wasn't to blame. It was probably that damned SCSI card.

I had a few options before me. I could try taking out the SCSI card, and maybe digging up video cards and swapping them in and out; but that just seemed so... so... exactly like what I was dealing with whenever I tried to install Win2K. Granted, this is a developer's preview, not even a public beta; but still, I felt I shouldn't have to do this. It was much simpler to just play by the stated rules.

This meant installing it on my iBook. But wait! The iBook only has one disk; and unlike Mac OS 9, where you could install lots of different copies of the OS onto the same disk (a bootable OS consisted solely of a System Folder that had been "blessed" properly-- it could exist anywhere on the system, deep inside folder trees, wherever), OS X can only be installed once per partition. (I hope they streamline this-- I've heard that they're working on it, but it's hard to get all those invisible UNIX directories to behave properly.) I was in no mood to try partitioning my disk. So then... what?

My iPod gleamed at me from the corner of my desk. Of course!

I plugged the iPod into the G4 and enabled manual mode, and deleted all the songs from it. Then I unplugged it and fired up the iBook, and plugged it in. Tossed in the Panther disk; rebooted to begin installation. It booted almost instantly. It asked which disk to install it on; with a flourish and a doffing of my flowing black cape, I selected the iPod. And it installed quickly and smoothly, taking less than 45 minutes all told. (I further suspect the SCSI card in the G4 as the culprit, now; it was behaving as though it had to keep waiting for the card to give it some kind of approval to continue, a signal that was never forthcoming.) It rebooted, the iPod clicking away in my hand, and asked for the second disc, which I happily fed it. It finished eating and spit out the bones of the CD, and rebooted again. O happy day! Behold: the joy of Panther!

Now I have a bootable copy of the OS in my pocket; I can take it to work and boot my iMac with it, so I can see the more video-intensive things like the hideously gratuitous (and therefore utterly delicious) Fast User Switching feature, and of course Exposé. I can take it to the park with my laptop, boot it into Panther, and explore the half-finished features and guess at what they'll eventually do. I can take it home, plug it into my G4, and watch it freeze at the gray logo screen. Then I can pretend it's the G5 that will be arriving just as soon as my bank account dips below the amount I'll need in order to pay for it.

This stuff's fun even when it goes kablooey!

Wednesday, July 2, 2003
20:59 - Virtual Friday!

Since I'm still without net at home, and since there's no work tomorrow or Friday, that means there might be no blogging happening until... ugh. Monday. Maybe I'll sneak in to work to do some stuff, if interesting things happen. But most likely not.

Happy 4th, everybody!

16:01 - Photographic Evidence

Oh yes, I nearly forgot...

Here are a couple of photos, in lieu of many more in the future when the Forest Primæval of boxes has been clear-cut from our floors.

I love the way the street looks now that the trees are in full greenery. Since the house is right at the end of the cul-de-sac, facing square down the road, it gives the impression that it's some sort of aristocrat's villa with a long, wooded drive up to the portico; maybe we should put a fountain in the middle of the circle at the end. ...Oh wait; I keep forgetting: there are other people's houses all up and down the sides of the street. Damn and blast it all to hell. Never mind; I can pretend they're all servants' quarters.

On the right is a view of the new master suite, taken from one half (the sleeping portion) and looking through the arches into the other, with the Couch of L33tness and all my boxes. It's not really done, in any case; we still have to do the ceiling and floor trim, and the curtains in the archways, and build the furniture; but the color isn't false, believe it or not. It's actually very soothing. It'll look even better when the trim is up, and art's on the walls, and everything's all cleaned up.

Think this is messy, though? You oughtta see the garage.

14:51 - What Makes a Lie

While I wasn't looking, a few days ago Rachel Lucas posted Michael Moore's latest letter to the President in its entirety. She didn't really even have it in herself to fisk it, because-- and she's entirely right in this-- "it sort of takes care of itself anyway".

Your blatant refusal to back up your verbal deception with the kind of fake evidence we have become used to is a slap in our collective American face. It's as if you are saying, "These Americans are so damn apathetic and lazy, we won't have to produce any weapons to back up our claims!" If you had just dug a few silo holes in the last month outside Tikrit, or spread some anthrax around those Winnebagos near Basra, or "discovered" some plutonium with that stash of home movies of Uday Hussein feeding his tigers, then it would have said to us that you thought we might revolt if you were caught in a lie. It would have shown us some *respect*. We honestly wouldn't have cared if it later came out that you planted all the WMD -- sure, we'd be properly peeved, but at least we would have been proud to know that you knew you HAD to back up your phony claims with the real deal!

I guess you finally figured that out this week. It started to appear that millions of us were calling you on your bluff -- those "fictitious reasons for the fictitious war." So you quickly produced this man and his rose bush and some 12-year old piece of paper and some metal parts. CNN broke in at 5:15pm and screamed they had the exclusive! "IRAQI NUCLEAR PLANS FOUND!" But a few good reporters started asking some hard questions -- and, barely 3 hours later, your own administration was forced to admit the plans were "not the smoking gun” proving that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

She's right... I can't think of anything helpful to say either.

Except the obvious, which is this:

Moore finds it patently more plausible that: <deep breath> Bush and the Pentagon, the State Department, backed up by Clinton, the UN's weapons inspectors, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, and China, fabricated a case out of whole cloth for war against Saddam; sowed dissent within the ranks of the conspirators so that none but the Brits, Aussies, Poles, and Americans actually were willing to commit military troops, and the others were willing to damage their own economies and diplomatic standing out of the principle of blockading the enterprise; orchestrated and carried out the most stunning military operation, in scale and scope and civilian casualty rate and technological leverage and speed and efficiency, ever yet seen on Earth; and then, availed of all the technology and manpower that won the war in three weeks, failed for month after month to find any of the alleged weapons of mass destruction, which should have surprised nobody because it was all a massive sham, but it was surprising that the occupying force wasn't dedicating itself from day one to planting evidence for retroactive justification of the war; and then, late in the game, decided that they'd better get evidence-planting, and so they constructed a piece of contraband so flimsy and so old and so ambiguous in its background that it would have been totally useless even as propaganda and a shameful blight upon the record of any covert operative who was trying to create fake evidence, and which was indeed agreed by Bush's own administration to be "not a smoking gun" --

...than that the war was fought on the basis of intelligence that was thought to be valid at the time, and the lack of WMD findings today is indicative of nothing but the inadequacy of that intelligence.

No barber of Occam, Moore.

Isn't it fascinating how the more ridiculous a conspiracy theory appears, the more proof it represents to those who believe in it of the conspiracy's depth?

12:29 - Sweet relaxation

Okay, well, maybe not "relaxation". More like "reprieve". Now that we're moved in, the hard-and-fast deadline is gone, and now we only have lots of little soft deadlines, like when we need to have the sod removed from the front yard so the limestone rocks can be delivered, when we need to get started building the deck, when we need to have our furniture (with its all-important drawers and shelves) built, and when the move-in parties should be held.

Not having Internet connectivity at home is weird, though. I'm finding myself sitting on my awesome couch (on which I'm also currently sleeping) at around midnight, gazing around the room looking for things to usefully unpack, and instead finding books that I haven't read since I started college and got myself wired. Whereas I would normally be sitting there at my computer desk, talking with people, administering my sites, blogging, angrily reading things, or otherwise being unblinkingly inert until 2:00 or 3:00, now I'm doing things like reading and walking the dog and going to bed early. What's especially weird is that I'm not even horrifically uncomfortable with it. I'd better get the network set up soon, or else it's going to be culture shock all over again.

It's kinda nice, really, to get up at 7:45 without feeling tired, do some morning reading, install a bathroom light fixture, spend some dog time, take a walk, and amble on in to work shortly after 9:00 when carpool times lift and traffic has dissipated, getting here in time to read my 112 pieces of spam and see what's been happening in the world. I feel a bit remiss in that I haven't been able to take proper interactive interest in the events of blogdom (like Dissident Frogman's interesting discovery at Bayeaux), or even to call proper attention to things like the leaked French version of the new "Morning Report" scene in the upcoming October DVD release of The Lion King (I've also found a very high-quality English version, but it's too big for me to want to post it as a link). Much has been going on, and I've been on the wayside-- deeply engrossed, yes, but my gears have definitely been shifted. I haven't even been able to keep up with the Iraq situation, or even with the Israeli/Palestinian road-map business, except to idly think that at the very least, as the Israelis dutifully pull out of various towns and dismantle outposts and refuse to respond with violence to attacks, the inevitable huge bombing that will occur within the next few weeks will be finally, deeply, unequivocally unprovoked, and not even the French will be able to call it otherwise. Even if (when) attacks resume at the end of the hudna, it'll still be hard for the usual suspects to treat it as "Oh, well, it's just business as usual-- back to the status quo". Since the things the Israelis are required to do are civil-type matters, like removing bulldozers and checkpoints and refusing to carry out retaliatory strikes on terror leaders even when attacks occur, while all the Palestinians have to do is stop killing people, there's really no practical way the Israelis can be at fault if the cease-fire fails. There are several ways in which this three months can positively affect the Cycle of Violence™ (by letting the air out of its tires?), no matter how peacefully or violently it actually plays out; and so I find myself less horrified by it than some do. This time it's the Israelis who get to be "martyrs". (Again.) If that's what it takes to get sympathy from Europeans...

Anyway-- it must be said, to return to my reverie about early mornings and leisurely drives to work along my new drastically shortened route, that I'm bloody glad to have my Jetta back. Nothing meant harshly against Kris' truck, mind you; but I've rediscovered the joys of a small and light car with ample power, and the thrill of sudden acceleration on call in any gear. I feel like I did when I'd just bought it: each time a light turns green and I'm at the line, I catapult off it like there's someone in a riced Civic in the next lane making faces at me and shouting anti-Apple slogans. Oh, and I got it paid off this month; I took the title certificate to the DMV yesterday. The oppressive heat of the past weekend has dissipated, and the air is clean and crisp and bright and the air is cool and still; life, in a word, is good.

Another Home Despot run tonight-- this time we get the curtain rods, and a new shower head for my bathroom (the current one makes a sound like the Eternally Shrieking Toddler from next door in the previous house, who never stopped screeching no matter what she was doing or what sort of mood she was in, for over three years), and a bath mat, and an AirPort Extreme hub. You know, the essentials.

Furniture can always wait.

Tuesday, July 1, 2003
19:32 - We know what he listens to

I didn't hear this exchange first-hand (I must have had the radio turned down too low to hear it above the wind rushing through the truck cabin on one of the nine hundred shuttle missions I drove over the past few days, getting all our miscellaneous accumulated crap from the old house to the new one, which we achieved last night, no thanks to the circuitous freeway-and-hilly-backroads route that somehow grew longer and longer every time); it was relayed to me by the ever-vigilant Kris.

NPR's Forum host, Michael Krasny, interviewed Steve Jobs a few days ago. (Wish I'd heard it.) Apparently, on meeting Krasny and shaking his hand, Jobs said, "Aren't you supposed to be in my dashboard?"

We finished with the house-emptying and bathroom-scrubbing and dog-hair-vacuuming and final-locking-of-doors last night, by the way. At 12:05 AM. Hope that five minutes doesn't cost us another month's rent.

Monday, June 30, 2003
12:54 - Hello again

It's Monday already? Damn.

We're almost done with the move-out/move-in. Almost. It's the last day of the month today, which means we turn in the keys tonight, which means we have to have the last few things moved out by then, plus everything scrubbed down to a reasonable approximation of livability.

They're talking like today will be nowhere near as hot as it was over the weekend, just for us, just for the move, thank you very much, whoever's still giggling at us from behind a cloud over that one. Heaving huge boxes full of books in and out of pickup trucks and washing machines up and down stairs in 106-degree heat is fun! Yeah! Well, c'mon, actually it was, sorta. There's always that feeling of accomplishment, which is made marginally less satisfying as time goes on and you realize that you're moving from a 2500-square-foot house to a 1700-square-foot one, and you're going to have to divest yourself of a good one-third to one-half of your possessions just in order to be able to sidle into your room between the door and the towering, nodding colonnades of cardboard boxes.

All of which is made even more interesting by our bizarre decision to pick up Capri before moving, which meant he got to acclimatize himself to the old house, thinking that was his new home, for like a month-- at which point we started shuttling him back and forth to the new place for lack of a dogsitter, and he really doesn't like driving, I don't think. Oh, sure, he'll do it, but he'll be sulky and passive-aggressive about it, and he keeps falling over once he's in the back seat and the car starts lurching from street to street. So then he gets to this new place, full of the smells of new paint and new carpet and new other dogs in the neighborhood, and then he gets left alone for hours on end while we do more shuttle runs, each of which involves about an hour's turnaround-- so what's a dog to do for amusement but pee on the carpets? Hey, gotta work off all that stress somehow. So in the midst of so much else, I've got to do emergency Resolve treatments to keep these brand-new carpets from being ruined before we've even had a chance to put any furniture on them. (He's settling down now, though-- after we started slowing down the frantic pace. We're in the home stretch now, and I think he senses that.)

Oh, and there's no network at home now. After packing up my computer on Saturday and bringing it over, there's no more communication from me to the outside world from home for like another two to three weeks while they wait for the phone company to set up the T1. (Presumbly somewhere deep within the SBC offices they have one of those big crudely-painted "thermometer" signboards that keeps track of the levels of bribery necessary to get them to go out and do some given task; right now the red is just inching past the "You gotta be kidding me" level, with "Right as soon as we finish the World Championship Spitball Tournament" near in sight.) So I get no opportunity to do e-mail or blog or anything except at work, which means no outside communication on weekends at all. What'd I miss?

Katharine Hepburn died, I heard.

Somebody shot up a hotel in San Francisco, the "sideshows" in Oakland (which nobody on the news bothered to define, apparently assuming that everybody's watched 2 Fast, 2 Furious by now-- the police guy they interviewed talked like "We had reports of sideshow activity around 3rd and Lexington, and we responded and found that sideshow activity was indeed in evidence, and the sideshow activity had been in progress for some time"-- thank you, now what the %^#$ is it? Quit talking like Space Ghost describing sex!) are going unchecked because the police aren't funded to try to keep the rice-boys from doing doughnuts on people's lawns, and someone with a sword hacked up a grocery store in Irvine. Quick! Ban all swords! Think of the children!

I understand the Palestinians couldn't keep their "truce" for even a single day. Suck my butt, Palestinians.

iSight can be used to capture raw DV footage for use in iMovie, according to Damien and this thread. Also, those same ad-hoc networks that have already exploded into existence for iCal and (until someone went ahem iTunes Music Sharing are now popping up for iChat AV too. Now you can browse chatter lists by name and see who's open for audio or video sessions. I do believe network effect has a part to play here.

589 e-mail messages. Mostly spam and error bounces, I'm sure, but some are bound to be things I need to pay attention to, like for work. So that'll be it for now.

Thursday, June 26, 2003
18:49 - Cajas de cartón

We're down to the wire. The end of the month is fast approaching, and we have to move out of our current rental place and into the new one by Saturday night, so we can clean up the old house on Sunday and be out by Monday. Since painting and carpeting concluded last weekend, we've been taking truckloads of stuff over each night-- couches, tables, TV and stereo gear, kitchen supplies. These sessions have taken us well into the wee hours each night. We've made a big dent, but the worst is yet to come.

This is not helped by the fact that the weather has chosen precisely this four-day period to be massively, stiflingly hot.

Capri doesn't like this one bit. He's not built for hot weather-- even in the balmy spring heat of May, his collie coat has made him uncomfortable in our non-air-conditioned house unless he's parked in front of a fan. The new house is air-conditioned, so he's taking rapidly to it and acting extremely unhappy whenever we have to pull him off the couch and back into the truck for another run. And today it's got to be near 100 degrees-- he's apparently not handling it at all well. We're doing an emergency alteration of our plans-- first we install the beds and sleeping arrangements, then we install the dog, then we install dog-sitters, then we install the rest of our worldly possessions. Unimportant crap like Internet and cable service can wait.

Most of my goods are packed up into large cardboard boxes right now, sitting in my new master suite, waiting to be unpacked as soon as there are shelves and cabinets and things to put them in. I can wait. Important things first. That means that immediately following my day job in priority comes racing over there, getting the truck, driving back to the hot house, taping together another few boxes, loading up some two-man-job pieces of furniture, driving back, and repeating until about 2:00 AM from now through Sunday. Blogging will likely be light.

In the meantime, does anyone have a giant heat-sink I can borrow? It has to fit one medium-sized urban valley.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
19:21 - If only they made cars out of bumper sticker glue

I hope those BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED bumper stickers were made with that environmentally-friendly mucilage that lets you peel them off without damaging your car (a derivative, no doubt, of the non-freon-based Space Shuttle foam that falls off and destroys thermal tiles).

Eventually the left will come to understand that just because a cute slogan rhymes doesn't mean it's true. Somehow, however, it's not looking like they'll realize it in time for the 2004 elections.

Fortunately, they captured Baghdad Bob too, so we'll have plenty of alternate explanations in short order. Or are all these sudden successes just a little too convenient?

18:12 - Does this mean they've gone mainstream?

Calling all fans of Michel Gagné's Insanely Twisted Rabbits! Yeah, you know who you are.

Snerk. Heh. Gotta-- n-n-HAH! Gotta catch 'em all! Hee hee heeee.

(Too bad there's only the one. So far.)

13:16 - Doin' it right

How cool is iChat AV and iSight? This cool:

What completely blew me away, though, was how easy it was to hookup. After my wife opened the package, I asked her for the installer disk - woops, old Windows habit! "There's no disk!" she admonished, "It's Apple!". And lo, I plugged in the iSight, opened iChat AV (downloaded the beta from the Apple website for free yesterday). The application popped open, and boom, there I was, staring back at myself. No installation (except the software itself), no configuration, nothing. (My only complaint is that the plastic clip mount doesn't hold very well onto an iBook screen.)

So, I had an idea. I went upstairs and grabbed my digital video camera, plugged in the firewire to my desktop, and opened iChat AV. Boom, same thing - staring back at myself. I look at the windows, and there is the other computer, noticed by Rendezvous, which is some sort of local networking thingy (the same thing that lets me listen to music from one computer on the other one). So, I click on it, and run downstairs to accept the request for a chat. Run back upstairs, and start yelling "Yin! Come here!". I watch on my upstairs computer as she wanders over from the kitchen, looks into the computer screen, and sees me. "Hey! Check this out!"

The most telling bit about this whole story, to me, is the thing about Rendezvous: it's finally starting to come into its own. When introduced in Jaguar, Rendezvous' utility was somewhat, shall we say, limited. I think, in fact, that it had no effect on anything except iChat and the little iChat integration deely in Mail. Not terribly useful. Jobs and Schiller had demoed iTunes Music Sharing over Rendezvous on-stage, but such a feature was not to be seen in Jaguar.

It wasn't until iTunes 4 that Rendezvous-based Music Sharing saw the light of day; but by that time, little things here and there had started to Rendezvous their way into our hearts. Safari automatically discovered websites on other Macs on the LAN. Screen savers like Fluid use Rendezvous now to auto-discover visual themes served from others' machines. Xcode-- which I think deserves a closer look-- uses Rendezvous to auto-discover other Macs on the network, which it can then use to distribute compile tasks in parallel, with zero configuration. Just press a button and it goes to town.

A little more about Xcode, by the way: this is some hot stuff. Aside from the Rendezvous-enabled distributed compiles, there's plenty more cool stuff in there now. Like, oh, I don't know, the ability to apply hot-fixes to runnig code. A little Scotch-tape icon that lets you change your in-development program while it's running. I don't know how well this will work on highly complex, modular software, but in the demo it was certainly cool.

I love how they framed it, too. The slide that Chris Espinosa showed was of the standard programming turnaround loop, the procedure you have to go through when you encounter a bug in the software you're writing:

Stop -- Debug -- Compile -- Link -- Start

Xcode, Espinosa said, eliminated the Link phase right off the bat by removing the necessity to link the whole runtime executable-- just what's necessary to launch. (The five-tile illustration shrank to four.) Then, he said, the Compile phase was now reduced by about half, because of the distributed-compile feature and the new predictive, background-task compiles that Xcode now does-- it starts compiling the object code in the background as soon as you make changes. The bar shrinks to three-and-a-half: Stop, Debug, (Compile), Start.

Then, Espinosa said the Stop and Start phases-- which actually do take up a non-trivial amount of time in the turnaround loop-- are now eliminated by the Fix and Continue feature, making the update to the running code right in the debugger. Scratch two more phases, and we're down to one-and-a-half.

Then some wag in the front row yells, "Now eliminate the Debug stage!" (Mike Silverman filled me in on this one; so that's what that laughter from the video feed was about.)

Anyway: Xcode is worth attention for these features alone, as well as for the newly redesigned iTunes-like datasource-and-contents interface. As Mark reminds me, the fix-and-go stuff isn't new-- it was actually an OpenSTEP 4.0 feature, once thought consigned to the dustbin of history, but now resurrected and made mainstream. "Everything old is new again", said Mark in e-mail. "Good ideas never die." Ain't it great?

And now iChat has been taken to the next level with the AV stuff-- Rendezvous, of course, making the whole thing seamless, to the point where nobody has to think about it or understand it or even know it's there. And you can plug in any FireWire camera you want-- they all work the same, Apple's drivers support them all natively, and there's no need for specialized software-- making apps like EvoCam possible. I know this is starting to sound like a mantra, but that's the whole point: It just works.

Oh, and a look at the Exposé page reminds me of just how far off-base the people are who think that the key to Apple's success is to adopt Intel processors, multi-button mice, a taskbar on the bottom, OEMed VIA chipsets, and in effect just make PCs:
Using mouse buttons.
And those of you who use a multi-button mouse can also assign Exposé actions to the extra buttons on your favorite rodent.

In other words, Apple's too busy coming up with the next envelope-pushing thing made possible by their overengineered, Quadrant-II infrastructure to worry about whether people think they should be more like Microsoft. Apple isn't about twitching the knob from 2 to 2.1; their dials go to 11.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
03:43 - Just because

Hey, I suppose I'd crow a little too, if I were them.

20:52 - Growling over the turf

Wow. Apple Veep of Hardware Product Marketing Greg Joswiak (whom AtAT calls "the genetically-combined offspring of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak") has already come out with an interview defending Apple's SPEC benchmarks.

They don't usually do things like this. They must really mean it.

Joswiak added that in the Intel modifications for the tests, they chose the option that provided higher scores for the Intel machine, not lower. The scores were higher under Linux than under Windows, and in the rate test, the scores were higher with hyperthreading disabled than enabled. He also said they would be happy to do the tests on Windows and with hyperthreading enabled, if people wanted it, as it would only make the G5 look better.

Damn. After years of cheerfully accepting sucker-punches in the tech media, it sounds to me like someone at Apple's finally snapped.

They must have really bet hard on the G5 in order to be so adamant about setting the record straight. I must say I would be too, which is why I'd make a lousy CEO.

UPDATE: CapLion notes that Dell also disables hyperthreading for its own SPEC tests; apparently it slows the CPUs down. Great feature.

UPDATE: And here's some more details regarding they myriad inaccuracies and oversights in the challenger's thesis.

Surely Apple can't be blind to the fact that this page will be the most pored-over, picked-over, poked, prodded, analyzed and counter-analyzed piece of technology marketing in recent memory. They're not going to leave themselves open with big glaring vulnerabilities, not in the most exposed spot their credibility has had in years.

17:03 - Whoops, better cancel my order

It would seem, from this carefully self-labeled non-biased source, that the G5 benchmarks were doctored and Apple rigged the Veritest setup.

You know, it seems odd to me that Apple would publish test results that show their machines to be slower than the comparable PCs at certain things (integer operations on single-CPU machines, for one), if such results were the product of book-cookery. Wouldn't they cook things sufficiently so that they'd win on everything?

One possibility is that the G5s suck so much that Apple couldn't even cripple the P4s and Xeons enough so that the G5 would outperform them across the board. (Another is that they're trying to carefully craft a result set that's made plausible by a few selected failures.) But I'm reminded irresistibly of another argument we're hearing lately: The fact that we haven't found any WMDs lately means that Bush lied about their existence. Whereas an administration determined to sell a lie would surely plant some WMDs after the fact, wouldn't it? If they're disingenuous enough to lie about there being WMDs in order to fight the war, then surely they wouldn't be above planting some afterwards so they could justify it ex post facto? Especially because they would have known that if the enterprise were based on a lie, then someone would eventually find out there wasn't anything there to begin with?

Same goes for the G5s. Jobs knows as well as anybody that people will always fact-check the benchmarks. He's been burned on such things numerous times already-- sometimes deservedly so, sometimes not (the latter case often the result of people so determined to catch Apple in a lie that they'll flat-out refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt in an ambiguous scenario)-- that he would surely have expected that any blatant lying about the G5s' speed would be wrung out within days, if not hours. Why would he do such a thing? Is he spectacularly stupid, or just plain evil?

Or is there more to the story than even the there's-more-to-the-story exposés would have us believe?

I'm not saying I disbelieve that the SPEC benchmarks were fixed. Somehow, though, I have a hard time swallowing that Jobs hoodwinked or bribed the CEOs of Adobe, Emagic, Wolfram, and so forth into giddily endorsing the G5. I like to think that people like that will have their own guys do their own independent analysis. Adobe's VP, for instance, in the keynote itself mentioned that within the company, his engineers were all over the G5-- and even one particularly skeptical Wintel guy was now a total convert, after having seen what it can do on his own recognizance.

Apple doesn't make claims that are blatantly, factually false. No, hear me out: Apple often makes claims that can be seen as misleading, depending on circumstances, politics, and so on. Their claims of superiority in speed over the years certainly fall into that category; there have always been certain things that Macs have excelled at, and if you allow a couple of asterisks and footnotes, Apple's claims can be seen to be correct. However, on claims such as "The world's first 17-inch notebook", skepticism or no skepticism, Apple's not stupid enough to make that claim unless they know it to be factually true.

Real-world usefulness is king, not SPEC benchmarks; and the preponderance of multi-sourced evidence suggests to me that the G5s at the very least are a match for top-end P4/Xeon machines. And the G5 is at the beginning of its development cycle, not the end; "this architecture has legs," Jobs said yesterday. And the 980 will be coming in six months to a year anyway. IBM is behind this project wholeheartedly.

The upshot? Two things: 1) relative to my older Mac, the new G5 is as much faster as claimed; and 2) relative to contemporary PCs, it's in the same Little-League ballpark, to the extent that when people tell me Macs suck dog balls, I can shake my head and walk away secure in the knowledge that it's based on sour grapes and good old-fashioned pettiness rather than factual numbers or real-world experience. And that's plenty good enough for me, at least five friends, and the ton of other potential buyers who currently have the Apple Store's phone lines swamped with orders.

I doubt that I'll be disappointed when mine arrives; if I am, I'll say so. But, to use a known infuriating unassailable piece of nyah-nyah logic, the only criterion that matters to me is my own satisfaction. If I'm satisfied, then the rest is gravy.

UPDATE: In any case, the Slashdot thread appears to be populated largely with people who find Apple's spec practices to be defensible; I'm not sure I want to go so far as to say they tear the challenger's arguments to shreds (there are almost 1500 comments to read through), but this is clearly not a cut-and-dried case.

12:57 - Drum roll, please

So, the question on everyone's mind is, naturally: What the hell was in those large, G5-tower-sized Mysterious Boxes of Mystery piled on wrapped pallets in the Apple Stores, guarded by vicious attack dogs and surrounded with laser tripwires and signs saying Beware of the Leopard?

A Top Ten list would seem to be in order.
  1. iSights (in twelve-packs)
  2. Black t-shirts with the slogan DOOOOMED across the back
  3. Fake-out G5 cases-- everything from spheres to hexagons to buckyballs
  4. WMDs
  5. Crack (for the Apple Store employees)
  6. Copies of the Apple NDA, personally addressed to all employees, with ominous references to the possible fates of each individual's family and pets
  7. Fresh supplies of bottled water in special 11-ounce Funky Non-Standard Proprietary Apple Size bottles
  8. Undistributed "iPod Live" posters, for in-store sword fights
  9. Grape Kool-Aid


  10. Nothing but packing peanuts and bricks (wouldn't that be just like Steve?)

Monday, June 23, 2003
18:18 - Total Journalist

Sweet! An interview with the creators of Homestar Runner.

It's notable that today, Chris wore his The Cheat shirt, and I have on my Strong Bad one... talk about the target audience.

15:18 - Hot damn

They kept it under $3K!

Well done, Steve. And IBM, too-- I hope they get the kudos they deserve. This is quite an achievement. People were talking about how they were pretty sure there'd be a new chip, but they had no idea they'd actually be bringing in Serial ATA and PCI-X and all that stuff. Very, very nice-looking system, both visually and mechanically. Check out that case.

Each of the four thermal zones is equipped with its own dedicated, low-speed fans. Apple engineered seven of the nine fans to spin at very low speeds for minimum acoustic output. And Mac OS X constantly monitors component temperatures in each zone, dynamically adjusting individual fan speeds to the appropriate levels for the quietest possible operation. As a result, the Power Mac G5 runs three times quieter than the previous Power Mac G4 enclosure.

Not shipping until August, though, so that's the one gotcha. But hey, that's still earlier than most of us expected; and they're taking pre-orders now, and if you buy it through the Valley Fair online store (and probably all the other ones too), they give you a Pro Card with lots of discount goodies and service guarantees and stuff. I think I'll be exercising that AmEx after all. But maybe it's for the best that I don't actually have to charge it for another couple of months.

Anyway: Panther. I'm all over Panther. Great set of demos; the new Finder, the thing I thought was sort of jumbled in the early leaked photos, actually seems to be a much more cleaned-up metaphor, and the instant search/filtering is now in all sorts of things throughout the OS. (Labels! Woo-hoo!) Mail's all spiffed-up. Exposé rocks-- I'll be using it as my new hey, check this out demo thingy, the one I've been using Zoom for up till now. Unless the thing I choose to show off is actually Fast User Switching.

Because we can
Mac OS X animates transitions from one user to another. The current desktop becomes a texture placed on a 3D cube that rotates out of view while the incoming account desktop rotates into view on another side of the cube.

You have to see it. It had me on the floor and the audience roaring. "We have to admit," said Steve, "that Windows XP beat us to this one. They got there first. So we're catching up to it now, and doing it a lot nicer." God, he's not frickin' kidding.

FileVault, comprehensive encryption of the home folder, good for lost laptops. Preview is now the fastest PDF renderer in the world (a mini-bakeoff showed it kicking the ass of the 3.06GHz Dell in zip-scrolling through an 800-page PDF which it rendered on the fly in 28 seconds). Font Book-- cool little Address Book-like font manager. Integrated faxing in every Print dialog. Auto-syncing iDisk, which lets you keep your folders in sync in the background all the time you have a network connection. Xcode-- kickass new development environment. (He used that word, kickass, about six times today.) And iChat AV turned out to be the heaviest hitter-- integrated text/audio/video IM'ing. Uses any camera with no setup (especially the iSight, Apple's new webcam/mike). Uses cool video transitions to do picture-in-picture. And all based on open standards, so "If anyone else, er, copies what we've done, they can interoperate with us."

Oh, and lots more cool updates under the hood. FreeBSD 5.0 underpinnings. Active Directory integration. Direct SMB server browsing. X11. IPSec VPN. Pixlet. More that I can't remember.

There were some great lines in the presentation, which you should watch if you've got a couple hours to kill and a good connection-- a very jubilant atmosphere. Some of the memorable one-liners:

When showing off iChat AV, Steve first did a video-chat with Phil Schiller in a back room with a bookshelf and stuff. The camera picked up almost instantly; very smooth. Then he went back to his buddy list and picked out one of his old colleagues in Paris; he initiated an audio chat with Jean-Marie Huillot, and it took a few seconds for the audio link to set up. And it took a few more seconds. And a few more. And Steve turned to the audience and said, "It takes a little longer to negotiate with France."

(Immediately afterward he video-chatted with Al Gore: "You're the third Apple board member to use the new iChat!" Gore: "Yeah, well, it's hard to come in first." Ho ho. The only obviously rehearsed line. The man got quite a few ahems and razzes from the crowd, too.)

Early on, Steve showed a clip from Jay Leno, with his "bin Laden videotape"-- which turned out to be a bin Laden impersonator dancing around on a white background holding an iPod singing "I Like Big Butts" like in the iTunes Music Store ad. "It just doesn't get any better than that," Steve giggled.

When opening up the "One More Thing" segment, with the G5, Steve kicked it all off by showing a giant slide of the Apple Store page with the flubbed graphic. He certainly seemed in good humor about it; he put up a slide with what the incident was being called internally: Premature specification.

(He said, incidentally, that the reactions he'd heard regarding the image flub-up fell into three camps: 1) It's too good to be true, and therefore a mistake; 2) It's true; 3) It's brilliant marketing on Apple's part. Well, he said, It was a mistake. Big slide: It was a mistake. We all held our breath. And... it's true. Big slide: It's true. 3800 collective sighs of relief, followed by long rolling applause.

And when the founder of Wolfram Research took the stage for the bake-off with Mathematica, in which the G5 rendered a series of huge fractal images 2.3 times faster than a whoop-ass dual-3GHz Xeon (it's all about the memory bandwidth, apparently), he said that "The G5's competition is no longer PCs; it's the high-end UNIX workstations that cost twice as much. And it's faster than all of them too."

As for the turnout in the Valley Fair store-- excellent. Probably fifty people were crammed in around the theater. One guy was there at 5:50 this morning just so he could be first in line; he got the Geek Prize from the store employees, which was a photo of everyone else in the store pointing and laughing at him, and a t-shirt. They also Dutch-auctioned off a 15GB iPod, and tried to unload some Power Mac G4s and iBots whose shelf life has now become severely limited.

An exhilarating couple of hours indeed.

Oh, and here's the performance bar-graphs for those who find them fascinating.

Interestingly, the specs graphic on the G5s at the Apple Store is different from the one that was leaked. Subtly different, but different. The leaked one was 100% accurate, but they redid it anyway. The header line now rotates between several slogans. Bizarre.

10:27 - Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

From Think Secret, which has pre-keynote photos like this one:

After Apple's accidental posting of Power Mac G5 specs to its Apple online store last week, the company emailed many of its employees a copy of their non-disclosure agreement (NDA). While Apple didn't specifically mention the G5 post, the email reminded employees of the agreement they signed when they were hired, in an effort to prevent leaks late in the weekend.

Sources confirmed that the PowerPC 970 CPU that is at the heart of Q37 -- the Power Mac G5 -- is code-named "Neo" within Apple.

Have I mentioned lately that I love Apple's code names?

More later, in all likelihood.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
02:49 - Best Adult Swim Packaging thingy Yet

There were some other good candidates earlier tonight, but this one has it hands-down:

OMG!!!1 w3're iN!!!
Fa7aL C0oL + C0rdless Overr1d3 OWN J00r TV b0x!!!
NO HaTInG oN AniMe!!
NO H4TiNG oN C0m3dy!!!
cus hating is teh s uck

And the bug in the lower right is [4du17 sWim].

UPDATE: I speak a lie! This one's even better!

A lot of you have been asking about the music.
As usual, there is no simple answer.
The tunes in the action block are usually listed at the end of the night.
The tunes in the comedy block are orphans from the massive Turner Music Library.
This presents a problem which involves lawyers and contracts.
We're trying to work out a joint custody agreement.
That way you could adopt a track from the website.
If it works out, we'll be looking for good iPods® they can call home.
[adult swim]

Me! Memememe!

01:15 - Tomorrow

First let's get all the caveats out of the way. I'm sure that tomorrow, The Steve's keynote at WWDC, which will be broadcast to the Apple Stores to be shown live on the big-screen theaters, will not disclose anything particularly interesting, despite all rumors to the contrary. Oh, sure, maybe it will go over some planned features for 10.3/Panther; maybe he'll even give out some beta CDs to attendees. But no miraculous new hardware. Or if he does mention hardware, it'll only be to acknowledge existence of the PPC 970, which until now has only had the most sidelong of confirmations from IBM that it "could" be used in Macs, despite the fact that its Altivec-alike unit is pound-for-pound the spitting image of the one in Motorola's G4s, and not a word from Apple itself. But because IBM last year had said that even the most optimistic estimates put quantity 970 shipments in late summer or fall of 2003, and we're only in June now, surely there won't be any actual machines announced tomorrow. I'm sure it'll turn out that the leaked spec graphic from Thursday night was just a practical joke by some swing-shift web-goon whose job was immediately put up for auction, even on a weekend, in swift and terrible retribution from on high for this blowing of any surprise Steve might have had up his sleeve, getting everybody's expectations all pumped up for nothing. I'm sure it means there won't be any such animals unveiled tomorrow. The Boxes O' Mystery in the Apple Stores will surely turn out to be advertising materials, boxes of carefully-guarded-under-pain-of-death leaflets and flyers and cardboard mock-ups to stand around the retail floors and wow the visitors with their Ive-ian visual goodness, even though they have no actual physical substance and can't be bought or anything. Absolute secrecy, we all know, is required for the pallets full of the tools of whatever Apple's newest misguided ad campaign will turn out to be tomorrow. Or maybe they will be 970-based Power Macs, but there will only be like ten of them per store-- an experimental pilot run, hot off the fab from IBM, squeezed out in acceptance trials even under woefully inadequate yield numbers just so that Apple could have something-- anything-- to sell this week. I'm sure they'll cost like $6000 each, commanding a terrific price premium, being a super-exclusive limited edition whose purchase will be up for lottery among the clamoring throngs in the Apple Stores and at WWDC, where the attendees have all spent at least $1500 each just to be there, and so what's another $6000 between friends? The rest of us mortals will have to gaze from afar, and morosely click open the Apple Store online, there to find the very spec graphic that was at the center of this brouhaha Thursday night, but attached to Power Mac G5 models with astronomical prices and mocking "Shipping September '03" tags on them. Or maybe they will actually be shipping in quantity, through some amazing miracle, but they'll suck-- they'll be bottlenecked by some idiocy of motherboard design, where sure, the chips will run at 2GHz, and the CPU bus will run at half that, but the PCI bridge will be fatally flawed or the ATA controller will be some cheap-ass off-the-shelf thing that keeps defaulting to PIO mode 2, or the OS will heavily depend on double-length integer math, which Altivec doesn't support natively, so performance will suck, even if they manage to get the 64-bit "Sméagol" build of 10.2 out tomorrow as well. These über-honking dual-G5s at 2GHz will probably resemble a 700MHz Pentium III at best. Oh, and they'll probably come with last year's ATI and NVidia cards, or have outdated drivers, or all the game companies will simultaneously announce the cessation of all game development for the Mac platform tomorrow, rendering the new machines useless for any and all purposes under the Sun.

Now that that's all out of the way:

I will be at the Valley Fair Apple Store tomorrow morning between 9:00 and 10:00, in eager anticipation of the keynote being broadcast to the video screen inside. I will also be carrying my AmEx, which to this date has been used for almost nothing except buying Macs (the one exception to which CapLion knows about); house or no house, I've still got plenty of justification for spending whatever money these new things are going to cost. I've still got plenty of space left in the ol' home equity. Plus I need one. Yeah, that's right. My current machine was brand-spanking-new in January of 2000. That's over three years old, an age that Wintel PCs in this day and age are lucky to see intact. Yet who can blame Macs for seeming slow, when someone is always around to come up and say, "Damn, Macs are slow! Why, I played with one the other day, and it was slow as hell!" And I'd ask, "What model was it?" Thinking, Bondi Blue iMac? Barbie-purse iBook? Blue & White G3? And he'd answer, "Oh, that beige one downstairs." Meaning a Performa 6400 from 1996. Well, hell yeah it'll be slow! But look, it's still perfectly serviceable, right? Still indispensable to its department? Nobody ever throws a Mac away-- they keep it around until it's hobbling around on a cane, as much for sentimental reasons as for the fact that they've come to depend on it being there and working the same way every day, year after year. Small wonder people always have the impression that Macs are slow-- the average Mac that the non-Mac person gets to play with is like five years old. And chugging along strong.

My G4/450 is in need of a new keyboard, and its power supply fan has been replaced once in defiance of the warranty stipulations, but other than that it's running and jumping like an adolescent puppy. Should I succumb to the siren call of a new machine with twice as many CPUs each running three to five times faster than corresponding G4s clock-for-clock, and then again five times faster by clock frequency than my current machine, plus 64-bit benefits and PCI-X and Serial ATA and no CPU bus bottleneck and DDR RAM, I still won't be able to bring myself to just hurl my 450 onto the dung-heap. I'll have to take it to work and set it up in the lab as a server, or in the corner of my desk as a test workhorse, or put it in the closet to stream MP3s over AirPort-- something to keep it happy while it lives out its days, something to help it feel useful as it ages. The digital equivalent of a rocking chair and a pocketknife and a nice big pile of whittlin' wood.

If it forgets who I am and tells me to get off its damn lawn, I'll do so right away. It's earned the right.

00:35 - Today

We're rapidly closing in on the house. I don't have photos (bad me, I know-- but you try keeping track of a digicam and camcorder and charger for the latter, between the old house, the new house, and work, while carting a truckload of random detritus each morning, and forgetting my iPod so we have to listen to whatever CDs Lance happens to have in his car-- and maybe Capri is an overly sensitive-eared dog, but I for one can't find it in my heart to blame him for burying his head under the pillows when he hears Angela Shrieking Lansbury in Sweeney Todd, which, don't get me wrong, is a fantastic piece, but it's also Sondheim, which means steam whistles and angry shouting and chords never before heard by man or dog)-- but I will one of these days, I still promise.

In any case, we got a lot done-- the carpet was installed last weekend, so now the key milestone is to get the bathrooms painted so the guy who installed it can come back on his own, non-Carpeteria-employed time and redo our linoleum. (Sorry, whoever built the house, but floral-pattern floors don't do it for me.) So now the public upstairs bathroom is the deep Fresh Herbs green, and Lance's bathroom is the Ripe Currant red, the red that takes about nineteen coats before you can't see any brush strokes anymore. (I think there are still some in there, but you can't see them if the lights are off, so there!) The living room is also furnished except for the TV and other electronics, the octagonal kitchen table is in, and so is the bistro table in the breakfast nook. My awesome couches have been wrestled into my room, to the detriment of the door trim, which made a gap 28.5 inches wide, through which we had to maneuver a 28.75-inch couch. But we got it in. The couch came out the better of the two.

Anyway, we also took Capri to the dog park off Hellyer. I swear, that dog was brought up in a finishing school; as soon as he was off his leash, he started trotting around with the other dogs; but when they started running and jumping and wrestling, he watched quizzically, head on one side, ears up inquisitively, with that look one can imagine so well: What in the bloody hell are you playing at?! And then he decided it was his duty to sniff every single square inch of grass in the entire fenced-off area. This took some time, but what the hell, it made him happy.

He's taking to the new house quite well, though. Which is all to the good, because he's perfectly color-coordinated for it. Here's where I flagellate myself for not having remembered my camera, because I need visuals for this: being a tricolor collie, he's black and brown and light brownish-gold with a white neck-ruff. And the house colors? Black (couches), light brownish-gold (walls) and brown (the one accent wall) and white (ceilings and trim). One of these days I'll get a pose on camera and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, it's early to bed for me tonight. I'll be up early.

14:01 - Rockin' Website of the Day

I went to this site seeking the "Fluid" screensaver (thanks to a tip in MacAddict), but while waiting for the download, found myself stunned at the things they've managed to pull off with the website design.

Go ye and look, if you're using Safari. (I checked using IE on both Mac and Windows, and it doesn't look remotely right. Does it not support these features?) They've got curved-boundary layers with alpha blending, CSS up the wazoo, and gorgeous text layout. All in a very small amount of back-end code, and no frames. I'm floored.

Oh, and the screensaver itself rocks, too. Randomizer is indeed the way to go; it's always fun to see a surprising selection of ways your monitor might look if it were a CRT in its last death-throes. Amazingly, the fluid effects render almost perfectly smoothly on my G4/450. I'd love to see how it looks at work. (Or on one of Monday's Mystery Machines.)

Plus you can install a "Theme Server" and serve your themes to other Macs on the local network; the screen saver is Rendezvous-enabled, so it will automatically discover Fluid themes being served from anywhere else on the LAN and let you run them. Even the randomizer will cycle through the networked themes. Sweeet.

Saturday, June 21, 2003
13:59 - Sew up that damn cat bag!

Paul sends me this set of images (and related Slashdot thread) purportedly of some new features of OS X.3, "Panther", which we'll be seeing for real on Monday.

I'm, uh, skeptical. Some of these pictures look rather unpolished, somehow, and "un-Apple" in style, though that can be attributed to two things: 1) These are early, in-development snapshots; and 2) Apple's "style" is changing quite dramatically for 10.3, which doesn't really surprise me. No more pin-stripes in the title bars, and they're much less pronounced elsewhere. (So long, in other words, to the stylistic nod to OS 9 and earlier, which is what the pin-stripes were.) But a little more odd, to me, is the decidedly Windows XP-like tone to a lot of stuff. The new "Video" button in the iChat screenshot, for instance, is green and bulgy, just like in XP. The disk-inspector thingy ("Xdrive") looks garbled and confusing in layout (what's it supposed to be, anyway?), and what's up with the "About Finder" window with its tagline of The Macintosh Desktop Experience? What, Mac OS XP? Is that it?

But aside from that, the new features look cool. Labels are back-- whoopeeee! Just in time, too-- I'm about to need labels a whole lot now. Folder actions! A "Security" system preference! Neato revamped Activity Monitor. But the big thing seems to be this "Exposé" feature; I can't quite figure out what it does (GIR: Whatsit doooo? Whatsit doooooo?) "Exposé allows you to temporarily see all of your open windows at once, so you can easily click on any window to bring it to the front." Um... yay! I think! From the look of it, it takes all your overlapping open windows and Quartz-shrinks them all so they can tile onto your desktop; they're all a perfect scaled-down image of their former selves, and you can then grab one with a click. Rather neat. I'm sure it'll make great eye-candy in the demo, too.

Who knows what else lurks in those other subtly redesigned and reorganized System Preferences... I guess we'll find out on Monday. If this is a hoax, it's a pretty ballsy one to pull two days before the truth comes out.

13:41 - Oops

I guess this is further evidence towards Thursday night's little G5 web-flub being the work of a hapless web-gnome (rather than, for instance, a hack attack from outside).

Function supports the World Wide Store management team and the 2+Billion online business. The position manages day to day publishing requirements such as image updates, third party loads, pricing changes, new feature enhancements, application improvements and application testing. Position also supports product launch deadlines, managing graphic and business resources to achieve business objectives. The job includes the ability to manage resources, prepare appropriate documentation based on business requirements, delegate tasks to team members, effectively and clearly communicate project status and manage project risk. Project Manager will have direct reports and is responsible for coordinating with world wide counterparts.

Poor guy.

It's rare, though, that the unfolding of these little dramas is so cut-and-dried. This couple of weeks is going to be one for the ages; when the Apple Soap Opera is released on DVD in twenty years, this will be one of the highlight episodes.

Thursday, June 19, 2003
01:42 - Someone better invent a cat-proof bag

First the TIME/iMac debacle, and now this: some silly person has once again blown Steve's show.

Apple has seemingly inadvertently posted specifications of upcoming Power Mac models on its online Apple Store. Under the Power Mac G4 section, a list of specifications describes "the world's fastest personal computer" as containing . . .

Don't look if you like surprises.

I'm kinda let down by this. Not by the specs (not gonna complain about these, is all I'm sayin'), but by the fact that they couldn't keep the wraps on until Monday. Steve will have some hapless web-monkey's head on a plate.

Assuming, of course, this isn't a hoax. The wording on the specs is a little odd-- somewhat ambiguous and choice-y. There's apparent corroboration from commenters, but it could be an elaborate gag...

I guess it all comes down to how much I feel like believing conspiracy theories these days. I'm not saying it's time to break out the crop-circle flatteners and put on the tinfoil hats, but it wouldn't be amiss to save up a few Gs...

Spotted by J Greely.


19:44 - They're coming

Hurry! Get your 1.42GHz Power Macs before they're all gone! Apple's discontinuing them!

As mysterious boxes seep into the channel, inventories of the current Power Mac G4 lineup are getting slimmer and slimmer, a trend that started weeks ago. At this point, the high-end 1.42GHz model -- the most popular Power Mac -- is nearly gone, and Apple has told distributors and resellers not to expect new shipments. While there are a fair number of the mid-range 1.25GHz models in the channel, the low-end 1GHz, like the high-end, has generally been cleared.

This comes as Apple has reportedly been supplying its Apple retail stores with boxes scheduled to be opened Monday afternoon, and not before then, first noted by MacRumors earlier in the week. According to Think Secret sources, some Apple stores have already received the boxes, while others expect to receive them later this week (but still in advance of the Monday keynote). As can be expected, security around these boxes -- which reportedly come in multiple sizes -- has been tight.

There's always, of course, another explanation...

(Of course, as AtAT has it, the "mysterious boxes" are probably full of human kidneys on ice.)

19:32 - He asked for it

My favorite has to be this one, by far:

13:02 - Where's that music coming from?


Steven sends me this interesting link: a Wired article on a few enterprising music aficionados who have managed to develop a workable business proposition around iPods.

Instead of piping bland background music over tinny speakers, enterprising music promoters are loading hundreds of hours of hip tunes onto iPods and renting them to restaurants, nightspots, clothing boutiques and hair salons.

"It's hard for (smaller independent) labels to get exposure, and it's hard for stores to get the right music," said Lara Wiesenthal, the brains behind an iPod music service called Activaire. "I really get the perfect music into the stores, and it allows me to disseminate the labels' music to a different audience."

. . .

Wiesenthal has licensed hundreds of songs from nearly 100 independent labels, most specializing in cutting-edge electronica.

From her library of nearly 100 GB of songs, Wiesenthal can tailor about 30 hours of music for each client. She often creates special playlists for different moods -- upbeat or mellow -- or different times of the day.

"The point is to provide the stores with more music than they were used to, and to make it automatic, hands-off," she said. "The iPod makes it really easy. They can even hit different playlists for different moods -- one for the morning, the afternoon or evening."

Every three months, Wiesenthal ships a new iPod to her clients with a new selection of music. The clients return the old iPod via package delivery service.

"Bill... bill... junk... bill... <clunk> oh look-- the spring music is here!"

One of his nonpaying clients, Roger Main, general manager of the Adriatica restaurant/lounge, said he's delighted with the service.

"I'm a technophobe. I didn't know how it was going to take care of us," Main said. "But it does a great job. The bartender chooses the playlist. It's better than a jukebox. The establishment controls the mood, not the customers."

Porter said he's been trying to find a way to market independent music for years. He experimented with mix tapes and custom CDs, but was never able to provide the variety and convenience of using an iPod.

"When the iPod came along, it was so easy, it was beautiful," he said. "You edit out all the bad stuff, all the filler songs, and you give people beautiful music. There's an endless supply, and it's always cutting edge and hip and cool."

The legality of some of these variations is rather questionable-- if more people are going to be doing this, they're going to have to go Weisenthal's route and license the music in question. But that said, it's hard to deny that this is a cool idea.

I've actually been toying with a similar plan for piped music in the new house; I could pick a central spot, like in a hallway or at the edge of the living room, and dig out a recess in the wall and edge it nicely. Then I'd tap the power line and attach a permanent power supply, and run audio cable throughout the walls to all rooms where I want them, and drop the endpoints into a splitter outside the recess. Then I'd pop in an iPod. You'd be able to dial up whatever music you want, or just let it play at random or in a playlist or genre or something. And if you want to refresh the music list, you could pop it out and sync it to the host computer.

I'd been thinking based on a custom swiveling top-mounted snap-dock, in fact, where you could plug the iPod in at the top and then swing it down into place; but now that the 2nd-gen iPods are out and have base-mounted docks that contain power and audio out and FireWire/USB2, the proposition becomes that much easier.

Of course, this is all just a silly pipe dream. I wouldn't actually do this.

Or would I?!?

UPDATE: Bah! Kris is way ahead of me, sort of. He's had a computerized house-control system forever, called "James", which until just recently consisted of the LCD and keyboard and trackball of an old Mac Portable mounted on the wall, and used for monitoring open windows and doors, temperatures, and so on. A little while ago he replaced it with an iBook (James Jr. II); and it's now being used as the music broadcasting point for the house. See, it has iTunes 4 on it, and shares music over AirPort from his main desktop Mac. Then, the audio out is piped to his main house stereo. That way the wall-mounted machine doesn't need to actually store any of the music-- it just relays it. And it's controllable using iTunes' own interface.

It's got an Orrin Hatch detector, too.

11:22 - Oooh. How you say, ze OUCH.

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi:

"They missed a good opportunity to shut up," Berlusconi told reporters in response to French criticism of his decision not to meet Palestinian leaders during a recent trip to Israel.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said this week that Berlusconi had "not satisfied the European position" by holding talks only with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his June 9 visit to Jerusalem.

"I went (to Israel) as the prime minister of Italy. There's no way France can issue criticism over something that was the sole right and responsibility of the Italian prime minister," Berlusconi said, clearly bristling with irritation.

His choice of words in telling France to keep quiet precisely echoed comments made by French President Jacques Chirac earlier this year when he criticised east European leaders for their staunch backing of the U.S. position on Iraq.

The man may be under investigation for corruption, but he's still the leader of a major European nation-- and it seems to me that if major European leaders are going to start tossing barbs like this, and hold steaming grudges over French paternalistic sneering just like the Americans do, well-- might this be the beginning of the meltdown of the EU?

FRANCE: The Italian government has not satisfied the European position, and is acting in an irresponsible and unilateral manner, something we've come to expect of the Americans, but unbefitting of an enlightened European nation. Italy has missed a good oppor--
ITALY: France, you just missed an excellent opportunity to kiss my ass.

I understand Italy is beautiful this time of year.

Via Tim Blair.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
19:47 - Overnight Ubiquity

This is a riot. It reads like a parody, but from the look of what's on the cited USB.org website, it's not.

At the end of last year the USB Implementation Forum met _ Microsoft is on the board of directors while the chairman/president is Jason Ziller of Intel _ and decided that the matter was perhaps too clear, too transparent to the customer. Rotten customers were asking what version USB was installed on a machine and if it was USB 1.1 they thought it inferior to USB 2.

The Forum came up with a clever way of dealing with this.

In December it announced that henceforth USB 1.1 would be called USB 2 and USB 2 would continue to be called USB 2.

To help the public grasp this subtle distinction USB 2, which was the old USB 1.1, would have ``Full Speed'' added to its title and USB 2, which was USB 2, would have ``Hi-Speed'' added.

Not only did the consumers not get the subtle beauty and usefulness of this change. Neither did the retailers.

They, unstudied clods that they are, thought that if a device said USB 2 they could sell it as being to the old USB 2 standard. In their ignorance they did not realise that USB 2 could be USB 1.1 or USB 2 depending.

No kidding. So, as Kris says, all Macs back through the original 1998 iMac actually have USB 2.0 now! Excellent! That's got to be the easiest adoption curve ever in the history of computing. (Except for all the documentation that will have to be retroactively corrected.)

It's been a mantra of mine for some months now that business decisions tend to get made for very good reasons; if something looks absolutely retarded to the end user, a little bit of research will usually reveal that at the implementation level, or at the finance level, or at the executive level, somewhere along the line the decision made perfect sense-- and with that in mind, the whole rest of the decision's ramifications make sense as well.

But this one... whoo. I'd love to hear the explanation for this.

Wait, I bet I know. I remember when "letterbox" video releases were new, and some dimwitted malcontents got all up in arms about how it was "censorship"-- because it put those black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. Even when it was explained to them that the original image was wide, and so those black bars had to be there because of the different shapes of the image and the TV, they still said it was censorship-- because it was shrinking the image to less than what their screens could show. They demanded that movies be released in pan-and-scan format, so it would use the shape of their screens to their full advantage. They even tried to organize boycotts of HDTV because it was inherently widescreen and "promoted" the evil letterboxing method.

So video companies started calling pan-n-scan "Fullscreen" or "Full-frame" so as to appease these people. Wonderful solution, don't you think? There's no longer any such thing as "inferior technology". Everybody wins! Everybody gets a gold star!

Now those same visionaries are apparently in charge of the USB consortium.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
21:57 - To coin a phrase

Tim Blair links, and micro-fisks, this column by John Naughton:

In the current hysterical atmosphere, putting an anti-Bush poster in your window might result in a brick being thrown through it. Alternatively, of course, it might result in a ring at the doorbell and a neighbour saying 'Thank God someone has spoken out against this nonsense'. The point is that you cannot know in advance, and nobody is willing to take the risk.


That's the wonderful thing about our fascist police state: dissent is so easy, so protected, so mainstream, that you can formulate an entire genre of discourse about how your discourse is being suppressed and banished to furtive underground whisperings.

Whenever I see an article like this in the future, I'm going to think of it as the crushing of assent.

19:38 - Movable Object Meets Irresistible Force

Kris forwards me this tasty little book excerpt regarding the development of the Segway (then known as Ginger), and the fateful meeting in which Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs and other investors met with inventor Dean Kamen and discussed development and marketing plans. The lesson everyone learned was that you don't ask for Steve Jobs' input unless you expect to have the whole thing turned on its ass.

"Because I see a big problem here," said Jobs. "I was thinking about it all night. I couldn't sleep after Dean came over." There were notes scribbled on the palm of his hand. He explained his experience with the iMac, how there were four models now but he had launched with just one color to give his designers, salespeople, and the public an absolute focus. He had waited seven months to introduce the other models. Bezos and Doerr nodded as he spoke.

"You're sure your market is upscale consumers for transportation?" said Jobs.

"Yes, but we know that's a risk for us," said Tim, "because we could be perceived as a toy or a fad."

If they charged a few thousand dollars for the Metro and it was a hit, said Jobs, they could come out with the Pro later and charge double for industrial and military uses.

Tim's eyebrows shot up approvingly. He looked at Dean, whose face was a mask, so he turned elsewhere. "Mike?" he said, looking at Mike Ferry for a marketing opinion.

"It's a good point," said Mike, giving his usual noncommittal response.

"What does everyone think about the design?" asked Doerr, switching subjects.

"What do you think?" said Jobs to Tim. It was a challenge, not a question.

"I think it's coming along," said Tim, "though we expect—" "I think it sucks!" said Jobs.

Fascinating reading.

Monday, June 16, 2003
01:38 - Doin' What You're Paid To

I've often been vaguely worried whenever I find that some comedian or musician or other entertainment figure is also a lucid, well-spoken political voice. Every time some entertainer goes on a talk show or releases a statement or interview that shows him or her to be not just a freaky controversial headliner, but also someone with good ideas about some thorny issue or other, I find myself looking nervously over my shoulder. Because it means that these people quite often are eminently qualified to hold some kind of political office or other decision-making position, but-- because they had the talent for it-- they decided to do stand-up comedy or music instead. After all, being a star pays more and earns you more brownie points among the public than being a politician, right? And what does that say for the people who do end up in public office?

I'm put in mind of the fact that I could probably name twenty colleagues who would each and every one make the best IT techs in the industry. They could revolutionize the whole field of IT service and infrastructure, bringing a level of UNIX and Windows knowledge and security expertise and customer-friendliness to the job that is so often sadly lacking in IT departments. The only problem is that these people are also programmers, and so are they going to take the less-glamorous, lower-paying IT job if they can program for a living? Hell no. So we end up with IT departments staffed not by the people who are best at IT, but by those who aren't any better at anything else.

So it was with a certain degree of relief that I heard today's Fresh Air show on NPR, in which Terry Gross interviewed Colin Quinn of Tough Crowd fame. After some patter about Colin's war humor during the Iraq "episode", Terry asked him the following rather pointed questions:

TG: Were you in favor of the war in Iraq?

CQ: [tautly] Yes.

TG: Tell me-- have you had a change of heart at all, regarding your support for the war, now that it's being put forward that the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was supposed to have had have turned out to be... not as numerous as we'd thought, and that the Bush administration deliberately used misleading intelligence reports and exaggerated items so as to drum up support for the war?

Upon which Colin gave an insipid, stammering, rambling answer that amounted more or less to: Well, my support for the war doesn't mean I can't be proven wrong by later events. And I guess the way I feel is that while our motives in pushing for the war may not have been particularly "pure", I figure that, you know, we're the lesser of two evils here.

Got that? Between Saddam remaining in power and us removing Saddam, we're the lesser of two evils. He supported the war all the way, but it was the lesser of two evils. Children's prisons and mass graves are being opened and sculptors are raising new pieces of populist art and rejoicing in their newfound lives, and it's the lesser of two evils.

Even worse, though: the "evil" of the war was not based on the civilian casualties, of which there were ridiculously few, but on the idea that our information on Iraq's destructive capabilities was oversold. See, that's what's evil. The benefits of having fought the war pale compared to the possibility that it was fought under false pretenses.

I'd love to see the hearing, wouldn't you? This joint session of Congress finds that the war in Iraq was fought on the basis of false information; therefore, we have resolved on this date to remove all US and coalition military forces from Iraq, reinstall the rightful leadership of the Ba'ath party, and in the absence of the sovereign ruler Saddam Hussein (who we now consider to have been wrongfully executed in an unlawful incursion by our own armed forces), place the nation of Iraq under the governance of the highest-ranking Ba'ath official who can be found, perhaps Tariq Aziz or Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf. Furthermore, we resolve to offer the aid of our military in rounding up all political prisoners who had been freed in the unwarranted invasion, and return them to the prisons where they had been serving their rightful terms; we will confiscate and reinter the remains of Iraqis that had been collected by family members from unearthed mass graves; and we will assist in the restoration of the hundreds of thousands of portaits and statues of Saddam Hussein that were so wantonly destroyed by our military forces during the incursion. We humbly seek the Iraqi people's forgiveness for our inexcusable actions, and we hope that time and our genuine wish to make amends for our wrongdoing can one day heal the terrible wound we have inflicted upon the Middle East. In our defense we can only say that we had considered ourselves the "lesser of two evils", but our inability to prove concretely that Saddam Hussein had the alleged weapons of mass destruction makes the US the greater evil after all.

As has been pointed out in numerous other places, if we can't find the WMDs, it's not just egg on Bush's face, if egg it is indeed. It's egg on the faces of Chirac, Schröder, Putin, Daschle, Hans Blix, Bill Clinton, and everybody else over the past twelve years who has known that Iraq had been in possession of WMDs-- and, because Saddam had failed to account for the destruction of said WMDs, that we had every reason to believe he still had them. He even threatened to use them on our troops. Wasn't that even one of the reasons advanced by anti-war leftists as to why we shouldn't invade? That our troops would be subjected to chem/bio/nuke attack? Well? What of that risk, eh?

Charles Osgood suggested the other day that perhaps the reason why Saddam kept giving every impression that he was armed to the teeth was not that he had WMDs and was trying to hide it-- but that he didn't have WMDs, and was trying to hide that. It was his only deterrent, the impression that he still had weapons, even if they'd all been sold to Yemeni taxi drivers by now. Maybe Saddam didn't even know his shorts were down, because his underlings could only safely comment on the beauty of his missing clothes.

But be that as it may, I'd come to expect comedians in positions like the one Colin Quinn is in to understand enough human psychology to understand what the WMD charge was all about: a saleable pretext for the war. Not, mind you, that without the pretext, the war was a bad thing; or, notably, that pretext automatically implies lie; just that the war needed to happen, but that it would never have gotten the approval it did under a different sale slogan. Even if Iraq had WMDs, that in itself was hardly sufficient reason to invade; North Korea very likely has nukes by now, but we're not invading. So may Iran, but we're not invading. Why? Because WMDs are things we can manage one way or another; but Saddam himself was not, by any means short of war. And just you try getting UN approval for the removal of a dictator, for the removal's own sake.

The reverberations of our stroke in Iraq are being felt throughout the Arab world exactly as we'd hoped: the US can no longer be dismissed as a bunch of pansies who are afraid of blood and unwilling to strike back, strike hard, and strike perhaps irrationally. We're not, perhaps, nuking the moon; but the principle is the same. Ever hear of Nixon's "madman" theory? Let the Russkies think Nixon had gone mad and would push the button at the slightest provocation, without thought for whether the US would get destroyed in a nuclear exchange; that way the Soviets wouldn't launch an attack on their own, because they knew he'd scorch the earth in response? Well, this is that on a much smaller scale. We're not just lashing out randomly; we're taking the opportunity to clean house. Suddenly everyone's scrambling to get their shit together.

Whether we find the weapons or we don't, it really doesn't matter. Sure, it would be extremely nice to know where they ended up; it'd be very reassuring to find them, intact, and not sold to terrorists or kindergarteners. But it doesn't invalidate the war, make its outcome any more or less honorable, or make us "good" or "evil" depending on whether they turn up or not. I'm not saying "the ends justify the means," here; in our case the means of the war were also unprecedently benign. What I'm saying is that the whole WMD thing is a herring that's so red that those who treat it with earth-shaking massive-scandal-of-the-century significance are only making themselves look even more foolish than the people in San Francisco who still drive around with bumper stickers that say ATTACK IRAQ? NO!

Colin Quinn may be part of a beleaguered breed, a pro-war figure in Hollywood. But it seems to me he could have made a stronger case, with the opportunity handed to him as it was on a silver platter to behead Ms. Gross on live radio. Instead, he seemed more eager to sycophantically back down and cover his head with his arms and squirm away from her Glower Power, in the interest of keeping from being excused early from the show.

14:11 - Stirring the pot


LoopRumors has a photo of one of the latest new Apple Stores, in Chestnut Hills, MA. And it looks quite a bit different from the Apple Stores we're all used to. Apparently this is the New Look for the stores, which they'll all be adopting over time (one is to assume).

Wood tables now instead of the smooth white curved display surfaces. The Genius Bar has been moved to the middle of the side wall. The checkout register has been moved to the back wall-- replacing the theater. This is the part that really startles me. They're getting rid of the theater? That was the coolest part! How are they going to do demos of new products? How are they going to hold how-to sessions? It was also a great draw for passers-by; who can walk by an Apple Store with a ten-foot-high star-power actor waving an iPod from the back wall?

I suppose one might draw a positive conclusion from this: that Apple needs to reclaim some floor space for product, floor space that was being "wasted" on the theater. If, say, they'd never had theaters before but were installing them, the cynical might conclude that Apple didn't have enough interesting product with which to justify all their floor space, and they were trying to pad it with space-hungry attractions. But that's the opposite of what's actually happening; maybe it means sales are so good that they have to dispense with the theater section in order to get all the stock out on display.

But somehow that idea doesn't sit right with me. I think it may simply be a good old-fashioned Bad Idea. And who knows-- maybe the photo lies. Maybe the theater is in there somewhere, just artfully hidden away.

Then again, no. Besides... where the hell's the software?

UPDATE: Tim reminds me that there are two major canned floorplans for the Apple Stores-- a 30-foot-wide one and a 45-foot one. It's the 45'er that has the theater. (This is aside from the big custom ones, like SoHo and Reston and such.) But the decor in this photo still does look quite a bit different; I don't remember seeing wood tables like those anywhere before.

Then again, I haven't been paying much attention lately.

13:35 - The Last Mile

In case anybody's wondering why I haven't done any posting all weekend, well, it's because I've been painting all weekend. Again, yes. With conscripted labor, yes. Lance sat at the end of the upstairs hallway, cross-legged on a dais above a large kettle drum that he beat slowly with two massive mallets, the monotonous rolling rhythm infusing itself as a tic into all our muscles as we rolled the paint onto the walls in a grim, teeth-clenched unison.

But we made it. Though I spent most of the day up in Marin chortling and reminiscing and feasting with family who had flown out from Georgia and driven down from Ukiah, I got back just in time to help tie up all the loose ends, help finish untaping the trim, and dispose of the mountains of detritus and painting crap that had become piled on every flat carpeted surface. And now all the actual painting is done, the carpets are clear, and the Carpeteria installer should be arrivingggggg......... rightaboutnow.

After which begins the new phase of the marathon: moving. Couches go upstairs. Paint effects and crown molding go onto the bedroom walls. Electrical outlets get replaced where necessary. Bathrooms and kitchen and all non-carpeted areas get painted. Countertop tile gets replaced where it had to be forcibly broken out in order to get the dishwasher into place. Cabinets get refaced. New built-in pantry cabinets get made and installed. Deck gets built. Trees get planted. Front-yard landscaping gets done.

And some dire catastrophe occurs that I can't accurately predict, but that I know must be coming simply because it hasn't happened yet.

I hope it's nothing worse than the fact that I seem to have run out of checks with which to pay the carpet installers.

Friday, June 13, 2003
17:50 - Getting it into words

What with all the refocusing of the world's attention on Israel ever since 9/11-- distracted, it seems, only temporarily by Afghanistan and Iraq-- a lot of people are finding themselves trying to come up with the ideal words with which to express how they feel about Israel, whether on the "pro" side or otherwise.

For many years it's been terribly easy to ignore the macabre docu-drama of Israel & the Palestinians-- as the news reports still describe it, even the less biased ones, it's just lumped together into the rubber-glove hazmat zone of "The Middle East". They seem to be conspicuously avoiding even using the name of Israel. "A fresh wave of violence erupted today in the Middle East," says the top-of-the-hour news, as though you can never quite tell where these things are going to happen next-- whether tomorrow's bus explosion will occur in Cairo or next week's missile strike on terrorist leaders will take place in Kirkuk or next month's pizzeria bombing will happen in Yemen.

Such terminology, to me, smacks of the alarmingly common tendency among Westerners to just put it all on a shelf somewhere and forget about it. "It's all just one big mess," I hear over and over. "Both sides are totally obsessed with death and violence. We should just build a big wall around it and lob in a nuke. Kill 'em all-- Israelis and Palestinians alike." Don't get me wrong-- there was a time when I might have said the same thing. But to hear it now, it rocks me back on my heels. It's a deeply, deeply troubling thing for me to hear-- an almost wilfully vicious refusal to take sides, to declare one side "good" and the other side "evil". When the planes hit the towers that morning, it was a gore point in the cognitive streams of all the world, but particularly of Americans; some of us saw the images on TV of the Palestinians dancing giddily in the streets, and we said, "All right, all sympathy I had for them-- and it was considerable-- has now officially evaporated." And the hole they've been digging under the doghouse they're in with me has only gotten deeper since then.

But others took that opportunity to cynically recuse themselves from the whole argument. "It's all just a big intractable mess. They're all equally bad." As though by saying so, the speaker bought anonymity, and a low profile, and a ticket out of identification with the hated evil West. Don't identify with Americans or with Israel, see, and you'll get a pass when the next Islamic atrocity comes. Oh, sure, I know most people don't actually think in these terms. Not out loud, anyway. But I have to wonder: isn't that exactly what thought process got Auschwitz built? A refusal to call evil by its name, and a denial of the existence of moral poles, even in this world of catastrophe and atrocity and achievement and human kindness?

So a lot of us have been trying to decide how best to express which side of the issue we're on. Some, like Charles Johnson of LGF, prefer to chip away at the edifice of the Israeli/Palestinian moral landscape, piece by piece, until a rough-hewn but towering sculpture remains, the expression on its face ugly but unmistakable and unignorable. Others, however, have sought to create the perfect encapsulation of the situation in a few succinct paragraphs. Few have shown a more effective combination of effectiveness and succinctness as Lileks-- but that, of course, is his unique gift. Others have to go into more detail.

Like this guy: Scott of AMCGLTD.com.

I say these things to Americans in the hope they will understand. Understand that even today when Israelis say they're fighting for their existence they aren't kidding. Understand that the Palestinians are not the helpless victims they so often claim to be. Understand that it's not radical Jewish terrorists who blow themselves up in the name of Jaweh. Understand that someone saying they're not against Jews, they're against Zionists is like someone saying they're not against Americans, they're against the United States.

I say these things to Israelis in the hope they, too, will understand. Understand that we realize one culture in the Middle East helped found ours, while the other wants to destroy it. Understand that we know we only got a taste of what it's like to live in your shoes. Understand that because of this the most powerful country the world has ever seen is working with all its might to ensure your nightmares, now ours, remain nothing more than dark wisps left behind on children's pillows.

I say these things to Israel's enemies even though I know they will never understand. Never understand that by destroying two buildings they succeeded only in transforming an ambiguous friend into a staunch ally. Never understand that by singing the praises of human detonators they merely dig a deeper hole in which to bury their own culture. Never understand their religion is no longer a force to be reckoned with, ceased being one six centuries ago, and their traditions are what got them in this mess in the first place.

I say these things to everyone so they may all understand. I am just one man among an ocean of men, a sea of women, living in a country of our own making with our own blood and treasure. I look across half the world and find in a region as old as time itself only one small nation that looks like mine. Unique in that region, its government is of its people, by its people, and for its people, and I am willing to do whatever I can to ensure it does not perish from this earth. True, I am just one man, standing up for what I believe in.

But I do not stand alone.

"These things" to which he refers need to be read, particularly by those who seek to hide from the problem and avoid the risk of (gasp!) offending anybody by throwing up their hands and referring dismissively and cynically to carnage on schoolbuses or ice cream parlors, and calculated tactical strikes on key terror leaders and the bulldozing of their homes, as all part of some symmetrical cycle-of-violence somewhere out on the part of the map that says This Way Be Dragons-- as, simply, "violence in the Middle East".

It's more than that; I know it is. There's a time to take sides, and that time was several months ago at the latest. If taking the side that I'm choosing makes me a target for ridicule and bile, well, so be it-- my life is comfortable enough that I can stand a few slings and arrows. It'll be good for me. It'll remind me that on that September day, when those plumes of smoke told the TV audience that War Was Coming, I decided that I wasn't going to hide or run away from it or pretend it didn't concern me. I wasn't going to respond to the spectre of America revving up its war machine by looking for a way to weasel out of being involved. I decided at that point that, ideologically at the very least, I wanted to be a part of the war, because I believed-- suddenly, and very strongly-- in the side I was on.

There are those for whom the world has become a video game, or a long cynical TV drama, the kind that Makes You Think About Who The Good Guys Really Are. Such people are wont to find solace and validation in the juicily ironic image of a bloodstained American flag with swastikas instead of stars, because hey-- it's all insightful and stuff! It's got levels of meaning! It has to be truer than something as simplistic and stark as the plain old flag draped over Saddam's face. Only someone of this mindset can say "Hmm-- the Jews want us to remove The Protocols of the Elders of Zion from Indymedia; surely that means it's something worth reading! What are they trying to hide?" while being unable to name Israel's current prime minister.

But as boring and cliché as it's become, I like the good ol' real world. It's amazing how many things snap into focus as soon as one commits to a moral stand. Suddenly history and the future truck at once into frame like that famous shot in Vertigo. I find myself saying things like, This is my planet, dammit-- and I refuse to let its bright future, full of freedom and reason and democracy and innovation and miracle upon human miracle, be stolen from it without a fight.

I run the risk, of course, of sounding like some kind of apocalyptic doomsayer, or worse, a florid swords-and-sorcery fantasy novel. But that's only because these issues we face today, I think, are too big to ignore. They're every bit as big as the world-changing clashes that we normally have to escape into fantasy to find. But they're here and they're real. And if dorky-sounding words are the best contribution I can make toward their ultimate successful resolution, then let the dorkage begin.

And just after I posted this, I went art-approving, and came across a couple of well-thought-out sentiments like "Ugh. All the stupid humans are letting thousands of forests and animals die every day because they're all too into a stupid war that never should've happened that killed innocent people who deserved to live", and "I'm just so tired of human stupidity. Pretty son I'll be driven off the deep end, give myself animatronic ears and tail and a new digestive sysytem, and live with wolves." Yeah, great idea. Let's kill each other for supremacy in the pack and a greater share of the raw meat; that's a lot more evolved.

Ah, to be young again.

04:33 - Oh, the humanity


See the hideous destruction of the merciless American onslaught on the innocent people of Iraq. Witness the indiscriminate bombing and destruction of infrastructure. Marvel at the slaying of civilians and the rape of local women. Behold the terror and outrage expressed by the Iraqis at their oppression under American military rule, where they pine for the halcyon days of Saddam and the benevolent plenty with which he blessed his sovereign nation's people.

The graffiti-marked pedestal bears a sign with the sculpture's title: NAJEEN, which means "survivor," and also happens to be the name of the group of young Iraqi artists who created the artwork.

"Freedom is not a gift from people with tanks," says sculptor Basim Hamad, a Najeen member and the driving force behind the new artwork.

Fardus Square, now also called Freedom Square, is in the city center. Traffic wheels around the square?unless protests clog the flow. The sidewalks teem with a minibazaar of currency exchange booths and men selling satellite telephone calls. The Paradise Hotel stands just off the square.

. . .

For the new plaster sculpture, 23 feet tall (7 meters), the Najeen created abstract figures of a mother, father, and child holding a crescent moon, symbol of Islam, around a sun, symbol of the Sumerian civilization. The Najeen dedicated the sculpture to "every person in Iraq and to freedom-loving people everywhere."

Once again, millions of people living within the borders of the US have less understanding of what it means to be free than do a people in a faraway land who have never been able to take such a luxury for granted.

Another image for the ages.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
18:15 - I'm such a philistine

Apple's Music Store continues to flesh itself out, with new notable stuff appearing every Tuesday. There have definitely been a non-trivial number of annoyances about the service-- one of the foremost being that it lists albums by their CD release date, not by their original album release, so you get stuff like every Elvis album being listed as released between 1995 and 2001. I know he's still strumming away in some secluded retreat somewhere, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a recording studio there.

The other thing is that the selection just doesn't seem exactly... tailored to my tastes, I suppose. It's a tall order, asking any store to tailor to my tastes, since I don't buy music on the basis of genre or mood, but rather on the basis of whether I know the song. Hence my music library being filled with everything from the Space Ghost/Brak/Zorak CDs to Disney soundtracks to Mozart concertos to PowerPuff Girls music to David Arkenstone to Springsteen. The bulk of my music buying throughout the 90s was film scores; while some people got all squealy over Tori Amos or The Clash, I was clawing together John Barry and Basil Pouledoris and John Williams and Hans Zimmer soundtracks, not because I'd ever seen the movies, but because these guys were my rock stars. (A testament to this is one of the earliest websites I ever wrote, back in 1995, which I still keep around just to embarrass myself.)

The iTunes Music Store has a whole "Soundtracks" section. And what does it have? Little Nicky.

Oh, sure, there are hundreds of other albums in there too. But even now, it seems that the majority of them are scores that seem carefully designed not to be anything I want, or anything that matches the CDs I already own (so I can get new digital copies of the CDs that are rapidly deteriorating). No Jurassic Park. No Rescuers Down Under. Star Trek scores? Please. Not even for the love of cheesy recycled bitter Leonard Rosenman scores does the database offer up its cooperative hands to me.

It's gradually getting better, though, as I say. Every week there's something new that I'd looked for before, like late-80s REM or those albums from Jackson Browne or Jimmy Buffett that make me realize that I never knew more than the requisite two songs from any of them that KFOX uses on its Two-For-Tuesday lineups. (Some of these bands get frozen out of Triple-Shot-Weekends for lack of three airable hits.) And as fast as I'm able to earmark a couple of discretionary twenties, the database sidles up to me with new dainties with which to tempt me in the dark, furtive alleyway of the Buy Song button.

Lileks, as is so spookily often his wont, managed to put into words a vague feeling I'd been having lately: that I'd become a curmudgeon before my time. That I was denying myself the fruits of youth by not buying the He Got Game soundtrack and instead holding out for something with a hint of the symphonic. But then, this isn't a new feeling for me; ever since my teens I'd had the sense that I was acting like a crotchety old man in all my tastes and dealings, and with each passing day I've been "growing down" and losing-- well, if not age, at least maturity. Or something like that. I know I've loosened up dramatically in recent years, but at the same time I've become sharply more conservative in political thinking, more so every day I spend grousing here on this blog. How do those correlate? I can't help but think that maybe conservatives are plenty capable of having fun, all preconceptions to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, I'm certainly finding it a lot easier to do so now than back in high school when I was a Deeply Concerned Upstanding Youth deciding whether I should send money to Zero Population Growth or Negative Population Growth. Let's see now: How misanthropic do I feel today?

But with that comes a willingness to cross Lileks' "line", to admit that it's there and to clamp a foot down on it to keep it from moving. Whether it applies to smutty billboards or sax and violins on TV or moral relativism, I'm finding that the world does indeed stop rushing around my head quite so paralyzingly once I've committed to a set of boundaries. I'm a lot less likely to dismiss some whole genre of thought-- musical, moral, or political-- as a lost cause or unworthy of exploration. Things seem easier to tackle this way. When you leave yourself open to all possibilities, you risk leaving yourself with no possibilities; it's paradoxical, but I think that by defining a few fence-lines across the cognitive landscape, we create not just dividing lines but congregation points.

To distress the metaphor just a little further: it's been said here and there that the closer together humans live, the less "neighborly" they become. To wit, in densely packed urban dwelling environments, nobody knows their next-door neighbors. They're distrustful of each other, and competitive, and harbor long seething grudges at each other's habits with garbage day or mail pickup or cooking fumes. When they meet in the elevator in the morning, they avert their eyes, wondering whether they heard each other having sex the night before. Whereas in the burbs or the rural areas, neighbors meet at the back fence-- they chat for hours. They become friends. Their homes are sanctuaries, and the meeting grounds are thus all the more comfortable. I'm finding that out all the time with the new house; the cul-de-sac lends itself to conversation, and all the neighbors frequently come out to the asphalt to converse, usually until the usable painting daylight is long gone. Certainly, it's partly a function of the individual people. But there's something about the shape of the interface that invites dialogue just as it divides property.

Does any of this follow from any of the rest of it? I dunno. I've been scatterbrained at best for a good two days now, and I'm only just now bubbling up from having severely gutted and rewritten my old 1995-era guest-book code to be database-driven and moderatable. I'm in post-codal bliss.

Okay, on that note I'd better just back away slowly now.

17:35 - Aww, isn't that sweet


12:01 - It looks different in here somehow

So there wasn't much in the way of blogging yesterday, and it's all to the good-- the painting is down to the crunch, and I only get like an hour of daylight after work each day in which to work. This lets me do some touch-ups and make some minor progress, and yes, there's such a thing as incandescent lighting here in this modern world; but you try lighting your work surface when your outlets are taped over and your fixtures are disconnected. Plus I can't do all the hard stuff on my own, which involve holding ladders while I crawl up into the 20-foot ceiling cracks and hope my edging tool doesn't smudge.

But it's all good, because here's one more reason why I think I'll like living at the new place:

With sights like this on cool summer evenings, with banks of fog spilling down over the Santa Cruz mountains right at my back, I don't have much cause for complaint.

On the way home, though, unfortunately Mike turned out to be totally right: the BBC was positively gleeful over Israel's helicopter attack on Rantisi. "This Israeli attack deals a heavy blow to the roadmap for peace," the anchor said in her smooth, oily BBC voice that sounds like the radio equivalent of black ice. "It's unclear just how the government of Ariel Sharon thought it could get away with an assassination attempt at this sensitive time." Sure enough, it's the poor innocent Palestinians who are working in good faith toward peace, and any forthcoming failure of the roadmap will be all the Israelis' fault for striking at a target of opportunity-- someone who both sides were under no illusions as to being a major player in the terror network-- and striking at him in such a way as to absolutely minimize casualties other than Rantisi himself, by comparison to which our dropping four bunker-busters on that restaurant that we were pretty sure Saddam was in was unforgivably brutal and indiscriminate. But never mind, because that kind of attack is just as bad as a mother raising her child with exhortations to become a shaheed, filling his head with visions of sugarplums and exploding Jews and translucent-skinned virgins in heaven, so that he grows up to strap on a bomb belt and board a school bus and incinerate a dozen schoolchildren. It's all the same thing, see. That whole region needs to be walled off and nuked. No moral people left in there whatsoever.

Also via Mike, an LGFer's comment:

The Palistinians would kill every Jew, but can't. The Jews could kill every Palistinian, but won't. This is what's called "morals."

Anyway, then there's this massive coding project I suddenly discovered last night that I had to complete or else. You know how that can be.

Monday, June 9, 2003
18:50 - Grumble, grumble

A Slate article forwarded me by Chris.

How to do Wi-Fi networking:

Step 1. Get AirPort Extreme.
Step 2. Find the local insane snobby Mac-head and get him to install it using his Mac.
Step 3. Shelve said Mac-head, put base station in closet, and pretend happily that you aren't using inferior Apple technology after all.

Hey, we'll take whatever testimonials we can get, I guess.

16:32 - We wants it... we wants it!

Apparently the 970-based Power Macs are nearer release than anybody had guessed-- even to the point of clearing the tower before the software is even ready for them.

Sources said that the IBM chip will make its first appearance in a new Power Mac known internally as Q37. However, sources said, Q37 won't ship with a 64-bit version of Mac OS X, limiting OS performance gains in the initial release. Instead, Q37 will launch with a special build train of the current Mac OS X Version 10.2, a k a Jaguar.

This build, code-named Smeagol, will run on the new chip but won't take advantage of many of its key features, including 64-bit support. Sources said Apple's goal for Smeagol is to deliver Mac OS X performance at least "on par" with what Jaguar could achieve on Motorola G4 chips running at the same speed; the move will allow Apple to ship the new hardware before Mac OS X 10.3, a k a Panther, can take advantage of all the new processor's capabilities.

Even before Panther ships, early adopters of the new Mac system should also apparently be able to take advantage of the new processor's fast new front-side bus and cache.
Say what you will about Apple; but I just love their code-names. Marklar... Sméagol... and let's not forget the ever-popular BHA.

This could be interesting, in any case. People are used to new machines feeling faster than their old ones right out of the box, even if for no other reason than that they haven't installed any software on it yet to slow it down. But this time, it means people might go out, buy 970-based machines, get the modest performance boost you'd expect from any next-generation CPU... and then, in September, they can install an OS upgrade that kicks it all up another four or five more notches. BAM! Or something.

This could all still be smoke, naturally. But this week it seems all the tech rags have scoops on the G5 line, so it can't all be disinformation. At least, it'd better not be, or else there'll be a horde of angry Mac people out here in rumorville.

13:43 - Forhorklingads!

Hey, look: Strong Sad has an iPod.

Now all he needs is ears.

04:05 - Sweet Merciful Marzipan

So this weekend I've been rather out of it; it seems a lot of people have, and all with good beginning-of-summer-type excuses. I hope mine counts.

See, it's been another painting weekend; and unlike the past few outings, this time we shanghaied several friends into helping steady ladders and lay blue tape everywhere. The result is that while at the beginning of the weekend we had a total of one room almost done, now we have almost the entire house painted with the exception of a few small detaily rooms, plus the original room that's... almost done.

Once the job gets into the big general chunk of work, it really does go fast. We found a $3 edging tool that screws onto a standard brush handle and runs on little wheels, letting you go right up the the ceiling's edge and cut-in properly with a nice crisp line, as long as you don't have any non-90-degree angles between the wall and the ceiling. (We have three walls with non-90-degree angles.) Plus the big vaulted ceiling means lots of extending the big ladder to its maximum setting and then standing about three rungs from the top, causing parents and homeowners' liability insurance agents everywhere to turn over unaccountably in their restless sleep.

But the Linen White ceilings are all painted now-- all of them-- and the walls, for which we chose a light-dusky-orange tone called Sweet Marzipan, are almost all done as well. As the day came to a close, and I stood in the middle of the living room with the sunset light streaming in through the west-facing picture window, I realized that suddenly we have a house where it looks like sunset was happening all the time-- and when sunset is happening, it looks like the Mingling of the Lights in Valinor of old. It's really frickin' cool. Once the walls are all done (including the accent walls in the living room, such as the big vertical hanging eastern wall opposite the picture window, which will be done in a rich Cinnamon Spice) and the vibrant forest green carpet is in, this place will feel like somewhere I want to start spending the night. Already it's looking like a place where I want to start making the neighbors stop coming in to see our progress, and wait until the housewarming to see what we've done with it. Suddenly I want to surprise everybody.

(Don't worry-- I'll post photos here soon.)

But that's the weirdest thing about the neighborhood, if I haven't mentioned it already. It's this little cul-de-sac in southern San Jose, right up against the hills at the south edge of the Valley, at the boundary between the gridwork of wan little ranch-style homes and dreary apartment blocks, and the broad-streeted upscale neighborhoods that appear the instant the terrain starts to rise into the foothills; while all other streets immediately around it are full of nondescript workaday housing, this one little strip of two distinct floorplans (each with two mirrored variants) is made up of fairly shiny, colorful little two-story contenders and pretenders to the world of the well-to-do suburbanite dwellings. No, they're not big; but they look bigger than they are, and they're inhabited by a tight-knit cast of folks who seem determined to turn the cul-de-sac into a vision of 50s domesticity transplanted to 21st-century cosmopolitan virtues. On one side there's a couple from Canada who have proudly stuck US flags all over their house, movers and shakers in their fields. On the other is the CEO of a placement agency, whose son-- a regular Dennis the Menace-- hit his baseball into our garage one day and stayed to prowl about the house while we banged on things, asking if he could take home this or that piece of scrap wood. There are twentysomethings with motorcycles. There are all ages and races and lifestyles in evidence. There are people who have been on the street since it was built-- recalling days when the circular end of the street was home to monthly neighborhood barbecues, where all the folks would wheel out their grills onto the pavement and cook each other steaks and burgers, and live bands would play, and everybody would tour each other's houses and keep abreast of gossip, and a good old-fashioned friendly American neighborhood-- the kind that would give Michael Moore hives if he saw it-- would forge itself from whole cloth.

Said neighbors have been taking great interest in the house's development. And frankly, I'm thinking it's one of the best things about the house's location-- right at the end of the street, it commands the circular cul of de sac, where during sunset the light streams down the street and washes over everybody as they come out of their houses which all face each other, carting their garbage cans to the curb for Monday-morning pickup, standing out in the street to chat for a languid hour while toddlers scoot around on toy fire engines in the background. All that's missing is a soundtrack.

And to crown it all, the local Round Table Pizza-- owned by a couple who turn out to be Middle Eastern, though the newspaper article on proud display on the counter doesn't give any further detail than their Arabic names-- is apparently anointed by the Round Table Central Command to be the finest in the land. Seems the remodeling job they did recently, coupled with the consistently outstanding food and service we've had every time we go there, won them such acclaim that this restaurant is being held up as the definitive example of what a Round Table should be. Fine by me-- tonight's dinner, with which we treated our wounded and tired painting crew, was eminently worth the big fat tip we left on the table as we scuttled out at what had to be past closing time, under the undimmed smiles of the proprietors.

This week I'll be hopping over there for a couple of hours a day to putter about and do touch-up work, finishing up a few of the smaller jobs. We'll definitely be ready for the delivery of the carpet on the 17th, at this rate. And then... and then we can move in.

I'm really starting to get antsy now. Instead of shuttling back and forth with Home Depot spoils and tired friends, I want to be driving back to that place to stay.

Friday, June 6, 2003
23:25 - Oh ho ho, very witty, Wilde

So when I started my car this evening, NPR had on a discussion of some local issue or other, featuring interview-soundbites from some deep-voiced commentator whose name I didn't catch. I have no idea what the context was (the show was "The California Report"); but in discussing the various viewpoints on the issue and the proper airing of the opposing stances, he had the following cynical one-liner:

"It's been said that democracy is like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."

Ah hah. Cute. Very pithy. But let's finish the thought, shall we? How about when it's two sheep and a wolf voting on what to have for dinner?

Doesn't that more accurately describe the typical social issue these days?

18:17 - To Render a Laugh

Okay, this is one of those things that any Tolkien fans in the audience who are serious enough about it to be irreverent will add to the trophy shelf along with the Jack Black/Sarah Michelle Gellar "Council of Elrond" scene that Peter Jackson hid on the DVD. It's Andy Serkis' (Gollum's) prerecorded acceptance speech for the "Best Virtual Performance" award at the MTV Awards. Ahem-- actually it's not just prerecorded; it's prerendered. For a bloody good reason, too.

I've only just now stopped laughing. Damn, those guys know how to have fun with their work.

Caution: strong language ahead. Also, the link leads to the 8.2MB large QuickTime version; there are also smaller versions available from TheOneRing.net.

This must be why Christopher Tolkien sniffed recently that "all popular entertainment is unutterably low". Too bad for him; the rest of us have a sense of humor.

14:00 - The Inside Skinny

Here's the list of juicy details on how Apple manages its iTunes music content, how it treats the various labels, what kinds of sales/browsing stats it's seeing, etc. This info was given out at the Indie Get-Together a couple of days ago, and supposed to be under NDA; but CD Baby posted it, and then it was snapped up by Slashdot and others before they took it down again.

I'm sure Apple didn't really expect this stuff to remain secret (well, actually, considering how they expected the market to behave with iTunes Music Sharing, maybe they did). But now that it's out in the open, this stuff's certainly not damning; the worst it can do is maybe give potential competitors a baseline for comparison. Either way, it's a great read.

I hope whoever transcribed it meant "4.1 billion in the bank", not "41 billion".

Great stuff. I hope CD Baby doesn't get stiffed by Apple now, after this, though...

Thursday, June 5, 2003
03:38 - One Disaster After Another Underwater

My dad will get that title.

I just saw Finding Nemo, and I found it surprisingly... well, I won't say bad, because it wasn't, and I won't say dull, because it wasn't, and I won't say flat, because it wasn't. I don't know. I guess I just found it sort of un-Pixar. Which is odd, because on balance it has everything we have all come to expect from a Pixar movie. Extremely original characters. Kooky cerebral humor. Gorgeous animation. Emotional twists. A blast-from-the-past animated short from Pixar's early days preceding the movie. Silly surprises in the credits.

But even so... there just seemed to be something missing. It wasn't the Randy Newman songs, because none of the Pixar movies aside from the Toy Stories had any. It wasn't the wry cockeyed cultural references and visual memes, because there were plenty of those. It wasn't the visuals; they're easily more stunning here than ever before, and even the humans look plausible now for the first time. It wasn't the effortlessly tidy writing, with plot elements forever closing loops and tying off loose ends; that was here in spades. It wasn't the buddy-movie central plot trunk with the colorful gaggle of supporting characters, because they're more colorful this time around than even in A Bug's Life (plus it's a single-father-and-lesbian buddy pair, which is guaranteed comedic gold, not the potential romance that they keep almost flirting with). All the ingredients are there.

But for lack of anything more substantive, I'd have to say that what's missing is magic. There's just some spark of inspiration that just isn't there this time around.

Something about world-building, possibly. All the previous Pixar movies spent a great deal of time luxuriating in the kooky details of a universe of the writers' own creation. The monsters in Monsters, Inc. use a three-decimal-place monetary system and power their cities off the collected screams of kids, collected with the help of a wholly industrialized system of magic interdimensional doors. The ants in A Bug's Life put on kindergarten plays about circus bugs from the Big Dump City, where everybody drinks from palm-sized droplets held together by surface tension. And don't get me wrong-- Finding Nemo has these things. But somehow they're just not as easy and natural as they have been in the past; I didn't find myself giggling helplessly at the idea of tiny Pac-Man-ghost-shaped squids "inking" when they get startled, or of fish toddlers clinging to a bat ray for "school" (honestly, I expected more of a pun there). They seemed forced. Like the brainstorming sessions ran dry early in the evening, and the writers sat there glumly muching pizza as they bulldozed their way through a quota of gags under the merciless whip of the approaching dawn.

There was something "not quite right" about the delivery of the characters. There was this bizarre, repeated tendency for characters to drop into tuneless, singsongy doggerel. The bat-ray teacher does it to a bewildering, Tom-Bombadil-esque degree. Dory does it as part of her demented persona. Half the time, you get the feeling that it's because these are supposed to be fish, without cognitive reasoning skills, crooning like Furbys to themselves... but then the rest of the time they're perfectly human in character, and the singing sounds almost kinda creepy. I didn't find it annoying, per se... I found it more puzzling, like I was missing something critical to my understanding of the characters' motivations. I kept feeling like I was supposed to be getting more engaged in the story, more attached to the characters, like I helplessly did-- against all my conscious efforts-- to Boo in Monsters, Inc. But there was nothing in Finding Nemo to compare with the ludicrous semi-dark silliness of Sully's facial expressions as he watches what he thinks is Boo getting mangled in the garbage disposal. Instead, it's... well, one disaster after another underwater. Just a bunch of linear little misadventures, plodding toward an inevitable conclusion without any unforeseen major twists. No Stinky-Pete-turning-turncoat. No deliciously heart-pounding mechanical bird scaring grasshoppers out of their exoskeletons. Just some whimpering utterances of "Oh, thank goodness"-- to which my reaction wasn't emotionally flushed relief, but "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can we go home now?"

Yes, there were some great bits in there-- the concept is ambitious and commendable, a single father fighting himself in order to let go of his son and let him find his own way in the world. The interstitial philosophizing along these lines works well, even with the crucial wisdom falling from the lips of a dazed-and-confused surfer sea turtle. But overall the premise just seemed stretched too far; rather than feeling like I'd just seen a tiny sliver of a universe which could be infinitely explored, as with all previous Pixar films, this one didn't leave me with any desire to see any of the rest of the ocean. Yeah, it's dangerous out there, but that's not the point. Neither is the fact that it's shockingly beautiful; that's not it either. It's simply that I felt I'd seen it all right here, on an overpriced tour that dumped me unceremoniously into a gift shop at the end.

Has Pixar lost its touch? Nah, I don't think so. I don't think Finding Nemo is a bad movie, either. It's just that I've come to expect miracles from Pixar, and now even a good movie seems like a letdown.

Oh-- and what was up with those "reformed sharks" and that one wisecrack? "Blasted humans-- think they own the whole world!" "They're probably Americans!" Someone grinding an axe in there somewhere, eh?

UPDATE: James Sentman also notes that the movie was simply too dark and scary for the kids in the audience. There weren't any in my 10:30 showing, but I see what he means. Mom and all the kids getting shockingly eaten before the title credits? Screen-filling, gravelly-voiced, knife-toothed, violently-thrashing sharks? Sure, they looked great, but the writers definitely didn't seem to know what age group they were playing to.

Plus I just can't see any kids-- or adults, even-- being able to really connect with the character concepts. When Dory first said, "I suffer from short-term memory loss"-- I thought, oh great... this is going to be one loooong movie.

Previous Pixar movies had the benefit of being aimed at kids but thoroughly enjoyable for adults too. This one, however, sacrifices its kiddie appeal for the sake of some darker plot elements, but manages to forfeit its adult watchability as well.

Maybe it's because Lasseter only had Executive Producer credits on this one, and apparently wasn't any more deeply involved?

02:51 - Too easy...

My only reaction to this scoop covered by Den Beste, on the possibility that the reason we haven't found any WMDs so far is that Saddam kept trying to buy them from con-men who delivered him barrels of sand instead of the weapons he paid for, is a juvenile but irresistible one:

There's a great joke in here somewhere about "selling sand to Arabs".

I'll let someone else come up with the actual joke. But as the late, great Bill Hicks used to say, I'm just planting seeds, people... just planting seeds.

16:30 - 'Scuse me while I kiss this peanut

Those darned pesky ripcords...

BERLIN (Reuters) - One of Germany's most controversial politicians, former deputy chancellor Juergen Moellemann, fell to his death Thursday in a parachute jump that police are investigating as a possible suicide.

His death came within hours of a search of his home in Muenster, western Germany, by prosecutors probing allegations he violated party funding rules. Also Thursday, the German parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution.

Moellemann's populist stunts -- he often parachuted into campaign events -- had helped propel him to the top of the liberal Free Democrat party, but he quit in March in disgrace over charges of anti-Semitism and irregular party funding.

Eyewitnesses at the jump near the western town of Marl said Moellemann, who had been a paratrooper in the German army, probably killed himself. "It was clear suicide," said an experienced parachutist who saw the fatal jump.

Poor old Hans Moellemann. Must have been the date with Selma that really did it.

And to think-- he was only 31 years old!

Wednesday, June 4, 2003
03:33 - Could it be...?

As heart-sickening as this story is, and as many maddening questions as it raises, there is one bright ray of hope: the fact that it's Reuters, and that it's concluding something like this:

Like many of the new generation of bombers, he has more in common with the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States than with the stereotypical profile of poor, desperate young men with nothing to lose.

He is a father of eight, well educated with a middle-class background and has even taken the unusual step of letting his family in on his plans. "They are proud of me," he said.

They still can't bring themselves to say the word "terrorist", but this is as close as I've ever seen Reuters get to acknowledging that the idea is the same.

Not that it really means there's hope or anything. It's probably way too little, way too late.

Via LGF.

18:20 - Apple Courts Indy Media

No, not that Indymedia. The good guys. (Mostly.)

Apple has invited hundreds of indie label representatives to a private presentation on Thursday at the computer giant's Cupertino, California, campus to discuss hopping onboard and adding their content to the more than 200,000 songs already available through the service.

"The plan was to go out of the gate with the five major labels, but there's always been an interest in expanding the store beyond that," an Apple spokesperson said.

Senior iTunes music store staffers will show the label reps how the store runs and they'll perform some hands-on demos, though it is unclear whether Apple boss Steve Jobs will attend. The spokesperson declined to specify which, or how many, labels were invited to the meeting.

One label president who has already booked his flight is Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman. "I'm very interested in this as the owner of a label," Poneman said. "The Apple store is accessible, well organized and attractive. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

A lot of the indie outfits are doing fairly well already through the unrestricted online distributors like MP3.com and Emusic, but whenever you talk about how such sites "carry 900 labels and 500,000 tracks," it's always a thin and wan variation on saying, "Well, no, we don't have anybody who actually matters... but look how many of everyone else we have! All the guys with nothing to lose and everything to gain!" ...Which is fine, but Apple's store is the first such venture to be equally attractive to big-label players and starving indie bands.

Now if only they can settle the whole "Apple Records" business once and for all, and get some Beatles...

That buyout never materialized, but now MacDailyNews notes a piece over at Fox News claiming that "The Beatles... are gearing up for a fight," presumably over the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, the alleged impending deal with Amazon, and the various other ways in which Apple (Yay Apple Rah Rah Rah) is branching into the music biz-- ways which Apple (Big Meanies Boo Boo Boo) never sanctioned.

Surely he means "Blue Meanies Boo Boo Boo"...?

Sent by J Greely.

16:07 - Offenders Anonymous

This almost makes me want to do postdoctorate work in linguistics or history or art, obtain a fellowship, and become a professor at this institution or some similar one.

Just so I can tell these students to go directly to hell, do not collect 200 francs.

13:36 - St. Ive

Hey, look: an Independent article worth reading. It's about Apple VP of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive, who just won the Designer of the Year award from the Design Museum of London.

In the past year Apple has released new versions of the iMac, iPod and two versions of its PowerBook notebook computers, all designed by Mr Ive's team. He is a softly spoken man who gives interviews only rarely, and even less often reveals his opinions of other peoples' work. But in an exclusive interview with The Independent last year, he noted that those who mimicked his work were never successful. He said he was unimpressed by those who use, "swoopy shapes to look good, stuff that is so aggressively designed, just to catch the eye". He said: "I think that's arrogance, it's not done for the benefit of the user."

Ive is the kind of artist I can respect: one who is employed first and foremost to please the public, and hides his own ego lest it interfere with that goal. He's probably responsible more than any other person for keeping Apple in the public eye post-1997; Jobs gets credit for giving him direction and free rein, but Ive is the one who keeps hitting those homeruns. Jobs can dream and make grandiose claims; but Ive has to wrestle with actual metal and plastic and make it all work. He's the proof that Jobs' dreams actually can be made material.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003
20:32 - Turn, turn, turn

Good stuff at As the Apple Turns today. That's kinda not really news; after all, it's good every day, and as often as not I feel like I should either just post a link like this every day, or just Apache-redirect all visitors there directly.

But today it has coverage of QuickTime 6.3 and 3GPP, the new MPEG-4-based video-phone technology standard that Apple's at the heart of developing and that you can now create content for using the newly available QT component. Woo-hoo. (Though, and correct me if I'm off-base on this, but does it not have the absolute worst logo ever created by the hand of man? I mean, really?)

But there's also the final word on "Redmond Justice:

Okay, so this is a little late, and possibly more than a little off-topic, but we just can't let this one go without comment: faithful viewer Mike D reminded us that CNET recently discussed Microsoft's stated plan of "phasing out standalone versions of its Internet Explorer web browser" and instead developing it further only "as part of the OS." This isn't speculation, folks; Microsoft's IE program manager Brian Countryman said as much in an interview a few weeks back, which is available for your head-shaking, disbelieving pleasure on Microsoft's own web site. To which we can only reply, "Justice Department? What's that?"

Yup, it's great to know that after five years of antitrust courtroom drama primarily spurred by Microsoft's anticompetitive bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows in a transparent attempt to vaporize Netscape, the U.S. and all but two states have settled, AOL appears to be on the verge of pulling the plug on Netscape, and Microsoft gets to tie the browser even tighter to its operating system. Which all goes to show that justice ain't just blind; it's apparently also deaf, mute, stupid, comatose, and dead.


Personally, if IE disappeared overnight, we'd probably dance a little jig and break into the celebratory Tater Tots. We hate trying to support this mess. Our latest pet peeve is its complete inability to handle PNG graphics, unlike just about every other browser on the planet. (The Mac version at least tries, although it still screws up alpha transparency in PNG-backgrounded table cells.) We noticed that someone at the interview asked Brian "When will IE get transparent PNG support?" Brian's reply? "I'm sorry, I can't answer that question for you." Yyyyyyeah.

Ah, the joys of monopoly life: customers have been begging Microsoft for PNG support for four years, but the company has absolutely zero reason to bother implementing it, since its customers are just going to use the product regardless. Long live Safari, long live OmniWeb, long live just about any browser made by anyone who actually cares. Or, indeed, needs to.


I guess this means we can also despair of Microsoft ever fixing the bug in IE where if it encounters a JPEG written by certain obscure, marginalized programs (like Adobe Photoshop 7) which write XML header data into the file, it will hang on that image and never be able to load another image until you hard-kill it or reboot. I mean, hell, why should they? What are people going to do-- not use IE?

They're doing an excellent job of hushing it up, too, if in order to find a mention of it I have to go googling through techie blogs which talk in bewilderment about it (like this one, which has an excellent and detailed ongoing commentary on this latest Microsoft hubris-fest).

17:39 - That Syncing Feeling

iSync 1.1 is out. As early reports and rumors had indicated, among other improvements (including support for lots more phones, with neato model-specific icons and everything), it now synchronizes Safari bookmarks between Macs.

It works really well, too. They did a very good job with it. Namely, for example, you don't have to restart Safari for it to refresh its bookmarks after a sync, as one might expect from how applications of this type usually behave. Just select "Sync Now" from the menu bar icon, and watch your browser's bookmarks automatically update even as you use them.

I'm inclined to think that Safari bookmark syncing is a) a killer feature for Safari, and b) a killer feature for iSync. Has this kind of thing ever really existed before? The ability to keep the same set of bookmarks on all your computers, from your home desktop to your laptop to your machine at work? It has that feel of something whose time was desperate to arrive-- I have enough blog-related bookmarks that it's a serious pain trying to keep a usable common set of them on all my machines. Now I don't have to worry about it-- they're all there, no matter which machine I'm using. With iSync set to auto-sync every hour, the whole thing is a no-brainer; it's out of sight, out of mind, and-- how's that go again?-- it just works.

It doesn't sync your browsing history, though, which is probably a good thing. No need to worry about the trail of places you surf to at home being published to Apple or, worse, to your machine at work.

Nice job, Apple. Thank you.

Monday, June 2, 2003
17:48 - Help! I've been typecast!

I step away from my computer for a weekend and look what happens: I find that some semi-thought-out tirade I dashed off in the heat of passion has gotten out of my control and landed me in political company I'd never expected to find myself keeping. (Well, not before I'd grown up a bit more, at least. I wanted a few more years to be young and misguided. I'm being cheated out of my halcyonitudinousness!)

Namely, my "A good idiot is hard to find" post has been picked up as a featured article by Enter Stage Right. (And yes, before one concludes that my feigned shock is anything but a clumsy attempt on my part to handle praiseful exposure through good old-fashioned self-deprecation, yes, it's entirely by permission.) It's been adorned with an entirely appropriate Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel picture, and the editor even added a reader poll. I'm being referred to with my middle initial. (Hey, the next step is for my whole middle name to be credited-- and then I'll sound like a mass murderer!) And weirdest of all, it describes Peeve Farm as being "popular". If that part's true, then I know the Apocalypse is nigh.

So I guess this means I'm officially right-wing now, eh? I dunno-- I kinda prefer Den Beste's axes, whereby a person can be conservative (opposed to revolution) and liberal (in favor of personal liberty) with no contradiction in ideology. I hope that model catches on a bit more, because without it I feel hard pressed to adopt traditional labels without fear of them being totally misinterpreted.

Ah well. Just another thing to get used to, I guess. I reserve the right to remain freaked-out for a little while longer, however.

12:43 - Ow

Painting makes my neck feel weird.

Sunday, June 1, 2003
14:28 - Insert clever title here

Can't post... painting.

Friday, May 30, 2003
19:19 - The strongest kung-fu

This story is a lot more cheering. Actually, it's a series of stories-- letters sent via e-mail to MacDailyNews, by a Windows XP user by the name of Michael P. Assuming we can take him at his word (it's possible that this whole thing might be an elaborate troll-hoax), it's quite astonishing.

It starts out like this, on Tuesday:

"To be perfectly honest, I don't understand why anybody would buy an Apple computer. It is non-standard (everybody uses Windows) and proprietary. Also, it seems to me that Apple is very desperate to sell computers, so much so that they will withhold products that many would want by making them "Apple-only," in a bid to force people to buy an Apple in order to use these products."

"I am a music fan. Yes, I wanted an iPod when it first came out, but it was Apple-only, of course. So, I bought a Nomad Jukebox for use with my Windows system. But, still, it was obvious that the iPod was better, and I kept my eye on them over time, so when Apple finally gave up and made a Windows version, I got my new iPod only to find out that I was stuck with MusicMatch software and not iTunes."

"At this point, I would like to make it clear that I want a Windows XP version of iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iChat, iDVD, Sherlock - yes, I've been all over Apple's site - these applications look great, but I can't find versions of them that run on Windows! Why would Apple bother to create all of these applications and not make versions that will run on 99% of the world's computers?!"

"Instead, Apple would force me to buy an Apple computer to run these programs. Why is Apple so insecure? Why do they need to try to force sales of Apples? Obviously, nobody is buying them or they wouldn't have to try to make Apple-only reasons to try to force sales of computers."

"Damn Apple! How dare they make superior products and then not sell them to me just because I'm not using their other products, which must suck because nobody uses them? What a pathetic two-bit company! Aaargh!"

MDN is correct in saying, however, that this guy's e-mail offers a valuable insight into how a lot of the Windows world feels about Apple: if they're so confident in their products' superiority, why don't they just develop their vaunted superior software and sell it for Windows? That way, everybody would get to use it, and everybody would win! And if Macs are so much better, then they'll win through natural market forces anyway, right?

Yeah, but the incentive to buy a Mac rather than a Windows box is at its greatest when it's the only way to get Apple software-- and with that as the prevailing reality, it's still only got them 5% penetration (or 2%, or 1%, or whatever number you feel is realistic). If Apple made its software for Windows, a) it would have to make a lot of sacrifices in the area of the underlying OS X technology that they can currently take advantage of; and b) it would transform them overnight into a Windows software house, because nobody would buy a Mac ever again. Why spend twice as much for a computer that runs the same software?

So anyway: Michael P. writes back on Wednesday to MDN, after reading through all the reader feedback (much of which took quite strong exception to his tone):

"I was looking at what I thought was some great software from Apple. I run one piece of Apple software on my PC - QuickTime. Although it doesn't work as well as WMP and the files are huge in comparision, it's OK. And it keeps nagging me to upgrade for a price. Also, I was thinking of Apple as a software company, not as a hardware company. Specifically, I was wishing I could have iTunes for Windows, like I have an iPod for Windows. I think iTunes looks/works better than MusicMatch and I want access to the iTunes Music Store from my Windows PC."

"I also really would like to have the ability to run iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc. on my Dell after looking them over on Apple's site and watching movies of those applications in action. I still don't understand totally why Apple can't make these programs cross-platform and sell them, but I kind of see the point after reading the responses."

Yeah, I'm sure Apple's business planners kind of see the point as well.

Again, good insight into the Windows perspective on Apple: a software company, making an annoying-but-okay media player, oh-and-I-think-maybe-some-weird-proprietary-computers-on-the-side. You can imagine what kind of culture clash is involved when someone with this viewpoint expounds it to a bunch of people for whom Apple is the sun and moon and evening star.

But here's where the eye-opening part starts:

"I think Apple could make a ton of cash selling iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc. to the much, much larger Windows market. I wish they would try it. But, I see the point of tying it to the hardware side of their business - it's all integrated and it helps sell hardware."

"So, instead of waiting forever for something that probably won't happen, I'm thinking of falling into Apple's trap. I am considering buying an eMac for $799 to try it. I won't be able to do iDVD, but I'm not willing to spend an extra $500 for that just yet. This way I can try iTunes (will my Windows iPod work with it?) and iMovie, iPhoto and all the rest. I will see if I like it or I will sell it on eBay."

Someone willing to put up or shut up. That's a rare thing in today's world.

Fast forward to today:

"Well, I went in there [the Apple Store] expecting to buy the low end eMac, but after about an hour with two staffers who had to be the best 'computer store' employees I ever had the pleasure to meet, I walked out with a 17-inch iMac with a 1GHz PowerPC G4 (which intitially seemed 'slow' to me spec-wise, but after the G4 vs. the Pentium 4 differences were explained, seemed plenty fast enough to me), with an 80GB hard drive and a SuperDrive. So I do have iDVD."

"I took your advice about the RAM. It was easy to install myself. So, the iMac has 1GB of RAM now, too. Thank you, by the way, for all of your advice. You really helped me out and saved me a lot of time. I've got it connected to my Dell and did it in about 5 minutes by following your directions."

"I haven't had time to do much, yet. But, I want to tell you that from the moment I opened the box, I felt I was in for something quite new and different. The iMac is packaged like it is fine jewelery - very high-end. I have never seen anything like it - right down to the styrofoam shapes and tie wraps and books and cd case. All in a surprisingly small box. Very impressive. I felt like I had purchased a $10,000 fine audio system or something. Quite unlike any Windows computer packaging I had ever opened."

"The buttons and finishes of the case, keyboard, and mouse are solid quality. The whole thing screams quality. My Dell's buttons, keyboard and mouse now seem somewhat thin and 'plasticy' compared to the iMac's."

"The startup sequence of the first time turning it on only heightened the quality level. The thing was on my internet connection (cable modem) as if it was set up for me in the box. It just worked. I downloaded the Safari browser first. Wow! Compared to the included IE for Mac, it really is about 10 times faster. Plus I love the tabs."

"I will write you a followup when I have time this weekend to spend with the iMac. This email is sent with Mac OS X Mail. So far, so good. I spent more than double what I was was planning, but I am sure I made the right decision already. Thanks for your help! You can print this email if you like."

Quoted in its entirety.

I could comment further, but I kind of don't see the point.

19:00 - Obligatory Microsoft Settlement Post

A whimper:

Microsoft on Thursday said that it will pay US$750 million to settle a private antitrust lawsuit that was filed last year by AOL Time Warner on behalf of its subsidiary, Netscape Communications. The agreement also includes a new royalty-free, seven-year license of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player to AOL. The two companies said they agreed on "a variety of steps designed to ensure that their products work better with each other." In addition, the software giant and AOL said they will "work to broaden consumer access to high-quality digital content, in such areas as online music services offering single downloads and/or monthly subscriptions [and] authorized Internet access to movies."

That's what they call a "settlement" these days. "Oh, stop twisting our arms! $750 million dollars? Make it stop! The pain! Oh, oh, oh-- and you want us to give you our technology, too? Have you no hearts? First you bleed us of nearly the worth of Bill's finest pinky ring in compensation, and then you vow to use our browser and media player and iTunes-clone music store exclusively for perpetuity? Nooo! Don't throw us in dat dere briar patch!"

Take the word "settlement" out of this and it looks an awful lot like Microsoft just bought a controlling interest in AOL, complete with an agreement for AOL to drop Netscape development forever. The only inconvenience to Microsoft is that it took so long.

It's long been said that "You don't make a deal with Microsoft." But the trouble is that you don't not make a deal with Microsoft either.

Ah well. It's hard to even get too worked up over this anymore; at one time (like, say, 1998) I was flabbergasted by these kinds of maddening playing-right-into-Redmond's-hands developments. But it's such old hat now that it slips down over my eyes and I fall asleep.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
03:10 - What fourth wall?

Okay, it's official: Cartoon Network simply kicks ass; there's no further debate about it.

The following are four of the new packaging pieces they're playing during Adult Swim. The first one was on during Futurama; the second between Futurama and Family Guy; and the other two during Family Guy. There are lots more, too, during the anime they show later and as ads throughout the day.

The spots are nothing more than series of text cards, white on black, with ambient music in the background.

On the fourth one, the final card-- #28-- appears for like ten seconds.

These guys rule.

UPDATE: Okay, make that five; the fifth ad was just too much fun to pass up.

Incidentally, on Family Guy, Peter was rubbing his scrotum-like chin; then his eyes opened wide, and he said with surprise, "Hey, how did these get up here?" And he took off his, er, chin, and put it back in his pants.

God damn that show's self-conscious.

21:19 - A good idiot is hard to find

Something I learned while up in Hippietown over the weekend was that a very simple, basic tenet of group behavior has been obsoleted out of a great many people's thought processes. That tenet is the concept that the majority should be able to dictate the policies that govern all.

I'm no fan of totalitarianism. I don't like being tyrannized by roving gangs of people who think I'm a freak. It would truly suck to live in a country where if I didn't hew to the accepted party line that was broadcast on every TV channel and painted on giant billboards everywhere, I'd be subject to abduction, beatings, torture, and death. That doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me.

I'm also no stranger to the feeling of being in the minority. If being a Mac user for these past few years has taught me anything, it's that using a minority platform has its distinct disadvantages. I'm barred from using certain services. I'm forced to find geeky workarounds to many roadblocks that prevent me from doing things that everybody else in the world takes for granted as no-brainers. I even pay more for the privilege of denying myself partnership in the majority. I make a decision that the cameraderie of the fringe is more important to me than network-effect benefits, and it costs me a bundle in cash and in prestige. The world doesn't pander to me, and I'm conscious of this each and every day.

But what the hell ever became of the idea that the majority should get the last laugh in some given debate? I've found myself alarmed to notice that lots of people are treating minority positions on certain issues as thought they were received truth-- as though just because it's an unpopular opinion, it must be true.

While walking the streets of Arcata, the one overwhelming sentiment that I felt washing over me was not one of hatred, or ennui, or even cluelessness. There were all kinds of people there, of varying degrees of thoughtfulness. The town was humming along in its nice communal bliss, a fairly efficient machine, and each person was doing his or her part, each from a unique background of education and intelligence and financial status and age. There was plenty of diversity in evidence (though it should be noted that although there was what appeared to be a Racial Tolerance Store on the corner, selling one of those traditional African robes with matching round flat-topped cap to any comer with an aching desire to show his solidarity with the pre-slavery African nation and $250 in his pocket, there didn't seem to be a single black person in the town who might buy it). There was a lot of room for debate on lots of issues. People would talk (mostly) intelligently, and often realistically, about market economics, carpentry, science, computers, fishing, even Bush and the war. But the one proposition that never seemed in doubt-- the one sentiment that everybody in the whole entire town seemed in agreement on, accepting it without any further debate necessary-- was that most people are idiots.

Most of America. The American Public. The masses. The sheeple.

Someone would make some comment about how most people in the country understand that eating in a fast food restaurant will make them fat, and everyone will smile and chuckle-- but then someone will say, "But we all know that most people are idiots." And the smiles will turn to sage nods.

Sure. This is a tempting thought, isn't it? If everybody in the country thinks one thing, but I think another, and I'm sure of my conviction, then it must follow that everyone else is simply wrong, yes? And that they must all be stupid, or at best misinformed?

Well, let me see. I've known a lot of people in my 27 years; not nearly as many as a lot of people have known, for I have tended for most of my life to be the sort to keep to myself except for a close social circle. But I've run into people who sucked at computers. (This happens when you work in tech support.) I've run into people who were astonishingly bad drivers. (Well, not literally, as yet.) I've run into people who gamble, or who engage in physically self-destructive behaviors like drinking or smoking or drugs. I've run into people with all kinds of faults, up to and including collecting Mariah Carey albums. But you know... there's something I just can't seem to bring myself to do, and that's to assume that they're all idiots. I can't do it.

You know why? Because if someone sucks at computers, they might yet be a master accountant, or mechanic, or swordsmith, or farmer. They might be brilliant at what they do. If someone gambles a thousand dollars a week, and has been doing so for years and yet still makes his mortgage payments, how stupid can he be and yet stay above water? How is it that someone can earn law degrees from Harvard and Yale, fly fighter jets, make millions in the oil industry, win the Presidency, and yet be widely decried as an "idiot" because he spoonerizes words and speaks with a Southern accent?

Sure, I've known idiots. But-- and it's only fairly recently that I've come to this conclusion-- I will be the last person to suggest that the majority of people that I've met in the world are stupider than myself.

And yet I seem to be in the minority on that matter.

Conversation with people on the streets of Arcata showed me that whatever else people believed, they were sure that if left to their own devices, Americans-- if given popular control over their own destinies-- would stride confidently off a cliff into a volcano's caldera.

In other words, only the elite were really qualified to make the rules. And who are the elite? Why, the people with the correct ideas, of course. Well, how do we tell whose ideas are correct? C'mon, just look around. Most of the country is made up of proletarian idiots. They watch sports and reality TV, and drink Budweiser and eat McDonald's. They don't care about anything beyond their little day jobs and their doughy wives and screaming kids, and getting to the bar so they can drink themselves into a stupor and get through to the next morning and begin the grind all over again. Think they have any worthwhile ideas of their own?

Um... wait. Weren't you saying that it's the working classes who should wield governmental power? Oh, but that's different. Somehow. Oh yeah-- it's because the working classes won't come up with ideas that really matter; it's the elite who have the only worthwhile ideas: the minority ideas.

The Dixie Chicks debacle has brought this problem into stark light: lots and lots of very vocal people seem to have become completely oblivious of what free speech, as defined in the First Amendment, actually means. Namely, that it limits the government's ability to suppress people's speech and expression. It does not affect what private parties might do to smack someone down for being stupid in public. So when hundreds of people pile up their Dixie Chicks CDs and drive a backhoe over them, suddenly other people dredge up a term they might have heard once in Civics class-- free speech-- and take it to mean that any suppression of any ideas or views by anybody is illegal under US law. The fact that the backhoe driver could get away with this heinous act proves that the US has become a police state and withdrawn all the protections it had once extended to its most valuable people-- the ones holding the minority opinions. Because, after all, majority opinions are automatically wrong.

I don't know about you, but I learned the concept of majority rules long before I ever heard of free speech. We'd be in the second grade classroom, taking a vote by show of hands whether we wanted to have peanut butter and celery for snack, or cheese and crackers. And if I happened to raise my hand with the majority of the students, then that was great. But if I didn't-- well, I learned to suck it up. I learned to accept that the majority had decided what the whole of the group would do, and just because I personally might disagree with their decision, my throwing a tantrum would do no good, because it was simply not nice to put my desires above the clearly expressed desires of twenty other kids, even if I could yell louder than they could. And who knows: they might even have a point.

But that basic concept seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. Nobody's concerned with the rights of the incumbents anymore, of the greater society. All anybody cares about are the rights of the smaller groups of less seen people with more unusual opinions. Those must be protected at any cost-- including that of the will of the greater part of the people.

I'm reminded of a Dilbertian exchange (which may or may not have actually been in a Dilbert), in which the manager tells the engineers, "This project takes precedence over everything else, including projects that are more important." Wait. Come again?

Maybe it wasn't in Dilbert. Maybe it actually happened here at work. It wouldn't surprise me; that's the way things have been going.

Where has this fetishization of the minority opinion come from? Whence this discarding of any opinion that is held by more than half of the voting public? How did we reach the point where someone can say "But then, we're talking about a country where 70% of the people supported the war in Iraq," with a sneer and a smirk, and the rest of the assembled group will nod assent at the collective malicious dimness of 200 million coherent pollable citizens?

I have to wonder if maybe it's because we've simply fetishized the very word minority lately. It's a word that's usually followed by rights, or opportunities, or aid, or report. (Oh. Wait. Never mind.) Anything "minority" is seen as automatically righteous. Because a minority implies a majority, doesn't it? And all majorities are by definition oppressors, occupiers, usurpers, unschooled hordes running roughshod over pure traditions and time-honored balance, usually in the name of grubby progress or money or some dumbass thing like that. If anybody from the majority expresses an opinion, feel free to ignore it; after all, it's from the majority. How important can it be? How much protection can it need?

Now, let me point out again that uniformity of thought is a catastrophe; there must always be dissent and a discourse on the issues. But there must also be decisions made, and the will of the people must be followed. However, I don't agree that the minority must ever be allowed to tyrannize the majority. Aaron McGruder of Boondocks (who seems to have been undergoing something of a chemical breakdown lately-- perhaps in response to reading lots of withering critiques of his stupid comic strips in recent weeks, which seem to accuse him of not only making up facts, but of plagiarizing artwork, as evidenced by this strip in which I think he's playing the race card, but I can't be sure) makes a valid point here in a strip from a few days ago:

...Nevertheless, I find it extremely distressing, not to say insulting, to hear it suggested that just because I hold a majority position, I'm quite simply deluded-- that all I need is to have a "brushfire" set in my brain, and I'll come around and see the light. I obviously don't have any valid points of my own, says McGruder-- only a deep dark vacuous mental abyss which, if only I were to open myself to outside ideas, would instantly be filled with his inexorable Truth.

You see, only the minority ideas are worth anything. Majority ideas are, by definition, a dime a dozen, and therefore without merit and undeserving of protection or attention.

Let's see here: I'm a Mac user. I think my decisions which have led to my using a Mac are rational ones, and I think that the benefits I've bought myself by being a Mac user are very much worthwhile. I look at the poor deluded masses of blind sheeplike Windows users and I can't help but think that they must all be morons. And... Whoa! --it's at the very brink that I catch myself, and force myself to think about each individual person's circumstances at work and home, the things they know, the lives they lead, the contributing factors which would all point down a superhighway to Windows-land, bypassing at 75 the little turnoff that says "Macs this way". I remind myself that while there are indeed some idiots in this world, there are also a vastly larger number of people who are rational, capable contributing human beings who make decisions based on their own personal lists of pros and cons and their own individual experiences. I shouldn't sneer at the fact that so many people use Windows; I should rather marvel that they are all using computers. The human brain is an amazing thing. We shouldn't be capable of things like driving cars-- modulating pedals and wheels and levers with a feather touch, sending our mental signals into an intricate collection of machinery and electronics which cause us to hurtle down the freeway at speeds that would turn us to paste if we made the slightest miscalculation, and then-- at the same time-- talking to others in the car, using only a fragment of our mental capacity and our attention to keep the car zooming and weaving and dancing from one end of the state to the other. The fact that there are so many auto accidents in California every year shouldn't amaze me anywhere near as much as the absolutely staggering number of people who drive with complete competence, never getting into an accident at all.

Intelligent people get into accidents. We've all known people who have done so. Not everyone who crashes his car is a moron, and not everyone who drives safely isn't. But the preponderance of evidence would suggest that there are more fully competent people in the world than otherwise. Think about ten acquaintances at random. How many of them would you consider to be idiots? And lest you imagine that your social circle tends to select for smart people, doesn't that suggest that there are whole suburbs full of herds of Pakleds, good-natured but completely incapable of feeding themselves, waiting for the daily dump truck full of slurry to disgorge itself into the troughs lining the streets, and that these guys are the ones who-- though you never see them-- do all the voting and buying and churchgoing that causes such desperate fury among the Enlightened?

The tendency to glorify the minority position is extremely hard to resist, however, and one place I notice it a lot is in "have-nots" tarring all "haves" with the brush of idiocy. Tax cuts for the rich! they sneer. As though they need any more money! The tacit assumption is that all rich people are idle plutocrats in mansions, or clueless inheritors who take their windfalls to Vegas-- and what could anyone possibly do with all that money, anyway? Obviously it's the poor who have a much bigger impact on the economy, and who should be given tax breaks so that they can live better. Absent from all this knee-jerk analysis is always the idea that the flip-side of 10% of the population controls 90% of the wealth is 10% of the population shoulders 90% of the tax burden, and that the rich invest and drive businesses and create wealth, while the poor don't. America still has something of a class structure, yes; but we're quite free of the Upper-Class Twit syndrome so keenly spoofable in Britain. Here, if someone's rich, he just might have done something to get that way, and therefore it's not exactly what I'd call intellectually rigorous to dismiss him as an irrelevant doof who needs to be cut down to size.

And at the extreme end of the stick are the rants I've seen here and there where people respond to the fact that a Republican is in the Oval Office by telling everybody in earshot not to vote-- because after all, voting is just a sham, a fruitless exercise in Control of the Masses whereby you get to close your eyes and stab blindly at a name on a sheet in the vain hope of picking the guy who'll screw you less hard than the other guy. Now, our voting system has its faults; but something tells me that they wouldn't be saying voting was so useless if their guy had won, would they?

Yes, perhaps it's all just sour grapes on the part of the minority. They've got their rationales too, and I'm no better than they are by ridiculing their reasons for arriving at what conclusions they do. From their perspective, they're right-- they deserve nothing less than to rule the world and to enlighten it with the Truth that they know.

But there's a difference in this moral-equivalence-esque balance: one side believes that the average human, the one with the by-definition 100 IQ, is capable of running his own life and making intelligent decisions that benefit himself and those around him; the other side does not. One side thinks humans are competent by nature, the other side thinks they're fundamentally incompetent.

It's oh-so-tempting to shift from one opinion on that question to the other depending solely on which way the winds of argument blow, which side I find myself on-- the majority or the minority. But there does come a time to pin it to the wall for good and ask yourself, does the fact that my opinion is outnumbered in this country three to one mean that they're all stupid-- or that I might be wrong?

Actually, come to think of it, don't discard that Minority Report reference-- because wasn't the whole idea of that movie that the minority report turned out to be right?

19:17 - Pure and Simple Misapprehension

Aha. Apparently the reason why Apple turned down the screws on iTunes' Music Sharing is simply that they hadn't foreseen what bastards people would be.

Apple said in the statement that it was "disappointed" that people had used the new feature in iTunes to copy music with strangers.

"Rendezvous music sharing...has been used by some in ways that have surprised and disappointed us," Apple said. "We designed it to allow friends and family to easily stream (not copy) their music between computers at home or in a small group setting, and it does this well. But some people are taking advantage of it to stream music over the Internet to people they do not even know."

As AtAT notes, this is a fairly low-risk solution for Apple-- one wonders how the Connect to Shared Music menu option got into iTunes in the first place-- and doesn't really cause any real limitation on legitimate use beyond preventing Joe Shmoe from listening to his home computer's iTunes library from his machine at work. But presumably the solution to that is "getcherself an iPod".

And for what it's worth, iTunes 4.0.1 doesn't exist purely for the removal of this feature; it does contain some bug fixes that address some problems that some people have been seeing with sound playback quality. I haven't seen these problems, which are described as "sound fading in and out" and "muffled music"; but evidently some reviewers did, and concluded that AAC was laughably inferior to MP3. This should put paid to those chatterings, because my own observations have been pretty unequivocal in favor of AAC.

So I guess the moral of this story is that Apple is still rather charmingly naïve when it comes to the wide, wide world of geeks and their tinkering with technology; Apple may have scored big with the iPod, but they underestimated the willingness of the public at large to follow the honor system when it comes to exploitable software.

Or maybe that implies that the moral is actually that the iTunes Music Store is bound to fail, because it's founded on the premise that people will purchase music that's conveniently available and inexpensive, if it only provides better accessibility than free and non-guaranteed stuff from the P2P networks. Now that it's proved that people will go to just about any lengths to get free music, quality and cheapness and convenience be damned, maybe the whole premise is in doubt.

Or perhaps the moral is that this is all a red herring; this was a glaring and beckoning feature that just dared geeks to crack it open, especially because it presented such an elegant engineering challenge to the writers of the leech software. Now that the hole is plugged, people will just say "c'est la vie" and go back to dutifully handing over their pittances for crisp and forever solely owned M4P files to enjoy.

Or maybe there is no moral-- it's just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
18:29 - Pre-emptive Feature Strike

It seems that Apple has released iTunes 4.0.1, a point release whose primary enhancement is that it removes support for sharing music across routed networks. No more "Connect to Shared Music" menu option. Rendezvous-based music sharing still works, but any existing shared-music libraries are grayed-out until their owners upgrade to 4.0.1.

This is exactly what a lot of people were hoping Apple wouldn't do: they responded to the sudden attention paid to the Music Sharing feature by leech-software writers by yanking the feature. It was cool while it lasted, but apparently either a) Apple hadn't thought it would be a problem, b) Apple didn't expect anyone to crack it open this fast, c) Apple simply didn't think of the ramifications, d) Apple caved to sudden frantic phone calls from the labels when they read the headlines on the Mac rumor sites, or e) even without pressure from the labels coming to bear as yet, Apple decided that just as discretion was the better part of valor, cowardice was the better part of discretion, and valiantly pulled the feature.

My wet-finger-in-the-wind leans toward e) as the answer. But of course this raises obvious questions, like... will there now be a massive illicit trade in copies of iTunes 4.0.0? Now that the genie's out of the bottle, will mostly-automated Software Update runs be sufficient to stuff it back in? Even if there's such illicit trade in the open-sharing version of the software, will it be any good if most of the world is using 4.0.1 or later? Den Beste is fond of pointing out the value of network effect; if the majority of Mac users aren't running the open version, will the fact that there's only a small minority who are running that version render iTunes-based music-sharing just that much more inconvenient? Pirates would already have to re-capture M4P files into MP3, publish their IP addresses, and let their uplinks get swamped; how many more of these stumbling blocks must remain before they just go back to using KaZaA?

Kris thinks this debacle is the result of Apple just not being prepared for the malice of the Geek Street, where access constraints are made to be circumvented and geese are made to be cut open for their golden eggs. Like Manwë, who comprehended no evil because there was no evil in him, and was thus unprepared for the treachery of Melkor.

That may be; but there's hope in that Apple didn't actually take out the feature entirely: Music Sharing is still enabled for Rendezvous networks, maintaining the "household" unit of computing that Apple's been concentrating on lately. I have to imagine this will all be forgotten in a month's time. But I don't imagine we'll see cross-network Music Sharing put back into iTunes anytime soon, or indeed ever. Pity.

14:22 - Greetings from Hell; wish you were here

Well, I'm back from Arcata-- the Hippiest Place On Earth. It was every bit as ensconced in its own hindquarters as it was last year, except a lot more so. I can only imagine what it must have been like a month or two ago; but even as it is, now that the war is over, the climate is still thoroughly out of touch. I mean, just look at it:

The last few pictures are of the "Freedom Shrine" that some enterprising civic-minded locals had erected on the wall of the Longs Drugs some years ago; it had four glass cases containing replicas of some of the country's most important historical documents, such as the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, the peace treaty from the Spanish-American War, and a bunch of other such things. And of course it had been defaced, covered with posters, scrawlings, and flyers declaring that WHEN THE BOMBING STARTS, AMERICA STOPS. I'm surprised the glass hadn't been smashed.

I lost count of the NO WAR ON IRAQ, BUSH IS AN IDIOT, and NO BLOOD FOR OIL bumper stickers. I'm sure the people putting them on their cars thought they were being clever rebels, just like whoever it was who spray-painted YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWN onto the sidewalk concrete a block from where I was staying. Yeah, you go, you free-thinker you. I saw Fight Club too, and I get haircuts. Anyway, I did see one truck with a couple of US flags in the back window, a religious bumper sticker, and another decal that said DON'T HASSLE ME-- I'M A LOCAL. That's the best sense of humor I saw all weekend. (No, wait-- my mistake. There was another sticker that said JUST BECAUSE NOBODY UNDERSTANDS YOU DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE AN ARTIST. That one wins. I never thought cynicism could be so refreshing.)

Arcata is just about the right size to exist in perpetuity as a self-sufficient commune, mostly because it's a college town-- Humboldt State University is right across the freeway, offering such pursuable majors as Redwood Studies, Recreational Herbology, and Vegetarianism in AmeriKKKa. Nah, okay, I kid. But the median age of the town appears to be about 19, and (as North Korea knows so well) it's easy to be self-sufficient when you've got patrons and family sending you money all the time.

For what it's worth, the two best grocery stores in town are the Co-Op and Wildberries, both of which operate on the community membership system; they leave the local Safeway in the dust when it comes to quality. But then, they don't carry any major brands, except where they absolutely have to; no Hershey's, no General Mills, no Nabisco, precious little Coke. Whether this is because of choice or price or principle isn't clear-- but it's probably not price, because the organic stuff they carry in pride of place costs twice as much as I'm used to, across the board. But then, Wildberries' deli sandwiches are awesome, and they have fresh mozzarella balls and baklava and other such neato little delicacies that I hadn't really seen in any mainstream grocery store-- not outside premium places with Italian names. I must say I'm impressed by the selection; it's anything but banal. There have been great strides made in the name of organic production and local branding. It's a far cry from the worm-eaten but self-righteous forced-smile organics of the mid-80s. Kudos to them-- but they don't carry Kudos, so never mind.

I'd say I could live quite comfortably in a town like that-- it's definitely gorgeous, and fun, and tiny (everything is within about two blocks of everything else, and a block is about three houses long, and a house is about the size of most houses' garages-- it's like a doll's city). But for the lack of Silicon Valley's teeming masses and the nearness of travel and services, there's nothing I'd really be missing. Even the communal wireless Internet link, beamed from the city center into all the hillside houses, was pretty fast (except when the guy in charge of it rebooted the routers, as he does every day at 2:00 PM to tinker with them). For a world of futons and hydroponics and surrealist sculptures of diapers hanging from ceilings and walls covered with photos of the obligatory world-traveling-disaffected-youth backpacking trips through Southeast Asia, it's not bad.

Except, of course, for the people. The ones Not In Whose Name America does anything other than roll on its back and pee on itself while the rest of the world lines up to take a good kick at it.

Ahem; anyway. The Kinetic Sculpture Race was lots of fun-- the crowds this year were bigger than they were last year, although the receding economy has resulted in a lack of sponsorship; many of the entries, lacking the money they had last year from large toolmaking companies or copy centers, weren't able to do much besides paint their sculptures a different color and come up with a new pun for the name. ("It's now... the Albino Rhino!") Whodathunk-- even wacky free-love human-powered vehicle contests require the helping hands of evil corporations in order to rock the world. Fascinating.

But that said, there were still a good many fabulous entries, even more than last year; though the energy was a little less this time, the creativity was still there. My favorite was the Mullet Bullet:

This time, too, I didn't have to drive down to Ukiah and back for the Memorial Day parade; so I stayed up in Arcata, put up with the Bush=Hitler t-shirts, and enjoyed the parts of the race that I'd missed before, such as the water entrance. It's always fun to see a giant papier-mâché horse slide gracefully into the water and glide off under the bridge, followed in short order by a guy in a business suit on a bicycle with an innertube strapped to his back, hurtling down the ramp and somersaulting with a horrific splash the moment his wheels touch water. It was a thing of beauty, I tell ya.

The finish line in Ferndale was graced with gorgeous clear sunlight, a rarity for Memorial Day Weekend in Humboldt (one of the Race rules is "In the case of sun, the Race will be held in the sun"). All the machines finished within half an hour of each other, with great gusto and energy. It seemed there was more of a focus on keeping everyone safe this year than on allowing everyone to have fun-- constant admonishments to stand back, whether in the finish-line square or on Dead Man's Drop, where we couldn't position ourselves in the shifting sands just downhill from where the large top-heavy machines would bog down and topple over on top of us. C'mon! The danger is half the fun! Plus it makes for great camera angles! ... They apparently no longer have the Slippery Slimy Slope (last year some disgruntled farmer got so sick of the throngs of spectators traipsing through his fields to get to the Slope that he piled a truckload of manure right across the dirt road they were using), and what they replaced it with wasn't spectator-accessible, but that's okay. We had plenty else to do in the area, like drive up into the Trinity River wilderness and play in the river at a secluded canyon sand bar where we barged in on a tentful of three hikers who seemed decidedly glum for the duration of our presence, contenting themselves with odd-smelling materials tossed into their campfire while we waded around in the near-ice. I'm sure they were just as happy to see us leave, so they could resume their frolicking. But hey, this land is your land, this land is my land, right? Privacy is an illusion in the Workers' Paradise. And by the way, that was poison oak.

Good weekend, all things considered. How was yours?

Thursday, May 22, 2003
03:15 - Into the Breach


Well, it's that time of year again: Memorial Day Weekend, time for a bunch of ex-Moles to gather together from the far corners of the Earth and drive up into the redwood forests for the Kinetic Sculpture Race in Arcata, California.

The alert among you will know Arcata as the very epitome of Hippie Central; it's on the coast, on the northern shore of the bay containing Eureka, in the heart of fabled Humboldt County. It's a foggy little commune with a neighborhood co-op as its primary grocery store, a communal wireless Internet link from the top of the three-story building in the main town square, and little bohemian coffee shops everywhere. It's the home of the very Northtown Books that (as Lileks screeded about a couple of years ago) Michael Moore visited in triumphal solidarity; it's the place that last month decided to fine any government officials who tried to enforce the Patriot Act:

This little city (pop.: 16,000) has become the first in the nation to pass an ordinance that outlaws voluntary compliance with the Patriot Act.

"I call this a nonviolent, preemptive attack," said David Meserve, the freshman City Council member who drafted the ordinance with the help of the Arcata city attorney, city manager and police chief.

. . .

The fine for breaking the new law, which goes into effect May 2, is $57. It applies only to the top nine managers of the city, telling them they have to refer any Patriot Act request to the City Council.

Wish me luck, guys.

(Note that this means no blogging until Tuesday. That is, unless I have the time and inclination to blog via wireless from the communal mind-beam. I doubt I will, though; somehow I imagine I'll be having fun despite myself.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
22:12 - Drive-By Politics

Yesterday, as I was driving home through downtown San Jose on I-280 eastward, I passed under an overpass, as I always do. Except this time, from some distance away, I saw that someone had hung a large American flag on the fence.

I thought, hmm-- haven't seen one of those since late 2001. Wonder what the occasion is?

Then I got closer, and saw that to the left of the flag was a smaller sign, which someone was in the very process of hanging up. It said: PEACEFUL DIALOGUE WITH CUBA.

I thought, huh? What brought that on?

And then, today, both the flag and the sign were gone.

I don't know what to make of this one. The street in question was the one you end up on if you take the Bascom exit, and it fronts right along San Jose City College, so maybe there are some one-issue firebrands at work... but geez.

Freeway overpass sloganeering: pioneered in the wake of 9/11, and so quickly cheapened.

18:36 - Boondocks Meltdown

You have my pity, Mr. McGruder, but not my respect.

Hey Charles-- mind if I borrow this?

18:31 - That's the stuff

I'm sure this counts as schadenfreude, somehow:

Looks like this is going to be an ongoing thread. Most excellent.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
20:25 - One wallet at a time

J.M. sends me this OpinionJournal article, in which James Kerrigan places his cloth cap over his heart, stands at the edge of a pool of lamplight, and to the soaring tones of a classic big-band combo, croons a doleful paean to his new cruel mistress: the iTunes Music Store.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? So did crack cocaine. The analogies are eerie--both involve a pipe (in Apple's case, a broadband pipe), both are cheap, and both offer instant gratification. And both, unfortunately, can cause seemingly normal people to become unhinged.

The first night after Apple unleashed this monster, I strolled (virtually) onto the site and did what I do in any CD store: I browsed around and listened to a couple of songs. No problems so far . . . but then I stumbled across the cheesy old Tom Jones hit "What's New Pussycat?" and figured it could be useful in chasing away unwanted party guests. I clicked the "Buy Now" button. Zap. Onto my hard drive it went, in less time than it took me to consider whether I really needed any Tom Jones. Too late--I owned it, like it or not. I could put it on my iPod, or start a "When Lounge Lizards Walked the Earth" CD compilation. It was too easy. I had to have more. I was hooked.

So as the hours whizzed by, all non-iTunes reality faded away. I had been sucked into a Jobsian Vortex of Doom. Unlike a regular record store, this accursed thing never closes. It's open all night. "Open All Night" . . . wasn't that a Georgia Satellites song? (Click-zap.) Sleep? Who needs sleep? I can sleep when I'm dead, I thought. "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" . . . Warren Zevon! (Click-zap.)

By the time my wife shoved me out of my chair and started downloading Dolly Parton classics, I knew we were on our way to being the Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love of the iTunes set: descending into madness and wrestling for control of the mouse while the "Complete Works of The Troggs" wings its way through cyberspace and onto my hard drive. I started having visions of my formerly happy family living under a bridge while I sat by the road with a "Will Work for Downloads" sign made out of six months of unpaid Visa bills.

There, there. It'll be all right. Soon the bitter naysayers will find enough things wrong with it that Apple will be forced to shut it down, and then you'll be free of your addiction.

13:53 - Lima lima mike foxtrot

Via The Command Post-- here's a fascinating and very entertaining Wired article on Rumsfeld's Great Experiment: the digital war. It's all about "swarm theory", the high-speed deployment tactic that swooshed past the Iraqi defenses like the Blitz past the Maginot Line. On the ground, it doesn't look much like the grand hype suggests; but that's okay, because it's even cooler. This war, apparently, was won with store-bought GPS units, consumer walkie-talkies, and Microsoft Chat.

Swarm theory is also moving online - into chat rooms, an application Mims is pioneering for military purposes. When a problem develops on the battlefield, a soldier radios a Tactical Operations Center. The TOC intelligence guy types the problem into a chat session - Mims and his colleagues use Microsoft Chat - and the problem is "swarmed" by experts from the Pentagon to Centcom. Not only is the technology changing the way we maneuver, Mims notes, it's changing the way we think.

But the system is not without problems. Because anyone on Siprnet who wanted to could set up a chat, 50 rooms sprang up in the months before the war. The result: information overload. "We've started throwing people out of the rooms who don't belong there," Mims says.

"What's funny about using Microsoft Chat," he adds with a sly smile, "is that everybody has to choosean icon to represent themselves. Some of these guys haven't bothered, so the program assigns them one. We'll be in the middle of a battle and a bunch of field artillery colonels will come online in the form of these big-breasted blondes. We've got a few space aliens, too."

Great stuff.

(And from the sound of this, ours is the most informal, fast-and-loose armed force in the history of the world.)

Monday, May 19, 2003
17:32 - Oh yeah, that's useful

Gee, look. It's Microsoft's insightful, user-experience-enhancing answer to OS X, Quartz, and the Genie Effect. 3.8MB QuickTime movie, and no, don't adjust your set.

From AtAT:

One important distinction: once again, Microsoft reveals a certain cluelessness about form following function. The Genie Effect doesn't just look nifty; it gives the user valuable visual feedback about where a window goes when it's minimized. In stark contrast, as far as we can make out from this short video clip, Microsoft's flapping windows don't do anything except drive the sale of hardware upgrades.

Does any part of Microsoft's UI design team not operate on the principle of "Do whatever Apple did, only make it flashier and ignore the reason why Apple did it," like some kind of benighted technological Cargo Cult?

16:58 - My heart's cockles are warmed


It's the LegoMac!

Daniele Procida could not bear to see a dead Mac thrown away - so he reconstructed it using Lego bricks pinched from his sons.

Rather than bin the Powerbook laptop, he refurbished it using hundreds of colourful pieces, set on mottled artificial green grass.

. . .

"It took a long time to come up with a design that met both aesthetic and technical requirements," Daniele added.

"Once I finally had it built, my girlfriend used it to write her doctoral thesis on feminist metaphysics."

Many computer enthusiasts design their own base units, but a complete re-build from a different material is a rarity, underlining typical Mac eccentricity.

The build took a month - time devoted every evening after work - and proved a perfect gift for Daniele's partner Carol.

It is a fully working 100MHz, 32Mb multi-coloured bundle of bricks running MacOS 8.1.

I don't know about you, but I'd really hate for the computing world to be devoid of stories like this. That's what would happen without Apple.

For instance, the Bizarro World version of this story is, of course, this one.

UPDATE: Stephen informs me that this LegoMac is not a unique idea, but rather the latest in a long line of Macs that have crawled like upwardly mobile hermit crabs into cases made of popsicle sticks, old radios, Mars rovers, floppy-disk organizers, and (yes) Legos. Ahh, the joy.

16:45 - How To Beat Pirates

Use copy-protection technology that has nothing to do with computers, is the answer. Or Disney's, anyway.

Disney home video unit Buena Vista Home Entertainment will launch a pilot movie "rental" program in August that uses the self-destruction technology, the company said on Friday.

The discs stop working after a change in color renders them unreadable. They start off red, but when they are taken out of the package, exposure to oxygen turns the coating black and makes it impenetrable by a DVD laser.

Buena Vista hopes the technology will let it crack a wider rental market, since it can sell the DVDs in stores or almost anywhere without setting up a system to get the discs back.

The discs work perfectly for the two-day viewing window, said Flexplay Technologies, Inc., the private company which developed the technology using material from General Electric Co.

Chemical reactions can't be hacked. Cute.

I'm sure Disney is still miffed over the failure of Circuit City's pay-for-play DiVX disc format; I guess this shows they're not daunted by such things as massive market rejection. But for what it's worth, as long as these self-destructing discs are for rental only, I suppose there's not much to get alarmed about; they're real DVDs, not some crippled format, and the benefits of rental stores being able to turn into one-way retail stores are certainly good for that industry. It's actually a pretty clever solution.

It's almost a shame that Disney withdrew their pledged support for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. I was all set to make jokes about how appropriate it would be to release that movie using this format; just like these discs, Michael Moore's head starts out red, and then as it gets exposed to more and more oxygen, it gradually becomes less and less susceptible to facts and reason until it turns completely impenetrable and useless.

14:01 - That's the woman; I'd recognize her anywhere


Tell me: why is it that religion can ever be given precedence over common sense?

Namely, that the purpose of a photo ID card is so that the person can be IDENTIFIED?

I'd heard about this sort of thing being taken seriously in France (and considering that the French government has been sponsoring Islamic councils and French supermarket chains have recently stopped carrying pork so as not to offend Muslims, it didn't exactly surprise me); but I honestly didn't think anybody would try it here. More fool me.

Ah well. At least the online survey on the site has 91% of the respondents saying that Muslim women shouldn't be able to disguise themselves in front of the DMV's camera any more than anybody else should.

I mean, geez. Why not just draw a stick figure on the ID card, or use a photo of a Lego guy or something? Either that or drop the BS and dispense with the whole concept of "photo ID".

Via LGF, which makes me an intolerant racist bastard.

13:45 - Weekend Wars

I promised photos last time, so here they are.

Neat, huh? The larger area (on the near side of the first photo) will have a large entertainment-center area, with a couch (ohhh, that couch) and matched chair and a coffee table, and my computer desk off to the right (over the Ethernet jack we strung into the wall). That area of the room will be done in a marigold-pumpkin color with sponged-on lighter yellow accents, and vertical-slat wainscoting all around the room. The arch wall will be drywalled smooth, and given a sort of sandy finish (in the same color as the walls), and deep currant red curtains in each of the arch windows and the doorway.

The bed area on the other side will have walls done in the same currant red as the curtains. We just redid the new doorway into the bathroom; since it's a plumbing wall, it's thicker than usual, so we built a new door frame out of 1x8's and set it flush, and now the door actually hangs straight. It stays at whatever position you put it and doesn't swing open or shut anymore. I'd even go to far as to say it's well-hung.

The big vertical enclosed box thing has ductwork in it; it obscures one of the archways from one side, but when the curtains are closed, nobody on the big-room side will be any the wiser. And it lends some interest to the shape of the room anyway; my animation desk will go across from it. There won't be much in the smaller part of the room other than the bed, the desk, and the dresser; but that's just fine with me. All the cool stuff goes in the big room.

The drywall guy will come out tonight to see the finished, cleaned-up product, and give me the final estimate. Then we'll get that done this week, and meanwhile we'll get to work painting everything else.

This arch wall was the single biggest unique piece of character we're adding to this house; and while it was fun to do, and successful, we're very glad it's done.

Friday, May 16, 2003
19:17 - Apple For the Neocons

Mockery of Apple is not a new thing. Ever since 1984, the Mac has been made fun of; first for its toylike GUI in a world of command-prompts; then, after Windows killed that comparison, for the Mac's supposed "ease of use" advantage (only wussies used Macs); then, once Windows 95 came along, for the Mac's instability; then, once Mac OS X came along, for the Mac's bright candy colors; then, once every PC in the world adopted iMac translucency, for the Mac's slowness and high price and lack of games and so on. There's always something. And these criticisms are never constructive in nature, but rather a defense-- a means by which Windows users can assure themselves that Windows is the only reasonable solution for rational computer users. Windows is what they have, and what they know; they may not like it much per se, but as long as the Mac is an "other" that they can make fun of, it isn't something that they have to concern themselves with or consider as a viable alternative.

And that's fine, to a certain extent. There's certainly nothing wrong with an acceptance of a reality in which Windows is the only cost-effective solution. Workplace PCs are Windows these days, outside a few select industries; there's certainly plenty to be said for Den Beste's "network effect" observations. When everyone around you uses Windows, then using Windows is all benefit and very little hardship-- or at least only hardships that can be easily overcome.

Being a Mac user has necessarily, then, been something of an elitist position. Mac users have tended to be those who don't mind giving up a little bit of that network-effect benefit for the sake of something they feel is better, something they believe in. The "Think Different" campaign tried to capitalize on that, by painting Mac users as being in the same camp as those movers and shakers in history who have changed world events, thinking beyond the societal norm; what's seldom noticed about the figures showcased in the Think Different ads is not that the figures were all great achievers, but that they all had to give something up in order to achieve what they did. Whether inventors or social revolutionaries or political thinkers, they all had to sacrifice the comfort of a normal, unremarkable life in order to make their dreams reality. I don't think Apple was blind to this; they realize that Mac users are giving something up by sticking to their Macs. But with that tacit acknowledgment is the assurance that what they're buying with their rejection of what 95% of the world uses is going to be worth it. Most Mac users would tend to agree that it is.

But that's sort of a tired observation by now. Appealing to idealism forms a strong core customer base, but it alienates a lot more people than it beckons. The idealists of the world-- and even those who merely wish to buy into the cult of idealism-- aren't a large enough percentage of the computing world to justify a growing market share. So Apple has had to shift gears lately, putting its weight behind the Switch campaign, trying to appeal to frustrated Everymen rather than getting everyone to see themselves as John Lennons and Martin Luther Kings. It's debatable whether the new campaign is working, or whether it's doing more good than harm; but it's certainly a more extensible meme than the exclusionary Think Different one, and has enabled Apple to launch a lot more interesting stuff-- stuff that's targeted at those Everymen rather than at those who can see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower and infinity in the curve of a one-button mouse. iPhoto and 99-cent songs will sell Macs; it's not clear how many more converts are to be had on the basis of pure elegance and dreams.

What's more interesting to me, however, is a different perspective: the behavior of Apple as a company. It seems to me that Apple has acquitted itself admirably over the years, and in such a way that it has earned my respect, more so than any ad campaign could do. Their actions are what appeal to me and what make me defend the company. And what's more, I think these actions are right in line with what the populists and free-marketers and libertarians and freedom-seekers in the world would want from a company in Apple's position.

Apple is decidedly at a disadvantage in the computer market; they're having to scramble just to keep in the public eye and to maintain visibility as a viable brand. But they've never once played the victim card.

That right there earns them huge points with me, and (I should think) with a lot of other people out there.

Apple has never painted itself as an innocent victim of evil monopolies. The closest it's ever come to that was the GUI lawsuit back in the 80s, when they tried to claim what was rightly theirs, and backed off under threat and extortion. Since then, Apple has never made any press releases demanding federal action against Microsoft; they've never joined in class-action antitrust suits; they've never made excuses for their declining market share. One can criticize Steve Jobs for painting a deceptively rosy picture of Apple's balance sheet on occasion, when it comes time to court Wall Street, or for getting more excited about his products than reason should allow; but one thing he's never done is to stand on stage and tell the audience in steely frankness that Apple is headed straight for the dumper, and who is to blame but Microsoft! It's all their fault, not ours! ...Nope; that hasn't happened. Jobs has been known to shrug off financial difficulties with a smirk and a sigh, or to respond to snarky press comments with a covert but unmistakable gesture; but he's never claimed that the responsibility for fixing Apple's failures rest on anyone's shoulders but Apple's.

Owning up to one's responsibilities is one of those big American traits, those things that are looked at with such pride by patriotic conservatives. Other such traits include fighting for one's own defense, and responding to adversity by committing even harder to excellence. What's the fundamental precept of market economics? That competition will bring out the best in the products of the competing companies. Apple is an underdog in every sense of the word-- and historically speaking, they should be lagging behind in their products every bit as much as they are in their market share. They should be like Amiga in 1990, or IBM's OS/2 unit in 1995-- not bringing out any new products, but stroking their loyal fan base with empty promises of glory to come and excuses for the current sad state of affairs, blaming them on oppression and occupation (sound familiar?). But Apple isn't doing that. They never make promises. They never even (intentionally) let rumors get out about upcoming products. They paint no pictures of glorious futures or of the inevitable justice to be wrought against the unjust monopolies that hold them down in the mud. Instead, they do something that makes my capitalistic little heart fill with blood: they excel. They knuckle down, roll up their sleeves, and develop products that make headlines. With their paltry few thousand employees and their one meager campus, they've been creating products that rock the world, achieving more with less resources than Microsoft or Dell do with their armies of genii all plugged into their efficient cubicle-matrices and warrens of thought. Apple keeps outdoing them, producing objects of lust that are either best-of-breed or serious contenders in every field that they enter. iTunes and iPhoto and iMovie and iDVD are perfect examples of software that Apple's done better than the whole massive rest of the computer industry, and for what? Just its small cadre of loyalists. These applications aren't just proprietary also-rans, providing basic functionality to the ghetto, a token effort to parrot some industry standard; they're leading the industry. AirPort. LCD monitors. Case design. The iPod. These are all industry-leading examples of their genres, the things that everybody else copies, and they all come from this one tiny company. iSync and Final Cut Pro and Safari are more examples of such projects, as is Mac OS X itself. What company in history has been able to pull off a hail-Mary play like OS X and make it so well respected, so well polished and supported, in so little time? And on top of that, they've written AppleScriptability into everything, open-standards connectivity (XML, SOAP, etc), and hundreds of little pieces of overachiever eye-candy like Quartz that no beleaguered underdog company in its right mind would commit itself to delivering. Apple's creating its own destiny and ensuring its own future, by acting like that future is already granted them.

One thing that has always characterized Americans is their insistence upon being the masters of their own destiny-- of being willing to fight and die for the sake of that right, whether it means giving up convenience, social acceptance, or privilege. Those people who have focused their attention on the American political landscape in the days since 9/11, or who have made it their study for far longer, understand the nature of that struggle and how central it is to the American spirit. Call it rugged individualism, call it entrepreneurship, call it manifest destiny, call it what you will-- the defining right that we hold most dear is that of holding our destiny in our own hands. What galls the opponents of such an idea is that it denies pleasing fantasies-- even if a fictition, to borrow a Michael Moore-ism, is better than reality, the conservatives will reject it in favor of a hell that they know is real. There's a sharp divide there, one that can be illustrated quite well by the dystopia of The Matrix: do the humans prefer to live in the blissful fantasy of the simulation, even though it's not real-- or do they rebel against it, preferring to dwell in the hellish Real World, just because they know it's the real thing? The conservative American ideal would tend to go for the latter. And Captain Steve puts it more interestingly still:

More to my liking are the lizards here. If you look closely enough, you see them everywhere. In between our dorm buildings are shaded pavilions where we sit on cool evenings. They're wooden decks with canvas covers . Wire-mesh fly traps are bolted to the decks, and most are occupied by the fattest little lizards I've ever seen. Like the flies, they found their way into the trap and can't get out. They are pale pinkish yellow - the color of the sand, and they appear perfectly happy to have given up their freedom for a never-ending supply of food. I think they must be democrats.

Where would you say Apple fits into this scheme? I would argue that Mac users know that the world they're buying into is no paradise; they know it's full of hardships and sacrifice and a distinct lack of the best new MMORPGs. And yet they buy into it anyway. Why? Because they know what computing is like, can be like, with the right software and the right hardware and the right infrastructure in place and the right dream directing it all. I would argue that a Mac user is like a person who has learned first-hand the value of the Second Amendment, who has internalized the profound meaning of the right and the mandate to defend oneself with deadly force, either having experienced the need for it first-hand, or having reached that conclusion through study of history. It's like such a person then being faced with the threat of having that power taken away from him, legislated away, obsoleted away, assimilated away. Having known that level of power and freedom and then losing it is far worse than never knowing it at all.

Mac users are the lizards who choose to have to hunt for their food, because they know it's better than living in a fly trap.

That's why it's so hard for so many of us not to stand by Apple, even in the face of the most compelling of arguments in favor of its downfall. It's for the same reason that the NRA is made all the more steadfast, the more gun-control laws get passed: you can have my Mac when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, is how the refrain goes, isn't it? It's not just a chunk of metal and plastic, it's a symbol of something better, something that we'd better enjoy while we have it. And while the company making it possible is still turning out miracle after miracle, against all the odds and punditry, fulfilling the mandate of capitalist economics beyond anybody's reasonable expectation-- who can sniff callously that they may as well just give up, cash in, bow out?

America doesn't like whiners or professional victims; that's at the core of what our current war is all about. We refuse to be victims of terrorism. We refuse to be taken in by others' claims of victimization. We believe in hard work as the foundation for the creation of value, hard work and ingenuity and perseverance. We believe in earning respect. The ideology against which we're fighting is the ideology of entitlements, of victimization, of quotas and restitution and making sure nobody gets offended by anything-- respect enforced by law. And it seems to me that Apple has managed to do quite well without having to succumb to the temptation to whine. Sure, some of its user community might rail pointlessly against the Microsoft Hegemony; I've done that myself in the past. But I'm starting to think that that does no good at all, because Apple itself doesn't support that tactic. The company is speaking with its deeds. While Microsoft flails about trying to simultaneously entrench its credibility in business and to extend its brand into totally bizarre areas (apparently the iLoo story was not a hoax after all-- Microsoft has retracted its retraction), Apple keeps turning the crank and refreshing its offerings, and creating new and genuinely useful products. Where others theorize, Apple delivers. Today it's the iTunes Music Store, the first coherent answer to the years-old debate over the record companies' role in the digital age; before that, it was iTools/.Mac, while .NET is still mostly vapor; before that, it was wireless networking where they blazed ahead, and integrated DVD authoring, and flat-screen monitors, and video editing, and a long litany of such fields where they were the first to stake a claim-- and in many cases, remain the reference for it. They're the very model of the industrious, uncomplaining tinkerer in his lab, emerging-- you never know when-- with the airplane, the movie projector, the automobile, the transistor, the moon shot. Time was that we celebrated such figures.

It may be foolhardy to back Apple, when all the economic indicators state that they're doomed. It may well be more practical to say "Aw, to hell with 'em; they gave it a try, they contributed some good stuff, but their time is over. Let it go." But there's an ideal that Apple embodies, and I'm not just talking about the ideal of Proper UI Design or of Thinking Different or of Sticking It To The Man. I'm talking about the ideal of braving the storm, of playing the odds, of defying fate for decades upon decades and succeeding where so many others have failed. It's about learning from one's mistakes, of owning up to one's shortcomings, of solving problems and making things better. It's about the American Dream, really, and notwithstanding whether Al Gore is more popular with Apple's shareholders than even Jobs is, the behavior of the company demonstrates a performance that ought to bring a tear to the eye of any adherent to the thoughts of the Adam Smiths and Thomas Jeffersons of the world, indeed to the very eyes of the Founding Fathers and their revolutionary contemporaries who saw clearly what it was they were creating: this is what it's all about.

Who knows what's around the corner for Apple? Maybe prosperity, maybe death. I know that Morpheus' echoing speech in Zion ("We're still here!") applies, however; if we're determined to paint Apple as an underground rebel, with its own prophet exhorting the faithful from on stage, well-- he's either Morpheus or bin Laden. Some might not see a difference, but I do. It's their actions that define their worth, and Apple's actions are something to be proud of.

NOTE: IANA-Economist, but it should hardly need to be pointed out that monopolies belie market economics; they might become monopolies through superiority in competition or through other methods, but once they have reached monopoly status (or form a cartel), they no longer have the incentive of competition to push them to improve their products. Because improving their products costs money and is no longer necessary for their survival, they don't do it. That's why it's consistent for free-marketers to oppose monopolies. Even if a monopoly is the culmination of a company excelling in the free-market game, as soon as it's a monopoly it ceases to play by the free market's rules and plays only by its own, and should be acted against.

I should hope that intelligent fiscal conservatives would recognize this as well-- that it's not in their own interest to allow monopolies to run unchecked. The best expression of capitalism at work is when there are multiple viable competitors in a market, not when one of them has won.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
15:04 - Is the party over already?

Well, that didn't take long. Some of the iTunes-sharing databases (of which iTunesShare.com and iTuneShare.org are two, though there are others) have noticed a problem with publishing users' sharing lists.

While iTunes doesn't let you actually copy the MP3 or AAC files that you're streaming from a remote server onto your own machine, there are tools out there that let you capture the audio stream into a new MP3 file. With that added to the mix, iTunes' Music Sharing feature becomes just another means for petty morons to steal music. So SpyMac has taken their database offline.

David Benesch, one of the hackers who helped to decipher iTunes' DAAP protocol and publish its behavior, has this to say about the leeching programs that have already been developed around DAAP:

I am incredibly disappointed that these programs were developed. If you believe in file swapping or not, these programs have caused legitimate services to be taken down. More importantly, it's quite probable that Apple will remove this feature very soon. It could have been great. It could have been revolutionary. Stream, don't copy. Perhaps it was part of the great music compromise. Maybe it died in two short weeks.

I whole-heartedly support Spymac and others' decisions to take their sites down. It clearly became a source of illegal activity, despite it's legitimate intent. However, I encourage Apple to not give up on the feature, but take that Apple innovation to make it more secure. I believe streaming, combined with cataloging sites, can work great. If anyone at Apple is reading this, we were only trying to help. Don't give up on it completely.

It would certainly be annoying if Apple were to take out that feature; they've clearly been fighting for a long time (ever since the initial demos of Jaguar) to get the Rendezvous-showcasing Music Sharing into the hands of consumers, and we can only assume that its inclusion in iTunes 4 was the result of their hammering out an agreement with the labels, and an assurance that the feature wouldn't amount to yet another piracy tool. As long as the music was only being streamed (and people's upstream bandwidth was limited), there couldn't have been any real danger. But with stream-leeching software to worry about, built around the freed genie of DAAP and Music Sharing, this might well be a legitimate concern.

Some of the database sites (like ShareiTunes.com) have pledged to keep their resources online; others are following SpyMac's lead. I personally don't think that even with leeching software, the piracy concern is that big a deal; legitimate sharers can restrict or password-protect or disable their sharing, and illegitimate sharers have other sharing options anyway. The only unique weakness in iTunes' system is the ability for the ill-intentioned to buy music from the Music Store and then leave it open for remote leeching. But even that implies a perpetrator with the same mindset as someone who would buy music (either from the Music Store or on CD), recapture it into a DRM-less format via a loopback cable, and then send it out on KaZaA. If the labels weren't concerned with that chain of events for the Music Store itself, perhaps they ought not to be concerned about the same thing happening in the Music Sharing feature.

There's an intermediate solution, too; if Apple finds itself pressured to remove the ability to "broadcast" over the net (quotes because it's not really "broadcasting", it's browsed streaming), they could simply remove the ability to connect to remote hosts by IP address. Rendezvous users could still share music; Apple's model for Rendezvous networks is a family unit or household (or workplace), and that's a much smaller concern than streaming to strangers.

This may turn out to be a tempest-in-a-teapot sort of thing. I hope that once the Music Store really starts catching on, the whole concept of free music sharing will become generally passé; who would want to go to all this effort to get free music when you can get it in better quality, legally, for a dollar a track? The only people Apple really needs to worry about here are those who steal music purely for the thrill of stealing music, not to actually enjoy the music for its own sake; they're incorrigible. But consumers who merely want music to listen to will find it in their interest, economically and ethically and qualitatively, to just buy it.

I may be being naïve, but I think the latter outnumber the former.

UPDATE: Apple's attempts to prevent unauthorized hijacking of audio run deep. Here's what the developers of Snapz Pro X, which instantly crashes if you try to use it to get an iTunes 4 screenshot, noticed:

We know what this problem is, and it will be easily and quickly fixed. Essentially, in an apparent effort to enforce DRM, some of Apple's applications have a flag set on them that cause the kernel to uncerimoniously kill any program that attempts to pause them (as Snapz Pro X does).

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
00:25 - Sour Buckshot!

How delightfully politically incorrect! (Wonder if this was the original name they pitched this idea under?) And pretty dang sour to boot.

It even has a built-in belt clip. Even the iPod didn't originally ship with one.

22:05 - Eating crow

Do indulge me in a brief addendum to my Family Guy rant a few days ago.

Last night's episode had the following scene transition:

It's an establishing shot. Right? Well, for those of you in the audience who have studied the audio-commentary tracks of the Simpsons DVD sets with seminarial fervor, quick: what was the sound effect they always put on establishing shots of the Nuclear Power Plant?

And have a guess at what sound effect was used in the background of this Family Guy shot.

The only question is whether it was an intentional homage and sidelong winking industry/Film Roman injoke, or a rote lift?

Only the Shadow knows, I suppose...

17:50 - Shifting Gears

I've been remiss. For the past several months, I've been ignoring tech-related (and specifically Mac-related) news in favor of hounding after that little Iraq thing that happened. I seem to have gone off on a bit of a six-month political aside. I haven't been posting anywhere near as many long Apple-licious tirades or snarky analyses of Windows cretinisms or half-baked UI theory pieces or takedowns of clueless back-page tech columnists who predict Apple's bankruptcy and/or buyout by Disney (or Microsoft or Dell or NeXT or something) Any Day Now. I haven't even been giving MacSurfer its accustomed daily perusal.

Well, all that's gonna change. (Well, probably not, but accompany me on my flight of fancy just a little longer, won't you?) Because my favorite of all Mac commentary sites, As the Apple Turns, is back on the air after what appears to be a hiatus of similar dimensions and scope (though probably for different reasons). They're back to their good ol' three-posts-a-day formula, following the endless threads and plotlines that develop daily in the Apple world, weaving together disparate observations from today and last week and next February and early 1998 into luscious melt-in-your-mouth narrative. Anybody can harrumph about how the Mac rumor mill is like a soap opera; it takes the deft hand of AtAT to transform it into the real live article.

Which is why, when it comes to the iTunes Music Store, we took Apple's "million songs sold in one week" press release with a big ol' grain of NaCl. (For the scientifically unschooled, that's the chemical symbol for the element "Nackle.") Of course the store is going to see a lot of traffic during its first week, as everybody and their Mac-using grandmothers give the service a test drive to see if it lives up to the hype. Don't forget, out of those million songs sold during the first week, over a quarter of them were actually purchased within the first 18 hours. So there was a definite tapering off once people had satisfied their need to kick the tires.

But wait, what's this? Apple has just issued another press release, this time revealing that the iTunes Music Store has sold two million songs in its first sixteen days. Well, braid our hair and call us Heidi-- this is actually starting to look sustainable or something! Heck, if you factor out the first-day sales spike, it looks like the iTMS's weekly sales may even be increasing slightly. Roughly a million songs sold each week is definitely nothing to sneeze at, and once Apple extends the service to Windows users as promised, we imagine the numbers are going to skyrocket.

As will my renewed interest in the Mac rumormongering market, now that my favorite filter is back. Huzzah!

17:06 - So long, frying pan

I just paid off my car today. Yaay!

'Course, now I've got that mortgage to worry about, which is like having nine cars-- and which will take ten times as long to pay off. (Plus the 0-60 time and handling are for crap.)

What the hell was I thinking?!

13:41 - Hostages of Software

Via CapLion; ever wonder what would ultimately happen once the automotive industry-- traditionally a mechanical and hardware-driven sector, in which failures were sparse and the basis for recalls-- merged with the software industry, with all its unpredictability and blasé hand-waving smirking acceptance of instability?

This is what. People's lives get put in danger.

Much is made in the software QA industry of the example of NASA, where everything is triple-redundant and the software systems are miniscule compared to even a modest desktop computer on Earth-- because the kind of rigorous design and testing you need in order to provide a fail-safe guarantee of the stability of software necessitates simple and bounded systems. Adding one widget to the system can add a year to the R&D process. But NASA holds itself to those standards. It's not practical for companies like Microsoft to do so, not when there are the market pressures of an exploding industry to answer. Contractors who write software for jetliners or the Air Force get to work under banners that say "When our software crashes, so does the plane"; you won't find those kinds of banners in Redmond. (One hopes there's a banner somewhere on the campus that says "Remember the Yorktown", but I'm not holding my breath.)

And the automobile industry is hardly in NASA's league, either; but because until now they've been working with proven technology, making only evolutionary changes, they've been a lot closer to such stability than the software industry ever has. And never the twain shall meet.

Or not:

Suchart Jaovisidha and his driver were trapped inside the BMW for more than 10 minutes before guards broke a window. All doors and windows had locked automatically when the computer crashed, and the air-conditioning stopped, officials said.

"We could hardly breathe for over 10 minutes," Suchart told reporters. "It took my guard a long time to realize that we really wanted the window smashed so that we could crawl out. It was a harrowing experience."

It's only going to get worse from here. I could smirk at the fact that this was a WinCE-based system that crashed (in fact, it can probably be shown that Microsoft is in fact more prone to this kind of weakness than many other software makers, and more guilty of shoddy design and perfunctory testing-- and BMW, like so many other companies, picked Microsoft because they were Microsoft, not because their products were any good); but the problem that this uncovers is bigger than any one company. It's the whole argument about the excessive overcomputerization of huge chunks of metal that hurtle down roads piloted by civilian consumers.

I have no doubt that cars in the future will be necessarily as chock-full of technology as any sci-fi scenario would suggest. You can't have flying cars without computers, for instance. But you won't be able to sell flying cars if the computers randomly crash, locking up the engines, sealing the air circulation system, or otherwise endangering passengers' lives. Computer systems in personal transportation will have to be developed as rigorously as Air Force or NASA software before companies like BMW can be applauded for integrating them into their cars.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
22:23 - 9/11 for the Saudis?

InstaPundit links to this Arab News article (and this one), which struck me in a surprising way: Isn't this exactly the kind of introspective scrambling and sudden self-blame that occurred here starting on 9/12? Doesn't it have the feel of one of those "Why do they hate us?" rambles?

If so, it's exactly what we needed to have happen at some point: an analogous event, right in the heart of the Arab world, to 9/11; something that shook them up as much as those jetliners did us.

It's obviously terrible that the victims died, but-- (see there? That's what a but feels like) -- compared to 9/11, this was a pretty mild event from the Saudi perspective. It's right in their backyard, exploding their own "it can't happen here" myths, making crystal clear that turning a blind eye to terrorism is just as dangerous for the harborers as it is for the objects of the terrorists' ire. The fact that it was only an event of this size may even help make the prospect of change more palatable to the Saudis, more so than if, say, thousands of Saudi nationals in a business tower had been slaughtered. They might be more rational this way, bypassing the weeks of horrified pegging of opinion gauges that occurred here after the WTC fell.

Australia had its 9/11 in the form of Bali; they subsequently got on board with Iraq. Now, if these Riyadh attacks are perceived by the Arab press as being of the same nature, demanding positive corrective action from moderate, practical Arabs and a swallowing of pride in the interest of solving the problem, it might be exactly the medicine we need in order to bring the chain of events set in motion by 9/11 to a civilized close.

13:50 - iMacX970-Power64

LoopRumors has word that the 970 shipments to manufacturers in Taiwan are well underway:

We received word that two large shipments of Power PC 970 processors went to Foxconn in Taiwan, under a purchase order from Apple computer. Twenty thousand 1.4Ghz PPC 970's and forty thousand 1.6Ghz PPC 970's have already arrived in their hands. IBM's inventory contains fifty thousand 1.8 Ghz PPC 970's, of which forty thousand are destined for Foxconn tomorrow (Wednesday).

IBM has listed as pending 2Ghz parts as well, which means that it will be in inventory within a month if their fab in East Fishkill produces sufficient volumes of them, and from what we hear they should be in stock by mid-June.

I don't like getting my hopes up, but... dammit, I need a new machine. Preferably one with a better audio-ripping optical drive than the DVD-RAM combo drive in my G4/450 which still results in clicks and pops whenever I import any CDs, something that doesn't happen on my iBook or the current iMacs. (I think the DVD-RAM just has a bum driver that they never really had the incentive to keep current, once DVD-RAM stopped being a useful form of media.)

And if it can rip at 25-30x instead of my current 6-7x, so much the better, eh?

Anyway, the question that ultimately arises from these 970 rumors, and one that I was pondering this morning in the shower, is... what the hell will the machines themselves be called? PowerMac G5? G6? PowerMac 970? Here's a discussion forum whose denizens discuss exactly that; possibilities range from "something with X in it" to weird combinations of "64" and "970" and all the other monikers that have become common memes lately. As some of the commenters are correctly noting, they'll have to come up with a name that maintains existing mindshare capital ("PowerMac"), yet doesn't suggest discredited or outdated technology (e.g. "64", as in "Nintendo 64"); something that leverages "next-generation" terminology (Xmac?) without being hard to say quickly. I guess this is why the marketing guys get paid the big bucks, huh?

Sheesh. I wonder what other company gets this kind of speculation going about its own product names.

13:24 - The Sharing Scramble

It appears that iTunesShare.com has retreated from live deployment, at least temporarily, presumably to deal with unprecedented load and technical glitches. But in the meantime, there's another iTunes remote music-sharing/streaming clearinghouse site that's sprung up: iTuneShare, with only one S and a .org.

It's pretty sparse thus far, but if there's this much demand, I'm sure that won't last long...

Thanks to Ben for the tip.

12:57 - Next time with pictures

Time for another one of those interesting-only-to-Brian posts, I think.

For the past several days, and over the weekend in particular, we've been in drywall hell. Not the actual doing of drywall, mind you; just trying to find a drywall contractor who will answer his bloody phone.

See, the new master suite has a new arch wall about 1/3 of the way down its length; this needs to be fully drywalled along the lower part, below waist level, and then the columns and arches need to be clad in drywall and made nice and flush. Then there's the old wall that we removed, which used to divide the two small bedrooms from each other; that left long strips of bare wall and ceiling that have to be patched. We also removed the two closets, which means there are more strips of non-drywall to replace, in L-shapes on the ceilings and then down to the floor.

And then there's the new bathroom passthru door we put in, which needs to be surrounded with drywall; the ductwork has been clad in MDF, and it needs drywall; and the old bedroom door that we removed needs to be drywalled over, too. And then there are about a dozen little holes and divots and cuts and miscellaneous punch-throughs that have to be filled in somehow, either with lots of spackle or with actual drywall patches.

Not exactly a weekend's work, I know. But hey, we're stupid, so we thought we'd just buy the drywall and go to it.

Well... that didn't work out too well. Drywall's more complicated than just tacking some strips up and knifing putty into the cracks. The more we got into it (which is to say, not very far), the more we realized that the only way to go about this was going to be to have a professional come in.

Easier said than done, however. I spent the past week phoning every contractor in the area who came up in a yellow-pages search on "drywall" in Sherlock. I must have called nearly two dozen people. I talked to contractors, I talked to secretaries (wives), I talked to answering machines. Many said they only did large subcontract jobs for builders; they didn't do little piecemeal weird things like mine. So they were out. But among the remaining ones who did seem to be likely candidates-- care to guess how many returned my calls?

Yup, zero. Cold round goose-egg. I don't know what it is with the state of drywall contracting around here, but it just doesn't seem conducive to people actually following up on jobs or anything.

But at any rate, I figured the only thing for it would be to find one contractor that I liked, whose non-call-back at least seemed to be for the most innocuous of reasons, and to just hammer and hammer until I got him on-site. I could talk to his secretary/wife before noon most days, and she kept reassuring me that he'd get back to me, but he never did; after noon, I could call the same number back and get an answering machine, but the ingenous way it worked was as follows: Please leave a message after the beep. BEEP! ...You have reached so-and-so construction. For a directory by name, please press 8. ...Leaving me with little clear direction as to how I was meant to leave a message.

But yesterday, through some miracle, I managed to get through to the real, live contractor around 2:00. Boy oh boy, I wasn't about to let him off the line now that he was in the net! I told him all about our previous missed appointments (last Wednesday, the first day I'd called, he said he'd come by the house-- but never showed, though we waited there until like 7:00) and about his weird-ass answering machine, and he apologized profusely and agreed to come out and look. And come out and look he did.

After about twenty minutes of rubbing of chins and going "hmm", he said the job would likely cost us about $1800-2000. I suppose that's not as bad as it could be. Besides, he has a brand-new Avalanche with his logo on the door, so he must be good at what he does. (Yay, like my logic?) But after all this, I'm thinking that it's going to be a small price to pay to just get this all done, and done right. If it means just refacing the kitchen cabinets and not redoing the kitchen wholesale, which we'd been planning to do, well, so be it. We can still manage a nice granite countertop, and it won't look bad, certainly.

So the next step is to get the room 100% finished and ready for drywalling, which means completing the arches and the header over the new door, and putting new wider trim pieces in where the old door was (so the drywall can drive into them without splitting them). And then maybe the following week we can paint, and then we can carpet, and then we can... move in?

11:52 - What were those Root Causes again?

OSAMA: We must slaughter the infidels in order to fight back against their abominable military presence in Saudi Arabia, the country that houses the Muslim Holy Sites!

FRANKS: Okay, well, Iraq's now better for us anyway, so let's pull out of Saudi Arabia. That oughtta make them happy.

OSAMA: Ha haaa! Fooled you! We want to slaughter you no matter what you do! Ha ha haah! BOOM!

AL-FAISAL: Well, y'know, this stuff happens everywhere. Whaddyagonna do, huh?

POWELL: I'm sure this situation can be resolved through diplomacy. We even have a Roadmap to Peace ready to go in Israel and the occupied territories-- and the Palestinians say they're on board with it!

PALESTINIANS: Yeah, check this shit out! BOOM!

POWELL: Uh... yeah. Diplomacy, perhaps?

I think it should be fairly obvious by now that diplomacy is the cause of these attacks, not the solution to them. If we insist upon being seen as a country that uses words to deal with bombs, what possible tactical advantage could they see in not continuing to use bombs? Especially when their goal is not "peace", but "death for the infidels".

Diplomacy ain't gonna resolve goals that widely disparate.

Sunday, May 11, 2003
04:59 - Oh good, they're still doooomed

Steven Den Beste has come up with a negative spin on the iTunes Music Store. I knew he could do it.

Thursday, May 8, 2003
20:53 - This deserves recirculation

A comment by "Bleeding heart conservative" in a thread at LGF, in response to a one-line snipe. Talk about swatting a fly with a Buick.

I'm mostly just posting this to get it into the database, so I can link back to it for reference later.

19:13 - Switch to Homestar!

Rock on.

18:46 - Charting the Course

Mike Silverman has a great little table posted by which you can determine your personal political label. I seem to be a gutter-ball myself, pinball-bumpering down the trough between the "Liberal" and "Conservative" columns all the way down.

It's lower-tech than those ubiquitous web quizzes, but a good deal less annoying, too.

15:22 - Watch out for the sky

Today's "Boondocks":

It means we as a people discriminate not on the basis of race or skin color or gender or religion, but on the basis of opinion. Shouldn't that make you happy?

Perhaps you'd prefer it if the tyrannical US government were the one to censure the Dixie Chicks, eh? Then everything would fit into your little book o' rules right neatly.

Can't have those people speaking out against someone's opinion. No, sir. That would undermine democracy, you see.

Didn't you know the First Amendment only protects unpopular opinions, not popular ones? Didn't you know it's only the unpopular opinions that have any merit?

15:10 - Joining the Collective

Boy, this didn't take long. Remember how right after Apple released iCal, sites like iCalShare started popping up-- providing registration, grouping, and browsing for people's individual calendars?

Well, iTunes 4 has already spawned the same thing: ShareiTunes.com. Because you can arbitrarily connect to anybody else's shared music via their IP address, but because that method provides no implicit browseability or discovery, users are limited to typing in IP addresses from memory (there's no built-in bookmark function, which it needs). But ShareiTunes.com allows people to register their shared music libraries and give them descriptive names, allowing them to be grouped and browsed and connected to (via the daap:// protocol prefix); it's the missing "discovery" component for what's ordinarily only a non-browseable network. iTunes just became a massively interconnected system all its own.

The music is still all just streamed, as iTunes doesn't let you download the actual files you're streaming from someone else's machine; but if anyone is looking for a metaphor, "Internet Radio" is a perfect one. Suddenly, now that actual traditional Internet Radio seems to be suffering a fatal death-blow dealt by the RIAA, everybody with iTunes and a Net connection (and a static IP address) has his own Internet Radio station.

Life will find a way, Mr. Hammond.

13:51 - Panther Features

LoopRumors has an interesting list of Panther details; some of them repeat whisperings we've already heard, like 64-bit support and Piles. And the rest of the items listed seem plausible and sensible. Particularly this one:
Advanced Software Update. Several sources indicate that the Software Update Control Panel is redesigned. One report specifies that SUCP will maintain a history of all purchases made through one-click, i.e. iTunes Music and software purchased through the Apple Store, will always be accessible for download through that User ID.

Yeah, baby. That's the stuff.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003
21:09 - The rest of the story

Via The Command Post. I was sort of expecting something like this to show up by now; after all the inevitable headlines (Newsweek and Time must have been in a race to the presses to be the one who got to use "Saving Private Lynch"), and the stories of heroism that consisted mostly of journalistic expansions on what the troops were told by Nasiriyah lawyer Mohammed al-Rehaief, it seemed like the thing to do was to wait and see what details surfaced once everybody got to tell their side of the story.

Three days before the U.S. raid, Lynch had regained enough strength that the team was ready to proceed with orthopaedic surgery on her left leg. The procedure involved cutting through muscle to install a platinum plate to both ends of the compound fracture. "We only had three platinum plates left in our supply and at least 100 Iraqis were in need," Raazk said. "But we gave one to Jessica."

A second surgery, and a second platinum plate, was scheduled for Lynch's fractured arm. But U.S. forces removed her before it took place, Raazk said.

Three days after the raid, the doctors had a visit from one of their U.S. military counterparts. He came, they say, to thank them for the superb surgery.

"He was an older doctor with gray hair and he wore a military uniform," Raazk said.

"I told him he was very welcome, that it was our pleasure. And then I told him: `You do realize you could have just knocked on the door and we would have wheeled Jessica down to you, don't you?'

"He was shocked when I told him the real story. That's when I realized this rescue probably didn't happen for propaganda reasons. I think this American army is just such a huge machine, the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing."

I'll buy that. I would also submit that al-Rehaief's impression of what was going on in the hospital may not exactly have been top-drawer intelligence, either. Based on what we're told he said to the American troops, I'd still say it made sense for the rescue unit to bash in the way they did. After all, they thought they were heading into an Uday charnel-chamber. The fact that, if this story is true, it actually turned out to be that we "rescued" Lynch from a place that was more professional and well-starched than my local Kaiser Permanente would owe more to good old-fashioned crossed wires and playing-it-safe than to any kind of propagandistic malice. That's why they call it the "fog of war".

What troubles the staff in Nasiriya most are reports that Lynch was abused while in their case. All vehemently deny it.

Told of the allegation through an interpreter, nurse Shinah wells up with tears. Gathering herself, she responds quietly: "This is a lie. But why ask me? Why don't you ask Jessica what kind of treatment she received?"

Good question; I've wondered that myself. How come we still haven't heard her side? That's something that's been bugging me for a while. I don't know if anybody's been on as many magazine covers as she has without being interviewed.

They're saying that the rescue was nothing like the Hollywood script that it's been made out to be. But I'd say that on the contrary, it actually sounds like a much more interesting and thought-provoking movie than it otherwise would have been. Ironic and self-denigrating and darkly comic. Just like most modern war movies usually are.

16:10 - New From Microsoft: The "Macintosh"

Via the recently-returned-from-the-dead AtAT:

The demonstration will focus on usability and user friendliness - something that has often escaped the computer industry as hardware companies build machines and separate programmers come up with the software to run them.

The prototype machine, code-named Athens, had its hardware and software jointly built by Microsoft and computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. With a built-in Internet telephone and video camera, it's targeted at businesses and improving worker productivity.

"It's more than just slamming things together," said Steve Kaneko, design director of Microsoft's Windows Hardware Experience Group.

Imagine that.

Clearly, a key element of a user-friendly computer designed under the "whole-widget" philosophy is a swooshy abstract brightly-colored desktop background. 'Cause, y'know, it probably doesn't work right without one.

Right? I mean, like, Apple--

Nah. No way.

I dunno, let's just hedge our bets. Should we put a widescreen display on it, Bill? How about making it cube-shaped, with a pulsing purple light on it? You know, just to make sure.

Well, we can't be too obvious, can we?

Nah, who'll know the difference? Besides, this one has a camera on it! And a phone!

Good point. Call the press. And add a toilet-paper dispenser, too. I think there's room.

Aye-aye, sir!

UPDATE: The Reg is on the case. Oooh, it's positively dripping with sarcasm. I love it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003
00:17 - ...And again

Why, look: yet another disguised iBook. This time in an ad for that "FreeUp" thing, whatever the hell it is. (Why does this keep happening in cell phone ads?)

This time they're using butterfly stickers to cover up the evil Apple logo. Since I've been spending the past few weekends peeling butterfly stickers off the dark blue walls of my new bedroom, which previously (apparently) housed a pre-teen girl, and since there seems to be no end in sight to the onslaught of these celluloid monsters, I shall now declare unending war against the unjust forces of the Butterfly Sticker Oppressors. Their concealment of the truth, and their evil occupation of my walls, shall not stand against the glorious might of my iron will.

22:09 - O! I am slain!

Here's BBspot's take on the iTunes Music Store:

Cupertino, CA - Apple's recent announcement that over 1 million songs had been purchased in the first week of its new music store's existence presents undeniable proof that Apple users will overpay for anything.

The iTunes music store offers AAC encoded songs for a dollar a piece, infinitely more expensive than the free songs windows users enjoy.

Steve Jobs said, "Over the years our dedicated users have been willing to pay a premium for less flexibility and smaller selection, from the original Macintosh to the current OS X. Now we've applied this concept to the world of entertainment. It's absolutely phenomenal that they fell for it again."

Loyal Apple computer users were unsurprisingly excited by the new offering. "I really appreciate the cost-savings of being able to download songs for a buck," said Pentagon procurement officer and Macintosh user, Wendy Sykes. "Before the iTunes Music Store I had to listen to one of the $37 music CDs that I purchased."

. . .

Users of Windows computers, who download their music for free using peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as Kazaa and Morpheus, were bewildered by news that the store would be available for them later this year.

"Sure, Apple users will eat this up. They're used to paying money for things like software and operating systems, but Microsoft users will never buy into something like this," said Yani Stevens of the Windows Alliance.

Ooooh. Ooooh. Ouch. The words, they are like barbs to the heart.

We Mac users are just too stupid to trade MP3s. I get it. Once again, we're behind the curve, missing the train, unfashionably late. Why don't we get with the program and pirate our music and software like the smart kids do?

Ugh. First the Onion turns out to be a bitter and petty excuse for a comedy site, and now this. I'm all for poking fun at Mac users (because if we don't, everyone else will, and in a way we won't like); but this is just dumb.

21:05 - Steve Blogs

Well, okay, not really. But Apple's "Hot News" page isn't just a running list of links to big-press reviews of Apple products from well-known Mac-faithful columnists anymore; apparently now it's not above engaging in a little bidirectional hat-tipping with ordinary bloggers.

Like John Vargo of bychance.net, who blogged this today:

Subject: An Open Letter to Steve Jobs
RE: MP3 Addiction


You should know that for the past few years, I've been consumed by a sickness: an addiction, really. This sickness consumed my free time, distracted me when I really should have been doing other things, and maxed out countless hard drives in my macs over the years. The sickness that I'm referring to is Audius Downloaditis, or as its more commonly known, MP3 addiction.

Over the years, I've tried numerous medications: Napster, Kazaa, and Limewire, all of which had little or no effect. I continued to spend hours downloading, testing (and often deleting), renaming and storing my stolen audio tracks. My friends tried to help, lending me their CD collections to rip in exchange for burning custom mix CDs, but still to no avail. It seemed my infection of pirated audio would continue to grow until my demise.

Then, a coworker told me about a new feature in the latest version of iTunes that caught my attention. A music store that gives you access to free 30 second previews, album art, and high-quality downloadable audio tracks at just $0.99 a piece. After hurriedly downloading and installing the new software, I treated myself with 7 fabulous audio tracks. I transferred them to my iPod, and almost immediately I could feel the MP3 fever start to let loose its grasp on me.

And Apple linked back to it.
No More MP3 Addiction
"I'd like to thank you for developing a great tool that has me well on the way to recovery," writes recovering MP3 addict John Vargo on his conversion to iTunes 4 and the iTunes Music Store. "My treatment continues, as I have a lot of MP3 tracks (almost 8,000 songs) to replace with pristine quality AAC-encoded audio." [May 6]

It's foolish to suggest that any publicly traded corporation is in business for any other reason than to make money for its shareholders. Icons like Apple and Nike and Mountain Dew are encapsulated forms of mythology for the modern man, giving us the equivalent of the tales of real-life heroism that we once had and still crave. No one company is more moral or personable or fundamentally exciting than another; strip off the fancy logos, and companies are all just faceless machines with anonymous and nearly identical clockwork inside.


15:08 - Public Service Announcement

Because it seems to be so sorely needed, everywhere I turn, it falls to my hands to present: The "How To Spell Original FAQ".
Q: How do I spell 'original'?

A: O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L

Q: How many times does the letter 'O' appear in 'original'?

A: One.

Q: Wait, I thought it was spelled O-R-I-G-I-O-N-A-L.

A: No, it isn't.

Q: How did you say it was spelled again?

A: O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L

Q: How come?

A: Because William the Conqueror said so.

Q: Nuh-uh!

A: Yeah-huh.

Q: You can't chain me, man! Spelling is subjective, like a bird in the wind!

A: I'll give you a bird in the wind.

Q: You're stifling free speech!

A: No, this is stifling free speech: <wraps a pillow around Qer's head>

...Any more questions?


Monday, May 5, 2003
17:03 - Les machines de secrétaire

Chris forwards me some interesting early benchmarks of PPC970 performance. I don't know how reliable they are-- and I'm not just saying that because it's a French site-- but if they are, these chips are something to look forward to indeed.

16:26 - I'm obviously missing something

A few weeks ago, Cartoon Network changed its weeknight/Sunday Adult Swim lineup. They swapped out the limited-animation short-production Home Movies for a show that I'd only seen glimpses of, in passing, several years ago when it was on first-run: Family Guy.

Back then, when I saw it through the windows of the Ricketts House lounge (the only on-campus house with a TV), I was sure I was missing something crucial. Judging from the animation and the art style, which was all I could see of the show (no sound penetrated those 1930s-construction adobe walls), it was a Simpsons knockoff. But also, judging by the crowd of Scurves sprawled out over all the chairs and sofas and cushions in the lounge, gazing raptly at the projection TV and heaving with silent laughter, it was evidently pretty funny. Original, even, one might almost say.

But lacking a TV of my own, as the vast majority of students did (and presumably still do, at Caltech), I didn't have the means by which to conduct any further observations or formulate an objective opinion of the show. I had to content myself with that 50MB QuickTime movie I'd just downloaded on what was marked "Download soxmas.mov Day" on the house's social calendar. Wow, what a great one-off. Imagine if they'd ever made that into a series!

...Ahem; anyway. So Family Guy faded into the background of my consciousness, and I thought no more about it until just a few weeks ago, when Cartoon Network started running it. And now I've seen a few episodes, while at the same time hearing from various sources that it's a stupefyingly funny show-- witty, original, addictive.

Well, unfortunately, after seeing some six episodes by now, I'm prepared to make the reluctant-- but firm-- statement that I think this show bites ass.

That's right; I've given it every chance in the world; I even wanted to enjoy it. Hey, who doesn't want another fun and subversive animated prime-time comedy? But my best efforts have failed, and it's now time to call a turd by its rightful name.

There doesn't seem to be any attempt made to conceal that the show is a Simpsons knockoff; it's of the "second generation" of such shows, following the litany of much more obvious me-too-ism that avalanched after the initial success of second-season Bart-Mania ("Family Dog", "Capitol Critters", "Fish Police", "Dinosaurs"). This second generation had a bit more time to plan their prime-time animated shows that stared beseechingly into the camera and pleaded shamelessly and earnestly for syndication. One might expect them to be palpably more carefully thought-out, more long-lasting. One might expect them to have their own unique edginess and their own irresistible memes which would grant the shows the immortality that their forerunners failed to deliver.

But I'm afraid that Family Guy fails just as badly, even for such a self-aware, fourth-wall-busting entry starting from such a plateau of studied advantage. Seth McFarlane might have a brilliant brother, but his ability to parlay his own meager voice-acting talents into an engaging series has thus far struck me as... well, inadequate.

I guess the fairest way to describe the show is that yes, it's a Simpsons knockoff-- but it's a Simpsons knockoff with more edge! Yeah! Extreeeeme! Peter is dumber, more morbidly obese, and more offensive than Homer even in the latter's "jerkass" episodes; Lois is homelier and yet more hidden-tiger-in-bed than Marge, and the kids-- well the less said about the kids, the better. They couldn't have less to do with Bart and Lisa, thanks be unto whatever gods rule the airwaves; apparently the writers, in their infinite wisdom, though it would be better still to cast the kids as viciousy stupid, pudgy, oblivious, instantly irritating ciphers whose role toward any plot point consists of whining like fire engine sirens spooling up. In fact, I don't know what flash of brilliance it was that led McFarlane to voice the entire family with nasal, high-pitched, wanna-be-uptown-New-Yorker-but-stuck-in-Rhode-Island-with-this-dumbass-family voices, complete with piercing warbling zitty-sci-fi-fan laughter, but it doesn't work, for God's sake. Jeez! I can't stand listening to more than one sentence of Lois' hyper-Fran-Drescher sneering nose-holding drone that sounds like it's being transmitted over heavily deteriorated phone lines from the offices of some long-lost 1960s Bell System central-office operator. Peetah! I am ve'ruy supraaahyzed at you! Now deposit ten ceynts for the next five minutes, plee-ase! Ugh. I find myself wishing I was back in the Ricketts breezeway peering through a window, watching the characters gesticulating in blessed pantomime.

But then, of course, there are the two remaining characters, the ones that are supposed to be the big "hooks" that endear the show to legions of adoring fans: the baby, Stewie, and the dog, Brian. Now: let me state for the record that I despise talking-baby shows. Ever since Dinosaurs, that prototypical talking-baby Simpsons knockoff in which the precocious "baby" character was the one positioned for placement on lunchboxes and t-shirts, and made into squeeze toys that yelp "Notdamomma!" and "I'mdababy!" and "Gottaloveme!" when the dog chomps on them at the bottom of the stairwell, the whole genre has been-- perhaps unfairly-- poisoned for me. I don't know if the Family Guy writers thought that if Maggie was cast at the far end of the spectrum of taste and believability, with a pacifier as her only means of communication, but with depth of character nonetheless, then the obvious alternative to avoid critics crowing Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it! should be to create a baby who's an ambulatory, conniving, evil little sarcastic bastard with a Noel Coward/Tim Curry/Dr. Smith voice espousing endless cynical bitterness and loathing for all humanity, but-- and maybe it's just the gypsum and fiberglass talking here, but-- I don't personally find that appealing. And Brian, who's apparently voiced by McFarlane (for once, a listenable character), but who sounds more like an uninteresting version of Patrick Warburton, is a drunk. That's right, the dog is a drunken pervert who's constantly in therapy, giving an oh-so-edgy-cool narrative angle to the show: relate it all in flashbacks told to a psychiatrist by the dog! Oh, be still my beating pancreas. There's supposed to be this outsiders'-cameraderie interplay between Stewie and Brian, two characters who aren't supposed to be able to talk and connive, but who do anyway, for reasons that don't seem to be clear; however, the pervasive bile spewing from Stewie and the disinterested tragic honesty coming from Brian don't exactly work together with innovative chemistry, and the premise of these two walking/talking misfits is so distracting that I can't enjoy even a moderately cleverly-written boxcar showtune that they sing during their odyssey back home. I just keep thinking, "Okay, heh, that was funny-- but wait a second. That baby just hotwired a car! Jesus Christ!"

The writing, in fact, is one of the most confusing things about the show. There are some clever gags, yes, and some genuinely funny plot points. But all too frequently, the writers exhibit such ineptness with timing and such a bull-headed lack of understanding of how long a joke can last before it stops being funny that I have to wonder just where these writers came from before getting this gig. The Y2K/Apocalypse episode, which is by far the worst example of such clumsiness that I've seen so far in the series, starts out with a literally five-minute long flashback sequence in which Peter fights with a man-sized chicken through the city streets. No reason; no point that affects the subsequent plot. Just a five-minute flashback fight scene that was apparently thrown in there to flesh out a script that wasn't long enough. (The whole fight scene probably took up less than a third of a page of script.) Ditto for the point later in that episode when the family encounters Randy Newman at a piano. Newman extemporaneously bangs out a song in which he narrates Lois's facial expressions as she stares at him. And this goes on for like a minute and a half! Ninety seconds of tedious, less-funny-every-moment variations on the same lame joke; finally, Peter whisks her hurriedly away, but where the hell was he forty-five seconds ago? Did the writers get lost on the way back from the break room? Or did they run out of monkey chow to hurl into the room with the million typewriters?

The texture of the show is extremely uneven. Again, there are moments of brilliance; some of the sight gags are unbeatable, and there are times when the comic timing is ingenious. But last night I sat through an entire half-hour episode and didn't even giggle once; whereas the Aqua Teen Hunger Force that followed it-- starring Danzig, a swimming pool full of elf blood, a doomsaying robot, and a dung-throwing hominid Santa Claus-- had me howling. That's a pretty sad state of affairs, if you think about it.

Finally, if I may toss one last petty jab into the cauldron of vitriol that I've been stirring: Why it that every single male character in the show has a scrotum for a chin?!

There's still apparently a large fan following for Family Guy; it gets good professional reviews, and there are fan sites all over the net. It's because of this that I assumed there would be something to be found in the show which would justify the favorable attitude everybody seems to have toward it. But at least in the episodes I've seen thus far, it's successfully eluded my grasp.

15:08 - A million in a week

Another data point on the curve of the Apple Music Store's proliferation:

CUPERTINO, California--May 5, 2003--Apple® today announced that its revolutionary iTunes® Music Store sold over one million songs during its first week. Over half of the songs were purchased as albums, dispelling concerns that selling music on a per-track basis will destroy album sales. In addition, over half of the 200,000 songs offered on the iTunes Music Store were purchased at least once, demonstrating the breadth of musical tastes served by Apple's groundbreaking online store. Apple also reported that over one million copies of iTunes 4 have been downloaded, and that it has received orders for over 110,000 new third-generation iPods since their introduction a week ago, with music lovers snapping up more than 20,000 of them from stores in the U.S. this weekend.

"In less than one week we've broken every record and become the largest online music company in the world," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Apple has created the first complete solution for the digital music age--you can purchase your favorite music online at the iTunes Music Store, mix your favorite tracks into playlists with iTunes, and take your entire music collection with you everywhere with the super-slim new iPods."

"Hitting one million songs in less than a week was totally unexpected," said Roger Ames, Warner Music Group's chairman and CEO. "Apple has shown music fans, artists and the music industry as a whole that there really is a successful and easy way of legally distributing music over the Internet."

Interesting analysis implicit here-- especially the thing about the worry that album sales would be impacted by individual-track downloads. This isn't to say that the mix won't change as the music industry (at the artist level) starts to adapt to this new technology, as it did when tapes and 8-tracks and CDs all became ascendant; I fully expect a new model to emerge by which artists can group songs for bulk consumer purchase. (Individually-tailored playlists created by the record companies, instead of "Greatest Hits" re-release collections? Hell yeah! It's going to be a whole new world of opportunities for premiums, too-- the modern equivalent of "B-sides".) But in the meantime, it looks like the transition might be smoother than the naysayers have apparently feared.

New tracks will be added tomorrow, by the way-- 3,200 of them, though this is a pretty small number next to the 200,000 that are in there now. I imagine these weekly additions will grow in size as the labels release the big-ticket artists to be sold through Apple. Beatles and Led Zep, here we come!

Thanks to J Greely for the tip.

Oh yes-- and there's a new 10GB iPod in the cubicle across the hall from me. The infiltration continues...

Saturday, May 3, 2003
13:18 - That sick sinking feeling

Wired reports that the stuff we've been hearing about the iTunes Music Store's wild out-of-the-gate success is not exaggerated; if anything, it's too modest.

"We've been hearing amazing numbers," said Jeremy Welt, head of new media at Maverick Records, which is partly owned by Madonna and is home to several big artists, including Alanis Morissette, the Deftones and Michelle Branch.

Welt declined to specify the numbers he'd heard, but said after just two days, sales from iTunes dwarfed Maverick's other online distribution deals, which include Pressplay and MusicNet.

"It's much bigger than anything else we're doing," he said.

Like most of those contacted for this story, Welt was absolutely giddy about the new store. Seduced by how easy it is to use and the fun of exploring music he hadn't heard, Welt said he'd already bought several tracks, despite being able to get most music for free from his industry contacts.

However, Wired has to scrape up a negative angle-- otherwise they risk looking like unbalanced reporters with news that their subscribers might find unpleasant. So, on with the FUD:

Matt Graves, a spokesman for Listen.com, a rival subscription-based service, noted that the licenses Apple has signed with the big-five record labels aren't exclusive. Listen.com and some of the other subscription-based services already offer for download the same catalog of music as the iTunes store, Graves said. (However, subscribers typically pay an additional charge for songs that can be burned to CD.)

In addition, Listen.com provides access to a much wider range of music than the iTunes store, Graves said. Although a lot of that content can be heard as streams only, the service is better for someone exploring music than the free, 30-second clips at Apple's store, he said.

"(Apple's store) is an evolution, not a revolution," Graves said. "We don't see it as super-competitive to what we have."

Apple's digital-rights management system, designed to prevent downloaded songs from being shared wholesale across networks, has drawn fire.

Fred Von Lohmann, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said although Apple's system is less restrictive than most -- it allows sharing across three authorized Macs, and more or less unlimited sharing among CDs and iPods -- like all DRM systems, it will inevitably annoy some users.

"DRM systems are all the same," he said. "They're restrictive. Some people will run into some odd situation not thought of by the designers. They will be very annoyed and turn to a P2P system like Kazaa."

ITunes customers must pre-authorize their machines before they can share songs across three systems, and reports of complaints about the authorization process are already appearing on website forums.

In addition, Von Lohmann said DRM mechanisms are meaningless in the world of file-sharing networks, where most songs are ripped from unprotected CDs. When so many songs are available for free, he questions why Apple and others risk alienating paying customers with DRM restrictions. "It's like locking the back door while the front door is wide open," he said.

Got that? Apple's DRM is too restrictive. Unlimited burning of individual songs, ten burns of unaltered playlists, and free playback on three machines-- including automatic streaming across networks-- and people are going to shun it and go back to trusty ol' KaZaA because the DRM is too restrictive.

Any day now! Just watch! The shunning will begin... now! ...Uh... okay, now! Wait-- stop downloading! Stop! C'mon! Be pissed off with us! Go back to renting music for a monthly fee! Waait! Fellaaaas?!

Oh, and don't forget this bit: <cue Darth Vader Music> ITunes customers must pre-authorize their machines before they can share songs across three systems. Uh... guys? Here's how onerous it is to "pre-authorize" a machine for music downloaded through a given account:

1) Copy the music to that computer;
2) double-click on the song file;
3) type in your password, once.

That's it. Forever. I'm not sure how that qualifies as "pre-authorization", but I'm having trouble seeing an avalanche of criticism arising from how convoluted this process is. Hey, Weird-- if it isn't too much trouble, you might try using the service before panning it, hmm? Thank you.

But other complaints seem to stem from the fact that the service is too expensive-- Wired's angle is that the complaints are all coming from Windows users sniffing that you have to be rich (e.g. own a Mac) in order to use the service. (Thus far.) And LGF's commenters seem united in the "99 cents per track is outrageous!" opinion bloc. Y'know, this comes as rather a surprise to me-- how exactly is a dollar a track an unfair price? After Apple takes its 35 cents, the labels their probably sixty or so-- what's the artist left with? Is this deal an unexpected honeypot for the artists, or the labels, or Apple, or what? Considering that the price is lower than CDs no matter how you slice it, who exactly is getting ripped off here?

I especially like this comment:

One of the very few nice things about France, is that here, copying music is legal.

Heh. Any port in a storm, eh?

Something tells me this party's only just getting started. And I suspect a number of CEOs of music-rental services are digging for their heart pills.

06:07 - And-a-one and-a-two and-a...

Reseller chains' closing notwithstanding, there's still plenty to be happy about in Mac-land; this evening was the "iPod Live" in-store event, held in all the Apple Stores across the land at 6:00 PM.

Normally, these kinds of queues only form on the mornings of new store openings; but this one was in place right in the middle of the business day. (Marcus notes that it's a bit underhanded for Apple to decree that the new iPods are not to go on sale until 6:00; because they know most third-party resellers aren't open then, but the Apple Stores all are. So they get all the business from the first-adopter line-up-outside-the-door geek contingent, plus the happy money-spending people emerging from showings of X-Men 2.) They were still having to gate people into the store, and so I got to meet plenty of interesting people in line. Including two co-workers. Weird.

Here's some obligatory photo-muckraking:

The line snakes around to the left, around the escalator, down to Nordstrom and back.

View around the left.

Shirted employees were handing out sweepstakes entry forms, selling t-shirts ($10 a pop), showing off demo iPods, and leading the crowd in jingoistic cheers.

One of the flyer/entry forms.

A drug-inducedly cheerful line jockey demonstrates an iPod to a dour babushka.

Rounding the corner.

Here's what half of the new window display looks like-- lots of CD covers dangling in space.

A closer look.

The DJ inside, mixing MP3s from two bracket-mounted iPods into some very pretty JBL speakers (which you could win).

They didn't let us take photos inside the store-- I guess they're cracking down on that now-- but I got to ply some of the employees with probing questions about Apple's policies regarding DRM and about their handling of third-party resellers and such business practices. The woman I talked to said she used to work at the Corporate level, handling customer service case management; but she moved into retail because the people and the atmosphere were nicer. Go fig.

The new iPods are very slick; the biggest difference is how light they are. They feel like teeny little PDAs, now, not hefty pieces of milled metal. They're a good deal thinner, and the "hold" button is now tightly friction-bound and protrudes slightly. The control buttons, in their new layout, are all touch-sensitive; no moving parts in this version. The four little round buttons are all in slight recesses in the plastic facing, as is the scroll-wheel; the select button is slightly raised from the surrounding scroll-wheel (flush with the main body). I'm not too sure about the tactile feedback issue; now you have no way of knowing that the command you gave has been received, no reassuring "click" under your fingertip. Maybe it clicks if you turn the clicker on. I'm not sure. The new system has its upsides and downsides.

The backlight now fades in and out. Jesus God in a rumble seat.

I could have gotten a free t-shirt if I'd picked up a new iPod today; but a) I'm trying to save my money, and put it into things like furniture for the new house, not spend it on toys; and b) I'm realizing more and more that I won't be able to stomach parting with my trusty old 5-gig from the very first weekend. Yes, it's an emotional attachment. Shut up.

I'll get one eventually. But not today.

Anyway-- it's now been raining fairly continuously for almost a month; not the heavy, blanketing, ponderous rain that makes everything dreary and irritating, but sporadic showers mixed with bright blue skies and shafts of light beaming in between the cloud banks. Sunsets have been amazing lately. Every evening for some three weeks, the sky has been on fire.

This is that horrific miserable weather that Glenn Reynolds flew into. Y'know, I'll take this over boring cloudless sunlight any day.

Friday, May 2, 2003
19:01 - There Goes the Neighborhood

Last night, on the way to a midnight squash game, I drove by the freeway-facing side of the Apple Campus on I-280 and saw that there was a new banner up:

This replaces the "Less is more. More is more." banner for the 12" and 17" PowerBooks.

And just around the corner-- literally across the street from the Apple campus-- is this decidedly more glum sight:

Elite Computers & Software, the central Mac reseller in Cupertino for the better part of two decades, is apparently going out of business. So is the whole ComputerWare chain, similarly long-lived and a part of Silicon Valley tradition, which had gone under about a year and a half ago-- only to have its name, assets, and employees snapped up by the tiny octagonal Elite store. A few months after that, Elite expanded its floor space-- they knocked out a wall separating it from the next store over in the strip mall (an eyeglass store, I think), and filled it with software and iMacs.

Last I heard was that ComputerWare, under its new management, was doing great.

Then, without warning, this. I talked to the guys in Elite-- apparently word had suddenly come down from central management that it was time to close up shop and sell everything off at cost. (I fought off the urge to pick up a new G4 tower.) They didn't know anything about the reasoning behind the decision. I guess things just slipped out from under them-- maybe the expansion was an overreach. Maybe something was handled clumsily. Things can snowball. There's certainly nothing in Apple's business track record over the past year to suggest this kind of reversal of ComputerWare's fortunes; it must have been something endemic to the chain.

Still sucks, though. Glenn Reynolds isn't kidding when he says it's a gray day here in San Jose.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
20:44 - The gauntlet is thrown

The revelation of the William Morris agency getting the Boycott Hollywood site shut down-- the site dedicated to exposing Hollywood actors and actresses who whine incessantly about their right to dissent being stifled, shut down in as blatant an attempt to stifle dissent as can be imagined-- is so rich, so dripping with irony as to render me and many others simply speechless. I can't think of a thing to say about it; I'm in vapor-lock. It speaks for itself, I tell myself.

But it really doesn't. It's such a big issue that it has to be covered in as much gruesome detail as possible, to make sure everybody knows exactly what's going on and what horrible hypocrisies it uncovers throughout the American political landscape today. I'm not the one to do it; I don't have the strength.

Fortunately, Mike "Cold Fury" Hendrix does. He covers all the bases, and provides a much needed catharsis.

The only thing lacking now is universal awareness. This meme needs to spread.

18:40 - They don't let idiots fly Navy jets

Remember Bill Pullman's role as President Whitmore in Independence Day?

"I'm a fighter pilot; I belong in the air."

I wonder if audiences seeing that movie in 1996 thought such a statement was unbecoming of a President-- or if they couldn't resist a flush of wistful pride.

(Apparently he would have taken an F-18, but the Secret Service made him settle for an S-3B Viking. And he didn't actually do the carrier landing himself. But still.)

17:12 - Apple Killed the P2P Star

J Greely sent me a few interesting observations relevant to the avalanche of business the Apple Music Store has been seeing:

It wasn't all me, I swear! I stopped after 124 songs (at an average
price of $0.74), mostly because I want to have *some* money left
when I leave for Las Vegas next weekend. :-)

In the process I stumbled across a number of things that suggest
Apple is willing to let the labels tinker with the pricing and
availability to see what works, or to give them almost enough
rope to hang themselves. I've found complete albums that are only
available track-by-track, tracks that are only available if you
buy the complete album, albums that can't be bought track-by-track,
albums where twenty sub-minute tracks are still $0.99 each, and
tracks priced higher than $0.99. The most expensive album I've seen
was B.B. King's "Anthology" at $19.98, which has over 2.5 hours of
music on it.

Combine that with the massive amount of data being collected on
browsing and purchasing habits, all tied to individual users, and
I figure that in about a month, the labels will be wetting themselves
with joy over their ability to tweak pricing on a daily basis and get
real feedback on what motivates consumers. I suspect that we'll
start to see Virtual Greatest Hits collections that offer the same
discount pricing as "real" albums; the label can assemble a playlist
in a few seconds, upload a previously unused photograph as a "cover",
and *boom*. They don't even have to write liner notes.

That will also be the point when Apple starts to get a secondary
revenue stream, as the labels jockey for position on the home page.
If that means they have to supply exclusive tracks that people want,
I won't complain. The cool thing is that if they start trying to
create artificial "exclusives" that turn out to be crap, the market
will reject them with record speed.

Yeah. I'd noticed a few of these weird database entries, myself, but I hadn't made the logical leap to "price tweaking". Sounds like there's been a lot of negotiations and wrangling over the price structure back in the darkened rooms deep beneath the Apple Bunker; a lot of work has gone into making this venture into something that the labels can stick with.

Apple calls their DRM system "FairPlay", by the way; and thus far I've found just about nothing to dislike about it, except for one omission: server-side relational purchase tracking. (I've just sent them feedback about this.) They already keep your purchase history, so adding a more interactive and visual version of that functionality wouldn't involve any more of a compromise of privacy than is there already. And it would enable all kinds of useful consumer features, such as:
  • The ability to see at a glance, inline in the iTunes interface, which tracks you've already bought-- so you don't accidentally buy them again, like (for instance) if you buy one track from an album, and then decide you want to buy the whole thing;
  • The ability to recover (re-download) all the music you're "entitled to", if your hard drive crashes; right now they have a Knowledge Base article discussing how to back-up your music to CD/DVD, but that's not very satisfying;
  • The ability to "Check For Purchased Music" and download all the music you've bought onto all three machines you've authorized, rather than having to download it once and then copy it from one machine to another.

The metaphor isn't great, because what brick-and-mortar stores guarantee free replacement of merchandise that you lose or break? But then, this is digital media, so there's no manufacturing cost-- but then again, there's Apple's bandwidth costs to consider when you start talking about their providing more data transfers than they absolutely have to. So there's a nonzero hit they'd take for providing this service; but I think it'd be worth it. (.Mac exclusive feature, perhaps?) If they're making 35 cents per track sold, as the Reg article suggests, they might have plenty of elbow room in which to work out where they should be spending their infrastructure budget.

Anyway, J Greely also says:

Something I couldn't resist: one of my first purchases was the
theme song from Napster: Bow Wow Wow's "C30 C60 C90 Go". :-)

Sounds to me like we've just witnessed a "Video Killed the Radio Star" moment.

(And for what it's worth, I bought the "Da Da Da" song.)

15:21 - 275,000 Downloads in First 18 Hours

Sounds like the Apple Music Service is off to a pretty brisk start.

Apple's online Music Store sold around 275,000 tracks during its first 18 hours of operation, Billboard magazine's online news service has claimed.

That works out at over four tracks sold every second. Now, Apple is charging punters 99 cents per track. It would be interesting to know how much of that goes to artists (performers and composers), how much to the labels and how much is left to Apple.

I'm estimating that I'm going to be spending around $50 per week on music from the service; if these reported numbers are true, representing the purchasing activity of just the most technophilic segment of what's at best 5% of the computing population--just imagine what kind of rate this could ramp to. Even if Apple doesn't extend the service to Windows. But if they do, as the Reg suggests...
Billboard bases the claim for the number of Music Store tracks sold on comment from sources within major music labels. It also alleges that at least two labels have signed up for Apple's upcoming Windows version of Music Store. We'd have thought Apple would have built such a licence into its agreement with the labels from the word go, but maybe that's not the case.

Nope-- now we get to see just how enthusiastic the labels are about the service. If they sign the initial contract, just as a wait-and-see kind of experimantal gesture, that's one thing. But if they then come back for the second round, when Apple goes for the Windows market, then the music industry will have made the irrevocable transforming decision that commits them to the digital age for good.

Seems the independent labels are already clamoring to get on board:

Time asked, "What about independent labels? Will they follow suit?" Jobs responded, "Yes. They've already been calling us like crazy. We've had to put most of them off until after launch just because the big five have most of the music, and we only had so many hours in the day. But now we're really going to have time to focus on a lot of the independents and that will be really great."

I can't blame 'em. And another interesting aspect to this is that the limitations on the selection in the store are almost certainly due simply to a lack of time and priority; they just wanted to get the thing launched, and now the big step is to finish populating the database. It's gonna be huge.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003
12:19 - Keepin' it Bouncing

I've been following Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs for several months now. It's the kind of place that can really raise some eyebrows-- not just because of its content, but because of the reaction it inspires among those who don't like that content.

For those who haven't been to the site: its primary focus is the events in the Islamic world and surrounding environs that continue to shape the post-9/11 global political landscape. The timbre is unapologetic and uncompromising, and many people who stumble across it from left-leaning sources often mischaracterize it as a "hate site". LGF has been tarred as such numerous times over the past year or two, been de-linked from others' blogs in the midst of hands-fluttering scandals, and generally had its reputation precede it outside its own circles, and not in a good way. Charles has been fielding a lot of hate mail lately (or at least posting more of it, for the purpose of mocking it); sites like this one state glibly that Charles believes that "The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim". Now, while it's easy for someone who has followed the site for a long time to point out counterexamples which disprove that slur, a casual viewer who finds himself on the page is likely to be very startled by the content, and I can hardly blame such a person for being a little unnerved. I don't believe any of Charles' posts would hold up under scrutiny as being "hate speech" (though occasionally he has been known to overreact a bit to ambiguous, easily misinterpreted language); but nonetheless, there are times when I feel self-conscious about reading it, as though I should be worried someone might be reading over my shoulder and conclude that I'm some kind of Nazi.

Which means that LGF serves as a very interesting test case, now that the political-correctness era is being dealt its most serious blow by the fallout of 9/11. While it doesn't meet any of the criteria that would normally characterize a "hate site" (c'mon, Charles takes great pains to point out reasonable and hopeful viewpoints from within the Muslim world-- there are just precious few of them), LGF is perhaps the modern archetype of a straight-talking, call-it-like-he-sees-it rejection of PC moral relativism. The fact that the result looks to so many people like "hate speech" is a symptom of the sickness of our times.

Terry Gross' Fresh Air last night had as a guest a historian who spent the hour bemoaning the censorship that school textbook writers have imposed upon themselves-- insisting upon portraying every civilization throughout history as "glorious", for instance describing the achievements of the Mayans in towering, florid terms that make the students wish they'd lived there-- but not saying a word about how they performed ritual human sacrifice or hadn't invented the wheel. Similarly, textbooks insist upon treating every religion in a positive light-- focusing on Islam's 14th-century achievements, while glossing over the treatment of women in modern-day Sharia states and the undeniably important links to terrorism. (The fact that all textbooks get vetted for "accuracy" by a single Islamic scholar, as the historian noted, certainly doesn't help matters.) The result is that kids are being denied exposure to troubling intellectual problems, stunting their ability to make informed decisions later in life; they're presented with a description of a world that's peaceful and harmonious and egalitarian, while a step outside (particularly if you happen to attend Manhattan's Stuyvesant School) will tell you-- quite forcefully-- otherwise.

LGF is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people, I'm sure-- because it feels so much like "forbidden fruit" these days, like a voice from another time when the Thought Police weren't hovering outside our doors, when you could talk about things like requiring immigrants to learn English or like joking about how Asians are bad drivers, without being labeled a retrograde fascist Jewish Nazi. So a lot of the most respected people in the blogosphere are fans of LGF, and come down on Charles' side whenever charges of "hate speech" are leveled. It's one of the few sites that's so determined to pursue its chosen goal that it's willing to alienate the opposition to the point of attracting cyber-terrorism.

We can address the "root causes" of people's assessment of LGF as a site that claims "the ony good Muslim is a dead Muslim". I think it's fair to say that Charles thinks that something is wrong with Islam, or at least with certain popular practices of it, and that something needs to change-- something that explicitly bans the hateful incitement spewing from the imams of the faith's highest mosques; something that removes the incentive toward suicide-bombing and jihad in its modern virulent interpretation; something that expresses hope and joy for the here-and-now and the real world rather than nihilism and self-destructive yearning for the afterlife. But that's a criticism of Islam, not of Muslims-- except when we're talking about people who perpetuate exactly those problems within Islam. And when Charles points out some example of this kind of idiocy, the eyes of casual readers widen in horror at what may appear a condemnation of all Muslims and a desire for them all to be erased from the planet.

Again, this is an entirely inaccurate characterization of the site-- but it's reasonable to see how one might arrive at that viewpoint, especially if one is coming from a world of moral equivalence and political correctness. This kind of raw, unashamed criticism (of such sacred cows as "religion" and "culture") is hard to find these days. It's rare.

And in cases like LGF, where the content and the readership consistently backs up its claims with facts and reasoned discussion, and in which the supporting texts (from large-scale and respected sources) require so little in the way of embellishment to support Charles' position, it's equally easy to see why it's such a haven for those readers who are just plain sick and tired of bullshit.

To see just how far a site can go without venturing into its own kind of incitement and legitimately earning "hate" labels, LGF is probably it. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a case study that forms a cornerstone of neoconservative/South Park Republican thought.
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
20:57 - Dorkiness Sells


I somehow missed these yesterday: the new lineup of ads for the Apple Music service.

They seem to be starting from the "Switch" campaign in their look and feel, but they take it a little further; yeah, these guys are dorky (wait'll you see Nic), but that's the whole point. We're talking lovable-dorky, not annoyingly-sanctimonious-dorky.

That kid Jacob does a great Eminem impression, incidentally.

Oh, and don't forget to watch the obligatory propaganda video-- every dork you've ever known is but a cipher compared to tattooed archetypal dork Tim Robinson, who emcees the thing. (What can I say-- he sells it well.) But it's also got Bono, Wynton Marsalis, and Alanis Morrissette, weighing in on the future of music and how Apple's Way Is Good.

I wonder what Courtney Love would think of the new service? Sounds to me like just what she was hoping for.

To wit-- the biggest change that's likely to come out of a music-sales model like Apple's is that "one-hit wonders" will become a thing of the past; artists who produce mostly "filler material" will have to either start producing more quality stuff, or risk being submerged underneath-- and sidelined by-- those artists who do produce consistently.

I think that's fairly unequivocally a good thing. For the artists, the music industry, and the buyers.

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© Brian Tiemann