g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, December 30, 2001
02:43 - Graceful Handling of Human Error

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Lileks says:

Apologies for last week's odd truncated pages; once again I found my backside hard up against the bandsaw of my own ignorance, and neglected to adjust a key variable in the page's width attribute. Internet Explorer could handle it, but Netscape choked.

I don't like Netscape.

It's an argument as old as software design: How tolerant of human fault should software be?

Netscape has always been more strict than IE when it comes to HTML parsing. It won't render a <TABLE> that doesn't have a </TABLE>; it will choke on unbalanced quote marks; it will only handle those things that it is designed to handle, not extending a helpful hand to fill in for mistakes that a user might make.

Internet Explorer is much more forgiving. You can use open-ended <TABLE> and <TD> tags. It will make a game attempt at rendering a page when the inputs are ambiguous. The HTML spec says that you can't render a table without a </TABLE> tag because you can't know for sure what the complete table specification is; but while Netscape's attitude is to show "correct content or nothing", IE's attitude is "Do the best you can with what you have." And therefore it renders a table that may or may not be correct, but at least you can see it.

It's actually admirable, very arguably, to build in the kind of fault-tolerance that IE has. It encourages sloppy code, whether produced by humans or by buggy HTML authoring software, but it is a more human-centric design. I think the benefits of people being able to get away with being sloppy (and not having to expend the extra time or brain power to do it right) have resulted in more overall contentment and accomplishment than are offset by the problems caused by sloppy code that slips through the cracks.

But being too aggressive in human-fault-tolerance can lead to real trouble. IE has shown a propensity for this in many areas. One is the fact that it handles BMP images-- encouraging users to fill their websites with uncompressed 24-bit images, ungodly huge in file-size as they are, just because it eliminates the need for anyone to know anything about image file formats or proper web design. Just scribble in Paint and slap it into FrontPage. This is definitely a bad idea, and I think they've come to their senses and removed BMP support from IE lately. But it's a perfect example of user-friendliness gone terribly wrong.

This attitude extends to other parts of IE as well, though. It ignores Content-type headers and handles files based on content, which is a BIG no-no-- thinking it's helping out users who simply manage to leave off the .html extension on HTML files, it will render as HTML any text file that has HTML tags in it. Likewise, it will open in Word anything that it determines is a Word file, regardless of whether the site designer may have specifically set an application/octet-stream MIME type so as to prevent the browser from opening the file automatically. "Microsoft knows best," it says. "Let us help you." Even if the designer wants no help, and if the people it might actually help are negligible in number.

It's an ongoing debate in software design: literalism, or revisionism? Do you stick to the letter of the law, even if it isn't necessarily the most applicable interpretation? Or do you bend the rules to fit the current application, ignoring the intentions and safeguards of the specification? There is no clear answer as to which approach is better. But remember: it's always easier to start strict and get less so, than to start sloppy and then tighten up.

01:59 - A Few More LotR Thoughts

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They just keep coming...
  • The first shot of Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, is of a top-down shot of an Isengard-sized tower, orcs patrolling on the top, orcs with torches streaming around on the ground below. The viewer's impression is, "That's it?" Well, then the camera swings around to show that that tower is just a small attachment on the flank of the REAL tower, which is about twenty times as high and a city's footprint at the base. It's like, "No, that's it!" <clap> <clap> Well done, PJ.
  • The scene where Bilbo's face suddenly becomes monstrous and contorted as he lunges for the Ring... masterful, but it betrays a bit of Peter Jackson's horror-movie roots. It was only hinted at metaphorically in the book, but in the movie it happens quite literally and graphically. PJ probably said "C'mon, just let me do this. It'll work. You'll see. No-- you'll see." And it did...
  • One thing I felt the movie lacked was narrative tying the plot to the map. Compass directions were conspicuously absent, except in one brief scene before they enter Moria. You don't get a feeling of the Mountains being due East of the Shire, or that Anduin flows south, or where Bree is, or the direction of travel through Moria. Without these bits of narration, the plot loses some detail that comes through naturally in the book medium (you always have the map handy when you're reading), and so the narrative tends to have more of a "And then this happened, and then this happened, and then..." feel. The later books won't depend quite so much on compass directions, but this one does, a lot. So I think that could have been handled better.


22:51 - The Blue Man Group Committed Suicide, And the Weapon was Intel
http://www.blueman.com

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Does anybody even realize where the Blue Man Group came from?



Popular culture only knows them from the Intel ads, one campaign ago. Most of my friends consider them to be a bunch of "annoying blue mimes" (a direct quote) that were invented by Intel as a lame marketing stunt. And they hate them.

If these people go to Chicago or Las Vegas, they'll see billboards announcing the stage show that the BMG has been doing for years, since well before Intel hired them. I've seen it. The show is imaginative and exhilarating. But now nobody will see it, because they think the BMG just spun pointlessly off from the stupid Intel ads.

I guess signing the Intel contract must have seemed like a good idea at the time for the BMG. But what's happened is that it's been the death of their opportunity for the national public spotlight. And that's a damn shame.

Intel dumped the ad campaign after it became clear that it wasn't garnering much favor-- understandably, since the BMG style of humor doesn't come across very well in a 30-second spot. And when the Intel exec axed them, it was with the peevish growl of a failed bad idea. Probably nary a thought to the fact that they'd just done irreparable damage to an outstanding group of performers and their engaging, original show.

Oh-- and don't forget, the BMG stage show has always been a totally Mac-driven show backstage. So maybe they deserve what they're getting. Hey, poetic justice does work in mysterious ways.

18:56 - 80s Mockery Nostalgia Runs Rampant
http://www.x-entertainment.com/messages/582.html

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It seems that one of the most popular things to do these days on the Web is to mock 80s pop culture-- specifically, cartoons and video games and TV shows, the stuff that the Web generation grew up on.

This link is a retrospective on the premiere episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Geez, and I remember liking that show, too...

14:37 - More on Anti-Semitism

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An extra thought I had about the Spectator article:

Europe in the 30s (and America, too, and pretty much everybody) developed pretty strong anti-Jewish sentiment, for no demonstrably good reason.

But today, America's anti-Muslim sentiment is very, very minor by comparison-- invisible, negligible, and officially warned-against just to make sure. And to the minds of our 30s counterparts, after 9/11 we could be seen to have a damn good reason to feel more such hatred.

We've been attacked in possibly the most culturally-defined, religiously-delineated way imaginable. And yet somehow we've avoided turning in a bloc against the attacker culture and religion. Which is what Osama probably expected us to do. And the fact that we didn't probably caught him completely off guard.

You know what? It surprises the hell out of me too. Have times changed or what?

I'm proud of us.
Saturday, December 29, 2001
03:42 - Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism Drawn in Parallel
http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php3?table=old§ion=current&issue=2001-12-29&i

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This article in The Spectator is definitely worth reading. It discusses the fundamental differences between the American and European cultures, and between the Israeli and Arab cultures... and draws some very compelling parallels between the two distinctions.

03:39 - Simulated Worlds
http://www.thislife.org

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Also on NPR, on the same car trip... "This American Life" had a weirdly introspective, self-referential show about the American tendency to create simulated worlds as a pastime, because it's in keeping with our nature as a people who individually each want to be the rulers of our own little realms. Rugged Individualism and all that. The hour-long program, which can be listened to at the above URL after January 3, doesn't say so in so many words (it focuses on phenomena such as Renaissance Faires, Civil War reenactments, wax museums, and the very media of radio, TV, and film), but I would submit that such pastimes as massive-multiplayer online RPGs like EverQuest and its like, as well as role-playing in general and "Sim" games, are a concept very similar in its precepts to this same kind of desire for individual rule. In America, we have the myth of the Self-Made Man, the myth of the Entrepreneur, the myth of the Kid Gone Rock Star, the myth of the Poor Boy who Grew Up to be President. We've never had a sense of "knowing your place". We've all, to borrow from Fight Club, been raised with the notion that we would all grow up to be movie gods and rock stars, because why not? Nobody in this country has any artificial barriers preventing him from rising above the station to which he was born. We all have a kind of ingrained optimism that overrides the fear of an oppressive social structure.

So on the Internet, Americans especially are drawn to the idea that we can all rule our own little virtual worlds or run world-changing websites. We even hold to the delusion that our individual blogs will be read and cheered by the throngs. We may even know we're fooling ourselves, but we do it anyway. So which is more foolish-- playing to that ideal in a kind of tragic, in-denial futility... or shying away even from the possibility that it might turn out to be valid after all?

03:22 - Wow, I wish we'd paid more attention to her.

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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was one of the call-in contestants on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR as I was driving home from the open-house party. She was an engaging and effusive conversationalist, sounding nothing like the dour Bach-looking figure I'd always thought I'd known from press shots. And when the conversation drew around to her pumping weights and how she can bench-press 200 lbs. with her legs, she said, "It's good for kicking ass."

Why did we never hear more from this person?

10:31 - Christmas 2

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Gonna be heading back up to my folks' place again today, just until the evening... today is the open house for my brother and his wife who just flew in from the South. So we've still got more presents to pass around...
Friday, December 28, 2001
19:19 - So We're Not Insane...
http://www.gamespy.com/comics/dorktower/comics/dorktower/DorkTower141.jpg

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Before too long, it won't even be an injoke anymore.

18:41 - Little Cultural M&Ms

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You know, nothing is as weirdly comforting since 9/11 (to me, at least) as a Muslim-American who owns a Timmy plush from South Park. "TIMMAAAAHHH!"


You see all kinds of nervous ads on TV these days showing Muslims waving American flags to prove how not everyone who practices Islam hates the US. But somehow that doesn't quite ring as sincere as an offhand, inadvertent expression of appreciation for odd little details of American culture like South Park. It's a much more confident, self-assured statement of allegiance than any overtly patriotic TV ad could be. Not that I'm suggesting anybody is being deceptive, but you can fake your way through a flag-waving TV ad. You can't fake hours of giggles pulling the string on the plush Timmy.

Co-workers in Silicon Valley can have an unintended therapeutic effect.

15:30 - Oh, one other thing...

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Something else about LotR I almost forgot to point out. And this one's a gripe.

Elrond actually says "The Ring must be cast back into the fire from whence it came."

This incorrect usage is turning into de facto acceptable English just like "alot" and "alright" and "you've got another thing coming" (as opposed to the correct "think")... it's been used like this over and over throughout history by people who don't understand the actual meaning of "whence", which is "from where". So "from whence" is redundant.

If JRRT had been alive and involved in this project, this is one stumble that would never have made it to the screen. Just one of the side benefits of the book being written by one of the most prominent linguists and English historians of the modern age.

A small flub in the scheme of things, but one that bugs me.

15:23 - Lunchtime Musings of an Ex-Loner

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So I'm eating lunch here in my cubicle. It's Friday of the week before New Year's-- most of the company is off on vacation, and the remainder of us have been spending the week catching up on e-mail and watching South Park. Not much is going on. A bunch of the survivors bunched up and went en masse to a Chinese restaurant today; I stayed back out of a personal dislike of Chinese food, but as I went out to forage alone, it occurred to me that this is the exception now rather than the rule.

I briefly considered going to Burrito Real or Pizzeria Uno, on my own, but then I realized that I didn't have a book, and it's hard to listen to iPod music while you're chewing. I remembered how all throughout school I always ate alone. In junior high I spent every lunch hour in my science teacher's classroom, memorizing the naming schemes and mythological tie-ins of all the chemical elements. (I still remember most of them.) In high school I ate every day perched on the wall next to the sunken Tri, morosely watching the masses move about in their social groups.

And I always had a book. These were the days when I would re-read The Silmarillion or the Herriot books for the nth time, memorizing those passages I already knew so well. Nobody ever bothered me; our arrangement worked out just fine. Lunch, for me, was a time for introspection and oblivion to the outside world-- not for socializing.

When I got to college I had the sudden epiphany that I should try to get along with people-- after all, nobody knew me there, so I could start fresh. Well, it sort of worked. I made friends, but they tended to be losers like me too, even among the uber-nerds of Caltech, so I didn't make much of an impression as a social animal. But I didn't eat lunch alone. In Blacker we tended to eat lunch as a group on the steps of the courtyard, everybody staking out their claims without regard to personal allegiances or friendships. It was all just a big mass of bonhomie. Some heavy-duty loners ate in their rooms, but I decided at some point-- and I can't even remember when or how, or whether it was a conscious decision or not-- that I would not be one of them. Lunch as a social event wasn't so bad after all. And I'd read my last lunchtime book.

So then after college I found myself heading out each day with a group of friends/co-workers-- often as many as four or five, but almost always at least one. We'd rotate between restaurants and eat where we all felt the food reflected the weather or the general mood. Sometimes we'd go to Togo's and just bring sandwiches back to eat here, but most often we'd spend a cheerful, raucous hour in some well-loved restaurant, trading stories, spilling food, developing new stories about spilled food. A lunchtime without companions now seems ludicrous. And reading a book at lunch is something I don't even remember that I can do.

And that's why days like today feel so weird now. Morosely eating Taco Bell, reading InstaPundit and the daily comics, writing blog entries. It all feels like ten years ago. Because that's how long it's been since I thought like this.

12:43 - My precious...

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I'm a little bit disappointed that they didn't get Peter Woodthorpe to do Gollum. The Gollum they have looks like it'll be a really cool envisioning of the character, but the voice just seems a little too high-pitched and alien for my taste.

Peter Woodthorpe did Gollum in both the Bakshi movie and the BBC radio production, and through those he honed a really marvelous Gollum delivery. He figured out how to do the stuttery hiss-s-s-sing, he figured out how to do the gollum-gurgling and make it work, and he interpreted flat book dialogue into rich, believable character development. When Sam asks "Where've you been, anyway, sneaking off and sneaking back?" The book has Gollum respond, "sneaking, sneaking," in an unemotional, under-the-breath sneer of imitation. But in the Bakshi movie, in one scene that I think is really successful, he delivers it as a shocked "Sneaking? SNEAking?!" smacking the ground with the second word. Incredulous and insulted. For a moment he turns fop. And by God it works.

Maybe Woodthorpe is dead-- I don't know. But here's hoping the new guy can fill his shoes. I'm sure he will; if there's anything I've learned lately, it's to trust Peter Jackson.

05:59 - Did You Notice?

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Just got back from seeing LotR again with Lance. It was my second time through, and his third. I expect I'll see it at least once more before I'm through.

Warning: Don't read further if you're unwilling to read LotR spoilers.

This time through I was able to concentrate more on the little details they put in, rather than on how well the plot and the adaptation and the casting worked. Things that stuck out at me:
  • The fireworks. Not just the ones mentioned in the book, but the butterfles ("There they go!") and the things shooting out of the cart for the kids' benefit... they're perfect encapsulations of Gandalf's character, just like his first line in the movie. He can play birthday-party conjurer just as easily as Balrog-killer. Perfect.
  • Likewise, the smoke-rings scene was gold.
  • The scarecrow in the fields (at the heretofore limit of Sam's travels in the Shire), covered with crows.
  • Every little word is pronounced properly, even down to obscurities like crébain.
  • The fight scene with the cave troll has no music for most of its length. Just goes to show that John Williams isn't the only one who knows how to convey a stress scene atmosphere, and cacophonic music isn't the only way to do it.
  • Every bit of text in the movie, whether on parchment or maps or signs, has the Tengwar diacritic marks over the English vowels. They're even carved and painted into the Prancing Pony sign.
  • The Elven rings were given to Galadriel, Círdan, and Gil-galad... which means all three had to be cast, for that one scene at least.
  • Gandalf is not vulnerable to the strength of a beautifully CG Balrog, but he is vulnerable to a whip made of negative scratches.
  • Aragorn puts on Boromir's arm-guards after his death scene. No sense wasting good armor.
  • After Lórien, the Ring gets put on a new chain with a hook attachment for easy access.
  • Galadriel's temptation scene should have been handled in the same subtle but effective way that Gandalf's threatening of Bilbo at the beginning was handled. Instead of cranking up the audio-visual funkiness, they should have let the actress handle it all in-character. It would have worked.
  • Legolas can run light-footed over the surface of the snow while everyone else slogs through it waist-deep.
  • The camera swoop past Saruman as he calls down the weather onto the Fellowship on Caradhras is a triumph.
  • The knife-edge straight lines criss-crossing the smooth top surface of Orthanc... it makes the tower look amazingly old and mysterious.
  • Saruman's staff is designed to look just like Orthanc.
  • Gandalf being spun around on his shoulder semi-levitated by Saruman just before being flung up onto the roof-- it looks so weird, but so cool.
  • How the hell does Hugo Weaving do that thing with his eyebrows?
  • When Isildur picks up the Ring, it shrinks from Sauron-sized to Isildur-sized right in his hand.
  • The movie doesn't make an explicit big deal about how important it is that Bilbo gives up the Ring of his own free will; but it conveys the tension visually and musically, by having Gandalf move between Bilbo and the door as soon as he's outside, and by playing up the stress of the moment when Gandalf invites Frodo to put the Ring in the envelope (without the dialogue betraying the scene's purpose at all).
  • In Rivendell, Ian Holm does a flawless job of being old. He's got the perfect inflection in his voice, the little quiverings and uncertain movements... unbelievable. Especially when earlier in the movie he has to be vibrant and energetic. But then Ian Holm has been doing LotR performances longer than anyone else in the cast, so he's bound to have it deep down inside...

More will probably follow later after I see it yet again.
Thursday, December 27, 2001
20:05 - Palm Desktop for OS X

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Well, hip-hip-hooray... Palm seems to have at long last released a Palm Desktop for OS X. Like Photoshop, this has been one of those long-standing obstacles for a lot of people in the "Should I upgrade or not?" argument. Of course, this doesn't mean everything's cool now, because the conduits for the popular apps and web services still need to be Carbonized, and besides, the Palm Desktop has been running just fine in Classic this whole time. But it's a very good psychological milestone.

But this is also an excuse for me to show off the new inline image uploader. I think it's got all the features I'll want in it-- but, of course, saying that just guarantees that I'll wake up screaming in the middle of the night when I remember something obvious I should have included.

At any rate, I seem to be getting a slightly better download rate from Palm than AtAT did, and I'm zipping along at a hearty 518 bps. Woo-hoo! Take that, you technophobes! It's a brave new world out here! And I might even get this thing downloaded before I have to leave! ... Tomorrow!

16:47 - To Preserve a Quote

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Motto of the American Obstetrics Association:

"People Pulling People Out of People"

(Attributed to my boss. This is why I like working.)

15:27 - Windows XP and Microsoft's Business As Usual
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/55/23496.html

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Whenever I read something like this nowadays, it's simply with bemused detachment-- the way one reads about a train crash in France or something. It doesn't directly affect me, and I've learned better than to hope that it will change anyone's mind about whether to trust Microsoft with their technological lives.

But what it does do is to make me stop and think about just what it is that I'm standing against when I take an anti-Microsoft stand. As the article at The Register notes, "Truth be told, I'm not completely biased against the company, and will even acknowledge that it has, at various points, produced some decent products. I also don't 'bash' Microsoft because it's the 'in' thing to do these days, but because there are serious problems with the software company's products and services that they continue to ignore." And so I have to ask myself, is that what I'm doing? Or is it just that I'm being so hip and cool that I'm following a trend? I don't seem to be hopping nightclubs or getting fan mail, so my gut says "no" to the latter, but let's think about it.

The conclusion I come to is that while most companies understand the concept of fair play, introducing a new product and seeing it gain in acceptance purely through its merits, Microsoft cheats. And they do it over and over again.

Netscape, to take one example, became so much more popular than NCSA Mosaic so quickly because it was a very obviously more sophisticated product. It did things Mosaic could only dream of, things people needed. It was filling a niche in the market that was coalescing with each passing day, often in response to the features Netscape itself added (background colors/images, tables, frames, embedded movies). It was a truly unique period in recent history: people didn't even realize what they could do until they saw the next version of the software come out, and then they all went nuts over it. Everything Netscape did turned to gold.

But then Microsoft came along. It was too late to introduce fundamental features that would make people flock to it the way they'd flocked to Netscape. So they cheated. They paid their way into the front of the line. They bribed up a market share. Striking deals with big-name ISPs (AOL not least) and leveraging their own operating system monopoly, they got a copy of Internet Explorer under the noses of every single computer user within two years. That's unheard-of. Rubik's Cubes didn't catch on that fast. And they went away.

It wasn't because IE was better than Netscape. At the time, it wasn't. It was in fact a good deal worse. But Microsoft knows that quality is of secondary importance if you know you don't have to play by the rules. Why bother? Just buy yourself whatever market share you need, and work on improving the user experience later. Indeed, IE is now really the only browser that anybody takes seriously, and it's in fact a good, polished product (aside from a few horrific exceptions, like the fact that it completely ignores Content-type headers and does its own mother-knows-best content parsing, bypassing the site designer's intent). But that all came about after the fact.

But IE isn't the only example of this practice of Microsoft's. Oh, no. I could name several more off the top of my head, and I will.

The Windows Media format was never inherently superior to QuickTime or Real. But they've bribed their way into contracts with all the major content providers, and given sweet deals and adoption incentives to the minor ones, so that now their format-- out of nowhere-- is seen on almost every site. Only now do they decide that it's worthwhile to try to improve the product's quality, now that that tedious business of gaining market share is taken care of. Gee, and all this time I thought that it was supposed to be the other way around. Improve quality, gain market share. But nooo, that's too slow. That's too haaaard.

The same goes for WMA music. It has yet to be shown that it has any merits over MP3 aside from digital-rights management... except that in order to speed acceptance, they've crippled MP3 playback in Windows Media Player so that people will think WMA sounds better. You know, when I was in college, when you sabotaged someone else's experiment in order to make yours look better, that was called "rat-fucking". It was not looked upon as a legitimate or honorable means toward excellence or recognition. In fact, it was considered cheating, and whoever did it was cruising for some rapid and severe punishment. But apparently the software world works under different rules.

And then there's the Xbox. They're trying to pull the same trick once again. Every fast-food restaurant, every gaming magazine, every cable channel, every box of cereal-- they all have Xbox giveaways. Have you ever heard of a game console launch where the company had to flood the world with giveaways in order to get people to use it? I don't seem to remember Sony needing to fling Playstation 2 boxes out over the piazza to get people to want them. I don't recall the NES experiencing slow sales until Nintendo started giving away consoles at Taco Bell. If the product is genuinely superior, why would you need to cheat your way into the market?

Normally you don't. But Microsoft simply doesn't have what it takes to create products that are genuinely superior from day one. But what they do have is lots and lots of money and an easily-manipulated installed customer base. So just because they can, they cheat and bribe and slither their way into the lead-- and only then do they give thought to improving the products in order to actually be competitive. And that's if you're lucky.

Every time Microsoft buys some smaller company-- Bungie, Blizzard, DirecTV (or whoever it was), Vermeer, Expedia, Hotmail, or any of the hundreds of other now-anonymous small startup companies with revolutionary products-- it's to scalp themselves a cut-rate ticket to the top of the field that company threatens to take by storm. This is in keeping with the letter-of-the-law of capitalism, but absolutely contrary to the spirit. They're sidestepping the whole premise of the free market (the idea that competition will force innovation and cause the best product to rise to the top naturally). If we ran capitalism like the USSR ran communism, Microsoft would be guilty of crimes against the state. But because we like Big Business, and because we all watch with bemused detachment whenever Microsoft comes up with some new slimy underhanded tactic by which to pound an off-the-shelf insta-victory out of an otherwise humiliating defeat, they get to keep on doing it. And we'll keep on rewarding them for it, right up until the Rule of Law and the Rule of Microsoft will have separated into two entirely independent concepts, having nothing to do with each other. And eventually one will swallow up the other. Which one do you think it will be?

11:47 - They're falling like green glowing dominoes...

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It seems that Halo isn't the only big Xbox title that's got a bleak future. Scuttlebutt from one of my friends is that Munch's Oddysee uses the same "wandering camera" viewpoint that so many games use nowadays (presumably because it makes the game look more technologically advanced-- admit it, GT3 doesn't look particularly impressive graphically until you get to the replays), and thus has lost the funky flavor of the previous Oddworld platformers. Which is a real shame. Imagine! Those poor Xbox people who don't know what they're missing!

But that's not the worst (best) of it. Apparently, in Japan (and this is according to another friend with her finger on the industry pulse as a game developer), the local populace hates the Oddworld games. As in, they have a deep-seated cultural loathing to the concept and the character design. "We're supposed to identify... with that thing?" So Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exxodus never sold well at all there, and now Munch's Oddysee will follow the same pattern and bring nothing to the Xbox table when it debuts in Japan.

Looks like the cards are being set up for Microsoft to be laughed right out of the country. Ahh, it'll be a beautiful thing. I hope someone takes pictures.
Wednesday, December 26, 2001
20:42 - Yay! Halo sucks!
http://www.penny-arcade.com/images/2001/20011226l.gif

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I usually feel bad about engaging in schadenfreude, but in cases like this it's purely cathartic.

HAAAHHAH! DIIIEEE! SCREAM IN AGONY AS THE RIPTIDES OF PUBLIC OPINION DRAG YOU UNDER! EVEN THE GAMERZ WON'T STAND WITH YOU NOW! FEEEL THE DELICIOUS DESPAIR! HAAAA HA HA HA HAAAH!

...Ahem. Like I was saying: It would appear that certain forecasts have not been borne out according to various pundits' expectations, and--

Aw, hell with it. I'm gonna sing the doom song now! DOOM doom doom DOOM doom doom doomy-doom-doom...

19:54 - Yaay!

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I just got the inline image uploader working in the system at work, so now ThoughtStream (the mini-corporate-blog I've been tooling as a component of the big infrastructural project I've been working on for the past two or three months) has the ability to pull in pictures on-the-fly without making users wade through HTML or move files back and forth.

I'd use it to post a picture of the Engineer's Victory Dance here right now, except that I haven't yet ported it into the blog here. I'll be doing that as soon as can be arranged, though. In the meantime I feel like I've accomplished quite a fair amount for a virtually deserted December 26th.

I think I'll sit here and stare blankly at the screen for a while now.

11:55 - "IS YOUR WEB SITE BEING SEEN?!"

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Now, I'm no lover of spam, but sometimes I just have to sit back and giggle-- because for almost every conceivable reason someone would spam me, I'm absolutely the wrong demographic to respond to it.

Do I want to MAKE $$$ FAST? No, I've got plenty of $$$, thank you. Do I want HOT TEEN CHICKS? No, sorry, wrong demographic. Do I want to INCREASE TRAFFIC TO MY SITE? Pyeesh, I could care less.

Like most things, it reminds me of a Simpsons quote:
TV: "It's 10:00. Do you know where your children are?"
Homer: "I told you last night, no!"

Ah well. They're raucously enjoying Joe Pesci's "My Cousin Vinny" CD on KFOX, so this day looks like it's setting up to be a pretty fun one. I'm going to spend today working on that inline image uploader that I've had floating through my head lately.

11:44 - Hey, Doesn't Everybody Go Through This?

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I haven't shaved since last Friday... this is probably the longest my beard has ever gotten, not that it looks much like a "beard" (sometimes being naturally blonde is really a nice thing).

So I get that little twinge, that squawky little voice that says I should try growing a beard. But then I usually smack it down by picturing myself with a beard and not coming to a satisfying conclusion. But now that it's gotten this far, hmm...

Whatever I decide, I'd better do it quick. Otherwise I'll have to go to a specialist in Kabul.

04:26 - All the Sour Skittles-- Where Do They All Come From?

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I came home from the Christmas up north to find that Drew and Jareth had stopped by-- and left me a gift on my chair. A big heavy one. I opened it up and found... two 24-packs of Sour Skittles, the kind that 7-11 gets in order to sell the individually-wrapped contents in the aisles.

These guys are my heroes. Because Sour Skittles rule.

Now I have to wonder what the outcome was of the Great Green-Apple/Lime Plebiscite was...

04:20 - Antz, Antz Everywhere

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I would like to know just what it is that the ants find so fascinating about my room.

The last time we saw them was in the summer, when the heat apparently brought them out of the woodwork-- and now they're here again, evidently trailing in the opposite direction, populating the most inscrutable rooms in the house in the process, seeking warmth during this cold period.

I keep no food in my room. Yet on several occasions over the past few months, I've woken from disturbed dreams about ants marching across my face-- to find ants marching across my face. Let me tell you, that is not, in any way, a pleasant experience. And then that ants-on-skin twitchiness gets compounded with incredulous rage when I follow the ants in their trail down the edge of my desk, down the side of the scanner (all the while trying to remember what ingenious thing Richard Feynman did to get rid of the ants in his house), only to find-- they simply evaporated. I watched various ants for upwards of ten minutes each, finding that they did nothing but stumble around in weavy circles, apparently not making any progress toward any mass-transmitted goal. It's like someone yelled "Pic-a-nic basket in Brian's Room! Everybody move, double-quick!" ... and then retired to the officer's mess for a martini and promptly forgot about where he'd sent the troops off to. Ah, never mind-- they'll be back tonight. Frightfully sorry about the mix-up. They sure are obedient little buggers, though, what?

Some legend I read long ago talked about how for the duration of the midnight hour of Christmas, animals can talk. Well, if that were true, I'd have spent last night right here at home, pleading with the ants to take my word for it: There is nothing edible in here. Certainly not on my face.
Tuesday, December 25, 2001
02:12 - What Will It Take?

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So it seems that blogger.com has been hacked, leading to unauthorized forged postings and other defacements on such popular blogs as InstaPundit.com.

Blogger.com, the backend for these sites, is a Windows server running IIS.

And like the sheep in Douglas Adams' English countryside, we're creatures who learn very little on our journey through life. We're startled to see the sun rising in the morning, and astonished by all the green stuff in the fields.

And we're completely dumbfounded and offended when our IIS servers get hacked.

23:20 - Ain't No Good Guys

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Before anyone gets on my case about it-- yes, I do realize that Sony and Nintendo are hardly any better ethical models than Microsoft.

But that's really not my point. I quite simply want the Xbox to die a screaming, flaming death. I'm not going to lie about that. I want Microsoft to regret peddling its video crack to kids in order to get them thinking that Microsoft is the big benevolent Master Who Must Never be Questioned. I want them to slink from the game market stinging in skin and pride.

Once that has happened, then I'll turn my attention to Sony and Nintendo and the things they've done. But until then, my focus is on Microsoft, who-- if people do nothing but keep swallowing their line-- will within three years own 1) the desktop PC market, 2) the PDA market, 3) the cable/e-media/ISP market, and 4) the console game market-- with no way for competitors to enter the arena. Once they get the stranglehold, there's no getting out of it. The only defense is to see it coming and knee it in the crotch.

21:26 - Hi, Jack!

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You know... now, on top of the usual warnings against making jokes about bombs or hijackings at the airport metal detectors... kids are going to have to avoid telling each other "Your shoes are the bomb!"
Monday, December 24, 2001
01:08 - Ahh, it's good to be home.

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I rolled into my childhood home late tonight and talked with my parents for a couple of hours. They mentioned how one of their cats has taken to lurking under their bed, right in the middle where the bottom film layer droops down and almost touches the ground. All you can see is her eyes; it looks like she's in a cave.

So they've started calling her "Osama".

01:06 - It's an Xbox Kind of Christmas

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Okay, so there's been some pressure for me to explain my position of not speaking to-- or at least avoiding-- people who buy Xboxes. Since this could pretty easily be construed as the action of a zealot throwing a tantrum, I figure it's a pretty good idea to present my reasoning.

It's pretty simple: If you buy an Xbox, you are making a tacit statement about how you feel about Microsoft and their ethics and business practices. You're saying that you approve of what they've done. Ethical standards like those I have no time for.

One person has posited that this is like one die-hard Amiga user excommunicating another one who switches to a Windows PC. I don't think this is at all the case. It's one thing to come to the heavy-hearted conclusion that in order to get any useful work done, you have to get modern equipment. While I might suggest an operating system other than Windows to switch to, it can't be denied that Windows is how work tends to get done these days, and using it doesn't necessarily imply anything about the ethics of the user. Blaming someone for the unfortunate necessities of modern life that happen to clash with one's ideals is bad form. Much as I admire the tenacity of Amiga users, clasping their nine-year-old machines to their chests in dimly lit basements and and muttering darkly... there comes a time when you just have to admit defeat and pick another battle.

But it's quite another thing to buy an Xbox. It's a console game system. This is probably the purest form of decadent consumerist indulgence I can think of short of a Fabergé egg. Nobody needs a game console. And while people do need computers, for most people there isn't a valid alternative to Windows. There are indeed alternatives to the Xbox. Very good ones. It's not like the PS2 or GameCube are being completely shunned by the press or the gaming punditry. Each system has its advantages, including the Xbox-- but the Xbox doesn't hold many cards when it comes to interoperability, stability, industry support, number of available games, or the ethics of the company that makes it. Nobody who is buying an Xbox is doing it because they've sorrowfully concluded that there is simply no other option for their poor, deprived, bump-map-starved selves than to fork over the money, flagellating themselves all the way and weeping bitterly.

The way I see it, there are only three reasons a person would buy an Xbox:
  1. He genuinely wants the Xbox's superior graphics capabilities, and its other drawbacks-- small number of titles, either released or planned, crashy hardware, or the fact that it's Microsoft-- don't bother him.
  2. He knows that Microsoft takes a $150 loss on the sales of individual consoles, and he's buying one simply to pillage it for parts, run NetBSD on it, or smash it with an axe.
  3. He's making a statement: that he supports Microsoft and its business practices. And he wants to back up that support with a $300 credit card charge.


The only people buying into (1) seem to be the gaming magazines, and while I think (2) is a great show of idealism, I don't think we'll be seeing a lot of that either-- especially in today's economic climate. So all I can conclude is that the majority of Xbox sales are the result of (3). And these are the people that I want nothing to do with.

Let's be clear about something. When you buy something in a free and competitive market, you're voting with your dollars. You're telling the company you're buying from that you're willing to commit the above-noted amount of money toward the support of that company's policies as well as toward getting its product. If you buy Halo, you're saying the following: "Sixty of my dollars say that I approve of the fact that Bungie, faced with a dump-truck full of money and a grinning Microsoft exec with a pen and contract, pulled back from its imminent multi-platform release of Halo two years ago in order to retool it exclusively-- or at least primarily-- for the Xbox, and thereby deprive the gaming community (particularly the Mac gaming community) of one of their most steadfastly innovative developer forces, instead putting all that innovation into creating a new game system for Microsoft." I wish they'd put statements like that right above the signature line on credit card approval slips. I know it'd change my mind.

Running Windows-- even Windows XP-- has a place in business and leisure. Sometimes it's the only valid option. Sometimes an upgrade is the only way to get work done. In those cases, giving money to a convicted criminal monopolist like Microsoft is just the price we pay as a society for not pressing home the conviction right when we had them on the ropes. We let 'em go scot free, and so now we have only ourselves to blame for the hotel-sized Windows XP banners draped down the sides of buildings and the chilling new sound of Madonna's "Ray of Light".

But to buy an Xbox is to wrap yourself up in Microsoft's flag and say "To hell with morals! All I want is the biggest, baddest game system money can buy-- and if that money goes to tell Microsoft how much I appreciate everything they're doing, so much the better!" And the case is even more damning against those hypocrites who lambast Microsoft at every turn, refuse to use any Microsoft software, champion Linux, post on Slashdot, and spout idealistic rhetoric from every balcony-- but who can't redline their cars fast enough to get to Fry's to fling their $300 over the counter the instant the Xbox is available.

The only upside to this is that finally the shopping season is over, so maybe now the depressingly huge Xbox banners will come down. No, fat chance of that.

Merry %^$$# Christmas. And if Santa brings you an Xbox, I hope you choke on it.

17:42 - I never thought I'd see the day.

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Halle-%^#$&%-lujah. For the first time since late October, Comedy Central's weekend movie package thing is NOT sponsored by the Xbox. In fact, it's even sponsored by the PS2. And a beam of light shines down from heaven.

Not that that means we're seeing any fewer of those ads for Oddworld and that football game. No, those are paid for until next July on all channels, probably.

The sooner this horrifying Xbox-buying season is over, the happier I'll be. Is it tomorrow morning yet?

05:24 - Well, that's that.
http://www.ugo.com/channels/games/xbox/default.asp?HPT=MGAMES&SectionID=107&ArticleI

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Even the anti-establishment underground sites have gone Xbox-mad. So it's all over, then.

The only hope was that the Xbox would fail miserably over the holiday buying season because nobody wanted one, or maybe-- just maybe-- because people weren't willing to stick their asses in the air for another shot of Microsoft booyah-smack. But that's obviously not happened.

I guess that's it.
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© Brian Tiemann