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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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
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  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
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  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
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 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, January 27, 2002
01:29 - How do I get from over here to over there without them knowing I'm over here?

"I found out where to find my pappy
My pappy what got lost when I was born
One look at me made him unhappy
Forty years has gone since he's been sawn...

So I'll sail and sail and sail the sea
And I'll never come back till he comes with me
'Cause I found out where to find my pappy
My pappy what got lost when I was born!"

Gotta be my favorite Popeye cartoon ever. The music on Goon Island just gets under your skin and makes you happy to be alive at a time when Mike Lazzo and Keith Crofford are dishing up a fresh serving of Popeye late every Sunday night.

It puts a guy in that late-night take-everything-out-of-context sort of mood.

01:23 - Vague Simmering Discomfort

The above link leads to the "Technology" rant by 2, and as always, those who follow it should be aware of nasty language and other such bear-traps for the unwary. Don't be unwary.

I normally enjoy 2's rants very much. I agree almost entirely with just about all of them, and that's not purely because they're all very entertaining, which they are. They have a way of getting into your brain, disarming you with humor, and pasting their point all over your frontal lobe while it's unarmed and gasping for breath.

But the "Technology" rant is the only one (so far) that I really feel uncomfortable about. Its premise, and I don't think it's tongue-in-cheek, is that going outside and doing "real stuff" is overrated. Specifically, those of us who place undue value on running around in the sunshine are fooling ourselves into thinking that there's some inherent virtue in it that can't be matched by simply sitting inside in front of a computer and playing Tribes 2 and chattering on ICQ.

See, I have the distinct impression that I was the person who set 2 off on this rant.

Maybe my memory is faulty, or I might be creating a fictional past to fit my discomfort, but I seem to recall that I had been e-mailing with him about the general state of things, and I happened to mention that I wished more people in our social circle (a very indoorsy kind of group, true) would get outside and "do something real". After that, the e-mails sort of petered out a little-- you know how that happens-- and then shortly afterwards, this rant appeared.

Well, I must say I don't find it necessary to apologize for enjoying skiing and hiking and traveling and... other pastimes that don't involve computers. In fact, I've gone to a fair amount of effort to gain the wherewithal to enjoy those things pretty much whenever I want to, and not to be tied down to the computer unless I choose to be. Especially because I really do enjoy being outside, and I don't care if there is skin cancer and gang violence and air pollution out here. I don't relish the idea of being a brain in a jar wired into a VR existence where my wildest fantasies can come true-- while outside it's the world that Morpheus showed Neo in The Matrix.

Indeed, I find it kinda hard to relish the idea of such a future at all, now that that movie has entered our collective consciousness. Not that I could before.

Look, I don't consider myself a technophobe or a Luddite. Heaven forfend I should ever reach that point. I know I spent my childhood playing NES games and actively thinking, "I sure hope I never get to be so grown-up that I lose track of the new technology that kids understand but that seem to bewilder all the adults I know". And I don't plan to. Hey, my life revolves around technology and geek toys to a pretty significant extent. True, I despise cell phones, and I find PDAs to be largely a useless form of conspicuous consumption that solves a problem nobody really had, poorly. But that doesn't mean I don't understand them, or think they're inherently evil or a plague on society.

My vision of a beautiful future has to do with a guy standing on a grassy hilltop, surrounded by trees and rocks, looking out over a wide, expansive, urban valley with clear air and a dusting of snow on the distant peaks where the observatories are. He's got one, maybe two devices hooked to his belt, and a head-mounted, inconspicuous communications and computing device attached like a pair of glasses. He uses all of these things for everyday purposes, but he doesn't use any of them when he doesn't have to-- and while he's looking out over the city, he's using both his organic eyes the way he normally does: without any communications connectivity or messaging options or anything digital floating in his field of view. It's an actual, real-live view, not Channel Zero. And he actively chooses to see it that way-- and not because his implants are broken.

Is it too much to imagine that technology will eventually become passé-- not so much that we don't want it, but enough that we use it exactly as much as we need it, like a car? Is it too much to imagine that technology will exist in order to enable us to enjoy the outdoors and real social interaction and a game of pick-up softball, rather than being the entirety of our virtually-realized lives?

19:41 - Yaaargh...

How, I ask with great humility and supplication, can I get people to understand that their e-mail addresses do not begin with www. ?

"Ooh, my address is www.bruce1235 aol@ . @ com!"

This, which has been bugging me for about six years now, combined with the apparent fact that AOL does not had a "quote" function in its e-mail program (after what, nine years of being in existence) fills me with dread-- well, not dread, because it's just going to be more of the same as the future goes on. It's just going to keep pounding away on our heads, like a very small guy with a very small hammer banging away right at the point at the top of the skull where the button on top of your baseball cap is and where it digs into your scalp if you press your head against a flat surface so it presses the nerve that crosses right there and your eyes roll back in your head and you black out.

Oh yeah, and exactly how does someone on AOL get their mail into that state where anyone who tries to send mail to him gets a bounce message back saying "whoever@aol.com IS NOT ACCEPTING MAIL FROM THIS SENDER"? Is it because AOL provides some nice tempting checkbox that says "Don't accept mail from The Internet"-- you know, that evil place where nobody with any honorable intentions is, because anybody worth talking to is obviously on AOL?

Glaah. If you've ever received a letter from someone that you had to reply to, but it didn't have a return address on it-- that's what it's like, multiple times a day. Bluh.

17:55 - Boy, a man on a Squishy bender can sure do some crazy things...

While I was driving down 101 on the way back from FC today, NPR had a show on high-school and college kids and their relationships with the military, especially post-9/11. A lot of good angles, but the last one on the show was especially interesting. A 21-year-old from Indiana by the name of Kinsey said that he had called up his local army recruiter at noon on September 11th and enlisted. But about two weeks later-- which is evidently how long it takes for inflated provoked patriotism to be flushed out of one's bloodstream-- he started having second thoughts, and backed out.

The recruiters kept after him. They tried everything in the book, including lying, in order to get him to change his mind. But, as he said, "I realized that there are better ways to serve my country." Serving in the army would mean coming back in four years at age 26 to the same pay-for-tuition job he had, the same college classes he was taking, and a drastically reduced potential for his future. "For me, the best way to serve my country is to go to college, get a job, and support the economy-- make sure the terrorists don't change my life, and by that to make sure the terrorists don't change the country."

Sure, it's easy to look at the guy and shout "Wuss!" But hey, we'd better not do that from our nice secure pulpits in Blogland.

I don't consider myself a "warblogger"-- certainly not like all the guys listed over at InstaPundit, with their insightful commentary (ranging in tone from self-important to self-effacing) that puts Stratfor to shame. I don't pretend to have that kind of confidence in my facts and opinions. My world, while it's certainly a lot bigger than it otherwise could be, is mostly centered on movies and computer stuff and citric acid, and events beyond the borders of those interests don't tend to affect my life very directly. So I just flounder along as best I can.

But I don't for a moment regret choosing the path in life that I did rather than going into the military. I'd make a lousy soldier. But I do think I make a much less lousy... uh... whatever it is I'm doing now.

It's not life-threatening, though. Damn, I'm a wuss.
Saturday, January 26, 2002
01:34 - It's actually more poetic than sad...

Marjan, the lion at the Kabul zoo that everyone around the world has been sending their money to help save, has died. Old age. Very old age.

"So it was all in vain," some will say.


Marjan was ready.

He carried memories of an Afghanistan where life was primitive but good. He was once a cute and beautiful cub and all was right with the world.

He suffered poverty and maltreatment, and finally lost the sunlight and blue skies when a vengeful warrior stole his sight.

Through it all he clung to Omar, his elderly keeper, who also remembered the way things used to be. This giant was a kitten in Omar's arms, rubbing and nuzzling him with what was left of his once-beautiful face.

And Marjan kept waiting.

The Afghan war came and went, the Taliban were driven out, and visitors began to flock back to the zoo and the museum. Life returned to Kabul. Marjan's story circled the globe, and the peoples of the world started an outpouring of generosity to rebuild the shattered remnants of the Kabul Zoo.

Marjan was a king, and like a good king, he brought salvation in time of hardship, and prosperity in time of famine. Now Marjan was ready. For 25 years he waited till his work was done. And now that he had fulfilled his destiny, he laid down and slept.

Go into the light, Marjan. You opened our eyes, and now it is your turn to see.

-- John Burkitt

01:23 - Well, that was actually relaxing. Huh.

Just got back from spending most of the day at Further Confusion; most of the evening was spent at the VCL party where we batted each other with fun-noodles for several hours, but before that I sat at the back of Lance's "Writing for Comics" panel that he hosted with the author of Suburban Jungle.

The panel actually worked out very well, if you overlook the fact that the event was completely left out of all the scheduling lists for the day-- so David Brin, who had the panel room at 3:00, didn't realize that there was supposed to be another one taking his place at 4:00. Meanwhile, nobody realized that Lance's panel was supposed to take place, but somehow a whisper came down from the ventilation system that something was supposed to be happening, and David hustled himself out.

Let me tell you, it was pretty weird having to elbow aside David Brin in order to get a panel on comic-writing set up. (But he did semi-jokingly offer to be on the panel himself-- he does have a new graphic novel out, after all. But Lance wasn't about to try to share a panel with David Brin. That just wouldn't have been especially fun.)

Good con; high attendance, not a lot of money being spent, but hey-- it's hard economic times and all. Lance is going to voice auction tomorrow on a Kyoht piece; knowing what happened last year (the $3500 GoldenWolf piece he won in an intense bout of voice-auctioning, an event which has gone down in lore and legend), Kyoht must be just about ready to go into the coffee-nerves twitching state that often accompanies a four-figure sale. But hey, it's a good piece. Tomorrow will be interesting; I may go back and see how it all turns out.

12:59 - iMac "All-in-One" is a trinity

Well, if I was ever worried about whether people would be waxing lyrical about the new iMac, this article should set me at ease. There's enough lyrics here to fill up a Weird Al CD.
Friday, January 25, 2002
19:36 - Finally We Join the Union...

California is the last state in the country that hasn't adopted the convention of numbered freeway exits. And, "thankfully" (according to a guy on NPR who talked about it), that's about to change.

Some states number their exits sequentially from a convenient border, which gets very messy when new exits are added ("Take Exit 43. No, not the one for Saunders Street, the Exit 43 down by the park. Yeah, 43b. Or is that 43c?") But states with more of an evident brain number exits based on mileage. It's possible by that scheme to get the same kind of problem if you have exits really close together, but it's a whole lot more sensible. That's how California's going to do it.

It seems cool that this is going to happen-- it'll certainly reduce a fair amount of navigational confusion. But I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks this, but I think there's a certain amount of geographical romanticism in not numbering exits. "Between Lawrence Expressway and Wolfe Road" sounds so much better on traffic reports than "Between exits 14 and 16". It's also got something to do with a certain amount of pride in names like "Bayshore Freeway" and "Montague Expressway" rather than austere numbers.

Ah well-- I guess I'll get used to being like the rest of the country Sigh. Oh, but we do have one consolation: the exits on Interstate 5, which start at the Mexican border and continue for 809 miles to the Oregon border, will boast the highest-numbered mileage-based exit in the country: 796, at the far-northern town of Hilt.

17:15 - Look-- I'm No Gun Fancier, But...

Here's a column that needs to be read.

Another school shooting occurred last week and the headlines were everywhere the same, from Australia to Nigeria. This time the shooting occurred at a university, the Appalachian Law School. As usual, there were calls for more gun control.

Yet in this age of "gun-free school zones," one fact was missing from virtually all the news coverage: The attack was stopped by two students who had guns in their cars.

The fast responses of two male students, Mikael Gross, 34, and Tracy Bridges, 25, undoubtedly saved multiple lives.

Mikael was outside the law school and just returning from lunch when Peter Odighizuwa started his attack. Tracy was in a classroom waiting for class to start.

When the shots rang out, utter chaos erupted. Mikael said, "People were running everywhere. They were jumping behind cars, running out in front of traffic, trying to get away."

Mikael and Tracy did something quite different: Both immediately ran to their cars and got their guns. Mikael had to run about 100 yards to get to his car. Along with Ted Besen (who was unarmed), they approached Peter from different sides.

As Tracy explained it, "I aimed my gun at him, and Peter tossed his gun down. Ted approached Peter, and Peter hit Ted in the jaw. Ted pushed him back and we all jumped on."

What is so remarkable is that out of 280 separate news stories (from a computerized Nexis-Lexis search) in the week after the event, just four stories mentioned that the students who stopped the attack had guns.

Only two local newspapers (the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Charlotte Observer) mentioned that the students actually pointed their guns at the attacker.

Much more typical was the scenario described by the Washington Post, where the heroes had simply "helped subdue" the killer. The New York Times noted only that the attacker was "tackled by fellow students."

Most in the media who discussed how the attack was stopped said: "students overpowered a gunman," "students ended the rampage by tackling him," "the gunman was tackled by four male students before being arrested," or "Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon."

In all, 72 stories described how the attacker was stopped without mentioning that the student heroes had guns.

I will type the following words very slowly in order to be sure everyone understands. In fact I'll press the keys really hard, which means they'll show up in bold:

If gun control laws had been stricter, Mikael and Tracy would not have had their guns available. But Peter would still have had his.

Look, I'm no big fan of guns myself. I don't like 'em. I find it distasteful to shoot them or to have them in my house. But dammit, people-- let's apply just a little more of our vaunted human brain-power to this problem than it takes to say "Yea, Hallelujah! Tighten up them gun control laws!"

At least now we know what the brainless liberal editorial media has been spending its time reporting when there isn't a war on to preach doom-and-gloom about.

13:52 - Rise Up, Colombia

I can't find any more information on the web than what I heard on KCBS this morning, but apparently a woman is running for president of Colombia on the following platform:

She hands out doses of Viagra to startled motorists at intersections, along with a flyer saying something to the effect of "I will lift and firm up the resolve of the Colombian people, so that we can stand up to corruption and swell into a great and proud nation."

Hey, she's got my vote.

13:37 - Corporate Innovation, Reagan's Memoirs, and Other Oxymorons

On the way to lunch today, Kris and I heard Dean "Segway" Kamen on NPR talking about how not only do large corporations tend not to innovate, they're actively hostile to innovation. The reason they're big, after all, is that what they're doing works. So why change?

Microsoft can crow all they like about "Freedom to Innovate", but the fact is that like any huge corporation, they have to build a business case around doing one thing that sells well for a long period of time. Innovation threatens the ability to do that. The only reason Microsoft would change their software is if they're threatened with being tarred as "behind the times" by a competitor who does innovate. Hence their long history of following in Apple's footsteps.

"But Microsoft does innovate," some will cry. They'll point at the optical mouse, TrueType fonts, "Smart Tags", .NET... yeah, okay, you know what? I have this to say to you: http://www.vcnet.com/bms/departments/innovation.shtml.

Just about the only thing they can be shown to have come up with on their own is "Microsoft Bob". Yeah, we'll give 'em that. Oh, and "Clippy" too. Congratulations. You must be so proud.

Another worthy link: Microsoft "Innovation" by Harvard's Tom Fine.

11:59 - It's Time for Your Windows Moment of Zen...


Look carefully at the selection box, and look at the files that are selected. It's Windows Voodoo! WwwoooOOOooooOOooOOooOooo!

Note that this is under NT4; but investigation has shown that XP behaves the same way (and even provides new views, for instance Thumbnail View, in which selection doesn't work the way you'd expect).

Needless to say, selection of icons on the Mac occurs as soon as the selection box touches any part of the icon or its label, and nothing that does not intersect with the selection box is selected. Like you'd expect.

10:45 - ZDNet Columnist Checks Out the Dark Side

In an article titled "How living on a Mac nearly made me change careers", ZDNet executive editor David Coursey talks about his first few days on a self-imposed walk on the wild side: he's using Macs for a month.

Why is it that whenever I read articles like this, my heart races like I'm listening to an awards ceremony for something I think I might have a chance at winning? Come on, I tell myself. It's not like I can affect the outcome one way or the other, not even if I paint my body Bondi Blue and dance around in the bleachers somewhere where it's twelve degrees and sleeting.

But more than that-- why do I take these things so personally? Why am I so desperate to hear that this guy has had a good experience? Why has it become so internalized to my sense of well-being?

I can't answer that. Not yet, anyway.

It's like having a friend from New York come and visit California-- and I want the weather to be clear and spectacular. I want to show him the expensive restaurants, the rich part of town, the gorgeous views; I want to avoid the slums and the places where he might get mugged. Anything to avoid him getting a bad first impression.

Well, good news: Coursey has already ventured into the slums; he's even been mugged a couple of times. But he's still happy with the place, and he's still raring for more.

The article focuses primarily on how Mac OS X, with its suite of best-of-breed iSoftware, beats the pants off of what Windows XP brings to the table. He's willing to put up with a little bit of roughness in interoperability and software availability in order to use iMovie and Final Cut Pro on his TiBook. But that's actually an interesting point, something I'd like to address: It's not only just now that the Mac has suddenly BECOME better than Windows. At just about any point in computing history, Mac users will have said the same thing.

To take just one small example: You know how Windows 2000 finally got it so you could change TCP/IP and networking settings without having to reboot the machine afterwards (well, unless you changed the machine name, in which case you would have to)? Well, the Mac had been able to do that since about 1994.

And another seemingly minor one: In Windows XP, you can finally associate an individual file with a particular application, so that it will open in that app when you double-click on it, rather than simply opening in whatever app is globally set to handle all files of that type (with the file type still derived from the extension tacked onto the end of the filename-- an ugly, ugly hack). But ever since Day 1, the Mac has had an almost indescribably more elegant solution: each file has Type and Creator codes that are set by the application that creates it. That way, the file will always open in the application it was created in if you double-click on it; but every application advertises a list of file types that it will open. So if you have a JPEG created by Photoshop, double-click it and it opens in Photoshop-- but drag it over Preview, GraphicConverter, SimpleImage, or any other app that claims to be able to open JPEG files, and it will darken to show that it will launch and open it if you release the button. With Windows, you have to just try it and hope.

(Meanwhile, what has Windows done first? They've been first to the table with a number of things. Windows 95's themes allowed for custom icons and pointers and full-size desktop images, something the Mac couldn't do at the time. True to Microsoft's form, this is a BIG and FLASHY and COLORFUL feature that looks major, but technologically it's just a hack. Swapping bitmaps in and out of memory? Big whoop. But take a couple of comparative screenshots, and it looks like a much bigger feature than, say, the Mac's ability to change TCP/IP settings on the fly or to apply custom icons to any and all of your files.

And Microsoft is still at it, loading up Pocket PC devices with colorful, advanced-looking, gee-whiz do-everything features purely because it photographs better than the more austere but much more flexible and useful Palm platform. And Windows XP looks more advanced than its predecessors because the Start button is now a throbbing green gangrenous pustulent blob for you to prod, and every single form element and button and control glows or something when you mouse-over it. If you can't do genuinely useful innovation, just do stuff that looks hard but isn't, and people will drool and start flinging money. Some things never change.)

So the iSoftware suite is just Apple's latest angle on why the Mac is the superior platform. Mac-heads will be able to pick any point in the past twenty years and explain why the Mac was better than Windows at that time; and that's the historical context that Coursey is missing from his little experiment. Not that I'm complaining, mind you-- he seems to be enjoying himself regardless, and that's fine. It just seems that this could be that much more of a slam-dunk.

And I guess the answer to why I take all this so seriously and personally is this: I want genius to be recognized. This old world can be so discouraging, what with sports stars bringing home quarter-billion-dollar contracts and physicists being forced to live on Ramen. I came to the Mac camp because it's a fountain of genius, and unlike the academic community where genius is a ticket to a lifetime of grad student work and teaching and patches on the sleeves, at least here it has the potential to change the average person's world... if only we aren't so prejudiced as to shut the door on it. I just want to make sure that door stays the hell open. I've seen enough genius die in the gutter.
Thursday, January 24, 2002
00:24 - 6.5 additional reasons why humans rule

Something candylike and melty-in-your-mouth with which to round out the evening. A pretty lightweight little article, a little "hooray for opposable thumbs" perspective ramble, but it does mention the iPod. Someone's in love, methinks. Ahh, that magical time of year.

Meanwhile, in other iPod-sighting news:

I don't know if you saw last night's Fox Sports LA sportscast, but they did a segment of the Lakers on the road and they showed Shaquille O'Neal working out in the gym and using his iPod, and he goes on to rave about it. Then they showed 2 Laker players, Sumaki Walker and Jelani McCoy take a limo and go to the Apple Store at the Mall of America where they purchased two iPods. If Apple's ad agency is smart, they'll sign Shaq up today to do a major spot for the iPod.

Eric Corwin

23:39 - Well, there's good news and there's bad news...

Three or four years ago, I was convinced that the most hideous form of evil on TV was long-distance phone ads. Quite apart from AT&T's telemarketers calling up and reading me a spiel to try to convince me to switch from MCI or whatever (which nobody ever did), just the TV ads drove me absolutely bonkers. "Just 20 cents a minute for the first fifteen minutes during nights and weekends, and just 35 cents afterwards or after 9AM or on holidays!" some scantily-clad buxom model or matriarchal former leading lady or freaky alternative comic would say. You know how much time I spend making long-distance phone calls? Approximately five minutes per year. These divas in their diaphanous gowns standing under oak trees with rosebushes and antebellum porch swings stand to drum up a cool ten bucks a year for their employers if they can convince me to do whatever the hell it is one has to do to change phone companies.

(Yes, I know. I'm not the target demographic. Which brings up a question: What if every ad I saw was specifically targeted towards me-- was something I would be interested in seeing? Isn't that the impossible dream for both the advertisers and the consumers? Or do consumers depend for the sake of their sanity on the fact that most advertising is not aimed at them?)

Er, ahem. Back to the original point: While long-distance phone company ads are still obnoxious, they don't seem to be as prevalent anymore. In their place, though, are ads for debt consolidation agencies. Debt consolidation agencies. Modern-day loan sharks who will get your creditors off your back and make things niiice and easy for you-- for a nominal fee, a mere pittance. A credit agency who will give you a buffer so you can make progress on the credit agencies whose buffer enables you to pay off the buffer you filled up on all your credit cards and loans.

That's right: our society has reached a second and third level of indirection when it comes to our money. It's been so long since we considered using cash and our real buying power at any given moment to buy anything bigger than a cheeseburger that this makes sense to us.

And the debt consolidation agencies realize that this market is a huge one. A gold mine. A giant untapped well of willing profit. So much more lucrative than persuading people to make more phone calls through a different service from the one they're currently using.

The next step: TV ads saying "INCREASE YOUR WINDOWS RELIABILITY!" and "HOT TEEN XXX SLUTS!!!" and "MAKE $$$ FAST!"

21:42 - More Pseudo-Apocryphal Giggles

The thing about the Qantas pilots' squawks reminded me of a set of somewhat similar gems that Travis Williams, a Blacker House-mate, once regaled us with over dinner. These are reports from Boy Scouts first-aid logs, which were later submitted as part of the corresponding insurance reports:

Incident description: Kid fell on rock and cracked his coconut.
Cause: Roughhousing
Injuries that resulted: Cracked coconut
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Had a talk with the lad, moved rock

Incident description: Scout jumped off bridge
Cause: Jumping off
Injuries that resulted: Broken legs
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Told scouts not to jump off bridge in the future

Incident description: Camp truck ran off road
Cause: Truck was stuck in gear
Injuries that resulted: none
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Welded steel re-bar to transmission to replace stick.

Incident description: Camper fell on stairs
Cause: Stairs were muddy, running
Injuries that resulted: hit his noggin
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Kicked him out of swim area.

Incident description: Staff member bitten by snake
Cause: snake
Injuries that resulted: snake bite
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: killed the snake

Incident description: Kid hit in the head by a rock
Cause: flying rock
Injuries that resulted: head injury
Measures taken to insure that it would not happen again: Asked scouts not to throw rocks

The best part is, I'm assured that these are not apocryphal. Why do I believe this? Because there were more that he couldn't remember off the top of his head. And other named "incidents"-- for instance, the "chainsaw/dumpster incident"...

21:17 - Oh yeah-- I couldn't just let this slip by...


So Johnny the Disaffected Gen-Y MTV-Generation Rebel Youth has appeared in court and given us the first couple of pictures of him that weren't taken back in November when he had a big Manson beard and stared at the ceiling in that one photo that has been used over and over as the illustration above his name for the past two months.

I don't have much by way of opinion to offer about the guy today. He's making it hard for anyone to have an opinion about him. "Yes, I understand the charges against me," he says. "Yes, I love the US." "Yes, I feel that jihad is absolutely the righteous fight." "Yes, I understand I have committed treason." "Yes, I supported the September 11 attacks." "Yes, I am a proud American."

Is this what happens when you spend two years eating (with apologies to Spalding Grey) bark, bugs, lizards and leaves, running around in the bare rocky hills with a bunch of bearded, wild-eyed, gaunt people who carry Kalashnikovs the way Japanese tourists carry cameras? It makes you incapable of saying anything incriminating or even interesting, even before you get a lawyer to tell you not to? It makes a viewer stare impassively at your courtroom sketch and glumly think, "Okay, what else is on?"

Here, I'll give it a shot:

After leaving the courthouse his father, Frank Lindh, told reporters, "John loves America. We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges."

"John loves America," eh? What, with favah beans and a nice Chianti? Did he have American flags and Raiders logos on the bumper of his Toyota in Mazar-e-Sharif? Let me guess, he stands up in his prison cell every morning and recites the Pledge of Allegiance before kneeling on a knit American-flag rug to pray toward Mecca?

...Hmm, okay. See, that didn't work. I just can't drum up any sentiment about this guy. He's being deliberately bland, like light bends around him. (Maybe that's why there are so few pictures of him.) I know his lawyer is probably instructing him to be as uncommunicative and cooperative as possible, but... man. It just seems like there should be more there there in a guy who decided Islam was so important that he would travel to Yemen to study it at an age where most kids are primarily worried about which Playstation games to buy.

I guess the lesson I will take from this, if there is any to take, is that if Southern Comfort Lindh is any indication, the atmosphere in the al Qaeda camps were-- and are-- of an eerie resigned fatalism, a live-for-the-moment existence where all that matters is improving your marksmanship a little more, getting over the next ridge, making it to the camp by nightfall, making it to the next muezzin's call. When you don't get much food or sleep, life gets like that.

Small wonder these guys think nothing of suicide missions. Just another thing to do in the day. Shower, brush teeth, pray, catch taxi to airport, get on plane, pray, hijack plane and fly into building, check in at front gates of Paradise, pray, get something to eat...

19:56 - Egad...

Okay. Just... look at this.

This definitely says something deep and meaningful about ... oh, hell, I don't know what. Technology and the loss of humanity and the irony of simulation and all that rot. Or else it's just pretty bloody cool. Probably both, actually.

15:33 - Flight Simulators Will Never Become This Much Fun

It could all be apocryphal-- who knows. That's the way of things in Internet Land. But as I've mentioned recently, it's so much more fun to be able to believe it's all true...

Here are some actual logged maintenance complaints and problems, known as
"squawks," submitted by QUANTAS pilots and the solution recorded by
maintenance engineers. By the way Quantas is the only major airline that has
never had an accident.

P = The problem logged by the pilot.
S = The solution and action taken by the engineers.

P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.
S: Autoland not installed on this aircraft.

P: No. 2 propeller seeping prop fluid.
S: No. 2 propeller seepage normal. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 propellers lack normal

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on backorder.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200-fpm descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what they're there for!

P: IFF inoperative.
S: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windscreen.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with words.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

10:41 - Boy, That Sure Came Out of Left Field...

At the end of an otherwise glowing review of the new iMac (a review that Apple has in fact quoted in a couple of just-released bits of PR), Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal registers this rather surprising gripe:

And it seems absurd that Apple didn't use a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Huh? I sure didn't see that one coming. Absurd? When has Apple ever shipped a wireless keyboard and mouse? Sure, it would enhance the aesthetic value of the iMac, but it would have done the same for the old one too. So why should they start now?

Wireless input devices cost more, for one thing. Going from a $50 keyboard to a $100 keyboard would put the overall price thoroughly out of its target bracket, especially considering the markup that usually gets applied to any hardware repackaged for sale as a component.

And more importantly, where would the transmitters go? If they put them inside the base, that's more stuff to cram into a space that's already jigsawed into place like a Jenga game. They probably wouldn't have room for it. And even if they did, what about people who like to replace their keyboards and mice? Not everyone prefers to stay with the default gear. If they did, Macally wouldn't be in business. People want ergonomic keyboards and two-button wheely-mice, And Apple knows this. They know not everybody wants to rice their machines, so they ship stock equipment that will be sufficient for most people-- but they make it possible for people to upgrade. Yeah, I know-- people could just plug in third-party keyboards and mice via USB. But still, the third-party manufacturers tend to try to match Apple's design criteria... and if those design criteria include being wireless and working with a built-in internal transmitter, that's asking a bit much.

Besides, wireless keyboards and mice tend to have lag problems. And they require batteries.

Okay, I will agree that the problems are not insurmountable, and that it would have been cool for the iMac to have shipped with a wireless keyboard and mouse. But it is not absurd that it did not.

09:22 - Why Microsoft's .NET Is .Not For Me

An editorial-style article outlining exactly what is wrong with .NET (which they aren't calling "Hailstorm" anymore, apparently-- Microsoft just can't seem to come up with non-threatening code names any more than the FBI can: Carnivore?).

Microsoft is an illegal monopoly and I don't trust them with my data.

Yeah. Too bad we won't have a choice about it if nobody stands up and yells.

So come on, everybody. Stand up and yell.
Wednesday, January 23, 2002
02:16 - Just Hoarding Another Lileks Bauble...

From today's Bleat on tax laws:

He believed the family making 100K a year had a moral obligation to give the money to those who did not, and wanted to use the power of the state to enforce his morals. (Or, as the parlance has it, “shove them down our throats,” although you never hear that phrase used when the shover robot belongs to the Right-Thinking Side.)

Ahh, the Shover Robot. Do You Have Stairs in Your House?

I know it's sort of anti-bloggish and probably a bit rude to read through the entirety of a well-crafted-as-ever Lileks column, ignore its deep and meaningful insights, and comment only on a little obscure net-culture gem that he tosses in to hold our interest. But somehow I don't feel bad about it; I don't have much to add about Minnesota tax law, but when the transient gleam of a reference like this catches my eye, I just have to stoop and pick it up. It's like how several weeks ago he noted that Star Trek: The Motion Picture really "bit the wax tadpole". You know-- stuff like that deserves commemoration somewhere, like in a virtual butterfly-collection box or something.

Hah! I just came up with a name for this blog: The Killjar.

(Nah, just kidding.)

23:28 - I Can Ponder Perpetual Motion...

Hey, look. Another inventor claims to have a working refutation of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

In a demonstration for Reuters, a prototype -- roughly the size of a dishwasher -- was run for around 10 minutes using four 12-volt car batteries as an initial power source.

Emitting a steady motorized hum, the machine powered three 100-watt light bulbs for the duration.

A multimeter reading of the batteries' voltage before the device started up showed a total of 48.9 volts. When it was switched off, a second reading showed 51.2 volts, indicating that, somehow, they had been reimbursed.

The machine went on to run for around two hours while photographs were taken, with no diminution in the brightness of the light bulbs, which remained lit during a short power cut.

"The draw on the batteries was estimated at more than 4.5 kilowatts. With any existing technology the batteries would have been drained flat in one and a half minutes," the inventor said.

Evidently some scientists, though as unwilling to give their names as this Irish inventor is to give his, are willing to at least take this case seriously enough to investigate it a bit. Hey, there have to be major breakthroughs still left to make, right? Things that are within our reach?

I remember it always annoyed me, growing up in the 80s, that there weren't any huge mythical superstars in baseball who had the stature that Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio had while they were playing-- even during their careers it was clear that they would become legends. But these days it's all so much smaller-scale and pettier. Players get lots more money but fade from sight much more quickly.

And that's sort of how I feel about scientific advancement. Galileo and Einstein and Edison came up with discoveries that changed people's lives almost right away; there were immediate returns. Today, Stephen Hawking is certainly in the same ballpark, as was Richard Feynman-- but their discoveries aren't giving us the same returns, so I doubt their names will enter our lexicon as colloquialisms in thirty or fifty years.

So that's where my skepticism of the perpetual-motion dishwasher comes from. Not because I doubt that it's fundamentally possible that the First Law of Thermodynamics can be disproved... but because I can't help but feel that this is somehow the wrong age for it. You know, I just can't believe that something like that will happen in my lifetime, just like that. The Internet is big, yes, but it took thirty years to become big. Free power would change things much faster than that.

Of course, knocking down the World Trade Center sure changed things in a hurry. But then again, here we are four months later, and (aside from in Lower Manhattan) things are pretty much back to normal.

20:40 - Olympic Rings Constructed from Living Nerve Cells


I can't word my reaction any better than Marcus Aanerud's:

And in other medical news, there's still no cure for Cancer or HIV.

17:50 - Followup on College Urban Legends

In discussion with Hiker, it came up that another reason why the college urban legends in the movie Slackers (see the link) irks people like me is that now that they've become common memes, people will already know them. They'll think the movie was where they originated. You can tell people "No, these stories date back to 1970-whatever", but they won't be interested in hearing that. These are supposed to be funny stories, after all. People don't want to be corrected when they're trying to laugh about something silly.

But even more of a worry to us is the fact that when urban legends like these move into the mainstream consciousness, they cease to be "folklore"-- and believe me, there is precious little "folklore" in the world anymore. Before the Internet, seniors could tell these stories to freshmen, and the freshmen would believe that the stories are based on events that occurred at their school-- right there at home. That's how the stories would be told. Whether there's any truth to them or not, the whole point is believing that it could happen here because it did happen here. I know for sure that a lot of the legendary doings of Caltech students burrowed their way deep into me during my frosh year and instilled in me a pride in my school that surprised the hell out of me-- maybe I was so desperate to love the school after working so hard to get in that I would latch onto anything; I don't know. But if I hadn't been told those stories and felt myself become part of the legends and the history through the act of listening, I would have enjoyed my time there a whole lot less.

The Internet's benefits are myriad; we all know that. But one thing that really sucks about it is that it removes the uncertainty and the mysticism from campfire stories. In 1990, if someone had told you the "Do you have any idea who I am?" story, you would take it on faith that that was how it happened, that it happened at your school, and that the version you heard was the canonical one-- and therefore anybody else's variants were derivatives that you could feel smugly superior about. But today, all you have to do is type that phrase into Google, and up pops an authoritative archive of college urban legends, complete with bibliographies, annotations, histories of revisions, and definitive origins. And that's anticlimactic as hell.

See, this is what it must have been like to be the Pope listening to Galileo speak. Yeah, the bastard's right, he probably thought. But, dammit... now the world's so much less fun.

Not to blast a tangent out the side of this post, but that's what religion fears most about science, I suspect: the prospect that we might know how everything works. "He knows everything." "Oh, I wouldn't like that; it'd take all the mystery out of life." So we'd all become logical, scientific thinkers with no imagination; we'd know how to reach the stars but we'd have no desire to do so.

Yeah, that's it. The Internet will turn us all into Vulcans.

13:47 - Guantanamo Politics and the New Divide

It's really weird how since 9/11, op-ed columnists and the various warbloggers (and myself) have been pointing out the philosophical differences between America and Europe-- and how the world since the attacks seems to be sifting out into an "America+Israel vs. Europe+the Arab Nations" landscape. Sure, ostensibly the Europeans and everybody else condemns the attacks... but there's been an extraordinary amount of grousing from across the Atlantic since then about how the US has gone about kicking ass in Afghanistan.

Now the latest refrain is about how we're torturing and humiliating the al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Despite all kinds of assurances and proof that we're not, including willingly inviting in the International Red Cross to inspect Camp X-Box, Europeans still seem to be under the impression that the US has gone completely off the deep end-- that we should be treating the prisoners as captured soldiers, giving them preferential treatment that would please Amnesty International-- or better yet, turning them over to the Karzai government so they can be dealt with in the Afghan legal system. (Uh huh.)

But it's good to see that we do have some good non-American minds on our side. This interview with Torontonian professor of Political Science Clifford Orwin pretty much amounts to the love-thy-neighbor interviewer handed his ass on a plate covered with a thick layer of rich sarcasm sauce.

Meanwhile, The Mirror of London ran this editorial full of screeching demands that Tony Blair withdraw all support for the bloodthirsty Americans and their brutal, Nazi-like, death-camp treatment of the poor innocent prisoners. It's pretty damn funny to read in and of itself, but what's even funnier is that the editorial was followed up by a reader poll asking British readers whether they condemned the Americans' treatment of the prisoners, as the article urged.

The results? 91% said NO.

So I guess the moral of the story here is that the liberal media everywhere is the biggest enemy of the expedient elimination of the terrorist threat, and common people everywhere are fed up with hearing how our biggest concern should be that the prisoners get culturally-appropriate meals and a banner on a watchtower showing the direction of Mecca.

09:58 - D'oh!

De-NIED! The iMac has already slipped to #2 in Japan, according to these revised numbers. Bah, humbug!
Tuesday, January 22, 2002
01:14 - Hey, people pay good money to see this stuff...

Isn't it time for someone to decide Mike Tyson needs to be put in a very small box with a strong and secure lock for the rest of his natural life?

"Today's events are but one of the very many instances that have recently taken place that degrade boxing," Sulaiman said. "It would be discriminatory to single out Mike Tyson because many other boxers have behaved similarly at other press conferences."

After things quieted down, Tyson walked to the front of the stage, and thrust his arms in the air in triumph, then grabbed his crotch.

Later, Tyson punched a cameraman in the throat, and then raped two women near the entrance to the building. Afterwards, he came back inside to sign autographs.

Honestly-- how much more of this do we need to see?

Answer: As much as it takes until Tyson spectacles cease to be profitable. Meaning, an infinite amount.

00:42 - Robotic Microcosms

Lance is building a BattleBot.

He was telling me about it in the hot tub tonight-- it's a project that will take eight months once he and David embark upon it, and he's really getting into it. He's been watching the show on Comedy Central and getting more and more enthralled by the idea of putting his mechanical ingenuity and metal bloodlust to good use. Listening to him talk about pillow blocks and tungsten-carbide teeth on 20-pound milling wheels is like listening to Steve Jobs wax lyrical about LCD screens.

But there's something Lance mentioned, sort of offhand, that made me start to pay attention and absorb as much as possible, especially in light of the recent posts about the US vs. European philosophies. It's international politics as expressed in terms of these shows.

See, there are two shows right now of more or less equivalent content: Robot Wars, which is the British show, is on TNN and is hosted by the guy who played Lister on Red Dwarf. Battlebots, however, is a thoroughly American show, and lives on Comedy Central. Robot Wars has the better announcers and tournament structure, but... well, there's something very British about it.

Battlebots, the American show, is strictly a player-vs-player sort of proposition. Teams build robots to compete directly head-to-head in a hazard-filled arena; there are things like buzzsaws that come out of the floor and hammers that swing from the walls, but they're just hazards.

But Robot Wars has house robots. These are huge, $40,000 machines with specializations and personalities and pseudo-histories, and it's their job to lurk in corners and jump out to attack and disembowel robots that become incapacitated. And the contestants, who have their hands full battling each other, are not allowed to attack the house robots directly.

To put it another way, the arbitrarily assigned authority figures are unassailable. The peasants can fight each other in the cock-fighting pit, and the authority figures can step in to stomp all over them, but they must not be attacked. No commoner must raise his hands against a noble.

Well, said Lance, we didn't line up for the Redcoats either.

So whenever they have Yanks on Robot Wars, they take it upon themselves to toss aside the rules and seize whatever opportunity they can to beat the crap out of the house robots. If they come out of their corners when they're not supposed to, the contestants are within their rights to defend themselves with whatever force they deem necessary-- and they do.

One American team was fighting in the Robot Wars arena; the house robot "Matilda" came out of her corner. She has hydraulic lifting arms which can throw a Chevy small-block halfway down the arena, and a high-capacity gasoline engine for propulsion. The flinging arms are controlled by a triggering mechanism that gets tripped by contact. Knowing this, the Americans turned their full attention upon Matilda and rammed her again and again, until they tripped the mechanism, Matilda's arms shot out, and she flipped over. Because she had never been inverted before, and had not been designed to handle such an incident, her fuel ignited. The house robot was engulfed in flames, doing some $10,000 worth of damage.

But we can't have common militia shooting officers, what? Surely!

Interviewed after the fight, the Americans in charge of the incident told Lister, "Anything in that arena is a target. I don't care if it's a house robot," The host looked shocked and backed away from the cameras. "I'm on this show to fight. I'm here for me and my team, not for the show." The implication being that arbitrarily imposed rules that elevate a certain class of participants over the rest, and give that class license to do gratuitous damage when their victims are helpless, just so the contestants are forced to spend more money on a new robot-- just out of spite, are not something that Americans think very highly of. When we do a show like this, we make it so the contestants are on equal footing, with the only external hazards being forces of nature. Anointed enforcers who must not be assailed don't sit well with our psyche. And we're not shy about saying as much.

"So Battlebots is the one," said Lance. Yeah, I can see how he would come to that conclusion.

22:01 - Mac OS X: Game Developer's Playground

What we have here is an essay and demonstration by a Playstation game developer who discovered OpenStep and Cocoa, the central development environments in Mac OS X, and the account of how those tools allowed him to solve some very tricky problems with more ease than he had dared hope.

Some things that have come out of NeXT are undeniably best-of-breed; Objective-C++ and ProjectBuilder and Cocoa knock Visual C++ Studio into a cocked hat. More and more people are discovering this on their own. There's a grass-roots acceptance happening here, on top of all the other movements. The troops are gathering...

21:57 - How to Make a 3% Market Share Sound Like Fun

This article starts off well, with a title of "Why Apple's Market Share is Fine By Me!" and a starting premise that sounds like it's going to talk about some real, tangible benefits of Apple having a small percentage of PC sales. But it quickly becomes apparent that the author's reason for enjoying being part of a 3% minority is that he likes the feeling of exclusivity. It's the "I'm special and you're all scum" mentality, and that teeters dangerously close to the Amiga mindset. You know, the Unabomber-ish Luddite mental trap of "The fools! Only I see the truth! They won't get to me with their mind rays from space!"

What I was hoping to see in the article was a discussion of how it's often genuinely beneficial to only have three or four really good pieces of software to choose from in a particular genre (that are easy to install and throw away cleanly) rather than fifty crappy and mediocre ones (that screw up your Registry and can never be completely irradiated away). No such luck, though.

This article at IT-Analysis.com comes a bit closer to the mark: they point out the crucial piece of trivia that few people understand about Apple, which is that their business plan is not about taking over the world. They are not Dell, and they are not Microsoft, even though they share some of the same responsibilities in shipping product that both companies specialize in. Apple's business plan doesn't say a word about market domination. What it does focus on is bringing to the market computers with style, cutting-edge features, innovation in usability, and software that enables people to do things that they can't do on other operating systems. They're making a business case out of shipping niche, boutique computers-- and guess what? They're profitable.

This business plan is successful for Apple. They're a niche player, but that is not a bad thing. The last paragraph of the IT-Analysis article says as much:

The picture this paints is not necessarily a bleak one for Apple. Certainly the figure of 3% penetration would not shake Microsoft, but for Apple it represents a lucrative niche that it has, judging by the fact that figures have remained fairly consistent for years, very much captured for itself. And that's no bad thing at all. Particularly as it's a niche that, to date, no other vendor could ever hope to touch.

There are really only two problems with Apple being a niche player: (a) They can't keep prices low through volume sales, and (b) they can't guarantee that software vendors won't abandon the platform. These are both very real problems, and I wish there was an easy solution. But there isn't. Price-wise, Macs will always be more expensive. There's no getting around that. But remember that Apple has to provide 30% margins, compared to Dell's 8%; and using hardware architectures that the rest of the industry doesn't share, volume is not something they can count on. I entreat readers to be thankful that top-end Macs don't cost $8000, like they did five or six years ago! At least they're competitive now.

As for software compatibility, well... yes, that's always been a problem for Apple. But as long as Macs have their grip on the graphics and publishing industries, and as long as there are large educational and corporate installations buying software support contracts, and as long as MacWorld Expo draws tens of thousands of attendees, there will be hundreds of companies producing thousands of software titles-- again, with the average quality being higher than the average quality of Windows software. Especially as users become developers and become attracted to the Mac as a development platform, as in the post I'm about to make next...

Being in a niche ain't so bad, really. And that's not all just back-patting and justification. That 5% (or 3% or 7%, or whatever number you believe) is not going to sink linearly to zero. The smaller it gets, the more the remaining faithful will push back to make sure it doesn't get any smaller. And the way things are going, it might not be shrinking anymore in any case...

21:38 - Some Encouraging Observations about Mac OS X

Haddad of BusinessWeek gushes about the wildly successful conversion to OS X among the Mac community. Give it a read-- it certainly describes a world that sounds like a lot of fun to be a part of. That's the thrill I'm talking about.

21:12 - Oh yeah...

On our way to lunch, Kris and David and I were talking and chattering and laughing; and on the radio, in the background, was The Doors singing "Love Her Madly".

When the song got to the line "Tell me what you say", the three of us interrupted our loud conversation to shout "WHAT YOU SAY!" in unison, completely spontaneously.

... Okay, maybe you had to have been there.

21:06 - Silicon Valley Turns Into A Regular Place

At lunch today we were discussing the fortunes of friends who had been hopping from job to job over the past several years, putting up with really terrible employment conditions (wearing pagers and being on duty 24/7, being flown all over the country without regard to prior plans, losing perks and privileges right and left) purely because of the elusive phantom of Getting Rich. You know-- the idea that if you just put up with enough years of hell, it would all pay off in the end.

I had a mental flash of exactly what that implied: namely, that you'd be sitting there, putting up with your irksome, often miserable job, and one day someone in a suit and with his tie unkempt would come running breathlessly through your department: "Hey! Everybody! Guess what... we just announced breakout profits! We're suddenly an unbelievable success! Everybody's stock options are now worth hundreds of dollars each! We're all millionaires!" And he would trip and fall, roll over giggling, pick himself up, and zoom off to another department to pop champagne corks and shriek in hysterical glee.

....No. Not gonna happen.

No company becomes an overnight success, especially companies that have been in years-long slumps, or that lost all their value in the dot-bomb crash. Employees who are doggedly hanging on to such jobs because they're being promised huge rewards if they just put up with it long enough... well, they're just signing up for the sacrifice of more years of their mid-20s onto the bonfire of workaday drudgery. The most likely outcome, just like in Office Space, is that they will end up laid-off in thanks for all their trouble and faith and misery.

It's trite to say this, I know-- but it really needs to be said: You have to find a job that you can enjoy. Never endure a job that makes you miserable, if you have any choice whatsoever in the matter. No monetary reward when you're 30 is worth spending your 20s in pain. Instead, if you enjoy working, no matter what it is you do, you will be happy over an extended period of time, and you'll be able to look back at a time of your life that you truly were glad to have lived. And then, if you end up getting rich-- hey, it's a bonus!

I know it's easy for me to say this because I enjoy my job. Well, yes... but look at it this way. I would have even less credibility if I had gotten rich in the dot-com boom, right? I am an example of a person who was well on his way to reaping the rewards of the Internet Gold Rush, but had it deflate... but as luck would have it, I backed a good horse: I enjoy my job anyway.

And I can say with certainty that it is entirely possible, no matter what the economic conditions, to find a job that you can enjoy. If you do, by God, take it. Don't cheat yourself, don't fool yourself... give yourself a gift. Allow yourself to enjoy life. Because that's what this time of life is for.

20:48 - Whew... At Long Last

So finally, after many months of coding, the new PacketTrack system at work has gone live for everyone to use. On Thursday, at the all-hands meeting, we told everybody of its existence and gave a short visual demo, followed by a company-wide e-mail explaining what the various components were for; finally, yesterday, Kris put the final piece in place: Bugsy, the bug database.

Bugsy is the only component (out of seven) that I didn't write, and so Kris used a lot of my code in order to centralize functionality like the user authentication, role enforcement, and cookie handling. As such, he was treading on ground that I knew really well, but that he was new to-- and that was a bit of a reversal from the usual state of things.

Usually, he's the one to explain to me various user-interface principles that are often ignored by the novice tool-builder, namely (for instance) that the UI has to follow the user's expected workflow-- not whatever functionality path is most convenient to code. It's almost an axiom that the simplest, most elegant code in the back-end translates to a high learning curve and non-intuitive UI elements in the front-end. So while it's tempting from a coding standpoint to have a list of "Actions" that contain items like "Modify Owner, Resolution, and State", it's completely meaningless to the user. The user wants buttons that say things like "Close Bug", even though such a function-- implemented individually-- makes for inefficient back-end code. But hey, that's the way these things go.

So while all this time I've been the one trying to learn and absorb and demonstrate understanding of these principles in my code, I now have the interesting experience of seeing the person I've been learning from falling prey to many of the same pitfalls that I've been trying so hard to avoid. All of a sudden I'm the one with the experience, and I'm the Code Nazi. Ha haah! It's a reversal of fortune!

Nah, don't get me wrong. It's not like this is a rivalry or anything. I'm just really enjoying being done with my part of it. :) And if that means I get to dispense some of the wisdom I've accumulated through months of trial and error and failure and experience... hey, bonus!

15:05 - Apple "On Trial" for Raising the Price on Vanity

Upside.com stages a "trial" of Apple for desiging computers that ... well, I'm not really sure what they're accusing them of. Clearly they're not directly antagonistic toward Macs, especially considering the overwhelmingly pro-Apple verdict from readers that they accept and report with a satisfied flourish.

What are some of the real charges? It seems that one vague one is that Apple's computers are far too expensive; they make cool gear that's better than Wintel stuff but then callously price it higher than the Wintel equivalents. "The new iMacs cost $1299, $1499 and a whopping $1799 for the one with the most bells and whistles," laments the site. Hmm... I don't know, I've tried to stay clear of the Wintel price wars lately, so I don't know what $1000 will buy you in real-world terms. But you know, I don't consider $1800 to be "whopping". I remember paying $2500 for my 386 in 1991 and being happy with the deal, and my G4 cost me over $9000 all told after I included the then-brand-new Cinema Display and the multi-thousand-dollar software packages I got with it. $1800 is less than what I paid for my laptop in May. Is that really so monstrously expensive compared to the Wintel world these days? Apparently not, says one respondent who submits prices of $2,371 (for the comparable Gateway) and $1,900-$2,400 (for the not-so-comparable IBM). "The iMac costs less, does more, and does it with style. What's not to love?"

Other "charges" that aren't spelled out very well are (a) lackluster hardware and (b) a vague sense of "raising the bar of style for no good reason other than to thumb their nose at the Wintel world". Well, guess what: Even if you accept that the G4 in the new iMac isn't in the same ballpark as the latest P4s and Athlons, the fact is that it gets the job done. You'll never feel yourself bogged down. It plays modern games just fine. It zips through iPhoto and burns DVDs in real playback time. Just because you can't get 340 frames per second in Quake doesn't mean the machine is worthless. All the speed in the world will do you no good if the software is crappy or nonexistent, and iTunes and iMovie and their free brethren make for a value proposition that can't be matched by a fired-out-of-the-gate Wintel. We're comparing a Lexus to a salt-flats racer here. The one will do everything 90% well. The other will get you there faster, but in extreme discomfort.

However you slice it, the iMac performs as advertised, and it brings style to the table too. Sure, some people will always sneer at the idea of a computer designed to be pleasing to the senses. The people who run their computer chassis with the sides pulled off because they like to hear the fans running and in order to increase airflow to their overclocked CPUs-- they're not going to be buying Macs anyway, so it's hardly worth bothering to explain the value proposition. But some of us do appreciate all the little details that go into the design of the Mac. We like having all the ports on an accessible CPU base on top of the desk. We like having keyboards we can plug and unplug without having to reboot the darn machine. We like the pulsing purple sleep light and the single power/monitor/USB cable that reduces desk clutter. We appreciate the fact that Apple didn't have to do these things, but they did-- just to make life easier for those of us who like having our lives made easier. And that's their mission in existence.

09:31 - Hey, Look: Exposure on The Onion!


Follow the link and check the "Infographic" in the box at the upper left. It's gentle mockery of the new iMac, the way The Onion tackles all kinds of things that clearly aren't genuinely stupid, but are outlandish enough to warrant having fun poked at them.

Like I've said before, this is a good thing. Exposure like this is the best possible exposure. Ads by Apple are suspect in the public's eyes-- sure, every company will say their products are the best thing ever. Gushing articles on the Mac Web-- okay, nice, but Mac websites can't be trusted to be objective. Positive ZDNet and CNet articles-- good, but few people will read them. Time Magazine cover stories-- helpful, but it still feels contrived.

What puts a product like the iMac into the public consciousness is parody. Parody means that it's a big part of what people think about, and they want a different perspective, one that doesn't take it as seriously as the ads and articles do. You know how MAD Magazine always does parodies of popular movies? They're often scathing, but do they ever hurt the sales of the movies? Not hardly. I know for sure that I've had my interest piqued in many movies by the MAD parodies I've read. And you know how big a Tolkien nut I am-- and Bored of the Rings is still one of the most treasured things on my bookshelf.

The key to the iMac's success is for it to be a big enough "thing" on the edge of people's minds for them to want to see it lampooned. Especially in this kind of way. Outright mockery and derision (like the "iCar" ad) isn't great. But stuff like this Onion thing is perfect.
Monday, January 21, 2002
00:33 - College Urban Legends Make for Good Movie Scripts

An old chestnut of a college urban legend, or at least the variant told at the site linked above (under the title "Flunk Me if You Can"):

A student is having a very hard time writing a final exam. So hard, in fact, that he continues to write a full five minutes after the professor has called "Pencils down." The professor, tired of waiting, picks up the pile of exams and begins to walk out of the room. Seeing this, the student finishes up and rushes, paper in hand, to the professor, only to find that his exam will not be accepted.

After the professor explains to the distraught student that he has violated academic code by writing past the finishing time, the student asks him: "Do you have any idea who I am?"

The professor answers, "No. But I'll have a pretty good idea what your name is when I record your failing grade."

With that, the student knocks the finished exams out of the professors hands, mixes his in with the pile, and runs out of the room.

Rumour has it, he got a B+.

Okay, all well and good. Funny, though it's thoroughly made the rounds by now, and in a variety of different forms (in the version I heard at first, the student simply lifted up half the pile of exams and slipped his into the middle, staring with a smug smirk at the dumbfounded professor's face).

But there's a new movie coming out called Slackers, which appears to consist mostly of college urban legends like this one. I'm pretty sure I also see "The Flat Tire" in amongst the clips in the trailer, and I have no doubt that a good many more will be in evidence.

This bugs me. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's that from now on, people won't be able to tell these stories anymore without the hearer thinking that they originated with the movie's screenwriters. Maybe it's that I'm irked by the idea of a movie being "written" as a loose compilation of pre-existing reference material, only requiring someone with the couple of evenings necessary to stitch them together into a script coherent enough to sell. Either way, it feels like someone is getting cheated, but I can't figure out who.

I think it's probably that I still think of myself as a college guy. This is my world they're capitalizing on... and besides, they're stories that made sense in the 1990s, not the 2000s where Slackers is being set. Well... actually, no-- the stories make the most sense if set in the 60s, or maybe the 20s... okay, well, they don't really ring plausible at all. But still.

It's one thing to have the feel of Caltech captured and lampooned in Real Genius. That's something I treasure. But these stupid little stories, the urban legends... like the movie of that very title from several years ago, this just feels like the very worst of the functionality of the Hollywood Machine.

Dang it, isn't Real Genius out on DVD yet?

23:58 - Well, so much for HP and IBM being "good guys"...

Hewlett-Packard and IBM have recently decided, in their infinite wisdom, not to include Windows XP recovery CDs with their newly-shipped home PCs. To save on the extravagant cost of a CD, they've elected instead to load the contents of the CD onto a hidden partition on the machine's hard drive.

You know, for easy access when the user needs it, like after the hard drive crashes and its contents get wiped.

Whose brainstorm was this, I'd like to know? PC customers are already up in arms, and the set of silicon.com articles that the above link goes to chronicle their patient and largely futile efforts to explain to HP and IBM the concept of why you ship recovery data on CDs-- namely, that it allows you to reinstall the operating system that you already paid for from a piece of incorruptible, archival media. You don't store the archival information on the media that the original is on, you complete mindless idiots! Who runs your IT departments? How do you back up your corporate files-- by copying them to another folder on the same disk? Good God.

"I bought HP because they stood for quality and getting a good piece of equipment for the value," one Pavilion user wrote on HP's message board. "When cutting corners like this starts affecting the morale and attitude of customers, then nobody wins."

Indeed. Except maybe Dell and Compaq, and of course Microsoft (who gets to sell you a new $199 copy of Windows so you can recover from a hardware crash).

Guess those price wars are really taking their toll, eh? Hope everyone's enjoying their $499 computers.

18:36 - Steven den Beste: Undiplomatic Diplomat

The author of USS Clueless has been taking a bit of flak from his in-defense-of-America-against-Europe post from a couple of days ago. A Finnish emailer has taken him to task, rebuking him and the US in general for holding the Constitution in such high regard that we will place it above foreign nations' requests and demands that we change to suit their whims.

"Then it's time to change. The Constitution can't be holy, can it?" says the Finn.

Well, yes, dumbass. That's what it's there for.

Read den Beste's post. Also note the updates at the end-- other bloggers who have done what I'm doing now, which is to libate it with the anointment of the modern Internet: the Blog Link, the vindication of a really well-written post, the consensus that spreads via this mechanism throughout the blog world that someone has added a thought to the Internet's stream of consciousness which deserves to have more eyes stuck to it than the average snippet of textual trivia.

In his earlier post, den Beste brought up the notion that Europeans, while most modern nations have come more and more to look alike on the surface, really don't understand what it is about America that makes us different as a nation. And the current post amplifies it for the benefit of people who didn't get it the first time around.

Lots of people in the world seem to think that America is just another clone of France or England, except one that doesn't know how to behave itself and refuses to play by the rules of the world at large. Well, guess what: the whole point of the Revolution in 1776 was so that we wouldn't have to play by the rules of Europe. One gets the impression that Europe and America have grown similar in recent years, but then we scratch the surface a little bit and find out that while European countries have prime ministers now instead of kings, and McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks sitting smugly on their urban streetcorners, they still think the same way they always have-- and we still want nothing to do with that style of thought.

We've proved our worthiness as an independent country many, many times, and still we're being expected to fall into line and behave like a good upstanding "citizen of the world" (as den Beste puts it, code for the US to cease attempting to advance its own interests). Look-- we've done that. We've done it pretty damn well, as a matter of fact. And yet somehow we've avoided becoming another France or Germany or Finland, a feat for which we don't feel much like apologizing. If that antagonizes Europe, fine-- we're sorry you don't like it, but we're not going to change to avoid offending you. We haven't done so in the past 200 years, and we're not about to start now.

It isn't often that I feel that if Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were alive today, they would not be displeased with how we've held to our ideals. But I do today.

17:02 - Flex-neck iMac debuts as Japan's top-selling computer...

I may as well just quote this one in its entirety:

Now that's making an entrance with style. Newly unleashed at Macworld Expo, the revamped iMac seized the honor of top-selling retail desktop computer in Japan, barely pausing to snarl "'scuse me" to the competitors shoved out of its path.

For the week of January 7 to 13, pre-orders for the iMac G4-800 racked up 6.00% of the retail market, according to Business Computer News, enough to beat the 4.93% of the #2 Fujitsu Deskpower FMVCE885L. Meanwhile, the iBook G3-600 with Combo Drive rose to #7 on the notebook list, with a 3.03% share.

Led by this pale-clad pair, Apple took a 12.0% share of the overall retail computer market for the week -- the company's first showing over the 10% mark in a long time, yet still trailing Fujitsu (13.9%), NEC (15.4%), and juggernaut Sony (31.0%).

Hey, not bad for a computer that's not really even supposed to be shipping yet...
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© Brian Tiemann