g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
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12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, February 3, 2002
22:23 - Geez, which bases haven't we covered?

There are lots of semi-acknowledged or non-acknowledged problems in the world, particularly as regards America and our place in it. For the past fifty years at least, we've sort of let those questions go undiscussed, partly because discussion of one aspect of this complex of philosophical issues implies a need for discussion of another aspect and having as a prerequisite a third aspect (as I said yesterday we have avoided openly discussing the nature of American freedom out of fear of appearing too jingoistic or redneck-patriotic), and so we vapor-lock and sort of hope the people who do talk about them lose interest and go away.

But in the post-9/11 blog world, we have people writing online who apparently haven't heard of these limitations on our willingness or ability to philosophize, and they're methodically tackling each issue one at a time until anybody who has been paying attention should have as good a grasp on the role America plays in the world as a White House Cabinet member.

Steven den Beste of USS Clueless has taken on defense of the Constitution, cultural insularity, Palestine and Israel, European anti-Americanism, Islamic anti-Americanism, and the concept of America as an ideal of government and society. And now he tackles "cultural imperialism". You know-- McDonalds and Levi's and Disney.

If people in Cairo wear Levis, if people in Kuala Lumpur wear Nikes, if people in Kabul watch Schwarzenegger movies, if people in Bangalore watch Baywatch, if people in Kinshasa listen to rock music, it's because they like it.

We don't have to actively spread our culture to the world; it is seductive. Cultural competition is darwinian; and one culture can replace another quite easily. It happens because of a billion individual choices by a billion people, not as the acts of a few. We don't have to actively spread our culture, because it is spreading on its own. And so are our political ideals.

Ideas and attitudes are the most dangerous things we humans have ever created. Wars have been fought over them. And the most dangerous ideas in history are secularism, and self determination. The idea that religion should be an individual thing but never a governmental thing, and that individuals should be permitted to decide for themselves how they want to live without asking permission from their neighbors or the local priest, threaten the old order more than guns or bombs.

One way to tell how confident someone is in their ideals is to see whether they're willing to let you hear what their opposition has to say. If one side says "Read both sides" and the other side says "You should only listen to us because their ideas are too dangerous for you to experience", then you can be sure that the second guy knows his idea will lose. Censorship is the intellectual equivalent of protectionism. It uses the law to protect ideas which cannot survive on their own.

The biggest ideological problem, as he goes on to point out, is that if you're a culture that sees life as a series of trials and temptations that lead you away from the True Right Path-- then you're going to consider such concepts as balanced exposure to ideas and openness to outside cultural influences to be in themselves heretical.

And what this leads to is a deep-down question about the Meaning of Life, and something we must understand about the difference between Western egalitarian society and fundamental religious regimes: For us, religion is something you do. For them religion is something you are.

We tend to treat the church/synagogue/mosque as something you go to for one day out of the week, either to appease some internal nagging sense of need for balance and inspiration in your life, or to appease your mother-in-law, or for a variety of reasons with varying sincerity. But to a member of the Taliban-- one who honestly believes that his cause is the True Right Path-- religion is not simply a part of your life. It is your life. Any personal achievement or leisure activities you pursue must occur within the structure of religion. For us, the default state of doing nothing involves sitting on the couch watching TV. For them, it involves prayer. Prayer is their TV.

So the question, the meaning-of-life question, is this: Can we sit back and posit that our way of thinking is "right" simply because it is so obvious that the natural laws of human nature lead to it, that if we present no obstacles to information most people will come to agree with us? Or is that, in itself, the very nature of "temptation"-- the fact that such ideas are natural and compelling and the destination of highest entropy being the basis for a human being's failure to see the Light?

Most religions, like most oppressive governments, advocate self-moderation as a virtue; they consider the submission to "easy" ideas to be a human failing. In an environment of laissez-faire, humans will embrace ideas of openness, tolerance, democracy, and freedom-- and they will also have extramarital sex, do drugs, lean toward anarchy, and flout law and authority.

This is exactly why religions promote self-moderation and can lead to censorship.

So the Big Question really amounts to whether religion is a set of true laws designed to keep humans out of Hell, or whether it is a human invention designed to keep people from rising up against their leaders.

I think I'll just stop right there.

19:26 - Black Hawk... eugh.

Damn, isn't that game over yet? I got home after 2.5 hours in the theater, and there's still no end in sight to the shrieks of AAaaAAAOOOUUWWWWWWWWHHH! in the living room whenever large men with inch-thick skulls collide in midair.

I was pretty sure Black Hawk Down was a fairly awful movie between the time that I got home from the theater and the time that I pulled up Paul Tatara's review (linked above), but I had to go check out his opinion of it just to make sure. And, well, it looks like it wasn't just me. This thing really was a dog.

There is nothing original or interesting in Black Hawk Down that wasn't already in Saving Private Ryan or Three Kings. You have the former's brutally graphic violence, albeit 2.5 hours of it this time instead of just the intro-- right down to the surreal scenes where the audio fades away while some soldier picks up a severed hand or arm and puts it in his pocket for later. You've got the latter's weird, yellow, grainy, overexposed film quality, making it look as though the whole film canister is made out of desert. And yet, somehow, it makes both those things look cliché, though they've only each happened once before, like the scenes with that odd bluish tint like the Gladiator dream sequences that show up here for some reason.

But that's not where the triteness ends, no sir. It manages to shoehorn in all kinds of cheap war movie clichés that we've all seen a hundred times elsewhere-- and they're not even handled in an interesting or original way here. There's a scene with the obligatory exchange between a dying soldier ("Tell my parents I fought well today...") and his comrades ("No, you're gonna tell them yourself"), ending with the soldier dying-- whoah, surprise. There's a scene in which a soldier gets captured and interrogated by one of the Somali militia-- a guy who, by his artfully accented, flowery vocabulary appears to have been schooled at a Boston boarding school, and who regales the prisoner with his unique local perspective on the nature of the war and humanity and death, worthy of a star Times columnist-- though he seems a lot less dangerous to be held captive by than the Iraqi guy from the exact same scene in Three Kings. And the movie finishes up with equally trite, contrived, rehearsed speeches on heroism and how "it's all about the man standing next to you" delivered by grunts with Southern accents-- almost embarrassing, considering the meaningless slaughter you've just sat through, and the (surely unintentional, but ironic nonetheless) presentation of all the soldiers as pretty much indistinguishable. Their hair is all cut the same (well, duh, it's the military), but they all pretty much do the same stuff, with the exception of the guy deafened by machine gun fire (who seems to have gone, to coin a phrase, "deaf and m-mmm-m-mm-mmad, suh!", waddling from cover to cover and making oblivious gape-mouthed eye-rolling facial expressions that seem as though they'd be more appropriate in Hot Shots, Part Deux). I've never seen such a movie full of anonymous, only vaguely individual characters before-- the dialogue that isn't spoken in brusque walkie-talkie-ese can be gathered together onto a single page of script.

For all its triteness, Black Hawk Down does get a guy thinking about war and stuff. But what it does, in this day and age, is to remind us just how good we have it. "19 Army Rangers and 1000 Somalis lost their lives in the raid," the movie tells us at the end. Wow, you'd almost get the impression that we treat the enemy as anonymously and dispensably as the movie treats them. We get shot after shot of Somalis getting blown away-- but it's tempered by (a) the interrogator accusing the American prisoner of leading a meaningless life, secure in his money and his comfort... and (b) the contextual sense that one gets while watching the movie, that our rallying cry of "Leave no man behind" is intensely fatuous and egocentric. Especially now that we've demonstrated the ability to flatten a country like Afghanistan by dumping bombs into the windows or rooms where the bad guys are meeting, while losing only the occasional Marine in on-base accidents and killing civilians only by extremely rare accident, like by typos in the targeting computers. By that token, Black Hawk Down may be the last gasp of the Bad Old Days of war where fighting for one's life in the streets of a hostile city while the enemy makes itself indistinguishable from noncombatants was the way it was done.

That's the sense I left the theater with. "Damn, war sucks-- but thank goodness we'll never find ourselves in that kind of mess again."

Yeah, I know we will. But still, I think this movie just confuses people right about now. It makes us feel like "Well, if third-world countries don't want the help of outside nations who want to prevent mass starvation and genocide, then fine-- let 'em fend for themselves." But then it turns around and makes us thankful for the modern age of warfare and Hooray For the USA, or something. I don't know. I think I've completely lost track of my train of thought. I'm sorry-- this is the second time I've gotten this far in this post; the first time I was trying to make a ® symbol and hit Command+R (reload) instead of Option+R, an error which threw the whole 10K or whatever into the bit-bucket. I think it discarded whatever point I might have had too.

Bottom line: I didn't like the movie very much. (Parting note: There's a medical scene that's so cringeworthy that it could only have been dreamed up by someone who noticed that the audience would be so jaded and desensitized by the first hour of the movie that they would have to do something so graphic and visceral, no pun intended, as to take the crown away from the Reservoir Dogs torture scene as the Most-Censored-By-Blockbuster bit on the shelves. And it leads right into the "Tell my folks I fought well today" scene, telegraphed so clumsily that it could have been replaced by a silent-movie-style tinny piano music and a dialogue card reading "WAR DEATH CLICHÉ SCENE #4"... so people who rent from Blockbuster probably won't be missing much.)

But as horrific as the past two-and-a-half hours were, I still think it was better than being in the same house as the Super Bowl.

Now is it over?

15:00 - Ahh, Super Bowl Sunday...

... Which means I'll be out elsewhere for the afternoon. Probably seeing Black Hawk Down or something. That'll be nice and depressing. But that won't last long enough... maybe I'll see it twice if it's good. Or maybe I'll go up into the hills and take some photos; no, it's smoggy today. Crap.

Well, I'll be somewhere other than here. The shrieking has already begun. <Homer>And that's my cue to exit...</Homer>

14:59 - I just had an iPhoto "moment".


Dusty has just finished some work on the tailpiece of his motorcycle; he came up here and borrowed my camera to take some photos of it. When finished, he brought it upstairs and gave it back, saying "Whenever you get a chance, e-mail them to me in JPEG format."

So I plugged it in; iPhoto popped up. I pressed Import, and there they were. I opened up a new Mail message, then selected the three pictures, and dragged them directly from iPhoto to the e-mail. Then I sent it. No exporting to files, no saving, no rescaling. None needed. There's no need to think about files here-- just pictures. Just like iTunes allows us to think about songs instead of MP3 files.


14:50 - We're sorry, Japan! We really are!

Topsy Turvy was on one of the movie channels yesterday-- it's the movie about Gilbert and Sullivan and how The Mikado came to be written. It's a fun movie-- a great little glimpse, whether accurate or not, into the lives of the pompous, straight-laced lyric writer and his long-suffering composer. It also provides a look at the weird fascination Britain had with Japan at the end of the nineteenth century-- a fascination that led, predictably, to some really stupid presuppositions and a comic opera that shaped Europe's idea of Japan as some funky bastardization of China for decades to come.

I think Japan looked at The Mikado, boggled, reeled for about thirty years, and then said, "Okay, let's get back at those people." Thus was anime born.

Hey, I'm not really being facetious here. What would you do if a bunch of Martians came down to America, looked around smiling bewilderedly and saying things like "How extraordinary! So vulgar, yet so fascinating!", took some Americans on board their starship to study them, make them sing American songs, walk like Americans, dress like Americans, put on little stage shows so the Martians could titter and golf-clap... and then they sent you home and put on a musical production about "The Americans"-- people who dress like Beefeaters with Buckingham Palace shakos, with computers in their chests, miniature conestoga wagons on their feet, and with names like "Grundlebone Ycrberg" and "Slobber-Fabigus", all about how Americans are circus performers who wear funny clothes and shoot each other for sport but otherwise behave just like Martians-- well, you'd be a little put out, wouldn't you? In fact, you might be so taken aback that you'd just sit and wonder for thirty years, and then put on some ridiculous productions about the Martians?

I mean, come on. One has only to look at the subtitle of The Mikado to see what I'm talking about: "The Town of Titipu". And look at the characters' names: Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo. Ko-Ko. Katisha. Pish-Tush. Who wouldn't be offended by this? It's like G&S couldn't be bothered to figure out the difference between China and Japan-- and while the whole show is a ridiculous show of ignorance about any of the culture that they were so ostensibly fascinated by, it's made worse by the fact that the story is just a transplanted British idea done with funny clothes. I mean, why bother-- unless your specific purpose was to mock a culture that seemed just alien and faraway enough that they wouldn't mind? Like posting websites making fun of the Amish, because they'll never find out?

So I think that anime, with its giant eyeballs and its big spiky multicolored hair and its giant exploding space robots, is directly intended as a retaliatory strike against the West-- it's their way of getting back at us. Certainly much more effective in the long term than bombing our military bases.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize, on behalf of the British of the 1890s, for The Mikado. We're sorry... we're really sorry. We've seen a lot of anime now, and we get the joke now. Ha ha, well done. Nicely played-- you sure got us there. Boy, there's egg on our faces.

In any case, I guess I'm not really that much of a fan of musical theater, new or old; the only modern production I've really enjoyed and respected is The Scarlet Pimpernel. Sure, theater is a really fun experience, and a good way to get away from the crap of daily life. But some of it, even the supposed classics, really stink.

12:46 - Hasselblad Digital Camera.... <Homer Drooling Noise>


Recently described as "the Rolls-Royce of digital cameras", the DFinity is nothing you want to try to dangle around with the strap figure-eighted around your wrist. Like all Hasselblad cameras (I just found all this out last night, so don't consider me any kind of expert) the design is retro and doesn't go to any great lengths in favor of miniaturization, because the focus (hee) of the camera's mission is image quality. It takes 2048x2048 images using the CMOS sensor technology that's going into the top-end cameras like the D1 from Canon, as opposed to the CCD sensors traditionally used; the advantage of CMOS is that in low-light conditions, the image artifacts tend to look like film grain, rather than JPEG blockiness.

Inside the camera is a Foveon-developed imager head that incorporates 3 sensors and a color separating prism. The prism is designed so that light entering it is split into red, green and blue components and then focused on each of three 2Kx2K CMOS sensors. Using a prism greatly enhances the system's ability to capture color that is purer than that captured by single-chip single-shot cameras using mosaic filters to create a color image. Further, by placing sensors on each of the 3 prism exit faces, the color of each point in the subject is sampled by three pixels (one red, one green and one blue).

The alternative color mosaic filter method that is used in all other one shot digital cameras, samples the color using only one pixel and guesses at what the other two might be.

The DFinity doesn't have internal storage, apparently; you keep it hooked up at all times to your laptop with FireWire, which allows it to snap a picture and transmit all 12MB of data and become ready for the next shot in 1.5 seconds. All the camera's functionality is controlled through the software on the computer, which works on Windows or Mac, and can even run from across a SMB or AppleTalk network. It's intended for studio professionals and photo artists, not for people taking snapshots of birthday parties. That's good, because while a price isn't listed, it's sure to be in the four digits and pushing five.

But... just look at the sample images they have for download. There's the obligatory cat (a cat seems to be the standard unit of measure for digicam image quality), fruit, and supermodel, as well as several others that look like potential desktop pictures.

Mmmm... sweet.
Saturday, February 2, 2002
03:42 - Infantile Humor


Saw this in the restroom at Navy Pier in Chicago; it's times like that that I'm glad I have my camera handy. Hooray for palm-sized Nikon digicams!

02:39 - A Voice of Reason From Across the Pond

Well, shut my mouth. It seems that there's a genuinely intelligent and insightful voice in among the crowd-- a Spectator columnist by the name of Theodore Dalrymple who has noticed some very key, original points. For one, young Muslim males growing up in unsavory, backwater British towns like Tipton (where two of the Guantanamo prisoners grew up) find actualization through the same Westernized means as their friends do (eating McDonald's and wearing Nikes), leading to guilt in the face of their non-Western traditions and a desire to lash out in compensatory reaction:

And yet they could not simply reproduce their fathers’ mental world. They were part modern British too, with many of the same debased tastes as their white contemporaries. They would listen to the same music, eat the same fast food, play the same games. (One sign of the acculturation of Asian youth is the adoption of body-piercing and tattooing, the latter despite the natural unsuitability of Asian skin for it.) They would be attracted by the same baubles, such as mobile phones and designer trainers; but they would feel guilty about their lack of cultural purity. From guilty desire and surreptitious identification it is but a short step to insensate hatred and rage; and perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that the three most rabidly anti-Yankee Latin American countries — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — are those in which the most baseball is played.

And secondly, that Western intellectualism-- whether in Europe or America-- consists of hip self-hatred, because anybody who says anything patriotic or positive about McDonald's and Disneyland is obviously a shallow-minded bigot:

So all Asif and Shafiq ever knew of Western civilisation was Tipton and its discontents. And they were deliberately kept from any deeper knowledge of our civilisation by the kind of ideological self-hatred that has been so strong a current of British (and Western) intellectual life for the last three or more decades, that precludes any pedagogic affirmation of the Western tradition. This self-hatred explains in part the kind of hatred (and contempt) that the Asifs and Shafiqs of Britain, of whom I suspect there are uncomfortably many, must feel. Not only does the ideological self-hatred of Western intellectuals prevent the likes of Asif and Shafiq from learning anything of the Western tradition, other than Radio One and McDonald’s, but it actually supplies them with the tropes with which to justify their pre-existing anger and violence.

Needless to say, the self-hatred of Western intellectuals is not genuine or sincere: they do not really want to beat our supermarkets into souks, as swords into ploughshares (though I must say that, from the human point of view, I personally do prefer souks to supermarkets). Rather, the intellectual’s expression of self-hatred is directed at other Western intellectuals, to prove the self-hater’s broadness of mind, moral superiority and lack of prejudice, and thus earn the approval of his peers. It isn’t only rebellious youth who experience peer pressure; and anyone who pointed out, for example, that for a very long time now the Western medical tradition has been incomparably superior to all other medical traditions in the world combined and multiplied a thousandfold, would forfeit approval, even though what he said was true, and obviously so.

When a child of seven asks, "Why do they hate us?" we would do well to ponder these points. They hate us because we hate us. We're a hate-worthy culture... or else we would act more like we like being us, right? Just look at all these movie critics railing against fart jokes, computer nerds complaining about Microsoft (heh), vegetarians carrying signs outside slaughterhouses, people who refuse to vote because "it only encourages them"?

I've never been a very patriotic person. Part of this is precisely the attitude that Dalrymple points out-- it's hip to hate the West, or at least to feel vaguely guilty about being part of it. But ever since 9/11, the resurgence of patriotism in the US is attributable at least in large part to the fact that nobody here really seems to be feeling that urge to bash ourselves pointlessly anymore. In the vacuum left by that bashing is what looks like jingoism, but is really just self-assurance, confidence that-- you know, we're really not so bad after all.

I wonder how much of the terrorists' mindset can really be traced to this psychology: "Americans have so much money and power, but they despise themselves and call their own culture morally bankrupt. If we destroy their symbols of power, we will not only be fighting the jihad for Islam's sake, we will be cleansing the West-- for the West's own sake!"

And I have to wonder whether all this could have been staved off if we'd all just been a little more visibly proud of who we are and what we've accomplished?

Ah well. If this is the lesson we learn-- that we don't have to flee like Fitzgerald and sip coffee in cafés in strange countries and sniff about the decadence and moral degradation and cultural imperialism of our native country in order to be taken seriously as intellectuals-- then the 3,000 people who died in the World Trade Center are a pretty small price compared to what we paid in the 1940s or the 1860s or the 1770s to learn the same lesson.

01:55 - A Cautionary Note

Moira Breen of Inappropriate Response has a checklist of advice to people who write stupid editorials or blogs about the war and Those Damned Americans:

If you find yourself incapable of writing a column which isn't a rehash and reordering of some or all of the following themes, you, my friend, have nothing of substance to say:

1) You have an uncontrollable urge to nakedly display your scientific and political ignorance by invoking Kyoto as unassailable evidence of America's selfish, childish refusal to behave like a responsible member of the world community. (You don't know carbon dioxide from Carmen Electra, but you do know how those Americans are...)

Plus a bunch more, all of which are (of course) represented in a Guardian article which she carefully deconstructs tired-old-argument by tired-old-argument. If you're American, read it and enjoy. If you're not, this is a pretty good summary of the War Thus Far: all the overseas anti-war anti-unilateralism rhetoric neatly collapsed into a single Big-Gulp-sized measure, easily corralled and contained for Breen to smash into itty bitty pieces.

01:36 - "...And a great way to get to work."

I just saw a Dodge commercial in which the entire Dodge lineup, all in the new trademark red, went barreling through tunnels and over bridges and through just-wet-enough-to-produce-a-roostertail race courses, with cars flipping into the air and leaping over each other; and at the very end, they all line up outside a hangar and a squadron of fighter jets swoops down through it and whooshes out past the camera.

Suddenly I was struck by an image of what it must have been like in the pitch room of the ad agency:

"And then all five cars are lined up outside the hangar, each one next to an F-15; the camera's trucking back like this, see, so you can see them all sequentially. Yeah-- and then a face-on shot of the hangar, the camera pans up, and you see the F-15s dropping down out of the sky, they come down into the hangar and fly through, see, and right out past the camera, one by one, with the cars sitting down below. Then cut to the slogan card, and out."

Can you picture an ad-man from the 60s sitting in on this session? Can you imagine what that must have sounded like?

These kinds of effects were once-- not so very long ago-- leaps and bounds beyond even the reach of filmmakers like Lucas, even given a budget the size of Western Europe's GDP and five years to do it. And now a lowest-bidder ad agency can do it for a thirty-second spot in six weeks with off-the-shelf software, and it gets run at 1:30AM in between episodes of Battlebots.

What's more, this ad is pretty darn cool. It's over-the-top, even gratuitously so, but it's also conscious of itself-- it knows it's overboard, it knows the audience knows it's overboard, so it doesn't even bother trying to appeal to one's sense of reason or rationality. It just goes all-out. But then, on the movie screen, we have Planet of the Apes.

Many have speculated about how advertising is the force which will permeate every aspect of our lives from breakfast to dreamtime, from cradle to grave. But, well, speculation is moot-- it's already right here. Why bother making a good movie when an ad is so much more effective?

19:20 - al Qaidamon



As has happened so frequently in the post-9/11 world, political commentary takes the form of instant audio/visual/interactive comedy. We've had the "Come, Mister Taliban" movie; we've had the satires on The Onion, we've had the Osama's Convenience Store game, we've had a hundred little Flash movies. And now we have... another one.

This one, "al Qaidamon", takes the controversy surrounding the Guantanamo prisoners and lets the average Joe get a much more first-person interactive idea of what it's like than he would get just reading CNN, The Mirror, and the various warbloggers' opinions.

Note to the easily offended: You may want to pass this one up.

18:42 - Hey, it's been a while since I made an Xbox post...

... And that in itself is blogworthy.

I haven't seen any ads for Xbox games on TV in... oh, I don't know, several weeks. Maybe they've all migrated to other channels, but I certainly haven't been seeing them on Cartoon Network lately, which is where I spend most of my time. I also haven't seen any buzz about it on websites, or the news services, or in magazines.

Sure, the Christmas season is over now... but I remember the Xbox ads going on for at least several days after Christmas. So... does that mean Microsoft had simply miscalculated how many days remained until people stopped buying gifts? Or-- oh, wait! I know. They kept running game ads because kids would have received Xboxes for Christmas, but with no games! So they had to keep running the game ads, or else how would they know what to buy?

Well, that seems to be all over now, and it's only the beginning of February. I take that to be a very promising sign-- or at the very least, it's indicative of a pullback. It means the worst is over.

And primarily, it means I can watch TV in safety now, without the worry that I'd hear that black-surface-puncturing-in-the-shape-of-an-X crunching sound. The only place I have to worry about the occasional Xbox-flag-waving land-mine is over at Lileks.

14:15 - A little, tiny, minor observation about nVidia chipsets...

Chris Morris of CNN/Money:

"For technology lovers (and I fully admit to being one), this rapid advancement of new chips is exciting. From a gamer perspective, though, it's not quite the big deal nVidia would like you to believe. Yes, the more advanced graphics are nice, but the gaming hardware and gaming software industries are out of synch. While the GeForce 4 offers some tremendous features, there won't be any games on the market utilizing those for likely a year or more. As it stands, only a small handful of games take advantage of what the GeForce 3 has to offer."

Yeahp, that am true, Miz Keane...
Friday, February 1, 2002
18:39 - Ahh, good old User Friendly.

You know, I'm kinda surprised-- User Friendly has actually been fairly Mac-positive for the past few months. There's been very little of the usual invective, even some positive vibes toward Mac OS X. Certainly nothing like the ridicule it heaped upon the iMac back in 1998, when Erwin was reincarnated into the body of a Bondi Blue original-- horror of horrors. There hasn't been a peep yet about the new "Luxo" iMac, controversial as its design is. No, it would almost seem as though Illiad has turned over a new--

... Okay, well, never mind then.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only geek on Earth who doesn't really think terribly highly of User Friendly (this is a general-purpose tangent I'm going off on here, not one sparked by the above, in case you're wondering). The art has never really improved since Day 1; and while unschooled artistry can become an engaging visual style (as in Dilbert or The Far Side), it just hasn't done that in UF. To say nothing of the subject matter, which at least has lately seemed to stay away from the protracted spell of "I hate Microsoft!" reiterations that made up its first two or three years of existence. But the storylines from recent months are so dull as to reveal that there's really not much there without the Microsoft-bashing and Linux heraldry to buoy it.

So go on, revoke my Geek Cabal membership, because I guess I'm just not part of the target audience. Which is a shame, really-- I'd quite like to be.

18:13 - They can dream...


151,037 downloads (and counting) for one of the newest Aqua-esque Windows XP themes that have been posted. And this one is-- well, just look at it.

I don't know where to begin explaining what's wrong. The text is blurry, unregistered, and atrocious. The window control buttons-- there are two of them, red and blue (that right there is as jarring and confusing as seeing a blue traffic light). The title bar is way too big and the edging is sloppy. The sub-window tabs are wrong. The scrollbars are ugly. It's just-- blaugh. This is where you see the difference between a properly designed UI and one done by a hacker. Even with all its bent principles, the Mac OS X UI is the result of some of the best work by some of the best UI designers in the business, and all it takes to appreciate it is to see how bad it looks when imitated poorly.

It's very consistent with the Microsoft school of UI, in any case. Whenever they get a set of principles to follow, it's like they read the first two lines of the specification, say "Okay, I get it," and then go to work. That's how we get things like the Office v.X box design and application icons: bulbous, shapeless, syrupy globules. Not symmetrical, candylike diffusions of light-- it's like all they heard was "Make it look 'wet'. You know, 'Aqua'."

In any case, at least four of the top ten XP themes on this site are Aqua themes-- and they keep on trying, making more. It's kinda cute, and kinda sad.

"Duuuude! You're gettin' a Dell! And you can even pretend it's a Mac!"

17:30 - Dude, you're going to Hell!

CNN, unfathomably, has a whole feature on Ben Curtis, the "Dell Guy". You know, from those ads that are just about as obnoxious and spare-no-expense-to-make-it-look-low-budget as the 1-800-COLLECT ads with Carrot Top.

I could wax poetic on my opinions of these ads until the wax coats my face and I could remove my facial hair by peeling it all off at once, but AtAT has already done that for me. And they spared my face, even.

Blaugh. Yeah, America's a great melting pot and all that. But damn, we could sure use some taste.

16:53 - Yeah, that's what I was trying to say.

From Victor David Hanson:

The more Americans find out more about Wahhabism, the Saudi royal family, the Dickensian Pakistani street, the Iranian mullahs, what Mr. Arafat really says in Arabic, Afghani warlords, the public parades of future Hamas murderers in Lebanon, and the Pravda-like nature of al Jazeera — the more they are shocked to learn that the multiculturalists, not the traditionalists in our schools, were the great deceivers. How ironic that multiculturalism demanded romance — not reason, parochialism — not inquisitiveness, and prejudice — not impartiality.

The rejection of a multiracial society united by a common adherence to Western values has formed the canon of our educational system for the last two decades. We were to embrace a "mosaic" of unassimilated special-interest groups rather than the blend of the melting pot. But throughout this war we have seen the horrific wages of nations that are not really nations at all, but simply tribes of competing ethnicities, religions, and races whose traditions promote private agendas, rather than freedom and tolerance.

If we didn't learn from the horror in Bosnia and Kosovo, then at least we should have seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, and elsewhere these last few years that wherever people give allegiance to skin color, religion, language, and tribe first, and the common culture second — corpses pile up.

If I had been more awake and better read, this is what I would have said last night. Or at least tried to.

I've never been a fan of PC-ness, though I've always been careful to give all cultures a fair shake-- there is a difference. And now, only now that we've seen how ridiculous are such gestures as turning the flag-raising statue proposal from what happened at the WTC site into a breakfast-cereal cultural triumvirate (Bobby the blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian; Lamar the idiom-free Black kid; and interchangeably Pedro the Hispanic or Siu the Asian)-- we've just about had enough.

The point of Hanson's article, to distill it into a sound bite, is that some groups of people just plain suck-- and treating the dynamiting of cliffside Buddhas as "just one culture's way of expressing itself" makes the world a worse place no matter what yardstick you use to measure it.

The American ideal-- and it's an ideal, mind you, and not perfectly realized, which is almost part of the definition-- is that regardless of where all the people living here came from, they all come to think of themselves as Americans, not as displaced Hispanics or Africans or Europeans or Asians. The people I mentioned in last night's post who run their businesses and raise their kids here-- they don't do it because they plan to go back to their native countries someday. (Some do, most don't.) Their native countries had serious problems, especially compared to here-- that's why they left. These people are willing to give up their national identity, their traditions of life and marriage, even their surnames, for the prospect of living under the American ideal; when they do that, they become Americans not by the act of giving up their nationalities, but by wanting to.

In this sense, "American" takes on much the same connotation as "Zionist". Not necessarily someone who lives in the US, but someone who lives here in spirit.

The Vikings were one of the most culturally malleable nations in history. Wherever they settled, they tossed aside Wotan and Freya and Ragnarok, and adopted the local traditions-- whether Christian, Slavic, proto-Newfie, or even Muslim. They did this because they realized there were nicer places to live than in the ice-bound fjords. Wherever they went, they brought ambition and energy and strengthened the nations into which they miscegenated. When they talk about "hybrid vigor" in dog breeding or crop genetics, it's a concept that's just as applicable to cultures: Cultural incest leads to stagnation, but cross-pollination leads to new ideas, innovation, strength, and longevity.

Countries that base their identities upon language, religion, and bloodline will always decry those that promote the "melting pot" ideal-- but they will be doing it from the sidelines while the melting-pot countries pass them by. America isn't a perfect melting pot, not by a long shot. We're still very multicultural and insular, as I said last night. But those pockets of cultural homogeneity do accrete from each other, over time, and the long-term trend is toward the melting pot, not away. And it's the fact that we have lots of money and lots of pan-cultural icons of consumption (McDonald's, Disneyland, Coke) that makes that possible. It's not such a bad thing after all, looked at that way.

So is this the long-overdue end of the PC era? Hanson thinks so, and I hope he's right. Does this mean we'll stop seeing Bobby/Lamar/Pedro-ism on cereal boxes anytime soon? Maybe not. But if before 9/11 they had been planning to do so, at least we won't be seeing them multiculturalize the Rice Krispies elves.

15:25 - Ho ho...


Hoo-kay. That one's a "swish".

09:39 - If You Serenade Your Machine, Will It Love You?

Some companies' products inspire satire songs. I remember one, sung to the tune of "Wild World", that went "GOD ... DAMN ... I hate Micro--SOFT Word", written about at the time when version 5 was released; and then there was the infamous "Start Me Up" parody about Windows 95 ("It's suckin' up my drive!"), and probably a lot more that I never heard about.

Well, take a look at this Wired article. What we've got here is a guy who writes songs about his Macs. Nice songs.

See, when they say "Mac users love their Macs", this is the kind of thing they mean. They don't mean Mac users simply have their reasons for using them. They mean Mac users will go out and do completely off-the-wall stuff like write songs about them. Whole albums of songs. Love songs, funny songs, artsy songs... it's his theme.

They talk about "lifestyle choices", but this has got to be the best example of that that I can think of.
Thursday, January 31, 2002
02:42 - This Time For Sure...

Over the past several weeks, USS Clueless has posted a series of essays in defense of America as a concept true to its founding ideals; some posts have been more provoked than others, and den Beste's challenge throughout the period has been to word his feelings in a way that gets the point across without sounding overly jingoistic or defensive. The resulting series of essays are exactly that, in the original French sense: essais, or "attempts" to convey the point in the most effective way possible.

Well, here's the latest essay.
The United States is made up of people whose ancestors hated Europe. They came here to get away from what Europe stood for; they came here because they wanted something different. And they were resolved not to let this nation become another Europe, because they'd seen the worst Europe had to offer.


Some of them revolted against European domination and created a nation built on a different philosophy. Others came later and joined it because they liked what it stood for. The most patriotic Americans have always been its first generation immigrants.


It is no wonder that the Europeans are bewildered by the US, and vaguely frustrated. They expect the US to be New Germany, or New France, or New England. But even New England isn't actually; Boston is not New London, and New Hampshire isn't Hampshire recreated on American soil. New York bears no resemblance to York. New Jersey is nothing like Jersey. Those are only names; the reality is that America is now alien.

The point here that he's trying to get across would be just as well aimed at white supremacists and their ilk within the US: America is not, and never has been, the Land of the WASP. It's not less so now than it was at some point in the past, nor is it more so. Only at the very beginning, when the mother country that we were fighting was Britain-- purely by accident of colonization-- was a European (or English) ascendancy evident. Almost immediately afterwards, as soon as it became clear what the Constitution was promoting, the US in its current form began to emerge: the Coalition Culture.

The only reason America looks like a white, European nation-- to those who expect to see it as such-- is that within the greater framework of the country, cultural groups do still insularize to a remarkable degree. White people living in San Marino don't go into Compton or the Pasadena Arroyo, except in very fast cars on the freeways. So it's very easy to pretend that those pockets of culture don't exist, or are irrelevant. But to the people living there, the WASPs are just as remote, and just as removed from their everyday concept of "America" as they are to the WASPs.

This effect of insularity is amplified each time a WASP ignores the reality of the Sikhs making his Subway sandwich, the Chinese guy to whom he pays his rent, the Indians and Pakistanis programming with him at work, the Vietnamese running the successful PC hardware shops where he buys his office's computers, and the newly-ascendant Black culture that has finally begun to penetrate to all levels of social management from unskilled labor all the way up through corporate management and political office.

(Sure, I'm generalizing-- but I also mean to point out that many cultures do gravitate towards certain professions. It's a stereotype to suggest that Jews work the financial system, but there's historical and cultural support for such a statement, like it or not-- niches are only pejorative if someone decides to craft them that way through hateful propaganda.)

The KKK can keep those blinders on all they like and go on pretending that America is Meant for the European; but just as we look back at 1955 and see Marty McFly and Doc Brown rather than Joe McCarthy and people getting fired over the suspicion of associating with someone who was suspected of being a Communist, people who think the United States were ever "purely" comprised of one particular cultural group are worshipping a fantasy world that never existed. History wears blinders just as well as people do.

...So anyway, that's what America is about. You could put all the cultures in the world onto a wheel and rotate them one to the left, and then take North America and fill it with people from the rotated culture wheel-- populating it from 1750 with Vietnamese settlers and statesmen, importing British and Irish and Russian slaves to pick cotton in the South, with Blacks and Hispanics and Chinese and Muslims pouring voluntarily into Staten Island over the years and Indians entering through San Francisco to build the railroads and pan for gold-- and the concept of the nation would be exactly the same.

In fact, that alternate America of 2002 probably wouldn't look all that different from what we have today.

We're a country built upon an ideal, not upon a people. The people come here for the ideal, and the ideal is what makes them Americans. Europe expects a country to be an aggregation of people who speak the same language and share a common ancestry, whatever the country's government and social structure might be like. But to us, the government and social structure are all-important, and language and ancestry are incidental.

This is not jingoism or patriotic bluster. These essays from den Beste and his contemporaries are just trying to set the record straight for the benefit of the European politicians and columnists who just don't seem to get it.

23:17 - Seanbaby...?


I was waiting for my car to finish being washed over at the place I usually go to on Stevens Creek Blvd., where they have a nice gazebo with magazines and things to read. One of them that was sitting there in a big pile of take-em-they're-free copies was The Wave, a Peninsula/South Bay/Santa Cruz metro-life rag. You know the kind-- the ones that run "Life in Hell" and "Tokyo New York", and where the personal ads have really entertaining entries (especially in "Other seeking Other").

So imagine my surprise when I pick up one of these copies and flip through it-- only to find an article by the one and only Seanbaby. It's a bizarre, paranoid, surrealist little piece entitled "Attack Monkeys Are Planning to Attack You".

Recently in New Delhi, a monkey boarded a bus and "pretended to read a newspaper for the entire hour-long ride." If this doesn't seem odd to you, chances are you'll be the first victim once they organize their super monkey army.

Funny, dirty, and lavishly illustrated-- and it seems not to be located on his website anywhere. So does this mean he writes for biweekly metro print rags in his spare time? Or is this his day job?

And does this mean I'll have to keep picking up copies of The Wave just to find out?

23:04 - Spare a talent for an old ex-leper?

Hiker has started his own blog recently, and this post explains why.

I wish I had a cool story from my past that I remembered in detail and could use as a justification for all the bizarre stuff I do...

21:26 - It's time for a little something unexpected...

VueScan, by Ed Hamrick, is the all-purpose Mac OS X scanner software that everyone's using because no scanner makers have brought out drivers yet.

This is VueScan:

This is me using VueScan:

See, here's the thing. VueScan is the most horrible, infuriating, ear-bleedingly godawful piece of software that it has ever been my displeasure to use.

Well, okay, maybe that's not fair. It's not maliciously bad, and Hamrick has done a really admirable job of delivering a piece of software that works on Windows, Mac OS (9 and X), and Linux, and works with almost all kinds of scanners in the world, whether parallel, SCSI, USB, or FireWire. Really remarkable.

But... aaarrgh!

A Preview pass in my Microtek software, under OS 9, takes about twenty seconds. I make my adjustments, and then the full scan pass takes another twenty seconds. It zips along. I click, spin around twice in my chair, and I've got a nicely color-balanced image in Photoshop to play with. All the detail is there and available for me to tweak with the level sliders.

But under VueScan, a simple Preview pass takes ninety seconds. The full scan takes just as long. Heaven forbid I should ever have to scan more than one page-- I'd be here all night. But that's not the worst part! The worst part is that the color-balance sliders seem to do no good at all! What I scan tend to be grayscale pencil drawings, and the Microtek software (which doesn't run in OS X) picks up all the detail perfectly. But no matter how I twist the sliders, VueScan seems to capture a bright, near-white field-- only the heaviest lines show up at all, and crashing the sliders back and forth barely makes any difference at all.

But that's not all! If I move the selection area around and do another Preview pass (another 90 seconds of my life gone), the image will look nothing like the previous one. It'll have a splotch right in the middle of bright, sun-like white, edged with an intense bleed of yellow, like film exposed to direct sunlight. Needless to say, I can't use whatever image comes out of that. So I preview again (90 seconds-- "Jeopardy" theme plays three or four times), and this time the field is made up of alternating lines of dark blue, red, yellow, black, ochre, and band-aid color. huh? At this point, my only hope is to shut down the program and start over again, because if I let it live it will merely sit there Buddha-like, but mocking me-- the Mocking Bodhisattva of Glaring Monochromatic Light.

It's times like this that, utterly defeated, I grope for the Startup Disk panel and reboot into OS 9, willing to endure five minutes of booting, scanning, rebooting, and launching all my seventeen accustomed apps again, just so I can scan some pages in peace and quiet.

That's the big weakness OS X has right now: scanning. (Well, the big one for me.) Scanning is a dreary, sad tale. Because Photoshop isn't out yet-- Real Soon Now, says Adobe-- none of the scanner manufacturers seem to have any incentive to develop native drivers. Some have, but of course not Microtek. I've had an e-mail response from them saying they hope to have OS X support "in the very near future", but I'm not expecting much from that.

"Why don't I just get another scanner?" Excellent question! Why, because I need an 11x17-inch scan bed-- or A3-size, if you prefer-- and Microtek is the only manufacturer who makes one, aside from Mustek (and I have friends who buy Mustek scanners three at a time, because they dissolve right before your eyes. I'm not kidding-- they're that cheap and crappy), that's remotely affordable ($1000). Some other ones are available, but they start at $3000. And that's still SCSI we're talking here, not USB-- let alone FireWire.

(I daresay that if I could have a FireWire version of my Microtek 6400XL, it would work perfectly in Classic mode with the Microtek software.)

SCSI in OS X is a strange bird in any case. You have to have your SCSI devices turned on at boot time, or it won't load the shims for them. This is a Darwin problem, Adaptec has told me-- and a topic of hot debate among Darwin developers and Apple. They'd better address this problem, or else OS X will have a hard time being accepted in the server market, where SCSI is still very entrenched. Not to mention the installed Mac graphics market, who was used to SCSI being the default primary system bus right up until 1998, when Apple went to IDE to cut costs and lower reliability and speed.

So now I'm stuck, until such time as someone should see fit to make a FireWire A3 scanner that I can afford, or Microtek should get around to making OS X-native scanner software, whichever comes first. I'm not sure which is more likely. But unless I'm willing to reboot into OS 9 every time I want to scan something, or maybe borrow one of Kris' old 8100s to use as a scanning box (hey, not a bad idea), I'm stuck using VueScan. It continues to escape me how the thing can keep getting such glowing, five-star reviews over at VersionTracker, gushing over its fantastic color-control abilities. Sure, Hamrick updates it every few days with a new beta, and he's been very responsive and helpful to me in my e-mail exchanges with him. But dammit, man! It got faster about ten versions ago, after he troubleshot my configuration-- and then it got worse again just a couple of weeks ago! And I can never tell whether the color-handling crappiness is there or not-- it keeps coming and going! I can't tell if it's a lamp heating issue, because scanning takes so long that the lamp is a completely different temperature at the start of the scan than at the end (VueScan turns off the lamp between scan passes)! Aaaauuugh!

... Okay.... okay. I'm done. I'm okay.

20:48 - I am superior! I am here to protect you!

Woo-hooooo! I've finally taken the time to sit down and code some of the grungiest, ugliest, crappiest, hackiest Perl on top of a band-aid on top of a badly written substrate done when I was first learning how to write more than glorified guest-book scripts.... ever.

The fan-art movie file uploader is now automated, to put it another way.

So now, when artists upload movies, checking a checkbox which uploads them into a different sort of system that's not automatable like still images are, I no longer have to manually download the movie, pick out a still frame, upload it, make a thumbnail, fix the permissions... then insert the still image through the existing approval system, go into the database command-line, manually update the filename and file type and file size... and then manually delete the still frame from the prepared ZIP and insert the actual movie file, and then update all the permissions, and then test it to make sure I didn't break anything.

<pant> <pant> <pant>

... Right. So now, when someone uploads a movie, the approval list shows it-- but it gives me an uploading form so I can download the movie, pick out a still frame, and upload it. Then, I approve it like any other file. No fuss, no muss-- just a couple of temp files on my local machine to throw away.

Yes... I know this is quite possibly the least interesting blog entry I have yet made. But I had to write it down, and it's my blog. So nyah.

18:55 - State of the Onion

I didn't watch the State of the Union address, largely because I knew I would get the gist of it from various sources in the following days-- and I have. And as an extra bonus, I get to see a whole spectrum of biased, often funny opinions about it-- but not the actual source material itself. Can an entire speech be pieced together from subsequent reactions and commentary from all sides? Probably not, but it's kinda fun to try.

On the one extreme, you've got James Lileks, who defends Bush with the same zeal as he defends the new iMac-- some might describe it as "sucked in by PR" or "the stubbornness of the convert", but sometimes a guy just gets sick of hearing his side get picked on. And at the other extreme is Sgt. Stryker's interesting play-by-play of the speech-- focusing not on the actual content, but on the presentation. Follow the link and see. It's entertaining.

You're going to find all kinds of opinions here in this country, even today. The "voice of America" is a myth. No one person speaks for everybody. We are a people who love our satire and our comedy, and yet we demand to see ass kicked when it needs kicking-- we're happy to put the comedy on hold while it's not appropriate, but a month later it's back and stronger than ever. (Lots more new material to play with, after all.) Meanwhile, those who take the task of commentary deadly seriously will cluck about such inappropriate aspersions (as does Lileks in the link above), while using their own weapons in defense-- which as often as not turn out to be humor as well.

You know, the fact is that none of us know what to make of each new political emergence as soon as we become aware of it. Sometimes our reptile brain will take over before we have a chance to analyze it-- and the first reaction out of our mouths is shaped by the reactions that others have already registered. We can't help that. We can't all be omniscient. Sometimes we'll sigh about the old days of journalism, when war footage was shot on film and disseminated to the public in newsreels in movie theaters. Journalism had to be in-depth and well-researched and contextually relevant and had to survive for at least a week. But in the gotta-post-it-now whirlwind of the blog world, sometimes you get the most accurate view of all into the heart and soul of a nation: the unrehearsed reactions of its concerned citizens.

Yeah, Bush was probably drunk when he choked on that pretzel. He's a Texan watching football. Yes, we should be respectful of the man in this time of severe trial. And yes, we should all salute every "Make no mistake" that falls from his mouth with a chugalug and a handful of Rold Gold.

These aren't mutually exclusive aims. They're the spectrum of being American.

15:59 - iPod is Geek Gear


Geek.com has a review of the iPod that's very, very complimentary. Five stars out of five in both Quality and Geekness ratings.

The iPod pins the meter on both the Geekness and Quality scales: 5 Geekheads for each. The Geek factor on this thing is so high. When I take it out of my pocket, it turns heads. It looks cool, and works cooler, whether transferring files or just zipping through the menus to find an album or song to listen to. I love music, and being able to have all the music on CDs I was never able to listen to because I didn't have the CD or the CD player with me is awesome. I'm rediscovering a lot of overlooked music, too, from Elvis Costello's Spike to The Strokes' This Is It. On the Quality side, the unit is solidly put together, is reliable and easy to use, and sounds tremendous.

What I find blogworthy about this is that it's a testimonial from someone who's not necessarily a Mac-head-- just a geek. Apple has traditionally been sneered at by geeks, largely because such people really like to tinker. Macs aren't for tinkerers.

But lately the "geek" community seems to have splintered into (a) the ones who liked to play Operation as kids, who are now Linux-heads, and (b) the ones who made sure to step exactly twice in every paving segment of the sidewalk and never stepped on any cracks so as to preserve the purity and symmetry of the universe, who are now Ive disciples. The author of this article is one of the latter. He likes turning heads with great industrial design that he can pull out of his pocket; he likes things that are streamlined and engineered to the point where the designers must have wept for joy upon its first casting in clay.

I've got word that Linux World Expo is completely flooded with Macs-- every other computer on the show floor is one, lots of new software being shown there is being developed for XonX or other hybrid Gnu/Apple platforms, the whole exhibit hall is wired with AirPort, and there's a general fervent pro-Apple sentiment all throughout the show.

So right now both types of geeks are being drawn back towards Apple, and this article is a good demonstration of that. You don't tar yourself as a backward, egotistical outcast anymore by registering your praise for something Apple has made. Instead, it's taken on good faith. It's even hip.

Whither goeth the geeks, the computer industry will follow...
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
20:47 - Okay, so I'm a wuss. Shut up.

Okay, yeah, San Jose's entry into the winter-wonderland contest is pretty pitiful compared to Chicago's, which is captured here by Marcus Aanerud.

Hey, we take what we can get in these parts... :)

20:36 - Well, it's melted now, but...

Yeah, yeah, no wiseass comments about the page theme. I was just fiddling around with iPhoto and iTools and had to tweak a few knobs. I feel so... pandered to.

Anyway, here are the photos I took on Monday morning of the new snow on the San Jose hills. Enjoy! I know I did.

17:47 - Now That's Targeted Marketing.

Today in the seminar, one of my co-workers had a cup from Starbucks. I couldn't help but notice just how carefully engineered the cup's various features were:
  • Printed on the side was a mini-story entitled "Caring For Those who Grow Our Coffee", describing how Starbucks sponsors a children's program in Kenya called "Pied Crow". I couldn't read all of it, because of the...
  • Insulating sleeve made of rough cardboard, wrapped around about 1/3 of the cup.
  • On the sleeve was printed, "This insulating sleeve is made from 60% post-consumer recycled materials, and represents 45% of the material that would have been used by a second paper cup."
  • Both the sleeve and the cup itself had a message reading, "Careful-- The beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!"

All-righty then. Let's recap: Starbucks can pretty much bank on the fact that its customers are: (a) Concerned about the rain forests and the plight of exploited third-world cultures; and (b) rich and prim and stupid enough to be a risk for suing Starbucks in case their coffee turns out to be hot, as with the infamous McDonald's Coffee Woman.

In other words, it's a coffee shop for Marketing Droids.

I knew there was a reason I could never stand being inside a Starbucks for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

17:38 - Must be an interesting day in the GM and Ford boardrooms...

So it seems that our little recession is already just about ready to turn around, according to Greenspan-- and we can chalk that up in large part to the fact that lots of Americans bought cars in the past three months, taking advantage of those 0% financing offers that the auto makers put forth after September 11.

I'm told, first of all, that while this car-buying atmosphere has buoyed consumer confidence (the really important thing to watch when it comes to gathering economic intelligence), the car makers are still in danger of collapse-- because without the finance charges that they normally get to collect, they're losing money on each sale. Cars are being bought in record quantities, but the car makers are in danger of going under.

I wonder how true this is. Have they maybe raised MSRPs a little bit to cover their costs since then? Did they release the 0% financing offers of their own free will, or under pressure from lawmakers?

And what I really want to know is, what must it be like to be an executive at the head of one of the automakers right now-- knowing that this program has in large part saved the US economy, but at the expense of his own company's health?

Do the auto makers get to play this PR card now-- they're big generous philanthropic bodies who put the health of the economy above their own, according to the publicity that they could run. They could even possibly get away with it. I don't know how well Americans would take to such a thing. Knowing how much we respect some Big Business, we might eat it up. Or it might get lost in the noise, just as likely.

Hey, thanks for Keeping America Rolling, guys. You can stop now, though. We don't need a repeat of the airline industry here, or of the 80s...

17:18 - Shaolin Kung Fu is Wonderful!


Last night I saw Shaolin Soccer, a kung-fu comedy from Stephen Chow, the director who brought us The God of Cookery (which I still haven't seen-- but I know I must, soon).

And what a hoot it was. I'm not entirely sure why, though. The style of slapstick humor is really very different in texture from what we're used to here, but I can recognize and appreciate it as humor; but what's particularly special about its humor style is where it differs so spectacularly from Western-style slapstick. Sure, a lot of giggles arise from the bad Engrish subtitles, but more come from scenes like the star player gradually building up his striking power kicking a ball against a target painted on a wall-- every successive shot, he's standing further back and hitting more accurately, until finally he's standing about 100 yards away and blasting it repeatedly into the bulls-eye with enough speed and force to dig a crater into it.

It's got a lot in common with Jackie Chan's comic martial-arts, and it's an interesting experiment to slow down and think about why it seems to funny to us (and to wonder whether it's funnier to us, in all its alien nature, than for the Chinese market for whom such movies are primarily targeted). What do we find so hysterical? It's the time-tested "surprise in the face of your expectations" concept that's at the basis of pretty much all humor, but in this case it's surprise at how artfully some physical feat is accomplished, or with how much power or complexity or speed. The surprise registers because we're expecting something more pedestrian, I guess-- we expect to see a fist-fighting slugfest or a soccer ball that obeys the natural laws of physics, so when we instead get a guy running straight up the crack between two walls or a guy blowing the goalie straight through the back of the goal or using kung-fu to clip hedges or avoid slipping on a banana peel (a Western gag re-imagined through cross-cultural pollination), we can't contain our gales of laughter.

Whatever the basis for it all, it's just a riot. Go rent it now if you have a soft spot at all for that good ol' Jackie Chan style of humor.

Oh-- and for any Hans Zimmer fans out there, pay close attention to the score-- particularly right at the climactic moment, when Mui the goalie stops the Evil Team's inexorable strike and prepares to launch her return. The music right there, for about thirty seconds, is structurally lifted straight from The Lion King. The chord progression is very similar, and the last four bars are almost identical, to the same triumphant moment in Zimmer's score. Just a little bit of trivia that I couldn't help noting-- especially since (I'm told) I'm not the first person to have noticed this...

08:18 - But oddly enough, I could eat Taco Bell every day of my life and be happy...

Lance made a huge quantity of lasagna on Sunday to handle the inevitable swarm of people crashing after the con (most didn't show up after all).

So we ate lasagna Sunday, we ate leftover lasagna on Monday, and yesterday at the three-day project management seminar I'm attending, lunch was lasagna.

Yergh. Now, I like lasagna and all, but... urp.
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
21:07 - Den Beste's Opinion of the New G4s

Not positive, as one might imagine.

Granted, I would like to see some explanations for one or two things. For one, why are the new machines still using standard PC133 SDRAM, rather than DDR? And why aren't they publishing the circumstances and full results of those benchmarks they quote, like den Beste suggests?

But I do think it's going a bit too far to snarl that the FTC should investigate Apple for blatant false advertising. I mean, come on. That's just plain not nice.

What do you do when there's an underdog fighting tooth and claw to stay within the public's radar, subject to the same laws of physics that apply to any other company, and susceptible to the same realities of business development that cause certain things to pan out in a less-than-miraculous manner?

Do you give them the benefit of the doubt, forgiving them a piece of extravagant PR fluff and a single anemic spec in the interest of wanting to see the underdog have a shot at making a splash and holding onto some market share?

Or do you tear into them, lambasting the last little detail you can dig up that gives the slightest indication that the underdog's gear is less than head-and-shoulders above its competition?

Look, I know I can get a little strident sometimes in my defense of Apple, and I quite often go on the offensive against Microsoft with just as much acid zeal as I'm being asked to suck up right now. I shouldn't dish it out if I can't take it, right? But the difference is really quite a simple one: Microsoft is the status quo. Apple is the underdog. There's no honor in kicking the underdog.

Ironically enough, den Beste's post about the Macs comes immediately after a post about how jihad is only seen as romantic and desirable by Islamic radicals when America, the big monolithic juggernaut, is seen as treating the jihadis as a legitimate threat; if the status quo considers them to be irrelevant, they see no honor in fighting their quixotic war. They're the underdogs, and den Beste explains that the best way to shame them into slinking from the limelight is to simply brush them aside and dismiss them as irrelevant-- to kick the underdog.

To equate America with Microsoft is, in the eyes of many in the world, entirely fair. And I definitely see that point.

But to use the same boot to kick Apple in the groin that he uses to stomp out the rebelliousness of the jihadis? I'm not sure I like that equation.

There are some underdogs who are better for humanity than others are.

19:22 - Oh good, I'm not the only one who thinks like this...


Good ol' FoxTrot. Somehow I can always trust it to fit right in with my own sense of humor-- even going so far as to do jokes about integrals and Tolkien.

18:02 - The Problems with Mac Zealotry

Good osOpinion.com article underlining the reasons why Apple could really do without the brainwashed zealots waving flags for them, when what they really need is mainstream acceptance.

A couple of years ago, the only Mac people in my workplace were "Mac people." They were identified by their sad eyes and the lack of spring in their step.

These days -- and I'm talking about a Fortune 500 company -- the "Mac people" are managers and highflyers telling their colleagues about their digital movies and DVD burning. These people are the decision makers. They aren't zealots -- they just recognize good technology.

Well put. Though I must mention that in the Dark Days of 1995-97, the former probably did more to keep the company alive than Apple will want to admit-- because there weren't very many of the latter.

These days, they can get away with spurning outright zealotry and focusing on the mainstream users, because we're talking about scale of revenue here. For every zealot who buys one of whatever they announce each Macworld, there are a hundred silent technology users who will quietly buy and use the products that Apple is aiming at them. Since the iSoftware Renaissance, that hundred people represent a number that's swelled significantly from four years ago; in 1997, Apple was a name that (unless you were a zealot) you spoke with a smirk, or as part of a joke ("The Apple of the auto industry"). Nowadays, Apple is a respected name that you can mention in polite techie conversation and not get scandalized looks from your friends.

I've mentioned before how zealots for any particular platform often do more harm than good-- hey, just look at what happened to Amiga (they demanded that Netscape produce bug-free software for the Amiga and give it away, and they sent scathing hate-mail to Netscape when they didn't get it to "market" in time-- for which Netscape dropped them like a shoe covered with ants). Apple can always use pundits; press, especially legitimate press, is a good thing. But the shrieking, wild-eyed ascetics don't do nobody no good, nohow.

Hey, don't look at me like that. My eyes aren't that wild.

17:43 - Yow! Intel's scared out of their minds...


According to a write-through on InfoSatellite.com, Intel has said it will longer support FireWire. The report quotes Alastair McKeeman, Intel's European manager, as saying that the technology would be relegated to a small, specialized segment of the market within two to three years whereas USB 2.0 - the pluggable interface standard it is supporting - will quickly come to dominate.

Boy, talk about running scared. Never mind the digicams, camcorders, MP3 players, and everything else that is standardizing on FireWire/IEEE 1394 like it's the best thing since sliced bread. Never mind the fact that FireWire handles its own peer-to-peer device management completely independently of the CPU, whereas USB 2.0 still requires significant CPU resources. Never mind that Sony has built its whole future on i.Link, their implementation of the 1394 standard. Never mind the soon-to-be-released 800 Mbps FireWire standard, the easy scalability to at least twice that, and the in-development seamless integration of TCP/IP with FireWire (which might be the so-called Gigawire). No, it's going to be relegated to a small, irrelevant market niche as soon as the great savior, USB 2, has come to rescue us.

Methinks Intel is slipping. Something they didn't invent is gaining momentum way too fast for their taste-- so it's time to throw up the last ditch of defense and drop support for it from their motherboards. That'll show 'em.

Look, you don't do something this deliberately backward and selfish and jealous unless your business plan is in serious trouble. I think Intel sees that its days of dominance are numbered-- and I'm not just talking about Wintel vs. Mac here. I'm talking about the fact that they're reaping the rewards of running out the x86 line by deepening the pipeline to insane levels and cranking up the clock speed so hard that nobody can keep up with it, regardless of what it means for benchmarks; it's a ruse that's only going to last for so long, and they see the dead-end looming. The Itanium won't be there in time to replace the P4. And now they're panicking.

"Quick! FUD anything that we didn't invent! Drum up interest in anything we might have control over that isn't the x86! Kill 1394, 'cause USB is all we have left!"

We all had better brace ourselves, because something big's going to come crashing down.

17:24 - Ah, so they're Apollos after all...

This article describes a Motorola interview that confirms, much to my surprise, that the new series of Power Macs actually do have the new Apollo series of G4s in them (MPC7455).

This is good news across the board-- it means we can benefit from the greater speed rampability of the Apollo from now until the G5s get here, and this will be especially good for mobile use when the new chips get into Apple's laptops-- not to mention people like Cisco and all the embedded manufacturers who are building products around G4s.

While not essential for Apple, low power consumption is important for all of the other manufacturers who use G4s. At 1GHz, the 7455 typically dissipates about 20W of heat. At 600MHz, this drops to around 10W. To compare, a 1GHz AMD Athlon typically dissipates around 50W of heat.

I still can't wait to see someone do an Itanium laptop. 110W, or whatever it was...
Monday, January 28, 2002
22:22 - George Lucas, it's Time to Shut the Hell Up

Yesterday, A&E showed a special all about George Lucas-- how he came from humble comic-book-geek beginnings to become one of the most powerful and most respected filmmakers of our time.

What is this, a commercial for the guy?

Sure, maybe Lucas was a great filmmaker, one who shook up the world-- right up until the 90s got started. Sure, Star Wars and its sequels had become pretty much the universal default "Movie"-- the first example of the concept that springs to mind when you mention the word. But then he sort of vaporized and faded away, never to be heard from again.

...Until, that is, 1999.

Oh, the anticipation with which we awaited Episiode 1. The trailers, the effects, the-- well, not quite sure what that floppy-eared-looking guy was about, but-- the effects! The action! The explosions! Darth Vader as a kid! How could it possibly miss?

And then we saw it... and we stared in gaping horror and confusion. Was that ... it? That? Was George Lucas even involved? No... surely not. It couldn't have been that bad. It couldn't possibly. Let's go back and see it again-- maybe in a different theater, with different friends. Maybe take different drugs beforehand. Maybe even leave off the Darth Maul costume we'd built based on the .014-second clips of him in the trailers. Let's look at this thing. Maybe we just missed something.

... But no, it didn't get any better the second time around, or the third. That... thing was still in it, the "Me so solly!" apparition of Nickeloden-esque fart jokes personified into a Lucasian alien. The video game was still in it-- the pod race, which took some fifteen minutes of screen time and featured two-headed announcers (yelling, of course, "That's gotta hurt!"). And the mitochondria thing-- 'scuse me, midichlorians. That's right, the Force is no longer a mystical power flowing through the Universe. It's an amphetamine manufactured by your cells that can be counted by a detector from the bridge of Voyager.

Look, I don't care what you say: George Lucas was not involved in this monstrosity of a movie. Sure, the guy sitting behind the camera operators was named George Lucas, but it wasn't the same man. Not by a long shot. He didn't even remember meeting the real George Lucas, whenever that took place. The memory had been lost.

This was the guy who "improved" the first three Star Wars episodes (IV, V, and VI, that is) by adding fart jokes, extreeeeeme camera angles (like sticking it down the throat of the newly-CG bar singer), and robots swatting each other out of the air in Mos Eisley.

The man responsible for that was not the same man who did THX 1138, and no matter how much DNA evidence you show me, I won't buy it.

Episode 1 demonstrated one thing: George Lucas (the new one, that is) doesn't let anything interfere with his artistic and creative vision; he doesn't listen to anything his underlings tell him-- not about merchandising, not about tie-ins, not about tailoring the storyline to match people's toilet-humor expectations... just like the old one. However, the new guy demonstrates his independence and autocratic zeal by taking merchandising and tie-ins and butt jokes to a level no underling would ever suggest. Pod Racer video game? Out before the movie hit theater screens. Toys and action figures? Impossible to avoid. An all-summer-long Taco Bell/Pizza Hut/KFC/Pepsico ad blitz extravaganza? Overpowering beyond the limits of anybody's previously sighted limits. Sure, the guy's a rebel and a visionary. He even sees dollar signs where the marketing weasels don't.

So now apparently A&E has decided to run an hour-long ad of the new "George Lucas", presumably to help remind us all of how great this guy is, and how dare we be horrified at his masterwork-- especially now that Episode II is about to be released? Remember, this is George LucasTM! The comic-book geek who grew up to be the Idol of Millions! Changer of Worlds! Owner of Your Wallet's Destiny! Just like Bill Gates-- the American Dream of rising from humble, wimpy, nerdy beginnings to world domination is personified in this oh-so-humble man, who so graciously gave his consent to be profiled in our meager little A&E special.

You know what, "George Lucas"? I'm giving Episode II one chance... and if it doesn't demonstrate to me within one half-hour that you have released the real George Lucas from his dank cell and given him back his identification documents and clothes and belongings, I'm not going to watch Episode III. And I'll consider George Lucas' career to have ended with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And even there we should have seen the decay beginning to set in.

Hiker reminds me:

The decay set in long before Last Crusade, my friend. The decay was in full swing by Temple of Doom. In my very humble opinion that movie is MUCH worse than Episode I. Why? Four reasons:

1: The special effects are lousy, lacking the seamlessness of Raiders.
2: The story makes no godamn sense whatsoever. It's one disconnected event leading to another until the budget ran out.
3: Irritating racist charicature for a child sidekick.
4: Irritating and whiny love interest that I seriously wanted to kill before the end of her opening song number.

Too true... too true.

21:27 - Snow Over San Jose

It's very odd that just yesterday I speculatively mentioned a dusting of snow on the mountains surrounding Silicon Valley, up where the observatories are.

Like... this?

San Jose is far enough south to have palm trees and far enough north to have pine trees-- and to have a picturesque snow day once or twice a year. That's more than up in the Ukiah area, where I grew up; and for me, that just means more to enjoy.

It didn't get much above freezing today, either-- and tonight the snow level is supposed to come down even further. Tomorrow I'll have to get some good photos.

It's time to go skiing...

17:22 - "Why the New iMac Sucks"

A "totally informed and unbiased" review of the new iMac, by a site called "Revert to Saved".

The iMac has hardly any standard PC ports. It has USB and something called Firewire, but there's no way I can plug in my parallel printer. There are also no PCI slots, so how am I expected to use my IEEE 1394 card? Apple has screwed up here, big-time.

The whole thing's a hoot; give it a read. And before anyone asks-- yes, it's a joke.

16:49 - Vinyl Lives...


Vinyl records will never die, as long as we hold their memory in our hearts. <sniff>

...Or wait. No, surely this that I see is... no, maybe it's-- but no! It's ... it's... a laser vinyl turntable!

Priced modestly from $13,500 to $23,500, this state-of-the-art audio device plays vinyl records using only a laser beam-- no needle to skip and damage the record, and no clumsy dependence on gravity and sensitivity to jolts. Why, this technology might even be safe for in-dash car players!

Uhhhh....huh. Well, I suppose it's heartwarming that there's a market for this stuff still, and that it's still a hotbed of innovation. But still-- dang. In the age of MP3, the people who complain about the sound quality of CDs as opposed to vinyl are starting to sound even sillier.

I'm not saying they're wrong, mind you. Just that they sound silly.

09:50 - Okay, that's more like it.

Welp, there we have it: dual 1GHz PowerMacs.

Nothing to sneeze at, either-- sure, it's a fairly modest speed-bump, but gone are the days when all three models in a range separated by 150MHz would each jump by 50MHz. The tradition lately is to take the previous top-of-the-heap and make it the new bottom. That's sort of what's happened here-- 800 is now the bottom, then 933, then dual 1GHz. And the CPU is hardly the only upgraded thing-- it now has an L3 cache with 2MB of DDR RAM, which is a nice not-on-Intel thing. However, these CPUs don't appear to be the "Apollo" 7460s; they're the same 745x series that are in the previous machines, just speed-bumped and with an L3 cache added.

One nice thing is the GeForce4 MX graphics, which (again) are available on the Mac first (though not by much). They did this a year ago with the PowerMacs announced at Macworld San Francisco, which were the first to be announced with a GeForce3; but as with most models announced at a keynote address, they didn't ship for several weeks, and the GeForce3 ended up being available on Wintel PCs first after all. This time, presumably, you can go down and buy one of the new machines Today.

I'm not going to buy one myself-- I'm not in the market for a new desktop machine; my current G4/450 is two years old, and it still has some legs left in it, even running OS X. I'm waiting for the G5 desktops, which might see daylight in July-- or maybe September, or next January, or possibly it won't happen until Motorola's PPC properties get bought by Apple and contracted to IBM for manufacturing, and considering Motorola's current straits, that might not be too far-fetched an idea.
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© Brian Tiemann