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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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, March 3, 2002
20:57 - I... hurt...

Well, I'm back from skiing. Pardon me if this is brief-- after a day of snowboarding and clonking my head repeatedly on the ground, and then another day of being similarly silly on skis, my body is just about to shut down on me in protest. So while I promise to return to the full upright blogging position tomorrow (okay, maybe later tonight), I must make mention of this, the coolest license plate I have ever seen:

Bear in mind that this is seen in the mirror. In other words, the plate actually reads "3OHAT YM".
Friday, March 1, 2002
18:10 - Wind: the Destroyer and Cleanser


When I woke up this morning, it was after a night of my window being rattled by high winds-- not something that usually happens around here, especially not at night. But the result was that in the morning we had a beautiful crisp clear Silicon Valley sky, with the mountains over Cupertino clearly visible in all their detail from my vantage point in San Jose.

Unfortunately, this same wind seems to be happening up in the High Sierra-- which is where we're going in a few minutes for a ski weekend. They're talking about 10-15 mph sustained winds gusting up to 50 at the ridgetops and over 60 on the Sierra Crest. Skiing in high wind ain't fun. Especially if it's a cold wind, driving icy specks into your face and holding the chairs dangling from their cables at a 30-degree slant.

The good news, though, is that the weather reports from Sierra-at-Tahoe seem to indicate that the winds will be calming down a bit in the next couple of days-- 5-10 mph sustained, gusting up to "only" about 40. And if that's part of a trend, we should be up for a pretty good weekend of skiing and (for my part) first-time snowboarding.

I've also got this new camcorder, so expect lots of embarrassing footage when I get back. See you all on Sunday night...

15:08 - No, not those kinds of extensions...

...And not those kinds either.

Ever wonder what's become of System Extensions-- those little bits of persnickety code that every Tom, Dick, and Iomega could insert into your system to jink the kernel's operation in some direction that might be favorable to a certain program's operation-- at the expense of its continued functionality with all the rest of your software?

As a correspondent has just said to me, Mac OS 9 and earlier is the only environment where arbitrary software developers have the power to install code that fundamentally changes the operation of the OS. System Extensions are potentially even more damaging to a system's operation than the Registry is-- but, importantly, the old Mac OS provided a clean and easy interface for managing those extensions. Hold down Shift while booting, and none but the factory-default set of extensions load, booting the system in a factory-clean state. Open the Extensions Manager, and all your extensions are there to be individually turned on and off-- they're discrete modules with independent mobility, unlike Registry entries in Windows (which are just textual database keys, with no inherent meaning or interrelation other than what the individual programs might assign to them), which has no such interface for troubleshooting and eliminating conflicts.

Well, System Extensions are gone in Mac OS X-- and good riddance. Now, instead, we have... Extensions. Huh?

Read this article, if you're confused by this. It explains what Extensions in OS X are (short version: they're kernel modules, whose sole purpose is to enable particular pieces of hardware; conflicts are avoided by an elegant cascading matching system). The application-specific functionality that used to be loaded as System Extensions by programs like anti-virus scanners and AOL Instant Messenger are now only permitted to exist in userland, like good little apps-- and they can't screw anything up from there.

10:42 - Today's Bush-ism

"This is serious business... and we're taking it serious. ...Ly."

10:40 - Man, that's gotta suck...

NPR this morning had an interviewee by the name of Heidi Hall.

I would venture to guess that she's not a huge fan of South Park.

"Heeiiiiiiidi Haaaaaaallll...!"

09:23 - Techno Lust: iMac Undressing Ceremonies


This Wired article is worth reading for anyone who has ever wondered just what is up with all that talk about how much "Mac users love their Macs".

The latest phenomenon, which this article covers, is how people will photograph the process of removing their machines from their shipping boxes. Why? Why would they do this? Well, I would say that first of all it has a lot to do quite simply with the quality of the packaging. Mac boxes are glossy and covered with full-color PR photography; then when you open up your box, you find that it's been packed almost as though the factory intends the unpacking experience to be an unusually momentous and enjoyable one.

I've kept all my Mac boxes. I'm not sure why. I think it's got something to do with how the box and the packing materials feel like they're a completely functional part of the machine, even two years after they have parted ways. Sometimes I can justify it by saying "Well, I'll need them in case I transport the equipment"; but that's so far only held true for my Cinema Display. The box for my G4 has traveled from garage to garage, like a crate of photo albums.

In cleaning out the space under my animation desk last night, I nearly threw out my iPod box-- but on closer inspection, I found I just couldn't do it. I mean, c'mon! Look at it! It's a cube, you slip off the sleeve, it splits in half-- lift the glossy silver flaps, and there are these two halves with the indentations and the clear plastic slipcovers and... and... I dunno, I just couldn't do it.

These things get under your skin. I can't explain it. Maybe it's partly because it's a more expensive machine, and because everything is packaged so lovingly, that buyers just feel helpless to resist the charms of the machine and its clothing.

Or maybe the Reality Distortion Field generators are somehow built into the packaging itself, and so they actively coax you into keeping the boxes around in the house so they can continue to exert their power over your mind.
Thursday, February 28, 2002
00:43 - I've got four words for you: Explosive Pissing Beef Balls.


Stephen Chow's most recent cult hit, Shaolin Soccer, was the subject of an entry here a few weeks ago; in it, I mentioned that I still hadn't seen Chow's previous seminal effort, The God of Cookery, a movie whose very mention to members of my social circle results in people falling to the ground in fits of streaming-eyed chortling.

Well, now I've seen it. Drew and David's laserdisc copy had been sitting on my end table for two weeks now for me to watch, and I only just now finally got around to it.

My conclusion? Pretty f^%$ed up.

It's a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of a Chinese chef/critic (the self-proclaimed God of Cookery, sharing the director's name, Stephen Chow) who is ousted from his position of privilege in a cooking competition against a former student. From his arrogant, high-rolling, playing-the-stock-market-from-his-cell-phone pinnacle of prestige, he is cast into the gutter, where he somehow manages to reconcile the two sides of a street-restaurant turf war (one specializing in "Pissing Shrimp" and the other in "Beef Balls") by suggesting a new and revolutionary concoction: Pissing Beef Balls. They're so wonderful, as the warring-no-more chefs screech with water spraying delightedly from their mouths, that they take the food industry by storm and the former God of Cookery rockets back toward the top.

His love interest is a woman called Turkey, an expert in making the vaunted Beef Balls, whose teeth resemble a beautiful white picket fence in both shape and size. She bursts quite unexpectedly into song for Chow, driving Zjonni into retreat to a remote room far from Hong Kong slapstick kung-fu cooking movies.

The "God of Cookery" competition then begins, pitting Chow against his usurper in a battle royale that is either a direct lift from Iron Chef or the direct inspiration for it; since both this movie and the Japanese series date from about 1996, I'm not at all sure which came first. But it's all there, right down to the flamboyant Chairman Kaga-esque MC and the dragon-lady food connoisseur who's judging the match from behind her horn-rimmed glasses. She dances around in her bright purple suit and flings out contestants right and left for minor infractions; she wants to see the two super-chefs go at it, and conveniently enough, they're facing each other down like gunslingers.

A flashback tells the story of how Chow stumbled away from a hit attempt (that resulted in Turkey getting shot in the face) down a hill and into a Shaolin monastery-- where he learned the true art of kung-fu cooking from the Eighteen Brassmen of Shaolin Monastery! <dramatic group pose> They beat him up several times, he weeps over his lost love and his hair turns silver, and finally he comes out of the flashback and the fight begins.

Think Iron Chef with kung-fu. They make a dish called "Buddha Jumping Wall" (I always wonder, do they find these names to be sensible? Or is it schtick to them?), demonstrating the ability to chop food in fractions of seconds while it's being tossed through the air, to burst food into flames by sheer force of will, and to beat each other with folding chairs. ("Great folding chair technique!" enthuses the dragon-lady. "It's ranked among the top seven weapons. The police can't charge you for weapon possession!") They finish their presentations and present them for judging-- and the judge is so overcome with sorrow at the "Sorrowful Rice" dish that Chow was forced to make that she chooses his enemy's "Buddha Jumping Wall" as the winner. But Just Then...

The clouds part and the true heavenly fairies of cooking come down to anoint Chow with the godlike powers he truly has earned. They turn his former investing partner into a dog, and they punch a big circular hole in his opponent's chest. Then Turkey comes back to life with her teeth magically straightened by plastic surgery.

No, I'm not being sarcastic. That's how it ends.

It's a very fast-paced movie; the dialogue goes by fast and furious, and you can't look away for a second lest you miss crucial subtitles (which often vanish into the white background). The pacing is bizarre, full of repetition and flashbacks, but I honestly can't say I've seen much that's funnier than the reaction when the first Explosive Pissing Beef Ball is consumed. Think "Jumping Sorrowful Hose Inside Mouth with Salty Beef Buddha and Nipples Hardened Song of Love".

14:43 - Fume, fume, grumble, fume...

Kris was just talking to one of our Manufacturing guys, who was flustered over a program that he had received from his Mac-using daughter; he had tried in vain to find a file with .exe on the name, that he could run. Kris was explaining how it works differently on the PC and the Mac. "For Windows," he said, "you have to have a .exe on the filename, otherwise it won't be an executable program."

"Well then, how does the Mac work with .exe files?"

"It doesn't. There is no such thing on the Mac. It just 'knows' that something is executable." It's a filesystem-level flag, which defines a file as an executable and associates its Type and Creator codes with the Desktop database. There is no filename extension necessary-- it's meaningless. Even the convention of putting .app on OS X app bundles is just that-- a convention. The executable flag can be set on bundles just as on anything else; the .app is just a marker that gets hidden, a leftover from NeXT. In AppleTalk networks, executable-ness and icons and associative metadata are all transferred seamlessly; no worrying about filenames and their extensions necessary. So your program can be called "Adobe Photoshop™ 6.0" instead of "photoshop.exe".

".exe is so 20th-century," Kris joked.

And the response, in a tone that was almost certainly not jocular: "Yeah, well... those will be the last words out of Apple's mouth when they shut their doors."

And he stomps off.

11:14 - See, Cube computers are still cool!


A guy in Belgium has made this custom machined-aluminum computer case. Looks pretty cool, huh? It's got blue light glowing up from inside, and pseudo-SGI-looking laser-cut logos in the sides and top. Damn, that's cool!

...Except... look at the CD-ROM drive. And think about how big this thing must be.


(And for the record, the G4 Cube was just about as wide as that CD-ROM drive. You could fit about eight of them inside this case. But bigger computers are faster, as everybody knows, which is why nobody bought Cubes.)

10:43 - In a battle between practicality and idealism...

... I'll take practicality more often than not.

(Maybe that's why I was on Prac track in Physics, rather than Anal.)

A lively discussion this morning on NPR was between proponents and opponents of Proposition 41, which would approve bonds to buy new voting machines which, by a recently-passed law, must be in place throughout California by 2004.

The "Yes" side is really quite straightforward. We have to have these machines; the law says so. They'll cost $300 million today. They'll cost $400 million tomorrow, and if we wait until 2004, they'll cost $500 million or more. The way the numbers work out, incurring some bonds as soon as possible is the way that we minimize the amount of money we will have to spend in order to be in compliance with the law. It's very simple.

The "No" side, however, seems to consist of people in a hissy fit. "We just blew through a $20 billion surplus in the biggest spending binge in history!" they cry. "If this is so important, we should have budgeted for it when we had the cash in hand!"

Well, maybe. But what the "No" guys keep sidling around is the fact that there is this law that says we have to buy the machines one way or another. That law is not up for debate. We have exactly one choice here: Buy the machines. The only axis over which we have control is how soon we do it and with what funds. The "Yes" guys say "Use bond debt, because that will be the cheapest in the long run". The "No" guys say "Don't do it at all! Stamp your little feet and throw a tantrum, and maybe they won't make you buy these machines at all!"

There are thousands of programs that don't make it into any given budget, and thousands of reasons why they don't. Just because the upgraded voting machines weren't dealt with in the $20 billion surplus we just spent (before the install-by-2004 law was passed, I might add) does not mean that we don't need the machines. We as voters want to ensure we won't have a repeat of Florida, and we're willing to pay for that surety. We're not being given the option to shriek and wail and not upgrade the machines at all out of some kind of spiteful "Hey, you didn't want the money before-- what? What's that? You need it now? Whoops, sorry! Too late!" pettiness. I like to think we're above that.

Idealism is good for some things; I should know. Mac fandom wouldn't get far these days without a certain amount of idealistic fervor, and when it comes to blue-sky design, adhering to ideals is an admirable goal. But this isn't software we're designing here. This is a pressing statewide problem that must be solved, and the solution is right there for us to vote "Yes" on. Saying that "we should have thought about that when we had the money" is the same mentality that would deny abortions to rape victims.

When there's a problem, you solve it. You can't legislate away a baby, and you can't wish away a law with a tantrum.

09:23 - The "Olive Garden Screed"

I don't know how these things get tallied over at the Blogdex, but the latest screed by Lileks is being touted as "the sixth most linked blog on the Net", and I think it deserves it. Hey, and this will make it the seventh! Wait... no, I'm almost positive that that isn't how it works.

I hadn't linked to it before because he'd already put up today's Bleat, and what with the quality of choicest sarcasm and observation flowing from Minneapolis lately, I'm just having trouble believing in a lone writer theory.

In any case, go read the Olive Garden Screed. Everybody else is doin' it! And as Instapundit suggests, drop a few bucks in his tip jar. Support the Lileks Bloggin' Gnomes Conspiracy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2002
02:30 - Just... go read the Bleat today.

Skip past the Bleat Primer stuff (if you're impatient) and start about 2/3 down the page, at:
But there's more! I found this website via Fark today, and it just depressed me unutterably. The following excerpt is pathetic and sad, on so many levels. See if you can figure out what this is. The language is rather fractured because it's translated from the Arabic, and I won't make fun of that since I speak but one tongue, and hence have no business joshing at those who are less than expert in a second language. But the ideas come across intact:

What he then quotes and annotates is the Readme file from a video game called Underash-- a militant Muslim video game.

Lileks doesn't say much about the game itself, other than that it stinks; but his point-by-point pick-through of the Readme file is that inimitable mix of irresistibly funny and helplessly saddening that is the hallmark of so much Lileks commentary. The Readme, as he demonstrates, is apparently the developers' manifesto for proving beyond all doubt that despite a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to keep game technology out of Muslim reach, the valiant Developers of Allah have persevered and brought out this game, thus proving their elect status in the technological world, the Chosen Geeks of God who have broken the impenetrable anti-Muslim code that has held them back so unjustly from realizing their eternal dream... of creating a third-person shooter game in which you slay Jews and destroy Israel.

I'm sure this looks to Muslims about the same as Wolfenstein 3-D did to us, but... I don't know. It's not like Wolfenstein was released in 1943.

It's been a number of weeks now since the Spectator article that cast a stark light on the ideological differences between Israel and the Arab world, and (in an eerie parallel) between America and Europe. Israel channels its energy into social end economic fulfillment, the article concluded, and Islam channels its energy into "pathetic victim fantasies". It would have been a very harsh judgment if it didn't continue to be borne out as true by revelation after revelation, coming from the oddest and least looked-for quarters.

An enterprising Israeli company, as I heard recently on NPR, is making a fortune making and selling camel's-milk ice cream (camels apparently are easier to herd than cows for dairy, they give about ten times as much milk, and the milk doesn't bother people with lactose intolerance, among numerous other reported advantages).

And during the seven years that this company has spent refining its product and marketing it to an eager public, Dar Al-Fikr has managed to produce... a video game that lets people live out their fantasies of dying in holy jihad. And to read their Readme, you'd think this was the ultimate living proof of the rightness of their cause.

I'll never grumble about Asheron's Call again.


01:35 - Project Coursey, Part II: Linux for a Month?

The bent from ZDNet columnist David Coursey is now officially from the post-Mac-conversion perspective, it seems; for the first time in a while, he's posted an article that seems to have little to do with his vaunted "Month on a Mac" experiment, but much to do with a new battle line: Desktop Linux.

Now that Coursey has apparently decided rather firmly that the Mac platform, while maybe not what he'll be using from now on as an ardent and unfailing zealot, is at least something for which he has a healthy amount of respect and enjoys using, he's ready to make a bold statement: that Linux on the desktop is a doomed proposal, a "non-starter". He challenges the Linux-heads in his TalkBack forums to "just go away" and harangue someone else, because he's sick of hearing about it. It's like McCarthyism in the post-Soviet era: it just doesn't make sense anymore.

Needless to say, the TalkBack for this article is full of exactly those Linux-heads, haranguing him for daring to make such a closed-minded point as that StarOffice is now going to be sold for money-- actual valuable legal tender-- and therefore can no longer serve as "proof" that the open-source development model works (never mind that it was never open-source or independently developed in the first place). Predictably, the TalkBack dwellers are challenging Coursey to spend a Month on Linux, now that he's done that for the Mac. Put your money where your big dumb corporate-whore mouth is, David! they shout.

No doubt he expected this reaction, and I'm sure he'll take it exactly as seriously as he would an e-mail from an individual threatening to punch himself in the face if his demands aren't met. He doesn't need to take anyone up on this; we already know what the result would be, and I think most Linux users do too-- the smart ones, anyway. They know that Linux simply can't compete in the desktop market; if Coursey's analyses of Windows vs. the Mac hinge upon the ease of importing his Palm contacts into Office and the ease of organizing digital photos and burning DVDs, then nobody can honestly expect him to put up with pretending StarOffice is the same thing as Office, or installing software with rpm, or configuring NFS or Samba to try to do file-sharing. It's just not gonna happen.

Further, the controversy and distraction the issue creates takes attention from Linux as a server OS, where it really shines and provides a real alternative to Microsoft products.

David's turning out to be a damned fine observer of industry trends and the strengths of various platforms. As I've said before, Linux-- and all the bare UNIX flavors-- are server operating systems. Anything developed in the open-source model is by its very nature better suited to be a server platform, whereas in order to make desktop software you've got to pay developers to adhere to design guidelines and license codecs and meet schedules and do all that tedious "money" stuff that makes so many idealists weep and gnash their teeth.

I just wish they'd accept this, and focus on making sure Linux leverages its natural advantages over Windows in the server market, rather than wasting energy trying to make Linux be successful on the desktop, where it has no natural advantages and many natural disadvantages.

Coursey finishes his rather brusque article by admonishing the Linux-heads to bite the bullet and accept that a good desktop OS is going to cost money-- and if what they want is a UNIX-based platform on which they can compile stuff, with an open-source foundation and corporate backing to provide a stable source of support, and that involves sticking it to Microsoft, then surely Mac OS X is the ideal choice. Sure, it means spending money. But, guys, that's what makes the world go 'round.

SGI and Apple and HP and Microsoft aren't stupid. Every one of them understands the necessities of how much money they have to spend to make the desktop computing experience tenable. Not one of them has concluded that their goals can be accomplished by not paying their employees any money to develop the software. Call me crazy, but this has to be significant.

00:50 - The NY Times Likes iPhoto


David Pogue of the New York Times spends two pages talking about how digital photos are threatening to become the new killer app of the post-Internet boom-- and he spends about 80% of that space talking about iPhoto.

It's not pure gushing praise, nor is it critical to any degree that would indicate being uninformed. It's just a frank look at the software that best exemplifies the nascent photography revolution, with the equivalent Windows XP functionality mentioned in a dismissive afterthought. It's clear that Pogue is looking for breakthrough technology to write about, and he's a picky commentator; proliferate camera-specific software that makes you navigate through folders doesn't impress him. Smooth thumbnail resizing and one-button driver-free photo importing does.

It's easy to dismiss Apple software as being stuff that anybody could do given enough time-- and indeed it probably is just that. But the fact is that Apple is the first to the table with the best new ideas, over and over again, and in many cases Windows developers never do quite catch up. The all-around feature set of iTunes is now matched, 14 months later, by a number of programs on both Windows and the Mac; but none of them are so lovingly crafted for usability as iTunes is. Just look at Mp3Desk for an example of UI design gone horribly, horribly wrong. (And look, it requires WinAmp to be already installed-- it's just a front-end. I think that's just precious.)

So now NY Times readers are faced with an article that focuses not on computers, not on Macs, not on a particular piece of software-- but on a rapidly emerging way of making computers useful; and the central pillar of the theater of digital photography that the Times uses to showcase it is iPhoto. Pogue doesn't say it's perfect; far from it. But he does make very plain how clearly he thinks Apple sees what we will all want out of our computers when we do photography in the years to come. iPhoto has its rough edges and its frustrating lack of certain features, but what it does it does better than anybody else.

That's the kind of publicity I like to see.

00:21 - Yaargh, too many to quote!

Marcus sends me this link: Very Stupid Human Tricks. There are enough here to keep you busy for a good hour, and once you get started you won't want to stop, so clear your schedule.

Many of these are oldies-but-goodies that I remember seeing as far back as 1994; but many more are new to me. You'll undoubtedly find something here for which you haven't already developed humor antibodies.

At the 1994 annual awards dinner given by the American association for Forensic Science, AAFS President Don Harper Mills astounded his audience in San Diego with the legal complications of a bizarre death. Here is the story.

"On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound of the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this."

"Ordinarily," Dr. Mills continued, "a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended.

That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had homicide on his hands.

"The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and the pellets went through the a window striking Opus.

"When one intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded.
The old man said it was his long-standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her -therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded.

"The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple's son loading the shotgun approximately six weeks prior to the fatal incident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son's financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother.

The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.

There was an exquisite twist.

"Further investigation revealed that the son [Ronald Opus] had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother's murder. This led him to jump off the ten-story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window.

"The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide."

That one's got to be my favorite.

20:06 - Venn Diagrams and l33t h4xX0rz


Cute... very cute.

I'm told that the comments following this one are largely of the "I sold my soul to Windows 2000 and am not intending to upgrade to any ghey XP or fisher price computar machien" variety. So in the interest of my remaining in good spirits, I'll skip those.

20:00 - Hey, way to make my drive home fun!

I don't know if it's Cool Movie Producers Week on Fresh Air on NPR or what, but so far they're three-for-three. Monday it was a retrospective on Chuck Jones, incorporating interviews with him from the 80s, complete with analyses of where characters like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny came from and how the animators shaped the characters ("Duck Amuck" was originally supposed to have featured Bugs getting abused by the anonymous paintbrush-wielding animator, who was to have turned out to be Elmer Fudd). Yesterday it was an interview with Peter Jackson (albeit a short and not very insightful one), covering the making of Lord of the Rings; it didn't talk much about anything I didn't know already, but it did give me a chance to hear what PJ's voice sounds like. And today it was John Lasseter, talking about Monsters Inc. and how the concept grew and how the creatures were designed and how computer animation works and all that good stuff. I don't know if Terrie Gross chooses her interviewees herself or what, but if she does, she knows what I wanna hear.

Maybe it's that the Academy Awards™ are coming up soon, and Monsters Inc. and LotR have four and thirteen nominations respectively; so it stands to reason that the people responsible for these achievements should show up on NPR. (One of the biggest surprises I had in my life, and the reason why I started listening to it in the car, was flipping to it on the drive home and finding an honest-to-goodness live interview with Mel Brooks.)

I wonder who's up tomorrow? Genndy Tartakovsky?

09:04 - These guys never cease to amaze me...


Companies who design carrying cases for computers are a thankless lot. They're required to come out with stylish, functional, sturdy cases for the latest computers and peripherals within weeks of any new machine's release. It's hard enough when the machines they have to design for are rectangles of all shapes and sizes (laptops, particularly the odd-shaped TiBook, and LCD monitors). But what do you think went through these guys' minds when they saw the iMac's unveiling?

"Noooooooo! You bastaaaaards!"

So anyway, here's what they've got: the "iMac Wedge". Cute... very cute. And they have my deepest sympathy.
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
23:22 - Should Apple Sell PC Software?

This BusinessWeek article suggests that the idea of Apple making Windows versions of its key multimedia software-- iTunes, iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto-- seems compelling at first but has a number of crucial pitfalls which would cause it to fail.

The first is that Apple's software is not only optimized for the PPC platform, but is written in such a way that it might not even be possible to port it efficiently to Intel. Okay-- I'm not sure I buy that, but it sounds good.

The second is that Windows ports would lack the polish and quality and feature-richness of the Mac versions. Without a guarantee of FireWire hardware, iTunes wouldn't be able to sync to an iPod; but on the Mac, it can. All right, this holds water-- in the cases where Apple publishes simultaneous Mac and Windows versions of a piece of software, the quality does suffer in the Windows version. Users of QuickTime for Windows can attest to this, as can users of WebObjects under NT.

The third reason, however, which the author touches upon only briefly, is that what Apple sells is the entire package-- hardware and software-- and that selling Windows software would entail Apple reinventing itself as a software vendor that happens to make machines too, rather than a computer maker that creates great value-add software.

This last point, expanded, is what I think is the most critical one. Think about it for a sec. Why do people buy Macs? It's for the integration, the cool design, and the software. If that software were available for Windows, why would someone want to pay the extra money for a Mac when he could put together a $500 Windows machine from spare parts at Fry's and install Apple software on it?

This is exactly the same refutation of the usual recurring brainstorm that people have: that Apple should move over to Intel. Why? Well, because then they could take advantage of all that supposed extra speed in the Pentium line (which is definitely debatable) and make computers so much more cheaply than they do now with their proprietary architecture. Hey, they could even run Windows! Okay, well-- why is it a flawed idea? Because if Apple were to make what amounts to a Wintel box, it still wouldn't be any cheaper than a comparable Dell or Gateway; and the entire point of buying a Mac-- the hardware that's completely controlled from front to back, the integration of the software UI with the hardware features, the software that only runs on the PPC platform-- would be rendered moot. Why would someone buy a Mac that was just a dressed-up Wintel machine? SGI tried making otherwise undistinguished NT boxes with custom graphics cards, and they almost got competed out of the workstation business. Their only value proposition lies in proprietary hardware with proprietary software, in a configuration where they can control it all and leverage their control into genuine performance advantages. It's the same deal with Apple.

Besides, if the Mac OS were ported to run on Intel hardware, all the existing Mac software would be rendered useless-- it would have to be rewritten and recompiled. You'd be starting over from scratch, almost exactly where Be was; and look what happened to Be.

I've always felt a sort of eerie derisive revulsion whenever I see something like this get suggested, because I know where it would lead: it would start down a slippery slope of failure, going from "Healthy hardware/software company" to "Struggling software company" to "Moribund Web portal and e-mail service" to "Once-revered name and miscellaneous properties hoping for someone to buy it". We saw this happen to Amiga and to Be; we're seeing it happen with Sega. A part of the same process has happened with Netscape. And I'll be damned if I see Apple start down that road. The only reason a company would voluntarily do it is if it knows it's on the winding but one-way path to Hell, and Apple isn't there. They're healthy, they're profitable, and there's no need for them to change their business model just to chase an elusive phantom of "Windows people who might like to use your software and whom you might convert through it".

Stay the course, guys.

17:10 - Maya Personal Learning Edition!


Well hey, would you look at this! Alias/Wavefront has just released a freely downloadable Learning Edition of Maya, so now people can learn how to do cool 3D without a) selling their internal organs to raise the $35,000 for a copy, or b) pirating it.

A few features are crippled (resolution is limited to 1024x768, you can't output to QuickTime, images are watermarked, etc), but overall the crippling seems to be quite reasonable.

I guess A/W has come to the conclusion that this is a worthwhile thing to do-- they've been paying attention to the trends, and they've decided that it's more worthwhile to provide a legit path by which people can learn their software (and thus choose to use it rather than the competition, later) legally, rather than requiring every potential 3D animator to take classes or to pirate the software.

It warms my heart to see a company making compromises to address pressing issues. Aaahh...

17:04 - Fear the Geese, Pitiful Hu-man!

Nobody trashes a movie like Lileks does. Today's Bleat is one of the best ones I've seen out of him in a long time, and that's saying something.

This is the kind of writing style that I'd love to be able to do, and that Hiker is proving to be excellent at. I doubt I'll be able to get there, though-- it's just not my style. There's a price one pays for spending the first 18 years of one's life being studiously joyless.

Ah well-- I may get better. We'll see.

14:34 - Thanks, Adobe. Now begins the countdown.


You know, it's the little bits of "lore" that really make Mac fandom fun. The stories of how Mac resellers all over the country had "Midnight Madness" sales on March 24, Mac OS X Day, where people lined up for hours to get their copies, and where Humvees pulled up in front of Elite Computers just before midnight to drop off the first software boxes for sale.

And now it's this stuff about behind-the-scenes machinations between Steve and Adobe, where all we can imagine is the Photoshop design execs strapped down to a spinning table with little electrodes attached to their nipples, or maybe pinned to a wheel-of-fortune propped up against the wall where they spin for all eternity while Steve flings little daggers at them.

Sure, real life is never as fun as it is over on AtAT. But it's fun to imagine that it is.

14:25 - Seems I wasn't the only one...

Remember those concept PCs by Intel and HP that I wrote about some weeks ago? Well, evidently columnists all over the tech world are stumbling across that page, looking through the hideous "designs" in it, and then looking over at the new iMac-- and realizing that there really is a difference.

The designs all look as though they were created by art school graduates who thought; "Hey, let's design like a fifties-looking PC, but, like really futuristic, and stick loads of cool-looking bits on." Not one has the utilitarianism or style of either the old or the new iMac. Not one gives a nod to current ergonomic thinking, or indeed to laws that cover such areas. One of the worst, courtesy of HP, I had the luck to see in the flesh recently. Clearly, little has changed over the past three years.

It's not often that you hear the words "utilitarianism" and "style" in the same sentence, applying to the same device. Used to be, the two concepts were mutually exclusive, diametrical opposites. But that's really what it's all about: the quest to design something that does all the stuff you need it to and nothing extraneous, and yet looks cool enough that everyone will want to own one. Bonus points if it looks futuristic enough to show up in sci-fi movies.

I've certainly come to like the iMac over the past couple of months, after a rickety start. It's grown on me. In fact, now when I look at it, it's hard to imagine how nobody came up with it before. It's so obvious. The Luxo connection isn't just coincidence; it's a result of the fact that the Luxo desk lamp is an ingeniously simple and versatile design in and of itself-- utilitarian and stylish. The iMac resembles it because it shares the lamp's design principles. They solve the same problems.

That's what good designers do.

14:06 - Google: A Force of Good

This is apparently new. Google now has a "Language Tools" option that lets you use the Google interface pages in any of 74 different languages. And not just the usual gotta-have-these-checkbox-items-to-avoid-lawsuits languages, either. They've got Klingon. They've got Esperanto. They've got Pig Latin. They've got actual Latin. There's even Hacker.

To say nothing, of course, of all the real languages that people might in fact find useful, including lots of languages with non-Roman character sets. Chinese (two types), Russian, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese-- if you've got an OS that understands Unicode, it's awfully fun to look at Vietnamese text and revel in the novelty of it all.

You go, Google. Geek power to the people.

13:54 - Bet he crashes soon, though...


Hee hee hee! User Friendly can be funny sometimes, even when it's just doing more Microsoft-bashing. actually, that's when it's most successful and in-its-element, more's the pity.
Monday, February 25, 2002
20:26 - Colorific? No, sorry.

One friend pointed out to me the existence of a piece of Windows software called "Colorific" that purportedly does the same thing that ColorSync does. I talked to Paul Summers, and his response follows:

It does manage color profiles for displays, but it doesn't embed them into files, nor can you transfer them between machines.

What you said was accurate. Anyone who says otherwise either doesn't understand how colorsync works on the mac, or is full of it. There's no way to sync colors across machines. I've tried for -years-, and the only solution I could come up with at the time was to go to kinkos and use a mac, which led to my original G3 purchase, just for photoshop.

Besides, colorific/colormatch/whatever is -not- ColorSync. They're just management packages so you can calibrate a display to display true white, among other things, and manage web color schemes. Nothing is embedded into files, nor trasfered between hosts. I have two windows machines using colorific, and if I move a PSD between them, they come up entirely different even though they have (virtually) the same card and monitor.

And for the record, I have a GeForce2 and Radeon in my windows media box, both use colorific, and both have different settings for the different displays. I couldn't match them if I tried.

The TiBook for example, automatically matches whatever display I hook up to it to the LCD.

Photoshop can embed colorific profiles (actually they're colorific-set photoshop color profiles) into images, but that's only photoshop, and no other apps. They'll come up different unless you have exactly the same setting on exactly the same machine you transfer it to.

And his friend from the pro video-editing field, head of a New York production company, adds:

They're on crack. Colorific doesn't do cross-machine color management. It's only for calibrating displays. Only Apple's ColorSync and things like OptiCal under IRIX can do that. Save postscript, color management under windows is a joke.

So, whew. Not only does it appear that there's plenty of bedrock underlying what I said earlier today, but that just mentioning such a topic will make people start swarming like bees over the technology of choice.

I rarely get a glimpse like this into the everyday realities of production, but it's pretty well covered by this:

Pick up an o2 on ebay one day if you want to REALLY know what video and color management are like. PC's and even Macs seem like toys by comparison.

If you can deal with IRIX's annoying little quirks, it rocks.

Computers aren't all just for Quake and Web browsing, after all... it all depends on perspective. It's a tool that can be used for good... or for evil.

16:15 - Dual 1GHz PPC vs. Everybody Else (RC5)

Hey, check out these RC5 numbers.

The first runner-up (DEC Alpha 21264) has to have eight symmetric CPUs (at 750MHz each) to get up to even half of the dual 1GHz's results.

I find it especially interesting that the Pentium 4 is outclassed by the Pentium 3 in these tests. I suppose it might be because the RC5 test app isn't compiled using the long-pipeline P4 optimizations. If it had been, I have to imagine it would have beaten the P3; but I don't know where else it would have placed.

Sure, it's just one test. But I still take it as a pretty good sign.

13:55 - It's just not as surreal around here without him...

Chris and Kris and David and I were on our way back from lunch at Armadillo Willy's today. In front of the Chinese restaurant where Togo's used to be is turning into a nexus of bloggable events; today, in exactly the same spot, we had another one at least as memorable as the Stupid Bicyclist who I mentioned in an earlier post.

Today, Chris (who had just returned from two weeks back in Australia, during which everything was unaccountably boring around here) was talking about how back in the early 90s he had developed a file naming scheme for his company's documentation process that was consistent with Microsoft's 8.3-character filename restriction. ("If only they had stayed with that," David said, "It would have been okay. At least it would have been consistent. But nooo... now we have FILENA~1.TXT with embedded filename headers-- the worst of both worlds! And five years from now, all the DLLs in Windows will still have 8.3 filenames!")

Chris' scheme was as follows: two letters for the author's initials, a number for the year, a letter for the month, a 2-digit number for the day, and a two-digit serial number.

I was thinking aloud about how well this would work-- whether you could uniquely define all documents like this. The way he'd set it up, you could-- the year digit only covered 1990 through 1999, the stated lifespan of the project, and the "month" column was labeled as a, b, c, d, and so on-- not the first initial of the month name.

So, in a deadpan, I said, "Well, it doesn't take into account years that are longer than 26 months."

He thought about it for about 0.00028 seconds. Then he leaped at me and flung me into the ivy shrieking with rage for my having caused him to use up a precious brain cycle thinking about that. "THE THING IS, IS!!!" he screamed into my face (one of my well-known conversational pet peeves).

We were halfway down the next block before we stopped laughing.

Sometimes I feel awfully guilty for enjoying my job so much... but I can't think of a good solution to that.

10:08 - I promise you this won't hurt-- much...

The latest installment in Project Coursey: David gives us a realistic look at just how much pain a Windows user would be in for if he decided to go Mac. (Answer: it "requires an open mind and about a week of regular use.") It's a fair and even-handed article, and it has such gems as:

Which machine to suggest depends on a few factors--for example, your son's major. Why does this matter? Well, if he's majoring in graphic design or photography and you buy him a Windows machine, you're a borderline bad father.

However, like most ZDNet articles, the biggest thing that I find objectionable is the TalkBack responses. Why do I torment myself by reading these things? No matter how well worded or fair the article is, the TalkBack people will insist upon blasting any pro-Mac points it makes and cast aspersions upon the origins of any subversive impetus for the articles being written in the first place. Lots of Mac people are there too, but they don't ever seem to bring up the most compelling points-- or if they do, they're buried deep in the threads, and how are you supposed to find them, let alone guarantee that everyone will see them?

What irks me in this case is that while Coursey firmly recommends the Mac for its graphics capabilities and the advantages it offers graphics professionals, the TalkBack is full of people saying that Windows is every bit as capable as the Mac at doing Photoshop.

Yes. BUT.

(Leaving aside the post I made yesterday about Photoshop-- or maybe even taking it into account. Either way...)

There's a very important feature of the Mac that both Coursey and the TalkBackers seem to have missed out on mentioning, and that feature is ColorSync. ColorSync is what makes the graphics industry possible, and it is only possible on the Mac.

ColorSync is a scheme by which your graphics apps embed a color-matching profile into your image files that describes the display capabilities and settings of your monitor; and then when a remote recipient views the file, ColorSync takes the profile for his monitor, matches it up against the embedded profile from your monitor, and adjusts the display output so it appears identically on his monitor as it does on yours. Any program that runs through the standard graphics routines-- Mail, Preview, TextEdit, OmniWeb, etc-- applies your built-in ColorSync profile to each picture that has a profile embedded, so you know that what you're seeing is what the creator intended. When I view Lileks.com in OmniWeb, I know I'm seeing the same color balance that Lileks is.

Likewise, printers are color-matched through ColorSync profiles. Anybody who has ever spent hours and hours working in Photoshop to get the colors just right on a picture, then sent it to the printer's, only to have it come back all dark or washed-out (I saw this happen on a t-shirt design recently), will understand precisely why Macs are still the industry standard for publishing and printing. It's all about ColorSync.

Windows doesn't have any equivalent technology, because Microsoft can't guarantee anything about what kind of display device you're using. There is no such structure in the OS. It just isn't there. Apple and Mac-compatible monitors are regarded as being higher-quality (and more expensive) because they follow the guidelines that make it possible for ColorSync to work with them. (Apple CRTs recalibrate themselves over time to keep their output aligned and their ColorSync profiles matched, just as an example of what makes them different.)

Of course, there are a few other things I might mention:
  • Custom icons enable you to see what each picture file is without having to open or preview it. Yes, I know Windows 2000 has that "Thumbnails" view now, but that's not the same thing. It's nowhere near as versatile. It's like bolting a spoiler onto your Civic and saying "See? it's just like a Countach now!"
  • Type and Creator codes are a big part of what makes the graphics industry possible. Being able to associate certain files with Photoshop and others with GraphicConverter and still others with MSIE is of absolutely crucial importance. OS X has the "open with application" association, which provides similar functionality. Windows XP seems to have some rudimentary capability to do this too, now, but if anyone's going to claim that XP is equally capable because you can select from a list of programs called IEXPLORE, NOTEPAD, MSCVT32, DICAM_a3, and WINWORD, then I'm not going to be able to overcome you with reason and will have to resort to fisticuffs.

It strikes me as odd that so many people so regularly describe the Mac OS as being the superior platform for graphics, but when challenged by a Windows user to prove it, have no idea how. And in fact I'm sure I'm forgetting something major myself (like maybe the fact that Macs are as ubiquitous in graphics as Windows is in business, and if you go into a printing or graphics studio with a file created on Windows, they will charge you extra for the hassle of making the file usable). But these are a few of the reasons that spring to mind. If only it were more obvious that there's more difference in the technology than simply having the menu bars in a different place.
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© Brian Tiemann