g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, March 10, 2002
22:18 - Oh, this one's priceless...

<sings like the Squirrel Nut Zippers> There's a spam goin' round in town, spreading lies...

This one's really quite fun, and well-constructed in that way that fools people into thinking it's legit. What's so funny is the places where it's so clearly fake, places that are really quite obvious-- where even newbies should be made suspicious.

From: "Microsoft Corporation Security Center" <rdquest12@microsoft.com>
Date: Sun Mar 10, 2002 09:32:10 PM US/Pacific
To: "Microsoft Customer" <'customer@yourdomain.com'>
Subject: Internet Security Update
Reply-To: <rdquest12@microsoft.com>

"customer@yourdomain.com", huh? And what sounds legit about "rdquest12@microsoft.com"? Ah well, I'm not prepared to guess.

Microsoft Customer,

What'd you call me?

this is the latest version of security update, the known security vulnerabilities affecting Internet Explorer and MS Outlook/Express as well as six new vulnerabilities, and is discussed in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS02-005. Install now to protect your computer from these vulnerabilities, the most serious of which could allow an attacker to run code on your computer.

Description of several well-know vulnerabilities:

- "Incorrect MIME Header Can Cause IE to Execute E-mail Attachment" vulnerability. If a malicious user sends an affected HTML e-mail or hosts an affected e-mail on a Web site, and a user opens the e-mail or visits the Web site, Internet Explorer automatically runs the executable on the user's computer.

- A vulnerability that could allow an unauthorized user to learn the location of cached content on your computer. This could enable the unauthorized user to launch compiled HTML Help (.chm) files that contain shortcuts to executables, thereby enabling the unauthorized user to run the executables on your computer.

- A new variant of the "Frame Domain Verification" vulnerability could enable a malicious Web site operator to open two browser windows, one in the Web site's domain and the other on your local file system, and to pass information from your computer to the Web site.

- CLSID extension vulnerability. Attachments which end with a CLSID file extension do not show the actual full extension of the file when saved and viewed with Windows Explorer. This allows dangerous file types to look as though they are simple, harmless files - such as JPG or WAV files - that do not need to be blocked.

Wow. Well-researched, citing security bulletins and documented exploits, and warning against viruses and trojans. This has gotta be legit! They're trying to fight viruses! See-- it says right here!

You know how many people's cars get broken into every year by employees of car dealerships and aftermarket parts shops who the cars' owners paid to install security systems? The tech would just install the alarm or locking stuff, and keep a copy of the key for himself?

Nah, most people don't know, most likely. Which is why this virus will infect lots of people.

System requirements:
Versions of Windows no earlier than Windows 95.

This update applies to:
Versions of Internet Explorer no earlier than 4.01
Versions of MS Outlook no earlier than 8.00
Versions of MS Outlook Express no earlier than 4.01

How to install
Run attached file q216309.exe

Okay, this is what gets me. If you're trying to pass yourself off as Microsoft, even in an e-mail (a completely ludicrous medium for dispensing security updates, for many reasons beyond the implicit assumption that everybody in the world that receives the e-mail is a Microsoft customer), why would you name your attachment "q216309.exe"? Why not, oh, I don't know, "Microsoft Security Update 03-10-02.exe"?

How to use
You don't need to do anything after installing this item.

Yeah, I'll bet.

For more information about these issues, read Microsoft Security Bulletin MS02-005, or visit link below.
If you have some questions about this article contact us at rdquest12@microsoft.com

Thank you for using Microsoft products.

Yuh-huh. More citings of published security bulletins (whether real or not-- I don't know; it'd be good enough for me if I were in the sights of this virus for real), and even a link to the real live security-update site for IE. How convenient and helpful.

With friendly greetings,
MS Internet Security Center.

Ah-hah! "With friendly greetings". You know what that says? East Asia. From my experience, this is the kind of salutation you put on a letter there, but you'd never see a native English speaker end a letter like this. Especially not a Microsoft customer service agent.

Microsoft is registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
Windows and Outlook are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

For that ultra-convincing flourish.

Now, this is just what you get when picking apart the body of the message itself. The headers, as should surprise nobody, reveal that the message comes through "molly.intercom.net" and "pfuckie (a129.intercom.net [])". But who looks at headers?

I haven't been able to find the ID for the virus (I'm assuming it's a virus, and I'd be very very surprised if it weren't) at mcafee.com, largely because they seem to have made it difficult beyond imagination to browse recent virus alerts; yeah, real responsible, guys. But I'd wager that this little beauty's going to be fooling all kinds of people as it makes its rounds.

It's not anywhere near as beautifully crafted as the "I send you this file to have your advice" thing (which I still get about 20 copies of per week), or Nimda, but it's quite a piece of work nonetheless.

On the extremely unlikely chance that you read this blog entry before you open your e-mail with this in it, be-thee-ware.

21:40 - God Bless the Red Cross (Quiet, you fool!)

Lileks comments on the Red Cross turning away kids who had come to sing "God Bless the USA" and "America the Beautiful":

These things would not have happened in WW2 - again, you can ponder the matter and figure out why, but the fact is that no one would have thought to make this complaint. The nation was at war; the idea that singing a patriotic medley that contained “God” and “Prayer” would be divisive and offensive and cannot be allowed at a RED CROSS MEETING would have struck most people as absolute lunacy. I know there are people who think that the Red Cross decision is a good thing, that we're better off because the kids didn't sing “God Bless the USA,” but all I can do is plead ignorance because the reason escapes me completely.

I can, however, find another charity.

Yeah. If I'd been among the carolers, I'd have said, "Yeah, you know what? I find the term 'Red Cross' to be offensive and divisive. I demand that you change your name, or set up your so-called 'charity' elsewhere."

Not that I'm not already a bit torqued off at the Red Cross anyway. I gave them $400 sometime late in September, and shortly afterwards it came to light that that money had likely gone towards those administrative cost paydowns or office refurnishings or whatever that scandal of misappropriations was about. Like many other Americans during those times, I was going through a belt-tightening period when it came to finances, and I was none too pleased to find out that Disney had lied to me about him who donates his last farthing to help the poor getting rewarded by the poor turning into beautiful genies who baked a whole inventory full of shoes for him to sell the next day. But then they lied to us all about lemmings too, and it wasn't until the 90s when we learned the truth about the little rodents (which was that they marched around in blue smocks building bridges and exploding on command).

Bah, humbug. I am soooo disillusioned.

17:42 - I've come to a crazy house!

According to Starz! Movie News, Sean Astin-- recently seen as Sam in LotR, previously known as one of the kids in Goonies-- is going to be in a Goonies II movie. Apparently the revelation was something of a startling surprise to him... but hey, he said, he's game.

I don't know what else to say about that. Except that it would have to be more fun than that horrible NES game...

16:25 - Another lazy Sunday...

This is the first weekend in a while when I've been able to just sit and do nothing. So that's exactly what I'm doing.

Of course, even when there's nothing at all to do on a weekend like this, I still find it really difficult to just lie around and accomplish nothing. So while I've ostensibly never really left my room since Friday night, I've taken in about eight movies on cable, dug through a mountain of paper detritus that had piled up in my room, caught up all my backed-up e-mail, gone through the past four weeks' worth of newsgroups, fixed two or three long-standing and niggling bugs in the server code, and started dabbling in animation. It's that first big step-- drawing the first few sequential frames-- that's the big barrier; beyond that, it all seems much easier. A shallow learning curve that begins at 10,000 feet.

And yet it's now getting towards the end of the afternoon on Sunday, and it's gorgeous outside-- a sure-fire recipe for me to feel like I've just lost a precious weekend, never to be recovered, so much time not taken advantage of. I don't know what I'd hoped to do rather than sit inside and get caught up on stuff, but it feels so tangible that I can't even consider ignoring it.

Since the rest of the household has gone onto the Atkins Diet (all the red meat and grease you want, just no carbohydrates-- and bloody hell, it works), I'm having to adjust my eating habits to match. It feels weird being the odd man out who can eat potatoes or rice or pasta or bread, and so I always end up with far too much food-- the Meat Diet portion plus the carbos. It sounds good, I know, but if you want to come help out I'll be happy to get two or three volunteers.

Ah well. My hands are healing nicely, and so I think we'll all be ready for another ski excursion next weekend. It's just finished snowing up at Sierra-at-Tahoe, the conditions are great right now, and there's word of more snow coming this week-- so the conditions this time should be everything that this past trip wasn't: Powdery, fresh, cold, exhilarating. The way it was a couple of winters ago when I went up solo. That weekend in Carson City was one of those adventures I'll always enjoy remembering. Seeing a movie in a strange town (American Beauty, it was), getting asked for a light by kids outside the theater-- ahh, Nevada. Eating at Round Table at the edge of town, reaffirming just how good Round Table pizza tastes after a day on the slopes. Reading Spellsinger over my pizza, getting so furious with the ineptitude and outlandishness of the writing that I very nearly hurled the book across the room into some kid's birthday party. Putting chains on for $20 at the base of Highway 50's incline up into the Tahoe area. Driving through South Lake Tahoe during a white-out, where even the mountains behind the town were invisible. Getting stopped in traffic (the turn-off-your-engine kind of stop) while they cleared a spinout, and getting in a snowball fight with the cars in front of me and behind me, using the big piles of snow on the tops of our cars as ammo.

Yes, that weekend I didn't feel as though I'd wasted it on something frivolous. Because it resulted in memories; and while this weekend did involve some pretty fair accomplishments, I won't remember a thing about it a month from now.
Saturday, March 9, 2002
15:55 - Now that is a tasty burger...


Pulp Phantom: The Fiction Menace.

Sweet Lord, there are 18 episodes of this stuff.

15:22 - Another Mac Conversion

This one's getting Slashdotted like there's no tomorrow. It's the story of a recent convert from Linux (and Windows before that) to OS X; it's the UNIX stuff that he really likes, and he's got a few issues with the Mac UI quirks that he's not used to. Here's the e-mail I just wrote him:


I'm sure you're getting plenty of mail already, considering how Slashdotted your article on your OS X conversion is at the moment. But there are a couple of things I wanted to mention about it.

First of all, your run through the platforms over the years pretty closely mirrors mine. I had an Apple //c+ way back when; then got a 386 for DOS (I always did like DOSSHELL better than Windows 3.1), then a series of Windows boxes while I used Macs at work and enjoyed the hell out of them. Then I discovered Linux, and what was more to my taste, FreeBSD-- and got to be as conversant with it as I really could be (just wrote FreeBSD Unleashed, in fact). But a couple of years ago, with dot-com stock bucks, I got myself a G4/450, and that's where my Mac conversion happened. I've been working with OS X since the Public Beta, sending in tons of feedback, and I helped stir up the grass-roots storm that got Apple to redesign their app-binding system in 10.1.

Type and Creator codes are one of those things that I always found so elegant about the classic Mac OS. Filenames should *not* be relied upon for app binding. They're mutable meta-data; the user should be completely free to change filenames without them losing their bindings to the apps they can and will open in. I like being able to name a file "My 2000 Taxes" without having to worry about tacking an ugly ".pdf" onto the end or else it'll stop working.

All apps have a four-letter Creator signature, and a list of file types they will accept. If a file has a Type code of "JPEG", you can drag it over Preview, PictureViewer, Photoshop, GraphicConverter-- anything that says it will accept JPEG files-- and it will darken to show that it will open the file. Similarly, you can set the Creator code on different JPEG files so that some will open in Preview, some in Photoshop, and still others in MSIE. This flexibility is crucial for graphic artists and anybody who works with files in several different apps-- and it's much, much more elegant than Windows' global single-app-per-extension model, where if you remove the extension the file becomes orphaned.

But OS X has been trying to incorporate extension-based mapping as well as Type and Creator codes. Extensions have a global mappings table (which as yet we don't have access to, but we should). This is ostensibly so we can use files that we get from the Internet without having to map Type and Creator codes onto them-- but that's what the Internet Control Panel did in the classic OS, and it worked fine. It was a layer on the file-creation subsystem that put standardized type/creator codes onto new files downloaded from the Net, based on extensions, just like the executable flag that gets set on applications and registers their Creator codes with the Desktop database whenever they're written onto disk during installation.

But this meant that files could now be orphaned if you dared to name them things like "My 2000 Taxes". Horror! So we laid the feedback bomb on Apple, and in 10.1 they made it so each file's extension was hideable on a per-file basis, and you could hide or unhide it manually or through the file-naming process. This way, files sent FROM an OS X machine would open properly under Windows or UNIX, and we'd have the freedom to name them as we see fit, at least on the presentation layer. Plus it protects against "picture.jpg.jpg" and "virus.gif.vbs" issues, which are a direct result of Windows' stupid global extension-hiding "feature".

Anyway... yeah, the Command+O thing for opening files is a little counterintuitive. But like most things in the Mac UI, it has a rationale. The thinking goes, if you're starting a program, you're using the mouse to get to it. But if you're using your keyboard, generally what you're doing is manipulating filenames. It comes from the same mindset that doesn't put keyboard/arrow-key shortcuts on menu items and dialog boxes; it means we don't have the total freedom from the mouse that Windows has, but it does have the benefit of limiting keyboard shortcuts to in-app functionality, which simplifies matters for less powerful users. After all, the Mac UI *is* designed primarily for a shallow learning curve, and so UI elements like contextual right-click menus and arrow-key navigation and launching apps from keystrokes are avoided. It's the one-button mouse philosophy-- it seems limiting, but it's all got rationale.

And finally, the thing about having to Command+Q to quit apps even if their windows are all closed... well, the issue is that on the Mac, the currently active application takes over the entire desktop context. In apps that in Windows would have that big ugly MDI interface (like Word and Photoshop), in the Mac the whole idea is that you could open the application and have it running even if there aren't any open files in it. it's a framework into which you can open files to work with. Some apps, though, *can't* really be useful without an open window, and so they do quit if you close that window. Most of the Utilities are like that, and iPhoto is too. Some aren't (like iTunes), and while in some cases it's because you can have multiple windows open (even if you don't usually), sometimes it would indeed be better to quit when the last window closes. IE is a good example of that.

Oh, and one more thing: Have you tried OmniWeb? You wanna see smooth text, you just gotta see web pages in OmniWeb. http://www.omnigroup.com

Thanks again for a great read! Power to the White Earbud Posse!


11:55 - How much is that iMac in the window?


Apple's just posted the new iMac ad ("Window") on its QuickTime site, several hours after it first aired during various prime-time TV slots. I'm kind of confused as to why the movie file is only 7 frames per second-- seems unnecessarily crippled to me, especially considering the full quality used in most of their other promo movies. But it's Sorenson 3 and 900K, so that's pretty cool.

And it's a fun ad, too. I'd love to see the casting call for it: "Okay, do this!" <bleeeaaah!> "Nah, not goofy enough. Next!"

It certainly shows off the fun-n-playful aspect of the machine, and drums up some anticipation and mystique. (Note, no disclaimer about "iMac does not move on its own!") This should about do the trick.

And also notice, no "Think Different" slogan. Seems they're quietly retiring that campaign, as some have noticed recently...

11:42 - There he goes again...


Jay Leno has just put an article in Popular Mechanics about that jet turbine-powered motorcycle of his. I'd heard about this about a year and a half ago, and I sort of half expected it to sort of go away as the hassles of dealing with a motorcycle of this type (which he describes in a fair amount of detail) start to outweigh the geeky thrill of having something that you'll never, ever, ever meet another example of on the road.

But he's still stumping for it, which I guess says something for the enduring fun of the thing. I dunno... it's a very cool piece of engineering, but-- well, it suits Leno, I'll say that much. In that whole "Ostentatious Hollywood Star" way.

It's so good to see that some attitudes from the 40s are still with us.
Friday, March 8, 2002
02:07 - All going according to plan-- for everybody


This is the image that keeps coming to mind whenever I read more news about Operation Anaconda: from the way it's sounding, just about the most clean-cut, methodical battle I've ever heard described. It certainly helps that the goals of the two sides seem to be so similar.

Put 1000 Americans and 1000 al Qaeda in a mountain battleground, close the lid, and shake vigorously. What do you get? Well, after about three days, the score seems to be about 700 al Qaeda killed to 8 Americans. But the best part is how they seem to be surrounded, having regrouped to a meaningful central location, and are now doing their damnedest to stay that way. More and more fighters have been arriving from elsewhere in Afghanistan in small groups, magnetized to the battle scene, only to be mown down by the coalition forces that are ringing the area and filling it with fire on a constant basis.

We're being all patient and careful, and they're well-trained fighters, and we're maintaining the utmost respect for the situation, say the American commanders. But seriously, is this all a joke? Or is it exactly what both sides expected all along? It seems to me that al Qaeda is playing along exactly as though they had hoped all along for a pitched battle that they knew they'd lose: it's genuinely their goal to die in a futile war. That's what jihad is all about, at least in the popular fundamentalist context: it's better to find a completely unwinnable cause that can be justified through your belief system and die while fighting it, than to live a life that isn't true to those convictions. As I've heard restated a number of different ways since the war began, "Their greatest ambition is to die, and we're more than happy to accommodate them."

Meanwhile, as Steven den Beste writes, we're proceeding on the assumption that the ideal outcome of all this is for everybody inside the circle of coalition troops to end up dead. And if the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the region are determined to coalesce into a central location so we can take them all out one by one, well, that's mighty neighborly of y'all; you didn't have to go'n do that, y'know, but it sure does save us a heap of effort.

Seriously-- am I the only one who sees this as though the enemy is just play-acting out a script they'd all memorized? The scene is set: Islam is failing to gain respect and acceptance in a world controlled by America and Israel and the Western powers. Beating these powers at their own game is beyond the reach of the Islamic nations, so just twist the rules a little bit, and the victory condition becomes martyrdom on a cultural scale. So what do we do? Well, let's bring down the military wrath of the American superpower upon us! Here's how we do it: Set up an impossibly brutal dictatorial government to carry the banner of "We Are Islam!", dynamiting ancient Buddha sculptures and oppressing women and doing everything possible to make America look at us like a cat looks at a bratty two-year-old; then, after a few years of letting this situation fester, send out some suicide bombers to fly planes into the Americans' buildings. Then they'll strike out at the big visible government, and the effort will lead them right to us-- and we'll be right there waiting for them, gathered conveniently up in Shahi-kot, ready to die one by one fighting a battle we know we can't win, or even fight properly. Surrender is the last thing anyone will want to do. Once the rockets start zeroing in, the martyrdoms will begin, and they'll keep on going until every last fighter is dead. As long as we keep the Americans engaged, drawing their attention, making them mad, making sure they kill us all, we'll be assured Paradise. Right?

I know, I know, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But frankly, this battle just doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the first place. For me, this is as good an explanation as any.

00:40 - Perspective

Unciaa, of all people, offers a very fair and even-handed summary of the whole Mac-vs-PC situation. It gives both sides their fair accolades for their respective accomplishments, and no bashing of either side rears its head. (Seriously, it wasn't until the end that I realized who it was I was reading.)

There's only one bit to which I might take a little bit of exception:

And though it had some missteps and shots in the dark, Macs in the present are something to be reckoned with and rightfully so. They may not create revolutions when it comes to technology [and I'm not saying they're behind here], but to say they merely utilize what they have would be an insulty.

I'd disagree with the statement that Apple doesn't create revolutions. Whether it's in style or technology, the whole industry looks to Apple to lead the way, as I've said recently. The original iMac was the first machine to popularize USB on the desktop; USB pre-existed the iMac, but the flood of USB peripherals only began shortly after the iMac's popularity became obvious. It was also the first to jettison the floppy drive. (It probably sounds silly to speak of the omission of a feature as an innovation, but it really is-- the floppy was ditched in favor of a networked lifestyle. It's like how you treat a lazy eye in a kid: you put a patch over his good eye, so the weaker one is forced to grow into the task. So the iMac helped to kick-start the idea of sharing files over the network rather than on disk, and Microsoft just recently dropped floppy drives from its "required hardware" certification listing, so vindication is upon us.) On the style front, the iMac also begat the whole "translucent plastics" craze, moving on to other styles while the rest of the industry is still stuck on candy-colored clear shells. (Hasn't anybody noticed?) Then there's AirPort-- Apple started the wireless networking boom, being the first company to build WiFi-compatible hardware into their notebooks. They also led the way with LCD monitors, digital video, digital display connectors, and a lot more. Going back through history-- remember how PC users were so happy to get CGA and then EGA video adapters, while the Mac was still black-and-white? The software only supported a few colors, but that's all the video cards could handle anyway? Well, when the Mac went to color shortly afterwards, they wrote support for full 24-bit color straight into the OS. In the late 80s, this was-- when no video card could handle more than a few colors in its meager RAM. But the OS was always ready for whatever color depth the video cards would grow to support. At the time when DOS was proud of its 16-color EGA palette, a sufficiently souped-up Mac could display a million times that many.

Also, the article makes it sound as though a Mac's price is so high that no sane person would buy one, which just perpetuates the common refrain that "I'd love a Mac, but I couldn't afford one unless I won the lottery." Well, it's true that Macs are many hundreds of dollars more than PCs that you might build yourself, with the cheapest OEM video card you can find, the monitor from your last computer, RAM that you got from a friend, your previous case, and so on. But that's not what most computer buyers, particularly in the US, buy. The PCs that people buy are Dells and Gateways, and the fact is that Macs are price-competitive with Dells and Gateways. Maybe not dead-on, but the difference is very slim. A consumer-level P4-based PC from Gateway runs about $1200-1700, just like the new iMac. The rock-bottom Dell or HP all-in-one will cost about $700, just like the G3 iMac. And the top-end Dell workstation will run up to $4000 and beyond, just like the dual GHz G4. Sure, you can compare the $3000 flagship Mac to the gaming rig you put together for a grand total of $400, but that's not the market Apple's in. They can't compete with that kind of consumer model. And you know what? Neither can Dell or Gateway. Otherwise they would.

Laptops exhibit this more clearly. You can't build a home-grown laptop, so the $1500 you'd spend on a mid-range iBook will just as easily buy you a mid-range PC notebook, and $3000 will get you a TiBook or a professional Vaio. The same economic rules apply. Macs are priced to compete with name-brand PCs, not with home-grown boxes. They're a little more expensive as a rule, but not in anywhere near the degree that Unciaa makes it sound.

But that's just nit-picking. This article is a good read, and it's worth absorbing. The best lesson to take from it is that zealotry is really not the answer; no technology is worth that much blind boosterism.

Considering the number of times I've blathered about Apple in this blog, it would be a no-brainer for someone to squeeze out "MACOLYTE" or "MAC ZEALOT" on his labelmaker and tack it across my forehead. But honestly, I don't consider myself a "Macolyte". I prefer to think of myself as a technologist-- equal parts idealist and realist, brought up in a strict scientific educational environment, seeking the true answers to life's little riddles while at the same time understanding that there are some cases where there is no right answer. I've seen the best and the worst of all operating systems and platforms: I've known the joys of passing a year's uptime in UNIX, and I've sat up nights with an ailing UNIX machine kernel-panicking for some unknown and frightening reason, and I've known the terrors of installing badly packaged software that wrecks the OS layout. I've seen Macs give me "Sorry, a system error occurred" bombs and debugger screens that made me gnash my teeth in pain, and I've been brought to tears by the simplicity and elegance of the Type/Creator-code model of application binding, ColorSync profiling, applications that are completely represented by a single icon, and the ability to paste custom icons onto any and all files. I've felt a tired, soothing sense of ease of mind when surrounded by thousands of usable programs making the world so effortless for a Windows user, I've genuinely enjoyed the sure-footed positive responsiveness of the fast Windows interface, and I've undergone the terrors of upgrading Windows and fighting with corrupted Registries and the irritations of a shoddily-designed UI. I've experienced all these things, and I've formed my opinions based on those experiences. I try to be balanced in my Apple articles, extolling deserving achievements to the best of my ability while simultaneously warning of pitfalls and shouting through a bullhorn when there's something that needs fixing.

But I could distill my feelings on the subject down to something very simple: I want all of Microsoft's balls to die, because they've reaped all their profits from other people's genius and they should not be allowed to keep getting away with it. I want Apple to be strong and respected, because they consistently lead the industry in new visionary directions and push the envelope of what technology can do, and I believe genius should be rewarded, not spat upon.

I don't think Apple should "win". Let's be clear about that. I don't want Apple to take over the world. That would suck. I don't think the Internet Revolution could have occurred if every computer was a Mac-- I don't think their prices would ever have been forced down far enough for them to achieve penetration into every household the way cheap Windows PCs have. Macs would have remained innovative and well-made and detail-driven and easy to use, but damned expensive. Or more likely still, Apple would have become complacent, begun cutting corners in risky areas, hired stupid executives with dumb visions, and started to compromise their ideals of design and innovation-- and they would have turned into Microsoft. Someone else would have had to be the small, scrappy innovator who would show them the way.

No, I think a "win" condition would be Apple gaining about a 20% market share, particularly in business and gaming. That way nobody would be able to ignore them or write them off as irrelevant, and their future would be cemented. Because that's all I really want to see: Apple's future guaranteed. My deepest fear is a world without Apple. You know what that would be? It would be one in which PCs would have reached 8-bit color in 1995, we'd still be using Trumpet Winsock to connect to the Internet, peripheral devices would still all connect via serial ports (or parallel), and every such device would look like a Sportster modem from 1996, connecting to beige rectangular boxes the size of... well, your average modern PC case. We'd still be typing pathnames manually, we'd still have "Program Groups" from Windows 3.1 instead of files on our desktops, filenames would still be 8.3 in format, and people would still consider a GUI to be a sissy toy and a useless burden on an OS. Computers would be cheap, impossibly shoddy, and a nightmare to use-- and the Internet Revolution certainly couldn't have happened in that world either.

The relationship between Apple and the Wintel world is a symbiotic one; both sides are essential. I'd just like to see the balance be a little more equitable.

18:28 - Macs in business? Maybe it's possible after all...

A well-translated article at the Spanish Mac site Macuarium takes on Charles Haddad's recent contention that the Mac's opportunities in business slipped away long ago, for a variety of reasons, and that they're never coming back. The article addresses each aspect of the issue in turn and describes a way in which the industry trends either could be reversed or are already in the process of reversing.

Whatever people think, corporate decisions on which software to buy or implement are not often made by the corporate officers. They’re guided by consultants.

Linux’s only hope of survival at the high end of the corporate systems rests with IBM’s decision to support it. A company that’s half serious won’t trust their core systems to an OS they don’t fully understand or can’t administer properly... unless they can be persuaded to buy a support contract from a serious, substantial IT consulting company. Like Accenture, or Getronics, or IBM. And that goes for the Mac OS too.

We’ve repeated this argument till our throat ached. We’ve actually pursued the Spanish Apple delegation in search of information about this, and about Apple’s discreetest branch: the iServices. To no avail, yet. But we believe Apple’s moving (glacier-slow) in the right direction: iServices is not just in the business of implementing networks and doing small web consultancy and development work for Mac-dependent companies, but actually building the first step of any successful corporate software supplier: a certification procedure, complete with exams and training.

The missing part is still missing. I don’t know of any big consulting firm that will even admit to knowing that WebObjects is all about. Neither will they acknowledge the virtues of Apple’s splendid family of QuickTime products for a great number of uses. Or include Apple’s new solutions when discussing collaborative software for educational institutions. Apple’s got no serious partners, and that is deadly for its corporate credibility, as they can’t hope to build iServices into a full ITC consultancy any time soon. This, again, is Apple’s job not yet done. But at least they’ve begun and are walking in the right direction.

Couple this with the recent sightings of Apple execs sniffing around the doors of potential takeover targets like Nothing Real and Alias/Wavefront, and what you get is a picture of a company riding high on its recent successes and feeling its oats a bit. A company that's gathering the troops for a full-on insertion attack into the markets where it can really make some serious cash, not to mention market share. A company that's about as far as you can get from "beleaguered".

Just two days with this iMac in my office have shown me just how valuable it is to have an adjustable screen that I can tilt along with my body as I slouch more and more throughout the day, or that I can pull down right next to my keyboard when I'm furrowing my brow in focused, intense coding. Our web and IT guys have been coming by my cube all day to gawk and debate and wonder why we don't buy more of these machines for general use. It's not that businesses and the people in them don't want to use anything but Windows; it's just that they aren't given the choice or the opportunity to see what the alternative possibilities are.

But I think Macuarium's right, and so is AtAT-- there's somethin' a-brewing. There goes my trick stainless-steel neck again, dagnabbit...

17:39 - Here Comes the Flood...


C|Net News has immediately latched onto the fact that Gateway is going to be bringing out a new all-in-one machine this summer as an indication that the iMac's competition is already rattling the gates.

I don't know... the Profile 4 is what this new machine is going to be called, and that indicates that there's been a whole product line leading up to it, including the Profile 3 (shown at left). All-in-one computers aren't a new thing. Hell, most computers were all-in-ones once upon a time-- remember the early 80s? Remember the Commodores and Ataris, the membrane keyboards and the software cartridges? They weren't so much all-in-ones in the sense that the monitors and CPUs were connected like we think of them today-- the usual way was to integrate the keyboard and the CPU housing, and have the monitor be separate. It did take the Lisa and the original Mac to introduce the idea of an all-in-one where the keyboard was what was separate.

All-in-ones have been in favor ever since the original iMac, too-- and I daresay that's what got the Profile line going. But the Profile 3 has that design that many people expected the new iMac to have before they saw it-- an upright stance, the computer strapped to the back of the screen, the CD inserted vertically, the way the 20th Anniversary Mac had things. But as they discovered while designing the new iMac, having the CD positioned vertically meant that it couldn't run at full speed-- and it's awkward to insert it that way, in any case. Besides, once you've seen (and experienced) the benefits of having a light, adjustable screen, it seems ludicrous to anchor the screen down by attaching it immovably to the computer, just in the name of making everything more "flat". Then there's the expected thin legs and flat base. Again, all of it is designed for the single goal of making things more upright and shallow in footprint, and the result is something that evidently hasn't really grabbed people's attention or imagination. What good is saving footprint space when you can't take advantage of the fact that the screen is light enough to be adjustable?

So unless the Profile 4 is a totally redesigned machine with an adjustable screen and a separate base attached by a swivel neck, I'm not about to cry copycat. This is just the evolution of Gateway's product line, and they're entitled to it. Hey, why mess with a good thing, right?

Which isn't to suggest that I don't suspect we will soon see copycats a-plenty, though... the iMac is just too much of a smash hit, if the pre-order sales numbers are any indication, for the industry to resist.
Thursday, March 7, 2002
20:46 - Hee hee hee!

Lance and Zjonni and I were standing in the kitchen; they were combining the ingredients for a cheesecake, and we were all discussing the incidents of the day. At a fairly random lull in the conversation, I looked over at the edge of the counter, where a lone brown egg was sitting.

"Why is that egg sitting there?" I asked, quite innocently. As opposed, of course, to being in the refrigerator.

"Because if it were floating in midair, we'd be in space!" "Because its molecular density is higher than that of the countertop!"

Yeah, yeah. "So why is that egg sitting there?"

"Because it's hard-boiled," Lance finally gets serious enough to tell me.

Now, it's a surprise to me that eggs are okay to sit out if they're hard-boiled. But no, they both assure me that they can last several days-- that even raw eggs don't need to be refrigerated until a couple of days have gone by.

"Are you sure it's hard-boiled, then?"

In answer, Lance picks it up, brings it over to me, and cracks it on my forehead.

Amid the guffawing that follows, and the disbelief that I would actually let him do that when there's some doubt as to the physical state of the egg's albumen, I sheepishly admit that Lance is seldom wrong about these kinds of things. He roars with laughter while peeling the egg. "Woo-hoo! Carte blanche! Carte blanche! I wonder how I should spend this one..."

We continue talking about the merits of eggs, including Zjonni's samizdat about how you go about culturing bioweapons (inject a needletip full of bacteria or virus culture into one end of an egg, put it down very very very carefully, step through the sealed doors, wash yourself off with about fifty gallons of bleach, get out of your Level 4 hazmat suit...). And just as he mentions hazardous materials, Lance goes urp.

"Shouu'a 'eem rrfrig'rated", he says, pointing at his cheeks. He then begins to expectorate the remainder of the egg into the garbage, gagging, washing his mouth out with San Jose city water, shrieking about how foul that was.

"I was gonna say," mentions Zjonni. "I did seem to remember that egg being there last Saturday."

So while we cannot help but giggle helplessly at the writhings of the unhappy Lance, I finally note that the carte blanche has been very short-lived. The karma that fell to my account when he cracked it open on my forehead paid itself off in full, in very quick order. What bounces off my head, after all, comes around.


Is this for real?

17:31 - Lilo & Stitch Poster


Pretty funkeh, if you ask me.

Disney's such a weird phenomenon. Down at the artists' level, it's so chock-full of creativity and talent-- it's where all the very best artists of our time go to realize their skills, and the results are often exhilarating just to see in a brief glimpse. I know from the feeling I get whenever I see just a single pencil sketch by a ranking animator from Disney that if I could ever capture that "spark", that touch of magic, I'd want for very little else in my life.

But raise yourself even a step or two in the corporate hierarchy and you start getting into the bean-counters, the demographers, the merchandisers, the marketers, the Starbucks schmoozers, the Siamese siblings joined at the faces and laps. You start nearing the top, where it's always been corporate, even back in the Golden Age (Walt himself was a fairly nasty dude when it came to labor laws and unions and immigration and so on, in a Henry Ford kind of way). But it's still jarring to see it in the same cartoon of a building, the big curve-roofed ANIMATION warehouse just off Highway 238 in Burbank, as the white-hot flame of the animators' minds who make the magic happen. And it's even more sinister to see it in light of the recent SSSCA stuff, where the top echelons seek to control the very bits of data that make up the stories and worlds that tomorrow's kids will be growing up with and basing their own little worlds upon and developing their world views from as they grow.

So Lilo & Stitch seems to be something calculated to take Disney itself about as seriously as The Simpsons takes Rupert Murdock; specifically leveraging the popularity of the play-it-straight successes of recent movies, breaking that fourth wall, experimenting like they did in The Emperor's New Groove. It's something new for Disney. It could be fantastically fun, just like Groove was.

But how much of it is because the story men and the animators thought this was an idea with which they could have immense amounts of fun, and how much of it is because the marketdroids determined that "Gee, that 'self-effacing corporate angst' angle-- that's a huge dollar potential, huh? Hey, pass me another latté, and oh, you might wanna put on these knee pads"?

Trying to make a business case around art is always such a recipe for heartbreak. No wonder so many animators are so mentally unbalanced.

16:10 - Poisoning the Mouse's Cheese

I'm impressed with Foxnews.com lately-- they've been running columns by bloggers, like Ken Layne, Tim Blair, and now Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit. This time around, it's his diatribe on the unholy Hollings Axis-- the alliance between the record labels, Microsoft, Disney, CBS, and AOL/Time-Warner, among others. The group whose stated purpose is (through efforts like the SSSCA) to make it illegal-- not just illegal, but a felony-- to have on your computer any software which performs such court-assuredly legal functions as copying music CDs onto your computer, into your MP3 player, or onto a CD-R.

And the money seems to be the explanation here. A Wired article on the hearings noted that in the 2000 election cycle, the entertainment industry gave Democrats a whopping $24.2 million in contributions compared to $13.3 million to Republicans.

So championing the cause of the little guy only counts until the bidding gets high enough.

This partiality is a betrayal of principle. As such, it represents a real political opportunity for the Republicans. Democrats do like to portray themselves as the friends of the little guy and the protectors of ordinary Americans against greedy big business — as demonstrated by their posturing over the Enron collapse. But as Ken Layne pointed out last week, the entertainment industries make Enron’s management look like Boy Scouts.

"Keep your grubby laws off my computer" sounds like a pretty good slogan, and it’s one that Republicans could use against Democrats nationwide. A few smart Democrats, like Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, realize this. As Boucher puts it, these companies are "seeking to use their copyright not just to obtain fair compensation but in effect to exercise complete dominance and total control of the copyrighted work...I have told the heads of the major labels I think this is a major mistake that will engender a major public backlash." Unfortunately, Boucher seems to be a voice in the wilderness within the Democratic Party, which has forged a symbiotic relationship with the entertainment industries over the past few decades.

I've been a registered Democrat ever since I reached voting age; it seemed the sensible thing to do at the time, because my parents are Democrats and Clinton was in office at the time-- I liked the idea of a fun President, and fun he certainly was. Besides, to be what appeared to be the only real alternative-- a Republican-- was in many ways directly antithetical to my feelings as well. But now that I've been among many friends whose political leanings put them into neither big party (lots of Libertarians in the lot), and in light of situations like this, and because the California primary election this week saw me spending half an hour in the morning before work and another half hour in the evening afterwards trying to find the mythical "Dove Hill School" polling place (there is simply no such school at the intersection listed on my Democratic sample ballot), I'm just about ready to do my miniscule part to express my dissatisfaction with the way things are going and reconsider my affiliation.

I mean, what the hell? Democrats siding with Big Business against the rights of the consumer? Isn't that anathema to the party's premise? Or is it that they see entertainment as a form of government utility, that they must regulate and meter like water and electricity and roll out the tanks to prevent rogue civilians from "bombing the pipelines" through their P2P file-sharing and digital-lifestyle technology? What exactly is their rationale here?

In trying to get a grasp on the issues involved here, one naturally has a tendency to look for precedent, to find a context in which to cast the problem so we can be taught what to do by the actions of our predecessors. What is entertainment? What is music? Well, it's art. How does the public get access to art? Traditionally, by whatever means is most expedient, that does not allow for large-volume recopying. A person can own a book, and he can quote and excerpt it at will-- making copies is not really possible, but if he does large-volume republication, law prevents him. But there's nothing in the law to say that low-volume copying is prohibited: in fact, the law has upheld that such copying is essential for the survival of the value of what the consumer bought. See, what we have here in art is data-- not a physical object, like a book, so much as the text contained within it. The value in a book is not the pages or the cover, it's the words and ideas inside. If a person buys the right to have those words and ideas for himself, he has to be able to protect against their loss-- the vehicle that contains them (the book) can get burned or damaged, and if he hasn't made some form of backup copy, the ideas are lost. Why should the survival of thoughts be dependent upon the vulnerability of some arbitrary physical object that carries those thoughts?

And so the courts decided that it's legal to copy CDs onto tapes for the car, or to copy TV shows onto videotape, so the consumer who has the rights to those thoughts and artistic ideas can protect against their loss and can enjoy them at his convenience.

So what's so different about the digital age that's got Hollings and Eisner so worked up? Well, somewhere along the line they've got themselves into the misguided notion that low-volume copying (ripping a CD track into iTunes) is the same thing as high-volume copying (broadcasting a song file to be downloaded a million times via Napster); in other words, they're convinced, like they were in the 70s, that the ability to copy a record onto a tape would mean the downfall of the record industry's business model, that it would be tantamount to someone making millions of copies of the record free for the taking.

Look, piracy is a problem. I've said it before and I hold to that position. Software piracy needs to stop, but it won't. Music piracy is unethical, but it'll remain an issue as long as the technology is this far ahead of the mechanisms of distribution. But they do involve gray areas. Large-volume copying is the equivalent of setting up a printing press to run off your own cheap copies of someone else's book. That's problematic. But small-volume copying is the equivalent of making mix tapes from your legally owned CDs, and that's not a problem, even if the labels suddenly think it is, and even if the law is currently worded so as to support the labels' position. (And as someone-- den Beste, I think-- said, if millions of people break a law, it's the law that becomes suspect, not the people.)

So the only question that I think anyone should have, quite apart from how to punish people or prevent them from making copies in large OR small volume, is whether it's possible for large- and small-volume copying to converge. Is there a middle ground? Does the metaphor extend far enough for there to be a danger of "where-do-we-draw-the-line"-ism?

I don't think it does. As soon as you choose to use technology that enables large-volume copying, you've stepped onto a slippery and very steep slope, and the technology won't stop halfway. There is no such thing as a P2P app that is designed only to share files among a small subscribed group of friends, or something-- and even if there were, it would be quickly hacked and extended to become a large-volume duplication mechanism. Small-volume mechanisms are the way they are because of fundamental limitations. One person isn't going to have a million iPods to fill up with ripped MP3s for his friends. One copy of iTunes can't be made to broadcast its MP3 library all over the world. One person can't create loads of duplicated CDs in any kind of volume, with anywhere near the cost-effectiveness to make it remotely interesting to him. These low-volume duplication mechanisms are simply nothing that Hollings or Disney or Time-Warner need worry about. They never have been, and they never will be. If a low-volume mechanism attains the ability to be a high-volume one, it immediately enters the other category.

These two forms of copying will need to be dealt with in completely different ways, but Hollings isn't likely to want to swallow that. His Axis will continue to push his agenda, and it will probably win-- at least in the short term. But information does want to be free, and ideas will not be placed behind pay-for-play gates. The only result, as Boucher realizes, is that the consumers will cease to have any sympathy for the labels' rights, everybody will run illegal software in such volume as cannot be fought by the MP3 Police, and pretty much every piece of music anybody listens to will be gray-market at best. In short, we'll become China.

Or, of course, there's the ever-so-slight possibility that the courts will see the future and will rule that personal digital devices from iPods to cameras to phones are there to uphold the same rights to possession of ideas that the very first laws covering books and the recent cases covering CDs and tapes were designed to protect; that while high-volume broadcasting of copyrighted material is worthy of legal attention, the right of a person to enjoy art at his leisure, on his own terms, in his own formats, shall not be infringed.

11:37 - Pack of Cards vs. Game Boy

Now that it's no longer a for-pay article, Walt Mossberg's comparison of the Rio Riot (by SonicBlue, or Diamond, or whoever they are these days) and the iPod is now up for public viewing.

Sonicblue touts a number of automated playback features on the Riot. For instance, it can quickly create a list of your most-played tunes, or of songs from a certain decade. But I found these things to be gimmicky, and they don't work well unless you first run your song collection through a piece of add-on software called MoodLogic, which isn't included.

The Riot purportedly has a battery life of at least 10 hours, which might put it close to the iPod's 12-hour battery life. But I couldn't test this, because the evaluation unit Sonicblue sent me wouldn't hold a charge. In fact, my test Riot, a production-level unit, was plagued with defects.

Mossberg has a history of being an easy target for accusations of being an Apple shill; he's always on hand for a sound bite or testimonial quote whenever Apple brings out some new product. It should come as little surprise to longtime readers of Mac op-ed articles that he likes the iPod, and it's a simple matter to dismiss this article as a scared piece of FUD that attempts to defuse a threat from new portable audio players that have already advanced (through their short conception and development cycles) to be more than a match for the iPod in terms of feature set, ease-of-use, quality, and so on.

But, well... a quick read of the article should show that there's plenty of thought that goes into these things. The Rio Riot really does suck. I have a co-worker here who bought one instead of an iPod, and he's regretting it. Yeah, it's 20GB-- but it's USB, so it takes forever to fill it up. Yeah, it's got a big snazzy screen-- but the software makes such poor use of it as to neuter any benefits it might offer. And it's big and ungainly, the controls are awkward, the features are "gimmicky", and there are reliability problems. Some of these are subjective issues, yes. But it's still a valid viewpoint, made no less so by previous Mac-positive articles by Mossberg.

11:20 - Fox couldn't write something like this...

Here's an incident that takes "hit-and-run" to an entirely new level:

By Mallard's account, as told to police, she had been drinking and using Ecstasy that October night and was driving home when she struck a man. The impact hurled him headfirst through the windshield, his broken legs protruding onto the hood.

She panicked, she said, and with the man lodged in the windshield, she drove a few miles to her home. There, she parked her 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier in the garage and lowered the door.

Biggs pleaded for help, she told police.

He got none. Not then, or for the next two or three days, as he remained lodged in the windshield, bleeding and slowly going into shock, police said.

Mallard told police she periodically went into the garage to check on the man. She said she apologized profusely to him for what she had done but ignored his cries for help.

When the man died, several of the woman's acquaintances helped remove his body, putting it into the trunk of another car and driving to Cobb Park, where they dumped it, police quoted the woman as saying. Two men found the body Oct. 27.

Isn't it weird how some people with completely defective brains can have that little fact go undetected for years and years, until they're out of school, working, possibly married, and acting as contributing members of society? And then something comes along out of the blue, their minds snap, and things like this happen?
Wednesday, March 6, 2002
00:26 - The Infiltration Begins...

Today... is a momentous day. Not just because it's raining that kind of self-satisfied, cold rain that says "Hah! I'm snowing up in the Sierras right now, just after it would have done you some good!" No, also because today begins my life of freedom from the horrors of Windows 2000. A call to the Valley Fair Apple Store revealed that they had three iMacs in stock right that very moment, unclaimed; so I hopped in my car, drove down there, slapped down my Mac-buying AmEx card (seriously, that's all I've ever used it for, except that one Ferrari rental incident), and walked out with the ticket to my life of ease and joy.

It's now set up on my desk at work, having elbowed aside the Win2K machine that gave me so much grief a few short weeks ago. Co-worker after co-worker has been finding excuses to walk by my desk and gawk and peer at the screen and the neck and how it all moves and fits together. "It's so much bigger than I thought it'd be!" is the most frequent refrain, followed closely by "Holy damn that's cool" and "Can you get it with a bigger screen?" and "I mean, God damn that thing is cool!".

Moving all my work materials to it, however, means consolidating my e-mail; and this is where it starts becoming a long, convoluted, technical story, so feel free to tune out unless you have a need to know how to migrate Netscape Mail mailboxes to Mail in OS X.

See, here's the sitrep. My main e-mail, my grotto11.com account, goes to my UNIX server where I read it with Pine, through a Telnet/SSH connection. In Windows, I use SecureCRT; on the Mac, I've always used NiftyTelnet/SSH. I'm still stuck with that program in OS X for my Pine usage, because the built-in Terminal application doesn't support Command-clicking to launch URLs like NiftyTelnet does; it doesn't even allow you to select text and then drag it into a browser window to go to a selected URL. I have a lot of fan-art administration messages sent to my e-mail address that each involve a URL that I have to visit and review; my approval process means lots of Command-clicking on URLs in NiftyTelnet windows. I can't do that in Terminal.

But when I set the iMac up, I was loath to install NiftyTelnet-- a Classic app, one that seems unlikely ever to see the light of Carbonization; and at the same time, I knew that I would have to take my work e-mail from its current Windows home, in Netscape 4.7x, and migrate it over to the Mac, my new primary machine. So I figured I should just run Mail, the built-in OS X client, and use it for my main grotto11.com mail as well as work and my other addresses. After all, if the only reason I need my terminal program to support things like Command-clicking is because of my implementation, and if it's all in e-mail anyway, I might as well just leverage an actual e-mail program to solve matters in a way that they've already solved them perfectly well.

So I set up grotto11.com as an IMAP account. That way, my mailboxes are left intact-- I can still use Pine to access them from wherever I might be, but from my Macs I can see messages with attachments and multimedia and everything. Yay! It doesn't even care if more than one client is logged in at once. I installed stunnel on the server to encrypt the traffic, and with surprisingly little fuss or muss, I was up and running with that account-- and NiftyTelnet, in quick order, was shut down for good. Terminal is perfectly fine for all the regular telnetting and SSH'ing I need to do that doesn't involve e-mail.

But then came the unpleasant matter of... <ominous deep string orchestral notes> migrating my POP3-based Netscape mail from the Windows machine. Eeeeeeee! How was I going to accomplish this? I didn't even know what format the mailboxes were stored in. What were the chances I'd be able to preserve all my history of mail intact?

Well, here's how I did exactly that.

Step 1: Open an SMB connection from the Mac to the Windows machine, creating a share in Windows if necessary. smb:// is what I used to get to C:\Program Files\Netscape, under which is a Users\briant\Mail hierarchy with various files that correspond to my local mailboxes. So I SMB'ed in, connected to the Netscape folder, dug down, and copied the Mail folder to the Mac.

Step 2: Install Netscape on the Mac. Probably not actually necessary, but it certainly helps. I started by installing Netscape 6, which turned out to be a red herring-- the users' files go into the individual user's Library, as they should; but the path is weird, with "Library/Mozilla/Profiles/Brian Tiemann/zfasd7somethingweird/Mail" underneath the home folder. The "Import Mailboxes" scripts in Mail say they support Netscape 4.x and above, but the default location that it expects for the user profiles is /System Folder/Preferences/Netscape Users-- the Classic path, with the global prefs files. So I put NS6 aside and downloaded NS4.7, and installed that into the Classic side of the box.

Then I found the "Inbox.sbm" folder (or whatever it was called), opened it up, and copied all the files in it into the aforementioned Mail folder under the Netscape Users global settings. Then I ran the Import script. "No valid Netscape mailboxes found," it told me. Huh?

Step 3: Aha! I thought suddenly: I'll bet it's the Type and Creator codes! I went into the folder with the command line and checked with the "whats" script (see OSXFAQ for details); and sure enough, the mailbox DB files that Netscape had created on the Mac had codes of MOSS (Mozilla) and BiNA (binary), and the new mailbox files that I'd copied over from the Windows box had blank codes. Existing, native mailboxes had codes of MOSS/TEXT. I surmised that the Import Mailboxes script uses those codes to determine what's a valid mailbox file and what isn't, because they're just "mbox" style mail files-- plain text, and thus hard to identify without extra meta-data (such as, for instance, Type and Creator codes). So I used SetFile (again, see OSXFAQ) to apply those codes to the new mailbox files, the ones with no extensions.

Then I ran the Import Mailboxes script again. Hey! All the new mailboxes showed up with checkboxes for me to import!

... But no! While importing, the "Subject:" line remained blank, whereas it should have been cycling through all the message subjects as they were processed. And when they were imported, they just had four-digit numbers for the subjects-- no real subject data. When I viewed the messages, they all seemed to have an extra line break after every line; all the header lines showed up, separated by blank lines.

Ho! So it's a CR/LF issue. These files are copied straight over from the PC with no translation.

Step 4: UNIX to the rescue! I opened each mailbox file in trusty old pico, then saved it out. This rewrote all the line-breaks as UNIX-style LFs, which the Mac understands now in addition to the traditional CR; Windows, with its CR/LF, had written files that Mail had interpreted as having two line-break characters at the end of each line. This little maneuver fixed that all up, and one more run through Import Mailboxes did the trick.

But wait-- I'm not done yet! I looked at my Inbox file and noticed that it had over 2000 messages in it. Huh? In Netscape on Windows, there are only 35 messages. ...Oh wait, I know: the messages that I'd deleted over the past four months or so are just sitting in the Trash, still visible to the internal database as being in the Inbox. So:

Step 0 (which should have been done before anything else): Empty the Trash on the Windows Netscape installation. Then copy the files over, do the CR/LF translation, and import the mailboxes.

And to finish things up: I set the Windows Netscape to leave messages on the server; that way Mail would be the authoritative destination, but I could have it continue to go to the old client in case anything went wrong. And I renamed a few mailboxes-- ones with slashes in the names got renamed to have underscores (_) in them, because in Mail, putting a slash in a mailbox name isn't trapped very well-- it results in a hierarchical folder setup, as though the slash was a folder boundary. They'll probably need to iron that out. But for now, my mail is transferred over and working fine.

Step 6: Go the hell home, because it's almost 8:30 in the evening. It'll be there tomorrow.

Oh, how there it will be. How sweet is the anticipation.

23:30 - Visual Evidence

The still photos from the ski trip are up. Most of them were actually taken by Kris and Chris, so I'm not in any of them (I was busy pounding my butt and knees into pain-flavored jelly the first day); but I did take the scenery ones, shot from one of the turnouts on US50 just after it crests the summit of that last long sloping ridge and turns to wind its way down the sheer cliff that forms the western face of the canyon south of Lake Tahoe.

The second day I spent videotaping; the iMovie is finished, and it's 60MB; I'll give a copy to anyone who asks for it, but only if they're willing to wait however long it'll take to download it. I won't put a direct link here (I do want to keep some bandwidth for myself), but mail me if you want a copy.

I'm pretty proud of it. Whee! My directorial Dee-butt!

08:28 - When a Cartoonist Takes Leave of his Faculties

Decreasingly popular syndicated political cartoonist Ted Rall, who has been scoring more and more points on the idiot-o-meter with the bloggers and mainstream journalists since the war began, may well have finally killed his career with this stunning honker, which ran in the NY Times and elsewhere before being quickly pulled:

What could have possessed-- no, I'm not even going to try to imagine.
Tuesday, March 5, 2002
01:15 - The Topic That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It's been called "The New York Nuke Scare" in hushed whispers all over Blogsphere in the past couple of days, but the oddest thing is how few people have had anything to say about it, or even linked to any story describing the situation. USS Clueless had nothing to say. InstaPundit was going to remain silent, but today linked to Lileks, who in yesterday's Bleat nodded grimly at the nightmare scenario in a poetic and speculative postscript; it wasn't until I went out specifically searching for details that I found out what exactly he'd meant by "It's been October every day since October. And it's going to be October for some time, right up until the day it's September again."

Reading this stuff puts me back into that state of mind I was in in the late weeks of September-- watching the profiles of airplanes coming in for landings at San Jose International, seeing whether they had that telltale outline with wings askew, signifying a frantic but determined bank-turn; helplessly reloading the news sites to see whether suddenly anything had happened to turn cnn.com into an ad-less, link-less, layout-less list of hastily typed facts-of-the-moment; keeping an uneasy eye on the sky out the window, half expecting the low clouds to suddenly go red with flashing, diffused light reflected from some out-of-frame explosion, the sound of which might not even reach me before the shock wave does.

But at least that's tempered by the rational human mind, the one that says that the time when this was hot was mid-October, not today. Five months ago. Back when companies were still taking out full-page ads to express their condolences. Back when the freeway overpasses were completely covered with homemade banners commemorating the dead and exhorting the nation to gather strength. Back when the ruins were still smoking.

The news of the scare was released this weekend because to release it any earlier would have been stupid. You don't go blabbing in internationally-acclaimed newsmagazines the extent of our intelligence on potential threats and our ability (or inability) to counter them. The very fact that the Ridge office has seen fit to release this information should be reassuring-- it means that they consider the threat to be so stale and discredited by now as to be a non-issue. Sure, it goes without saying that we're going to be more uneasy now knowing these things than we were a week ago before knowing them, but imagine how New York's streets might have looked if this story had been leaked on October 10.

00:53 - Damn, that mouse's face has never looked more sinister...

Okay, so what's with this sudden onslaught of ads for Disney-themed cereal?

I just saw a fully-animated TV spot for "Pooh Hunny Bs", which follows right on the heels of another such ad for "Mickey Magix"-- two new entries into a mature cereal market by a new Disney/Kellogg's partnership whose purpose seems, rather oddly, to be to resurrect the aging but historically revered Disney icons in an age where Simba and Buzz Lightyear are better recognized by kids than Mickey and Donald.

Why this sudden focus on the classics? Could it possibly have something to do with how the Supreme Court is revisiting its decision on extending copyrights-- with the potential result that Mickey Mouse, 75 years after his creation, might end up in the public domain after all? And so Disney's suddenly barraging the public with ads for theme parks starring a modern-voiced Mickey pitched as "every kid's favorite Disney character", reality indicating the contrary be damned? So they can prove themselves to be vigorously defending the property when it comes up in whatever toothless court might be afflicted with the inevitable challenge case?

I'm sorry, but it may just be time to move on. Mickey and Donald and Goofy come from a time when Disney's animated shorts were the equivalent of network sitcoms-- standard fare, the stuff that's just "there", consistent and reliable but seldom remarkable. The WB shorts were always spikier, more sarcastic, more biting, more daring. And while WB's zany style (initially established rather heavy-handedly by giving every character a name that was a synonym for "Crazy") lent itself to success in the 90s with its entries into the Cartoon Renaissance-- Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, Batman, Superman, and the current Cartoon Network bonanza-- Disney's contributions to the same cause had a lot of the same "corporate" feel, a refusal to take risks, a copycattish attitude-- a Microsoftian approach, one might almost say. And now, seeing that there's little hope of hitting another out-of-the-blue jackpot like The Lion King anytime soon, they're grinding down their brake pads on their recent (rather brave) experimental features and concentrating on releasing "instant sequels" for the classics (Cinderella II? Peter Pan II? Hunchback II?!) and pushing their good ol' cash cows that they trot out every 20 years or so-- Mickey, Donald, Pooh, and the rest. Buzz Lightyear is supposed to be joining the cereal lineup with his own branded entry, which comes as a surprise to me considering Disney's attitude lately toward Pixar and its owner.

Yeah, I dunno. I'm rather peeved at Disney right now-- well, particularly at Eisner, for being so deeply in the pockets of Fritz Hollings, The Man Who Would Control Your Hard Drive.

...What? You mean you hadn't heard of that? Well, then, read this frightening state of affairs. Disney and the rest of the entertainment fat-cats are sponsoring Hollings' lobby to enact laws which would make it illegal to even have on your computer any software that isn't protected against piracy by some government-mandated security system. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is right in there with Hollings.

On the other side of the fight, though, is Steve Jobs; his position is that "If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own"... a position that the Industry detests, because look how much power and convenience it gives to the end user! Why, under this model, it'd be impossible to sell entertainment on a pay-per-use basis, which Disney and Time-Warner and CBS all would just love. And which Microsoft is all too happy to help enable.

Jobs is registering these sound bites (something he does very seldom) at a time when it's clear that if no major players in the tech industry take a stand, we'll have copy-protected CDs and pay-per-use software every which way we turn; as I've already mentioned, Eisner is blasting Apple's "Rip. Mix. Burn." ad campaign as being tantamount to condoning piracy (reality and common sense notwithstanding). The two sides are shaking out pretty clearly, if you ask me, and Apple's planting its feet and getting ready to duke it out in favor of the users' rights, while Microsoft and Disney link arms and prepare to trample all over Apple and the users at once.

You know what? Apple can't stand alone, not against the behemoths who are facing them down. The users are going to need to show some backbone and willingness to fight too, or else very soon it'll be too late.

And if we fail, the grinning face of Mickey will never be a benign and friendly visage in my mind ever again.

11:54 - Somebody set up us the Google Bomb.

Ever wonder what these "Google Bombs" might be that everyone keeps talking about on other, more perspicacious blogs? Well, this link has an outstanding article describing the phenomenon, how it works, what kinds of results it's had, and some real-world examples of how it's been put into practice.

Certainly makes me feel like a piker, naturally.

10:17 - Beware of Zealotry...

Mike Wendland wrote an iMac article a little while ago, and it had good and bad points, as any fair article will. But if it has even a single negative point on it, and if there's an e-mail address visible on the page, the Mac fans across the world will descend upon it like a flock of screeching, accusing jackdaws.

Interestingly, it's a wide and varied spectrum. Some people write well-thought-out analyses of the issues and suggest alternatives and workarounds. Some, the other extreme, cast dark aspersions upon the columnist's parentage. And still others apologize for the behavior of the latter.

One reader apologized for the rudeness from some of his fellow Mac fanatics. "We do tend to be too reactionary," he said. "It is just that we feel so strongly about the platform we use and worry about negative remarks that could further damage its reputation and make it more difficult for Apple to compete."

Which is a point I've often thought about. Isn't it odd that, at least in our minds, the Mac has to not only have an entry into every given field-- it has to be the best? Well, it does, or else the public will ignore it. Isn't that weird? They ship a GeForce2 MX in the iMac, and PC users dismiss it and point at the GeForce 3. The dual 1GHZ Power Mac has 2MB of L3 DDR cache, and the Wintellers consider it worthless because the main RAM isn't DDR. The iPod has 5GB of space and fits into a shirt pocket and sucks down tunes 40 times faster than a USB player, but the pundits compare it on the same terms as 20GB USB-based devices the size of Handspring Visors. In order for anybody to take anything Apple makes seriously, it has to be the most impressive competitor, or, preferably, the only competitor.

And I just have to ask, what other company not only has an entry into all these fields, but an entry that can be considered the best?

They make iTunes, which is possibly the best interface for interacting with your music that anyone has devised. They make iMovie, which is unmatched even by the new thing in XP. They make iPhoto, which the pundits compare favorably to the organizers that come with every different kind of camera. They make iDVD, which really doesn't have much of an analog in the PC world. And the list goes on. Final Cut Pro. The best flat-panel LCD monitors in the business (and they had them long before the competition did, too). The iPod. The dual GHz Power Mac, which (depending on the benchmarks you use) is the fastest machine around. The iBook, which many have called the best all-around notebook value ever. The TiBook, with its slim widescreen coolness. And, of course, the iMac.

It'd be one thing if Apple were an also-ran, a stumbling company running on fumes who produced boxes that didn't really compete, that appealed only to a weird isolated group of die-hard fans; if the software they wrote was quirky and clumsy but lovable in its own way, or if the hardware was ungainly and bulbous or had some trademark quirk like square screens or something; if the machines were too slow to run modern apps but people got around it by writing really efficient software, or if it had an OS that looked like it was designed by aliens who came to earth in 1989; if, in short, they were a niche computer maker whose products were interesting but not really noteworthy.

But that's not the case. Apple's an industry leader. They're the exact opposite of irrelevant-- the entire industry looks to them for guidance and leadership. Everybody from Microsoft to Dell knows that they can't afford to lose Apple, because then innovation would fall out of the budget. I'm being totally serious here: innovation is bad for business if you're Microsoft or Dell. It risks costly mistakes. It threatens your current moneymaking product line. It abandons a sure thing and forges ahead purely for the sake of forging ahead. Microsoft and Dell are more than happy to let Apple do their innovating for them-- to outsource their R&D, as Lance puts it. And so Apple's place in the industry is secure. Some of us just like to get to the cool new stuff first, and where it's integrated as elegantly as possible, and so we spend a little extra money and get it when it's in a Mac.

But that doesn't mean we don't get touchy about criticism. Largely it's because the criticism is from people who don't understand the arrangement I just outlined. But more often it's because those who react are deathly afraid of something Apple makes getting a bad review-- and all it takes is one bad review, and suddenly the industry will stop paying attention, and will press a big red button which will open up a trap-door in the ground under Infinite Loop and fling Apple onto the dung-heap of history.

Or at least, that's what they think. The reality is much more benign. A bad review is just an indicator that something didn't work out quite right-- that one of Apple's entries didn't make it to the very top of the heap. Oh, the horror! It's not worth getting worked up about. If there were a lot of bad reviews about a whole range of Apple products, then yes, I'd worry. But for a columnist to point out a flaw or two in the course of an otherwise glowing review... well, that's just being a responsible journalist. You don't do anybody any favors by ignoring reality, and the reality is that everything sucks in one way or another. Including Macs.

Apple's cultlike following is legendary. One reporter who covers technology for another newspaper once confided in me that he seldom writes about Macs because "it isn't worth the hassle of having to deal with the constant nitpicking" from Mac fanatics.

Touché. Bear this very firmly in mind, any Mac users who read this. Let's not make the journalists so afraid of backlash that they won't even make the effort to write a positive review.

But I must say I am impressed by the passion most of those Mac users who wrote me have for their machines. Their loyalty is impressive. I can't think of any other consumer product that has so many user-boosters who instantly mobilize like they do against slight criticism.

I can. Amiga.

That's the trap into which we will fall if we get too strident.

This isn't a plea for sanity so much as just a way of outlining where all these phenomena come from. What we have right now is Amiga the way Amiga should have been-- it has its zealots, but it also has a large silent and pseudo-silent majority of people who understand the technological landscape and have sane reasons for using the machines they use. The company they back is healthy and continues to lead the industry and bring out the best new products all across the board. They have everything in the world to be proud of. They're riding high; life has never been better.

Let's just not blow it, huh?

09:46 - Oh, now that is cool...

It's articles like this that make me oh-so-glad for the Internet: without it, only regular (e.g. local) readers of the Chicago Sun-Times would get to see the column, and the rest of us would have had no idea it existed. But now that the Net has transformed editorial journalism into a borderless, global venture, all the rest of us get to see gems like this too.

Apple's new iMac is the reason the computer industry needs Apple Computer Corp.

There are companies run by managers who might get drunk and whiteboard a concept like this, but then they'd lack the guts to actually build it. Other teams might build it, but they'd get drunk during the engineering and manufacturing processes.

Only Apple seems to get the idea that a Great Idea is only a Great Idea when it's shaped by an understanding of how people interact with technology and what they expect out of their machines.

If Bill Gates figured out that Implications Inform Implementations, bad karma wouldn't cling to the guy like sweat to an Amazon rainforest field researcher.

But I chiefly put forth that mumbo-jumbo for the Pulitzer committee. To you folks, I simply say: It's cool, it's cool, it's cool, oh GAWD ...

There's been hardly a columnist yet to criticize the iMac; many, and not just the usual Apple shills but folks who have never written a Mac article before, are overflowing with ooh-la-la. Of course, all this is just so much mockery of me until the shipments actually start moving (David checked at Fry's yesterday, and they have zero in stock-- they've even had to take down the display unit and sell it); I will be buying one the moment Elite Computers has one for me, but there's no word yet on how soon that will be.

So meanwhile I have to do what I did while I was waiting for my iBook: content myself with gawking at articles like this one. And I suppose it'll keep me satisfied for a while. I mean, how many articles have phrases like "Apple certainly didn't scrimp on [the neck]. It's made entirely from murder-weapon-grade metal, and is so strong that it doubles as the iMac's carrying handle"?
Monday, March 4, 2002
17:03 - Corporate Backstabbings A-Plenty

The third article on AtAT today nicely pulls together the strings of the brewing music-piracy war that seems to be developing with the record labels (and Disney) on one side, and Apple on the other. Apparently, Michael Eisner just went on record as claiming that Apple's very marketing slogans ("Rip. Mix. Burn.") specifically condone and enable music theft. And, oddly, Intel is defending Apple against the Mouse.

It's one of those "read between the lines and the meaning becomes reversed" things:

A sane and sober Disney CEO might have opted instead to interpret Apple's ads as selling a means for good little consumers to enjoy their legally-purchased music in perfectly innocent ways, such as burning a compilation disc full of "Music To Sharpen Pencils By." For one thing, doesn't "rip" imply that a source CD is present before the "mixing" and "burning" can commence? Maybe if Apple's commercial had said "Download. Mix. Burn." we'd be a little more sympathetic to Eisner's insane ramblings, but it didn't, so we're not.

Exactly-- it's really easy to tar any slogan that has the violent, mean, nasty words "rip" and "burn" in them with the brush of "Illegal and evil!"... but in fact they imply exactly the opposite: making single copies of music you already own on CD. It's low-volume copying, like duplicating a videotape or dubbing a CD onto a cassette. That kind of thing is specifically protected by law now, but it has names like dubbing rather than ripping and burning, so people don't go nuts over it. Whereas the high-volume, ubiquitous-availability stuff that they do have a right to be worried about tends to escape the terminology trap-- what do we call it these days? "Downloading"? "Sharing"? Nice friendly words.

So maybe what we need is a terminology overhaul. Copying tracks from a CD can be called, oh, I don't know-- "importing"; and copying them onto a CD or a portable player can be called "exporting" or "replaying" or something. And sharing files through P2P apps can be called "broadcasting" or "reposting" or "carpet-bombing" or "anthrax-mailing"-- something with negative connotations.

I'm only being partly facetious here. Because right now all the words in the issue give exactly the wrong meanings, and unless we do something about it, we'll be stripped of our rights to copy CDs for our own use while P2P sharing continues to flourish unabated.

Oh wait-- that's already happening. Right.

15:05 - Weird Al: Prey of the iPod

On the way up to the slopes, we listened to my entire Peter Gabriel collection through a Radio Shack tape adapter connected to my iPod; the sound quality was actually quite good, especially compared to my past experiences with tape adapters. And on the way home, we listened to all my Weird Al Yankovic albums, from UHF through Running With Scissors-- the only glitch in the setup being that the tape deck would inexplicably change direction every time it detected more than about two seconds of silence between songs (which, on some albums, means that it goes clack-clack between every two tracks).

But there's another, more subtle downside. With all of an artist's albums available to play in a long, unbroken playlist, the artist's whole oeuvre is laid bare for the eye to scour: not just the good stuff, but the bad stuff as well. I never bothered to take out the "dud" songs from my Weird Al playlist-- it just plays those four or five albums one after another-- and the result is like a concert that's run by a record-label marketdroid, where the dud songs are given equal billing with the headliners.

I don't have any of the "classic" Weird Al albums-- the 80s stuff, done when he looked like he was in his twenties, the era of "Y-O-D-A" and "Fat"-- the songs that people still think of first when they hear the name Weird Al. The albums that I have are his most recent ones, the ones done where he looks like he's in his twenties. The 90s era. The spoofs of songs that I actually recognized as part of pop culture. And, unfortunately, the source of a good number of dud songs.

My brother had a tape of Off the Deep End back in 1992 or so-- it was the age of Wayne's World, of grunge rock, of Desert Storm, of New Kids on the Block, of MC Hammer. It was a rich musical and cultural landscape, back when even the ciphers of pop had personality. (You could always make fun of NKotB, but what fun is it to mock N'Sync? It's like kicking a sand castle.) And so Weird Al's take on the era was a pretty good one: "Smells Like Nirvana" became nicely un-PC to play in Cobain drag after the spoofee killed himself, but Al did it anyway. "Trigger Happy" is deliciously satisfying to play at easily offended gun fanciers. And the rest of the album is equally inspired, too, with spoofs a-plenty ("The White Stuff" and "Can't Watch This" being just as straight-up and workmanlike as the songs they derived from, which I'm sure was part of the point) and classics like "When I was Your Age" and "You Don't Love Me Anymore". It's a good album-- a product of its age, with only a couple of forgettable entries ("Airline Amy" and "I Was Only Kidding" being the kind that just seem to drag interminably).

The next album, however, Alapalooza, signalled a worrying decline. There were some hits-- "Jurassic Park" and "Achy Breaky Song" were rich and tasty earfuls of pop-culture sendup that helped to assuage a high-schooler who had yet even to be assaulted by the Macarena, and "Livin' in the Fridge" was inspired, top-notch work. The songs were big, loud, brash, powerful, energetic-- again, just like the age it came from, when the cultural landscape was becoming more restless and agitated. The President was a permissive Democrat. Movies' special effects (see Jurassic Park and Terminator 2) were true-to-life, blurring the edges of reality. The Simpsons and Beavis & Butt-head had brought sharp, offensive social commentary into prime time and banished the staid prudishness of the Bush era, and Weird Al's satirical music had to expand to fit. But more so than the hits, the "filler" of Alapalooza was what had grown. "Traffic Jam" and "She Never Told Me She Was a Mime" were forgettable, and "Young, Dumb & Ugly" was just bad-- possibly one of Al's worst songs ever, with a weak premise and no melody to speak of. But the album limps to a thumbs-up on the strength of its originals-- "Waffle King" as a "Sledgehammer" style-sendup, and "Frank's 2000-inch TV" a nice silly classic-- and the closer, "Bohemian Polka", a stroke of genius.

But when it comes to Bad Hair Day, oh man-- what a disappointment. This has to have been the low point in Al's career. While the lead-off track, "Amish Paradise", is some of his best work ever, the rest of the album spirals rapidly down into the land of oatmeal, rice, breadcrumbs, and whatever else fills in the cracks when there's not enough prime cuts to go around. Now, "Gump" is brilliant, "Cavity Search" is a cynical, growly glimmer of the pop awareness of his previous albums, and "Since You've Been Gone" has that bizarre doo-wop-chorus-that-gets-away-from-him thing in the middle that's got to be one of the most inspired bits of lunacy I've ever heard out of Al. The harmonized "Loser" segment on "The Alternative Polka" is so very-very tasty. But "Callin' In Sick", "I'm Sick of You", "Syndicated Inc.", "I Remember Larry", and "Phony Calls" are all so worthless that Al should be ashamed of releasing this CD. That's what, twenty minutes of garbage-- uninspired, asymmetrical, open-ended, unbalanced pieces of desperation flailing for a grip on something in pop culture to use as an anchor. It's like Al was trying to reach back to his success of the 80s at the same time as he tried to grasp the unnerving subtleties of the 1996 music scene-- an unfamiliar place where ska and swing jostled for the spotlight, "alternative" had splintered, and "rock" in the traditional sense had dissolved almost completely into gutless R&B or experimental Madonna pop. Small wonder Weird Al had no idea what to make of it all. Even the closer, "The Night Santa Went Crazy", ordinarily something that would absolve the disc of turdiness, is hamstrung by censorship: the track most people have is the one where Santa is merely sent to federal prison, rather than felled by a sniper bullet to the head. A wimpy, halfhearted whimper of an end for an album that didn't have much going for it anyway.

But then something happened in 1999: Running With Scissors. Where the hell did this come from? Here we'd thought Weird Al was dead, gone to that great musical graveyard that had swallowed Tom Petty and Huey Lewis alike, the Pit of 80s Greatness from which no modern artist has escaped. But this album is great. It's fantastic. I'd thought it was really good when I first got it, but I didn't know if that was just because it was new; well, now it's not, and I know for sure: it's what makes up for all the previous albums' mediocrity.

The first thing one notices is that this album quite possibly has more words on it than any other album, by him or by any other artist. Between "Jerry Springer", "The Saga Begins", "Your Horoscope For Today", and "Albuquerque", the traditional CD liner couldn't hold all the lyrics that Al traditionally includes, and he had to cop-out at the end with a smirk ("Maybe we should have used a smaller font or something..."). It's like he went from singing like a Disney heroine to singing like an auctioneer. And that doesn't even address the quality of the tracks, which is unmatched by anything else of his in my possession. "The Saga Begins", of course, is the deserving headliner; but no less noteworthy are "It's All About the Pentiums", "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi", and "Jerry Springer"-- all reflecting the newfound complexity of the musical scene, what with Barenaked Ladies and Eminem shaking up the genre boundaries with forceful statements of purpose that don't leave anybody but the traditionalist pundits confused. "Germs" is something I never thought I'd see-- a Nine Inch Nails parody-- and "Your Horoscope For Today" is USDA Prime Weird Al-- stuffed so full of great gags and musical tricks that I never tire of hearing it and never chest-slap past it when my iPod picks it for me. "The Weird Al Show Theme" is a ton of fun, as is "Truck Drivin' Song" (an instant classic among my social circle), and "Albuquerque" finishes out the album with a style and energy that I didn't think Al had in him anymore, not since "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota". What was it? Was it just shaving his moustache that did the trick? What's his secret? The only forgettable parts of the album are "Grapefruit Diet" (which is actually fairly ambitious, heading back to big-band jazz for its musical substrate) and, surprisingly, "Polka Power"-- his polkas seldom miss. But this one does, I think. Maybe only because I don't know most of the songs in it, but still. Eh.

At any rate, it's now three years later, which means it's about time for a new Weird Al album to appear. I don't know if he can possibly top Running With Scissors, but I'd love to see him try. Even if he fails, it's bound to be a good ride-- because it's now clear that he's nowhere near on his way down. He's only just now hitting his stride.

13:45 - Beef Makes the Crust (and software makes the difference)

Jim Heid of the LA Times casts a critical eye on whether a Wintel/XP machine or a Mac is the better deal, factoring in each platform's natural advantages and its disadvantageous blunders.

The iMac includes AppleWorks for word processing and business tasks. There's also Apple's suite of "digital hub" programs: iTunes for playing music and burning CDs, iPhoto for managing digital pictures, iMovie for editing video and, on the $1799 iMac I tested, iDVD for designing and burning DVDs. These programs share a similar, straightforward design.

The Gateway 500SE comes with the titanic Microsoft Word as well as Works, Microsoft's Swiss Army Knife program; Money 2002, a personal finance program; Encarta, an encyclopedia; Streets and Trips, a digital road atlas; and Picture It Photo, an image-editing program with more features than Apple's iPhoto.

The Gateway's digital hub includes Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Windows Movie Maker and the MusicMatch Jukebox MP3 program. These programs lack the features and elegance of Apple's i-ware. Windows Media Player can't play MP3 tracks, Windows Movie Maker can't record finished videos to tape, and MusicMatch Jukebox has a brain-addling user interface.

The Gateway has the edge for productivity, business and image-editing tasks, while the iMac wins for music, movie editing and DVD creation.

Pretty fair comparison, especially considering how even-handed the rest of the article is, and how rife with "If Operating Systems Were..."-esque metaphor, such as his claim that "If Windows XP feels like ABC, Mac OS X feels like HBO", when it comes to how commercial the operating experience is and how subtly that commercialism is presented. (Is that accurate, though, that WMP can't play MP3 files at all?)

As for the claim that iPhoto is more limited than competing products, well, yeah, it is. I think there's indeed some truth to the rumors that Apple deliberately kept its image-editing feature palette small, so as to avoid a confrontation with Adobe over the potential buyerhood of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. But iPhoto is, after all, only a 1.0 version, and the rumors are already flying about an imminent point update which will add an "E-mail" sharing option as well as a few more image manipulation tools. After all, Adobe doesn't get on Gateway's case for bundling Picture It Photo. So I fully expect that iPhoto 2, if not an earlier update, will be something to be reckoned with. And for now, as we've already covered, iPhoto's strengths aren't in image manipulation; they're in management, organization, presentation, and the simplicity of ordering prints and books-- areas in which most pundits have found that it shines.

It's the software that makes the difference, I guess is the moral. If that's true (and my experience last night with iMovie seems to bear it out), Apple's hitting its marks pretty well.

13:25 - If Operating Systems were Cars, 2002 Edition

In the tradition of those age-old humor memes about "If Operating Systems were Cars/Beers/Airlines", we now have an addition to the "Cars" column: descriptions of cars built like Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.

It's lengthy, well-written, and bitingly funny. Give it a read.

12:28 - Speaking of videocameras...

I got about 20 minutes of good video footage on tape this weekend, and while last night I wasn't capable of moving much more than my eyes, I couldn't resist hooking up the camera and seeing just how easy and fun iMovie is supposed to be.

And the answer is... very.

I'd used iMovie a few times in the past, mostly to try to put together silly little All Your Base-esque montages; I found that it was a bit clunky for that. I had to take existing MPEG clips, convert them to DV format, import them manually, split them repeatedly into little bite-sized pieces, and then try to tweak them around and squash and stretch them to fit the audio track that I was using. It wasn't really all that fun or intuitive, and in fact I found it very frustrating.

But now that I have a camcorder, I understand what I was doing wrong. iMovie isn't designed for what I was doing with it. It's designed for people with camcorders.

You plug in the camera, turn it to Play mode, and press Import in iMovie; it automatically plays the tape and sucks in all the video footage. And-- here's what I hadn't realized before that it did-- it automatically detects every scene switch, every place where you pressed the Record button, and saves each scene as a separate clip. That, I realized as soon as I saw it happen, is what makes it a killer app. You don't have to do any manual splitting. It handles all that for you; the palette of clips fills up all on its own, and the only times you have to split clips are to edit out the beginning and ending bits where the camera is staring at the cameraman's feet or is getting whipped around through distant trees as the cameraman fumbles for buttons.

So after it finished importing, I had about 40 little clips in my palette, comprising 25 minutes of material. I started arranging them into order, and found that-- wonder of wonders-- it behaves much more smoothly doing the stuff it's designed to do than what I was forcing it to do earlier. Stitching together long clips of people skiing is much more up iMovie's alley than massaging a music video out of little chunks of Star Trek video-capture.

So I kept working, enjoying what I was doing-- until at about 2AM I realized that as tired as I was, I had been playing with this video for about three hours. It was really that fun. And on the way in to work today, I kept thinking of new things to add: fade-ins, titles, cross-fades, and a music track. I'll be working on that tonight, most likely-- I don't think I'll be able to prevent myself from spending another three hours tweaking it and filing down the rough edges and... making what for anybody but myself is bound to be an unbearably dull thing to sit through.

But hey, that's what personal technology is all about, right? Recitals, vacation videos, Christmas mornings? It's all for the happiness of the content producer, not necessarily for the consumer. Because for this kind of content, the two are the same.

11:02 - Okay-- now that my blogging muscles are a little less sore...

I can say one thing now for sure: I like skiing one helluva lot more than snowboarding.

I'm sure this is largely attributable to the fact that I have a total of one day of starting-from-scratch snowboarding experience, as opposed to some ten years or more of skiing, and because snowboarding is a whole lot more punishing to beginners than skiing is. I can list all kinds of rationale, saying how once you learn all the little tricks and get your balance working properly, snowboarding is so much more liberating and flexible than skiing, and even less tiring, and more convenient (you can walk in the boots), and so on. But try telling that to my leg and neck muscles.

See, when you're sliding down the mountain on your toe edge, and you catch the heel edge on downhill snow, you immediately pitch over backwards, swinging past horizontal until you splatter spread-eagle onto the slope with your head pointed downhill. Now, consider that this all happens within one second-- you've got whatever downward momentum you were carrying, plus whatever gravity can impart to a spherical object the size and shape of your head at the end of a large heavy swinging lever the size and shape of your body. What happens? Well, one thing that leaps easily to my mind at the moment is that your head goes clonk on the rock-hard icy ground, right on the point at the back of the skull. And you know what's even better? Your body naturally tries to resist this falling motion; what muscles are suddenly pressed into service that you've never really thought about before? Those two diagonal muscles on the left and right side of your neck, the ones that bulge out in superheroes' most stressed-out moments. Those muscles pull your head forward. When your head is being flung backwards down a mountain, they pull like they've never pulled before. And while they may on occasion save you from a concussion, you wake up the next morning unable to raise your head from the pillow.

So it was for me Sunday morning. But snowboarding is nothing if not unpredictable in its demands on the body; as much as my neck has been wishing it were attached to some other, more stay-at-home body for the past couple of days, my calves and thighs have been even harder put to the task. Walking is an adventure. Raising my legs onto the bar under my desk is impossible without the aid of my hands. My forearms are going to look like Popeye's in a day or two after they rebuild the muscles that I abused for about half an hour trying to get the ungodly-thick liner back into my gloves as I stood there sweating in the Sierra sun under layer after layer of padded ski clothes, trying desperately to recover my breath from the bizarrely intense exertion of trying to stay upright on a snowboard. But you know what? Whenever my body gets like this, I know it's because I've been out having fun.

After the snowboarding trauma of Saturday, Sunday on skis was like putting on brand-new clean socks for the first time: everything was good, all my cares fell away, and all the aches in my complaining legs vanished. I had my video camera out for the first run down the mountain-- I was prepared to tape Drew and David taking off from the top, and then follow them; but I figured, hey, what the hell-- and took off in pursuit, still taping. I discovered why it is that I enjoy skiing so much: I've reached the point where I don't have to think about it. I can just go as fast as I like down the mountain, and engage in other tasks (like keeping the camera trained on speeding friends) without having to worry about balance or keeping my knees bent properly or being on the proper edge. It's that kind of feeling of freedom that I normally get from skiing (effortless speed and absolute decadent leisure), only amplified by how difficult the previous day had been. The temperature was perfect, the snow was actually not too bad considering the lack of recent precipitation in the Sierras, and my friends were having a great time as well. It's enough to make a guy whoop-n-holler as he swooshes down a steep wooded corridor.

But that isn't to say that it was without its downsides. I was coming down Lower Snowshoe, an intermediate run that usually gives me no problems; but the slope was icy today, and I had left my gloves off (the sun was a little bit punishing still). And, well, I hit an ice patch, my skis washed out from under me, and my hands went into the "snow". Only it wasn't snow so much as the blades of icy knives; no powder here, only merciless freezing numbing pain. When I got down to the bottom of the slope (where David had, mercifully, not been able to get the camera working in time to capture my wipe-out), my hands were glistening a bright, sticky red. But fortunately it was just minor abrasions, and after a few more runs down the trail and some attention to them during lunch, my hands were back in working order, and the afternoon was more of the same joyous freedom of the morning.

So now I'm paying the price. Just last night, I was sitting in my desk chair with my hands clasped behind my head; with my head's weight thus supported, I was relaxed and happy. But as soon as I unclasped my fingers and removed my hands, my head began to fall backward of its own accord. My neck muscles were unable to hold my head upright-- they'd just given up, or gone on strike, or dynamited the factory, or something-- and I had to grab my head again quickly before it simply fell off my body and rolled under my desk.

But that's a small fee outlaid in exchange for my favorite kind of weekend getaway. And pending snow conditions improving within the next month or so, we might just do it again.
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© Brian Tiemann