g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, April 7, 2002
18:08 - From The Register: Microsoft has had its "teeth kicked in" over the Xbox.

Double aaaawwwww.

18:05 - Windows XP has inexplicably failed to take the computing world by storm...


17:33 - Apple Tackles Chicken-and-Egg Implementation Conondrums (again)

HDTV is having trouble taking off-- the sets are expensive, and there isn't much content, so people aren't buying the sets... but there isn't more content and the sets aren't coming down in price because there's so small an installed base. Chicken-and-egg.

But here's a testimonial about how Final Cut Pro is enabling the content providers to do all their stuff easily and cheaply, helping to defray the production costs and barriers to getting the material out onto the airwaves.

So that's HDTV; meanwhile, they're tackling BlueTooth with a hardware dongle implementation, which you can buy now. While the PC industry has been hemming and hawing for months about BlueTooth but not actually implementing it, Apple has taken the initiative.

This is exactly what happened with USB; PC makers included USB only sporadically, until the iMac made it a standard piece of equipment and opened the floodgates for peripherals which no longer had to worry about the installed base being too small.

So that's a couple more things we can add to the litany of "Areas where Apple is out ahead of the pack".
Saturday, April 6, 2002
00:45 - Article of the Day (at the very least)

There hasn't been much blogging today-- not here, not at USS Clueless, not elsewhere-- and I think it's because people have been busy reading and digesting this article: "Among the Bourgeoisophobes", by David Brooks of the Weekly Standard.

Go and read it. Join the crowd-- everybody's doin' it.

You'll find it's worth it. Why? Because it would seem, in two pages of concise analysis, to corral together all the cultural and intellectual sentiment that underlies anti-Americanism, anti-Israelism, communism, fascism, Islamofascism, and just about every other cause of war and struggle in the past couple of centuries. I don't think it's too aggrandizing to say that it's the Unified Field Theory that explains Hitler, Lenin, Hirohito, Marx, Saddam Hussein, and bin Laden. It can all be traced to the same cause and tied to the same motivation. It can all be encircled by one word: bourgeoisophobia.

Steven den Beste says he's going to have plenty to say about this article in the future. I can hardly wait.
Friday, April 5, 2002
01:52 - Oh my God, they've killed Kenny!

Yeah, I know-- real original title. But I couldn't think of anything more appropriate.

I'm actually kinda relieved at this. Some of the most recent ways they've used Kenny have been the most clever in South Park history-- but I agree, the gag has run its course. And since they're doing this as a response to the natural and unbidden evolution of the characters within their universe, it signals that Parker and Stone are still committed to keeping the show fresh and true to its roots. If they weren't, they'd keep doing Kenny jokes, only in a progressively more and more formulaic way.

Of course, the role he played after he died in South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut was probably what I'd consider his definitive death. It's the perfect illustration of the emotion and humanity that lurks beneath the stark and overbearing satire of the show's confrontational premise. Kenny was a great bridge between those two aspects of the show, and I hope the new cast with Butters as a core character will find the same kind of groove.

Rest in peace, Kenny-- and enjoy those angels.

17:46 - Well, would you look at that...


Aha... so this is why Apple bought Filmlogic last year: it's now Apple-ified, integrated with Final Cut Pro, and released as Cinema Tools-- the "last mile" part of digital-film editing, which is what digital video editing wants to be when it grows up.

Until now, if I'm very much mistaken, filmmakers shooting 35mm or 16mm film who wanted to digitally edit it had the option of converting it from the 24 frames-per-second of film to the 29.97 fps of NTSC or the 25 fps of PAL, edit it in Final Cut Pro, and then... well, print it to videotape or DVD. Which is nice, but it's not film. If you digitize your film in order to run it through the digital processor, you then had to either use expensive third-party or homegrown tools to print it back to film at 24 fps, or simply accept that digital editing was a commitment to video or DVD finals-- not an attractive prospect.

Well, now Apple has released Cinema Tools, and now there's no need to be constrained to a frame rate. You can work with material at whatever frame rate your equipment uses, then convert it to 24 fps for printing back to film, and interpolate back and forth at full HD resolution-- which if I'm right means that the last hurdle keeping people from going all-digital in the editing process has now been removed and democratized into the $1000 price target. And thus the conquest is complete. No more $80,000 Avid systems; no more massive studio-owned entrenchments. Now it's all available to anybody, and the most expensive single part of an editing rig is no longer the software-- it's the computer and the camera.

When one considers that Apple is supposed to be a home-computer company, the degree to which they're committed to delivering a revolution to the professional film industry is rather revealing. I guess the money that filmmakers and studios are flinging into Apple's coffers is encouraging enough that Steve realizes this market is poised to explode, even if it isn't what Joe iPod or Bob EverQuest find interesting in their daily computing lives.

I'll have to ask Paul what he thinks of this development...

14:20 - Blame Canada

Canadians with whom I correspond look with disbelief at the SSSCA and mutter sympathetically about how glad they are that they don't live in the USA; whereas we in the USA look at Canada's proposed taxation on high-capacity digital media (CD-Rs, hard drives, etc) which would inflate the price of an iPod threefold on the argument that it defrays the cost of piracy, and mutter sympathetically about how glad we are that we don't live in Canada.

My point? We're sort of in the same boat. Neither side of the border has the moral high ground when it comes to stupid political moves, and we can each look at our own governments and cluck sadly with as much ease as we can cluck at the one across the way.

But take a look at this letter over at InstaPundit, reportedly one which represents succinctly the attitudes of a great many other letters from Canadian citizens who are downright ashamed at their country's post-9/11 actions.

We have a government that values tolerance, understanding and sensitivity over justice. They value multiculturalism and diversity over prosperity, patriotism and national pride.

Our Prime Minister and government left most Canadians ashamed in the wake of 9/11. Canadians once fought valiantly for the cause of freedom. Two generations have passed since then. Our current government has no such morality, no such courage. Our government's response to September's tragedy sullied the memory of those who sacrificed their very lives to provide the basis for freedom. They provided the basis for freedom, but could not ensure it. Freedom must be earned each day. Our government, and many foolish Canadians, balk at the price (like the rest of the world, we prefer to let you pay for it). Today's government - although not just Canada's in this case - would gladly devalue to meaningless the sacrifice of our veterans when threatened by something as mildly evil and threatening as the Durban conference, never mind something so morally unequivocal as the World Trade Center bombings or Israel's war against those who wish it annihilated.

Were I Prime Minister in September I would have been in New York the next day - serving coffee if need be - but doing something to help. Our Prime Minister waited weeks and lied by saying that Guiliani's office had told him not to come! Can you imagine the shame of being represented in such a way? You are our very generous neighbour, for which I am ever-thankful. If my neighbour's house burnt down tonight, I would be there immediately to offer whatever help I could. True, most days we barely exchange a nod. I have never had them in my home. But there are times where being a neighbour takes on a different meaning. Canada's response to 9/11 was the equivalent of me standing over the ashes of their home and saying "that'll teach you to play with matches". That you are so forgiving of such "friends" as Canada is one of the reasons American culture is so much sought after, and is one of the reasons it will prevail.

We have a government still trying a dozen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to show that socialism works, and that government has the answers. We face an incredible tax burden due to a redistributive policy that, if not reversed, will see Canada become another Argentina in a generation. Our government is acutely averse to any policy that de-centralizes governmental power, or reduces their influence on the daily lives of people. They believe that charity does not start at home - it starts with the Prime Minister. Government largesse is doled out - in wildly disproportionate amounts to Quebec and other regions that continue to re-elect the ruling Liberals - with little regard for taxpayers and a belief that individuals cannot make a just society, only government can.

If the U.S. would accept Canadians as political refugee claimants you would have a long line at the border. Our country has ceased to be a representative democracy, and is suffering a slow death which the U.S. itself narrowly avoided. The takeover of our educational establishments decades ago has succeeded in destroying most of the characteristics of Canadian society that contributed to its early successes. The politically correct, tolerant-of-all-at-all-costs, multicultural, compassionate collective result is a country that no longer stands for anything. Nor are we against anything, except perhaps the U.S. Canada is a country that would be unable to define itself were there not an America. We cannot say what we are, or what we stand for, but whatever it is, it isn't what you stand for. Such is our anti-identity. What is going on up here is a people constructing a society whose goal is to avoid all that is right with yours.

I'm actually made vaguely uncomfortable by this-- I think it's the discomfort that someone feels who receives an award for work that was accomplished mostly by achievers who came before him, but for which he was only the most visible or recent figurehead. It's like having a PC user lavish praise on a Mac after reading my blog but never using a Mac himself-- it makes me go "Uh, well, y'know, let's not be jumping to conclusions here."

The fact is, I have a number of Canadian friends, most or all of whom are quite happy and proud to live where they do. They're rightly taken aback at the suggestion that they should emigrate in protest of their country's politics, just as I would be when things turn iffy around here. It's novel to get this perspective from actual Canadian citizens, because traditionally these kinds of sentiments have come from Americans-- Americans who consider Canada to be a funny little outrigger of a country, a place to go on vacation where there aren't many people in the tourist destinations, where we get to feel as though we're in a "foreign country lite" because of all the French and terms like "provincial parks" and all the ringing Highland surnames. We respect Canada as an equal when we really have to think about it, but for the majority of the time we belittle it. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut was widely enjoyed by Canadians all over, not least because it depicted Canadian influence kicking America's ass... but that whole framework of parody indicates our larger view of Canada, which is of a vaguely offbeat place just outside our range of interest where they talk funny and spell things funny and pretty much don't get in anyone's way. For all the attention Americans usually pay to Canadians, the latter really could be paper cutouts with beady little eyes and flapping heads. That's about as seriously as we take them.

I don't like this. I don't like belittling the people who should be some of our best allies, people who have a significant influence on world politics regardless of what Parker and Stone say about Celine Dion and the porn industry. I don't like hearing people talking about seeking political asylum on the other side of the border, even if it's people talking about themselves. If they're really serious about it, well, sure-- I would make a special effort to accommodate such a decision and its aftermath, as I'm sure those in Canada would do if I were the one moving.

But while this kind of idealism and admiration is encouraging and makes those of us who read it feel better about the things the USA stands for, I'm never that much at ease seeing someone dissing his own country in favor of the USA.

For countries to be strong allies, they need to be confident in themselves and their own ideals, rather than all trying to emulate some central swaggering idealogue. If America is in the Vin Diesel role in The Fast and the Furious, the guy everyone flocks around, the pugnacious and charismatic muscular sex machine that everyone aspires to be, the Tyler Durden to Canada's Jack-- then the gang is reduced to a cult of character. But if everybody in the gang is treated as an equal, each contributing the unique strength that he brings to bear, free of snide self-denigration and schizophrenia, then a lot more is bound to get accomplished.

I'm gratified to hear that so many Canadians are feeling ideologically closer to America these days, and I welcome their voices. But, hey, we're not right all the time either. And we need you too.

11:03 - 4/1 is just the kickoff...

Okay-- go read this review of Lord of the Rings, the movie. Go on-- I need you to read if first, before you come back here and continue reading this post. In the words of Glenn Reynolds, I'll wait.

Okay. Now, depending on your intelligence and/or level of rabidity, you've either been made furious -- and fired off an indignant e-mail to the review's author-- or unearthed the real story. See, this "review" is part of "Truth Media", a new segment of SomethingAwful.com, whose not-very-well-hidden mission statement and index page reveals the scheme: specifically to entrap people with an overzealous sense of loyalty to a movie, band, whatever. Their goal is to bait people into flaming the authors of the reviews, so they can post the hate-mail gleefully on their site. And frankly they'd deserve it, too.

Most of the authors have not even seen the movies, heard the music CDs, or used the software reviewed; we simply leaf through various online reviews and summarize them while creating grevious typos, factual errors, and outright fallacies in an attempt to shatter the fragile little worlds of people who associate their entire personality and sense of being with a random form of capitalistic media. We plan on continuing to do this until America realizes that we're not defined by the music, movies, and products we buy... so basically, this section will go on for infinity or possibly longer.

Heaven help us if they do one on The Lion King. Or about Macs.

Seriously, it's a cool, novel idea. My only objection is that it's a bit too obvious. My reaction, while reading it, was "Y'know, for a parody of a review, this is very confused." After finishing it, I went directly to the links at the top which led to the TruthMedia home page-- because when I read something like this, something this obviously warped, I know there's more to the story. Most review organizations have their own predilections informing their analyses-- the CAP Reports, after all, have a certain slant that's pretty hard to ignore but makes sense within the context of their mission. (Well, sort of.) So the trouble with the Truth Media reviews is that even when loaded as a direct, independent URL, they're still surrounded by all the SomethingAwful links and flanked at the top and bottom by those rather obvious links to the page that defuses and debunks the whole scam. Seems to me that if they're serious, they should make an independent site for Truth Media, and go all-out with the hiding of the giveaway. Unless, of course, they're worried that even intelligent people will be unable to find it, and rather than sending entertaining flames, will come away with the impression that the site is simply very stupid. Somehow I get the feeling that SA really, secretly, deep down, has more respect for its readership-- and more desire to be treated as intelligent thereby-- than that. Hey, they're only human.

Marcus was baiting me into blogging this LotR review from the indignant "Hey! This is terrible!" angle, and for that I will someday make him pay. But meanwhile, I wish luck to SA, and I'll be checking back later to see who they do snare.

Oh, and look, more Photoshop Friday fun. I really need to remember to follow SA more regularly...
Thursday, April 4, 2002
18:06 - Show Me the Way!

AtAT has some of the choicest words today for how the "We Have the Way Out" brouhaha has ended:

Well, whaddaya know about that? In the middle of Day 3 of the "WE HAVE THE WAY OUT" UNIX vs. Windows Saga, Microsoft finally caught a break. To recap, Microsoft and Unisys launched an anti-UNIX site last week-- only word got out on Monday that they were running it on a UNIX server. So, early yesterday, they made a panicked switch to a Windows server to save face... soon after which, the site went completely non-functional, alternating between serving blank pages, "Directory Listing Denied" errors, and, most recently, a cryptic message to the effect that "no web site is configured at this address." One would think that if anyone could get a simple one-page site with a form submission running under Windows 2000 and IIS, it would be the company who wrote the frickin' software. Needless to say, the folks who hustled to launch the pro-UNIX "WE HAVE THE WAY IN" (running flawlessly on UNIX, natch) have probably been giggling nonstop for days.

But Microsoft has finally gotten its page up again after well over a solid day of downtime-- nice illustration of why businesses should switch from UNIX to Windows, guys; bravo-- which means the party's over (at least, until someone hacks the site). And now that the dust is clearing, it appears that the only high-level Microsoft exec to take the fall for the whole fracas was President and COO Rick Belluzzo, who "unexpectedly resigned" today amid a "restructuring," as reported by the Associated Press. (But of course we all know the real reason Belluzzo's walking; HE HAS THE WAY OUT.)

Oooooohhh. I call that "point, set, match".

12:31 - Hans Zimmer's a Mac Guy

Wow, yet another of those freakin' odd occurrences where multiple topics that I frequently write about come together. Here's a Guardian interview with Hans Zimmer, the composer to whom I have a site devoted (down currently, or else I'd link to it), talking about his interactions with technology and with Macs.
Why do you prefer Macs? With OS X they've now got Doug Wyatt, the guy who wrote OMS, working with them. They're taking music more seriously now. Steve Jobs seems to be running Apple as his hobby and he appears more interested in Pixar, so consequently he's perhaps more interested in visuals - but he may have figured out that music is a good market.

I can take my G4 Titanium laptop with a little Oxygen keyboard that fits in the same bag and I'm pretty much able to do a score anywhere.

Do you use OS X? I feel I can't go near it yet but they seem to be taking their time to really make it work well for musicians. It's changed quite dramatically and I have friends who are switching between OS X and their old system to get used to it. It's taken a long time to get this far but only four years back, everyone was saying Apple was dead and here they are, stronger than ever.

He also weighs in on the subject of file-sharing:
Where do you stand on file-sharing software? The Napster case was fought wrong. Shutting sites down is not the way to go. I earn my living from creating something people can easily rip off - so do the software companies - and there has to be some sort of moral obligation on the part of the user. There are only so many really brilliant people who can write that software. I'm scrupulous about buying all my software to support the companies. I like to meet the people who write the software as, ultimately, what we buy is their personality. These are good times for technology. Grand pianos have been around for 500 years: we've only just started with computers!

Indeed. It's telling that so many artists, particularly the ones who are confident about the quality of their work, seem to share exactly this attitude. They're not in it to get rich in the first place-- they started playing music for public consumption because they loved doing it. And for the good ones, that's why they still do it.

And when artists of this sort look at Napster and the current P2P apps, all they see is a way for people to expand their listening experience, to consume more media, to find new tastes and interests. They do see that it's a medium that's subject to abuse, but so are a lot of things that are potentially beneficial. Do we shut down freeways because people drive faster than they should? Do video-rental stores close shop because of people pirating videotapes? No. We punish the offenders, yes... but we don't make the rest of society suffer because of them.

Yes, I'm still mad that Beavis had to stop saying "fire".

But I'll be even madder if I have to stop saying "Transfer this album to my iPod."
Wednesday, April 3, 2002
02:05 - No sweat, my friend.

Steven den Beste has just posted a large and rather self-conscious reflection upon the politics of reciprocative linking-- he mentions how the blogs to which he links are limited in number, because of the layout of his site. I was in that list until today:

In fact, recently I added two more to it, and because it was too long I had to decide to remove one. And it hurt. It really did. Picking someone to take out was hard, and it really came down to a random selection. (I hope he isn't mad at me for it.)

Mad? Hardly. I consider it unexpected gravy that I was ever on that rarefied list to begin with; I'm still sort of at a loss to imagine a) how he ran across my blog, and b) what led him to conclude that I was worth linking to. My content is mostly either tech-geek ramblings which never seem to shake free of the Apple/Mac topic pool, or bleary political drivel that brings little to bear that is not derived from the opinions of other, more capable writers. I think my biggest asset is volume.

But be that as it may, I'm more than pleased to have been on his link list for as long as I was. (I didn't want to mention it for fear of jinxing it.) Since I know all too well what it's like to try to keep a site tidy and fair, I'm all too glad to give up my slot to give someone else a shot at exposure. Surely they deserve it every bit as much.

Rock on!

01:50 - Getting there...

Sorry about the lack of bloggage tonight-- I've actually got a few topics I want to cover, but they're going to have to wait until tomorrow.

I spent all evening tonight at the co-location site where my backup server is, the one currently running www.grotto11.com, copying its contents over onto a new 2u rack-mount server which will take over as the new primary server. I've got a couple of possibilities for where it will be hosted-- whether out of goodwill or by commercial hosting fees, or something of both, depends on how people feel over the next few days. But either way, I expect to have service restored by this weekend to Tuesday or so.

Just in case anybody cares, CVSup rules the world.

09:40 - Hey, this is good for a -- well, not laugh, exactly...

Cartoons in Egyptian and Iranian newspapers about Israel.

You know, they were pretty careful to avoid showing us the Nazis' actual anti-Semitic propaganda media during history class; we were mostly supposed to use our imaginations and focus on the consequences.

Well, if you've ever wondered what it looked like, wonder no more. And look at 'em all, internalize them-- not like it's easy to get 'em out of your brain-- because these are the images that the Arab world sees every day and thinks are as natural as Mickey Mouse is to us. This is the mindset that we have to dissolve at its core, and boy have we ever got our work cut out for us.

I think it's clear that what we've got on our hands is nothing less than the long-overdue and long-postponed reckoning for WWII, just as WWII was the reckoning for WWI. These things never do end, do they?
Tuesday, April 2, 2002
14:46 - FUD dispersal

Okay, time to take apart a rather mean-spirited article piece by piece. This thing, by Iain S. Bruce of Scotland's Sunday Herald, reads like a bitter piece of techno-fascist doomsaying that preaches technological damnation for any people who suffers the aberrant and degenerate race of Macs to live unmolested.

One wonders what horrible Mac experience this fellow once had to live through. Did a Performa once beat him up on the playground? Did his wife run off with a Mac person? Or has he just lived through a horrific Windows troubleshooting experience, and thinks that if he should have to suffer, then dammit-- so should everyone else?

Read on, for smug rantings and screedish FUD. And for the original article too.

THE trouble with IT is that, like so many other good ideas in life, no sooner have you come up with a wizard field of invention and endeavour than people begin attempting to fix the same ludicrous rules, values and obsessions on to it that they seem determined to attach to every other aspect of life.

Take, if you will, the example of Apple Macintosh users, a body of men and women whose state of computing existence is all too often defined not by utility, but by the colour of their monitor casings. They have hijacked the information revolution and led it blindly down a route mapped out by superficiality and style.

That's right: according to this guy, Macs not only still come in translucent candy colors, but their machines are otherwise irrelevant. Nobody pays any attention to what they do or tries to compete with Apple's features and innovations. Nobody has adopted FireWire or AirPort, nobody has incorporated DVD burners, nobody has tried to make laptops small and power-stingy and attractive, and nobody has tried to develop movie-making software or MP3 organizers.

If we don't snuff Apple out of existence right now, they'll only steer us further down this dead-end road of freedom, connectivity, stability, attractiveness, fun, and capability. We can't have that, now can we? How will the IT people maintain power?

One can only hope the repellent new iMac, resembling a £1380 angle poise lamp with a particularly expansive backside, will bring them to their senses.

Not likely, Bucko. Some 40% of the new iMac sales at Amazon.com are going to PC converts, and all their feedback comments are about how great the new machine is. David Coursey has gone from PC zealot to Macophile on the iMac's strengths alone. Pundits on both sides of the divide have been praising the iMac's design as one of the best, most significant pieces of innovation ever to grace the computing world, and more of it is coming from the PC press than from the Mac side. Sounds to me like if buying a Mac represents taking leave of one's senses, we're on the verge of mass mania rather than the sterile calm of sanity.
For some years now, Apple has managed to divide the computing market with a strategy based on modern good looks blended with historical myth, and it is time the aberration was ended.

Yeah, the computer world would've been better off if Apple had never existed. Screw all this "innovation" crap-- Microsoft would have come up with AirPort, FireWire, ColorSync, DVD burners, iTunes, type and creator codes, and the GUI all by themselves. Macs are an aberration on our pure, pristine Celtic soil. Gas 'em. And erase 'em from the computing history books.

There are reasons that Apple owners still recite by rote to defend their choice of system, chief among which is the machine's famously intuitive interface. But while this was once a valid differentiating factor, the fact is all mainstream operating systems have now adopted the principles that made Macs so easy to use in the first place, rendering the point somewhat moot.

And that makes Macs an aberration, right? Hey, we all use electric power now, so Edison wasn't such a genius after all, was he?

Another defence, most often propounded by designers and their ilk, is that the Mac is better suited to creative pursuits. Again, this was true back in the day when Microsoft targeted the business market and Apple concentrated on multimedia applications, but as all major applications will increasingly run on all systems, unless they develop an aesthetic values chip pronto, these days are over.

Ah, another person who has never used iMovie, or has never compared the Photoshop experience on one platform to that on the other.

There is new ground to be explored in what technology can do for creativity. Oh yes, there's all kinds of progress yet to be made. And you know who's doing it? Quick hint: It's not Microsoft. It's not even Adobe. It's Apple, a company that has tooled its entire modern operating structure into building tools from the ground up which are designed to push the boundaries of what technology can do. Did FireWire just come about by accident? Who makes Final Cut Pro, the software that is democratizing the entire film industry? Who is opening doors to UNIX and Windows developers alike by providing open frameworks and free tools so that they can have the best and most flexible value in a desktop operating system that money can by? This ain't Windows XP I'm talking about here, just in case it was somehow unclear. If you enjoy how your menu options have all been arbitrarily rearranged behind the pustulent green Start button, and how Microsoft is doing everything in their power to limit the playback potential of MP3s and to side with the SSSCA backers to put policeware on your computer to make sure you're not copying your CDs onto your portable MP3 player, well, be my guest. But don't sneer at me because I'm not subject to those problems. I'm not as stupid as you think I am.

Apple's only significant difference, as far as we can tell, is that they have condensed the mouse to a single button. Why? Reducing the number of buttons to press might briefly benefit the weak and feeble minded, but in actual fact all that has achieved is to decrease the variety of muscle movements employed and thus increase, in this column's most humble opinion, the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Oh boy. Well done. Well done. Here's where we find just how well-informed Mr. Bruce (descended from royalty, perhaps? Sure talks like it) is about his chosen victim. "Condensed the mouse to a single button"? It's always been that way, Mr. Warrior Poet. It's not some new "innovation" designed to protect the "feeble-minded" from the horrors of multiple things to press. I've covered this before, but to say it as briefly as possible: The single mouse button is a concept based on studies which show that the vast majority of the computing public don't even know what the difference is between the left and right mouse buttons. People intrinsically understand how to open menus and look inside for their options; they do not make the implicit logical leap necessary to know that they can make objects do things by right-clicking to activate menus that change based on context. That metaphor is a luxury, one that can provide useful shortcuts to people who know it's there. But to those who open up the hard drive icon after months of doing nothing but click on the Word or IE icon and are startled to discover a window full of folders and files ("Whoah! What's all this stuff?" someone I was helping over the phone actually said), the mouse encompasses the following actions: Click, double-click, drag, release. The primary place to look for functions is in the menus. Oh, and the Mac OS fully supports multi-button wheely-mice if you want to plug one in.

And to posit that a single-mouse button makes the user more susceptible to RSI (oh look, he expanded the acronym for us-- that must mean he's learnéd) is pure speculative bullshit. That one statement right there should put this guy's words into a suspect light for even the most PC-centric reader.

(Besides, who's this "we"? The "royal we"? The Bruce clan have decreed that the single-button mouse causes RSI, and so the Crown orders all such aberrations stricken from the market. They'll ne'er take our freedom!)

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you have bought a Mac, then you've bought Betamax. Think of all the justifications for it that you want, but at the end of the day ownership of a fringe product means losing the benefits of ubiquity and adding to the expense, and is thus illogical.

Oh, now he's gone from kilted gauntlet-wristed warrior to Vulcan. It's all about logic now, like the logic of using Windows because of all the software that's available for it-- when for a given purpose there are 50 mediocre or downright crappy pieces of shareware, while for the Mac there are three or four excellent ones. Not to mention that on the Mac you'd be virtually free of ad-ware, spy-ware, and viruses. Sorry, but I don't mind paying a little extra (and it is a little extra) for those luxuries, plus those of hardware that's guaranteed to be inter-compatible, cutting-edge features like DVD burners and flat-panel screens and AirPort and gigabit Ethernet and FireWire all standard, and-- contrary to what you must think is popular opinion-- a vast community of some of the most helpful, knowledgeable, accommodating, and high-achieving people in the entire computer industry all too happy for you to join their ranks.

Besides, they still use Betamax in many high-end studios-- because it's still better than VHS. The "marginalization myth" doesn't get in the way of some people's ability to see what is the right tool for the job.

Diversity is good, of course, but pre-OSX, Apples only run one brand of operating system, the Mac OS. PCs will happily accommodate Linux, Unix, or any one of the Microsoft product range. You want to talk about monopolies? Talk to the Mac, man. The PC ain't listening.

<brrrinng> <brrrinng> Hello, Yellow Dog Linux? LinuxPPC? MkLinux? Yeah, I have it on good authority that you guys don't exist. <pause> This guy at the Sunday Herald. Yeah, I don't get it either. <pause> Uh-huh, that's what I thought too, but he says Apple has just recently condensed the mouse down to one button in order to increase your chances of RSI, so he must know what he's talking about.

Oh, and to say nothing of VirtualPC, and the fact that OS X is really two or three operating systems in one-- UNIX on the Darwin level, NeXTSTEP on the applications level, classic MacOS, and the whole new framework that makes them all sing and dance together. All this on hardware that's specifically designed for a particular OS in a "whole package" deal like the entire computer industry is moving toward (quick-- how many of your friends buy off-the-shelf Dells now instead of building PCs from individual components? I don't know about you, but around here it's a whole lot more than it used to be. Why? Support, compatibility, and a lack of hassle, perhaps? Fewer choices, but more peace of mind? A little extra money for the luxuries of ease-of-use?). Sorry, dumb argument, and one that the realities of the market are making self-evidently false.

Hate Microsoft? Tough, because the Redmond giant owns a percentage of Apple, and every pound spent on a Mac sees a few more pennies poured into the luxurious foundations of Gates's mansions.

If you really believe that the evil empire must be stopped, buy a PC and run Linux as your OS -- it's the only way you'll stop big Bill. Thinking different? Not thinking at all, more like.

There's this guy named Mitch that I really hate; he owns some Apple stock. Guess I'd better just go buy a PC, because my Pure Lifestyle Choice is tainted now.

This is rumbling dangerously close to the Righteous Fatalism mentality that Lileks wrote about some months ago-- the feeling that if we can only make some difference in a situation rather than achieving the absolute perfect ideal outcome, it isn't even worth trying. We shouldn't fight the war in Afghanistan because we wouldn't be sure to wipe out all terrorists in the world. We shouldn't picket against teaching creationism in public schools because evolution isn't "proven" and therefore is a potential target that we'd have to, y'know, defend and stuff. And we shouldn't buy Macs because if our sole purpose is to stick it to Bill, we're still filling his pockets.

Well, you know, that's not the reason I use a Mac. (Well, it's a reason, but not the reason.) I use a Mac because Apple has a vision of the computing world that's about ten years ahead of anybody else's, and always has been-- and by using a Mac I get to benefit from that vision and enjoy myself while I'm doing it. What's that you say? Apple is doomed because they're standing up for the rights of consumers to rip MP3s from their CDs and organize them with ID3 tags and burn them onto CDs and listen to them on portable players, and they'll lose that entire advantage once the SSSCA passes, which it will because Microsoft is helping sponsor it? Sorry, I can't hear you-- I've got my iPod turned up too loud.

Here's the scoop, folks: your computer is not a lifestyle statement. It's a bog-standard machine intended to fulfil an array of user-defined functions, and spending extra to distance yourself from 90% of the evolutionary pool sounds like muddle-headed foolishness to say the least.

The sooner we stop pretending it is anything other than that, the quicker we realise a computer has no value in itself and only in the things it does, the sooner we will get our heads around these things and start making them really work for us humans. So there.

So what you're saying is that the computer should be transparent, that it should enable you to accomplish things as an extension of your own mind without getting in your way? Funny, because that's what people have been saying all along that their Macs do better than PCs do. Who needs to think about MP3 files and bitrates and filenames and folders when we have the effortless organizational intuitiveness of iTunes? Who needs to save files to mysteriously hidden and buried folders when you can simply drag them from one application to another? Who wants to strain their eyes to meet the gaze of their 30-pound CRT, when they can have a flat-panel screen that slides into place no matter how they slouch?

Okay, look: Apple is a minority player in the computer world... if you only think in terms of sales numbers, market share, and what your office uses. But as Microsoft and Dell will be all to glad to admit, Apple is the mind that directs the future of the computer industry. Everyone looks to Steve Jobs for guidance. Everyone waits to see what Apple will bring out next. If Macs were so irrelevant, then why would translucent candy-colored casings still be the norm from Ethernet hubs to water coolers? Why would Microsoft have included Windows Movie Maker into Windows XP-- where it provides limited, half-implemented functionality on computers that mostly don't even have anything faster than USB for real-time video transfer to work? Why would the iPod be on every magazine cover and tech column's masthead, and pinned next to the drawing board of every product designer at every MP3-player company?

The Bruce here wants to see the visible underdog squished like a grape, excised from the computer landscape like the unclean infestation it is. It's only his obvious lack of research and knowledge that prevents him from seeing that without Apple, the tech market would lock up into a stagnant sink-hole with no direction, no accessibility, no insight, and nothing for him or any other computer user to look forward to. Sure, we'd have those invisible beige boxes letting us paw through web pages or trudge through our e-mail. But would we enjoy a moment of it? Or would a computer devolve into the equivalent of a high-resolution telephone, blearily ringing on a stuffy Sunday afternoon, summoning our resentful asses to come heed its needs?

I prefer for my computer to remain fun, your Highness. And as long as there remains breath in my body, you'll ne'er take away that freedom.

Computers are lifestyle choices, whether you like it or not-- just like cars are. They all get you to work in the morning; but some, Mr. Bruce, do it in more style.

12:01 - Where have all the scanners gone?

I have a Great Mystery of the Universe to unravel.

My scanner is a Microtek ScanMaker 6400XL. It cost me $800, and I bought it specifically because it has a 12x17-inch scan area. I need that much scanning surface, because there's not a single piece of original material that I need to scan that is on paper smaller than 9x12 inches. I'm not doing OCR text scanning of documents on letter-sized paper. I'm doing scans of drawings and comic pages.

I suffered for many months with a letter-sized (8.5x11") scanner, doing two exposures for each image-- one of the left side, one of the right, then stitching them together in Photoshop. This never worked out perfectly, because inexplicably, the two halves never lined up properly-- it's like the sensor was moving at different speeds on the right and left sides of the image, so if you lined up one part of the picture, another part would go all crooked. It's enough to drive a sane man mad! Mad, I tell you!

So I knew I needed an A3-size scanner. You know, 12x17". After all, professionals need these scanners, right? All those people who do comic pages, which are drawn on 11x17-inch Bristol board? Sure, it goes without saying that they need large-format scanners, and that they don't spend all their time cursing at Photoshop as they futilely try to align all the parts of the various segments of the scan. No-- there must be a better way.

But lo-- it's true! There was a Mustek scanner in 12x17", for only a couple hundred dollars! I got one. And it worked. For a while. Then it stopped. That's when I learned why Mustek is a name whose very utterance summons roiling dark clouds among the likes of graphic designers the world over; they're cheap as hell, so people will buy them-- but they sport life expectancies in the single-digit months. I have an artist friend who buys Mustek A3 scanners in 3-packs, so she can have some hope of her scanning capabilities lasting out the year. The scanners themselves are impossibly cheap, and the software is garbage (when I was using Windows, if I ever scanned anything, I could then press Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring up the process list-- and the scanner driver icon would be in the process list's title bar instead of the Windows logo, meaning that the foul stink of an impending crash was wafting about my nostrils already). But that's what you pay your $300 for, right?

So when I got my Mac, I also invested in a Microtek 6400XL. It's been a trusty workhorse-- nary a problem, beautiful fast scans, and it never destabilized a thing.

But only on Mac OS 9.

Microtek has taken a full year to release OS X-native drivers for their scanners; today, they finally have done so. But in the intervening months, I've had to make do with the horrific VueScan (which I've ranted about before), or rebooting into OS 9 if I want to use real working software. On top of which is the fact that OS X doesn't allow you to boot the system and then turn on your SCSI devices-- you have to have them powered up at boot time for the OS to load the shims for them. An annoyance that has forced many a reboot out of me. Slow, unpredictable scan results and lots of forced reboots-- boy, it doesn't get any better'n this, does it?

But look! Hallelujah! Today they've released the driver and the new version of ScanWizard Pro-- for OS X! Hip hip hooray! Well... okay, so right now only one scanner is supported, but they've posted a release schedule so I can see when my 6400XL will be supported! Hosanna! Ho-- er... wait. Um... no. There must be some mistake. My scanner . . . is not on the list.

A weepy call to Microtek confirmed that this list is not "complete", and that they will be adding more "older scanners" to it as time goes on. But... well, hell. My scanner is only 2 years old. Okay-- well, here's where it gets really surreal.

I figure, hey: SCSI is the way of the past anyway, right? Why don't I just get myself a new 12x17" scanner with FireWire or (failing that) USB? It'll be newer, so it'll be supported soon. And the interface will be faster and hot-pluggable. What have I got to lose?

I start looking through Microtek's product pages. I look at UMAX. I look at HP, Canon... anybody I can think of. And guess what? While all the consumer and prosumer scanners are USB or FireWire, the professional large-format scanners are all still SCSI. Why?

Oh, and Microtek's current equivalent of my 6400XL, the 9600XL, is up to $1400. Of course it's still SCSI.

What's happening here? Is the market for large-format scanners that stagnant? Is nobody buying these things? What I noticed in my travels, much to my horror, was that almost noboody is making large-format scanners anymore. At all. They just aren't to be found on the product pages. Oh, there are legal size scanners-- 8.5x14", for those extra-long lawyers' bills, presumably. (Or maybe all the smaller sheets are actually illegal.) But the 12x17" size I need? Nooooo. Nowhere to be found, except in a few obscure niches. HP has a $3000 one. Canon has a similarly godawful-priced one. Microtek has three, ranging in price from the $1400 9600XL to some in the $10K range... but again, they're all obstinately SCSI.

Which brings me around to the mystery of the universe that I mentioned. Why is this happening? Don't the scanner companies have a whole publishing and graphic design industry to support? We need these scanners. Where the hell are they going to come from? The scanner companies are making all their money nowadays with the ridiculously garbaceous (I'm laying claim to that word right now) $80 one-touch scanners that they bundle with new Dells and stack in supermarket checkout lines and fling out over Times Square as party favors on New Year's. The high-end scanners are getting second, or third or fourth, billing. To look at the product lineups, you'd think nobody wanted them at all.

But there has to still be demand!

My dreams of a FireWire large-format scanner that I can afford are evaporating. What makes it so galling is that the prospect for such a product used to be there-- large-format scanners used to be ubiquitous. Every business had one. The ISP where I worked had one. It was just another variation. But now... well, it's market forces that have brought about this change, so I can't argue, I guess. If they've seen sales fall so much that it's no longer in their interest to produce scanners for that market, then I guess I can only accept that. But I just can't understand how demand can be so slim. Doesn't every artist on the face of the planet need a scanner like the 9600XL?

Oh, and just watch: Someone will mail me to point out a $300 FireWire 12x17" scanner from Mustek. With native OS X support. And I'll buy one, and it will explode into flaming molten shards, rendering my room uninhabitable and costing me an eye and my right arm.
Monday, April 1, 2002
02:38 - Yeah, it's a travesty, but...


Yeah, I know. The Lord of the Rings didn't win Best Picture, or even any of the Oscars that really counted. It's a horrible injustice, I can't believe it either, blah blah blah.

But I think what's happening is this: The Academy is waiting to see what the whole series is like before they go passing out the most coveted awards in film to a fantasy-genre entry. They want to see if Peter Jackson can keep it up.

Besides, it's not like Oscars are the only thing that makes a film memorable decades after the fact. After all, Star Wars sure didn't win anything, and yet it's the first film that most people think of when asked "Quick-- name a movie!"

We'll get our satisfaction. Oh yes... we most certainly will.

02:33 - Tartakovsky, Mako, Jack, and Steven

Earlier tonight, we were watching Conan the Barbarian on the big-screen TV downstairs. It's a lavishly designed movie, the Fellowship of the Ring of its day, and realized in a detail that the best of today's movies don't often match-- with consistency of style from the characters' costumes to the technology to the language and the lore. It has its drawbacks-- Arnie could barely speak coherent English at the time, not that it mattered much, and so many of his lines were indistinguishable from Stallone's boxing-ring squalls. But on the plus side, it had Mako.

Mako is the freaky witch-doctor-looking wizard in both Conan movies; he's the gravelly-voiced narrator who makes every line sound like he's holding back laughter at the world of the mortals. I'd wondered what had become of him-- he seemed to have vanished after Conan-- but as Steven den Beste points out in a welcome non-war-related post today (linked above), he has resurfaced in an even more fun role: the irresistible villain Aku in Samurai Jack.

I tell you, den Beste must have been reading my mind-- I was just gearing up for a post of my own about Samurai Jack and its artsy, lingering, self-assured lavishness. And I would have said almost exactly the same things, too, right down to his choice of favorite episode.

Genndy Tartakovsky is certainly among the very best animators alive today. His first series, Dexter's Laboratory, was a masterpiece. Now his second one, Samurai Jack, is even better and there couldn't be a greater contrast between the two.

It's classic cell animation, and it's being produced by Hanna-Barbera for the Cartoon Network. If you haven't been watching this series, you're missing something special.

(It should be noted, with some sadness, that the current season of Dexter episodes are quite awful-- largely because Genndy is off doing Jack, his new flame. The new Dexters are off-model, cliché, uninspired, and seem to borrow their stylistic direction as much from the H-B gunk of the 60s as from the 50s-retro Ren & Stimpy mode that continues to be popular among those who think the ability to emulate a 1952 Frigidaire ad is all it takes to be the next John Kricfalusi. Dexter isn't worth watching these days, more's the pity. But we certainly got a good run out of it.)

What Tartakovsky brings to Cartoon Network is an artistic sensibility-- one that has enabled the type of cartoon that has suddenly made the medium respectable again. See, there's this spectrum in cartoons:

Limited animation/Strong script ------------------------------ Lavish animation/weak writing

For far too long, cartoons have tried to live over on the right, on the assumption that cartoons could insult the viewers' intelligence, repeat plots and clichés ad nauseum, clone shows from each other, and provide a return on investment purely on the strength of animation that looks good. Hence Scooby-Doo, The Superfriends, and the whole crop of 60s and 70s Hanna-Barbera claptrap-- though, importantly, the animation in those shows was crap too, purely because of anemic budgets. If they'd had more money, they would have put it into animation quality, however, which is the crucial point; otherwise, the scripts would have been better to begin with. Animation costs lots of money, but good writing can be done on a shoestring if you have the right people.

Well, Tartakovsky is the right people. He understands that what the TV animation industry needs is stuff on the left end of the spectrum: limited animation, with writing that screams. And even more importantly, he brought this insight: Design the show to look good in limited animation. If the character design and the timing are done right, as they are in Dexter and The Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack, you can get away with inexpensive sprite animation with lots of repetition, localized body-part movements, and directorial techniques that in lesser hands would be considered "cheats": long slow pans, freeze-frames, repeated animation cycles, and background-less disembodied-head scenes. These things work in Tartakovsky cartoons, because the show is designed to take advantage of those techniques, to revel in them. The thick outlines and stark geometric designs work perfectly in the Flash-style animation where realistic human motion would never make sense.

All the most successful shows on Cartoon Network lately have been limited-animation. Space Ghost really kicked it off, and it's already become an archetypal icon: it made an art form out of recycled animation, because the writing was dead sharp, and a lot of the humor explicitly followed from the camp value of the animation's limits and repetition. (All my friends and I can do the Space Ghost power-band-arm-spin move-- a motion so intoxicating in its humor value as to have inspired this whole new revolution almost single-bandedly.) And now we have Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's collection of "cartoons for grown-up tastes", showing in the 10:00-1:00 block on weekend nights, comprising further subversive paeans to well-written limited animation such as Home Movies, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021, and of course Space Ghost-- plus newly minted premieres of shows that operate on similar sensibilities. Home Movies is pretty grim to look at, but the writing is top-drawer-- and it lends a lovability to the art that never would have been possible if it had looked better in the first place.

A perfect example of this mindset at work: When Cartoon Planet, the whimsical Brak-song-heavy spinoff from Space Ghost, was being shot, they hired a professional bodybuilder-type dancer to don the Space Ghost costume and dance around for the commercial-break interstitials. Yes, it looked really good... but that was the problem. It looked too good. It was completely wrong for the atmosphere they were trying to create, the freedom and democracy of the new form of animation. So they got Andy Merrill, the voice of Brak and one of the chief writers, to squeeze his rather dumpy butt into the Space Ghost suit and prance around. It looked unutterably ridiculous... and it was perfect.

It's not just Cartoon Network, either; look at South Park for a perfect example of what can be done with genius writing (Trey Parker is my hero-- he and Tartakovsky no doubt admire each other, especially considering the South Park reference in The Powerpuff Girls; in the "Patches" eipsode: "Guys... he tripped me. Seriously.") and what has to be the most limited animation on the planet today. Some may disagree with me when I say this, but I think South Park is one of the most visionary shows of our time-- as much for its embrace of an insanely ascetic animation medium which has grown into its own self-defined art form as for its incisive, infuriating, uproarious, insightful, and above all human writing.

Now, this isn't to say that lavish animation is dead. Far from it. Traditional shows that exploit outstanding animation standards are better represented than ever, what with the WB-descended Batman Beyond and Justice League, and the more-than-surprisingly witty and edgy Baby Blues. These shows are great-looking, but they aren't stuck at the extreme right of that spectrum; they have the budget for both good art and awesome writing, and so they shine.

But limited animation is still the hero of the day. It's so liberating to the creators that Cartoon Network can afford to do custom-animated shows like JBVO (where Johnny Bravo, armed with a library of pre-animated moves, hosts a write-in cartoon request show) and the Friday night Cartoon Cartoon with a rotating "host", animated to introduce the new shows; not to mention all the outstanding, irresistible ad interstitials featuring the Superfriends and the Powerpuff Girls. All the focus is given to the writing; the genius is allowed to flourish. And then the animation is laid on top to give it life, but not much needs to be added.

We've come a long way since the dismal 60s, when Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear were the edgiest voices on TV animation. (Tellingly enough, they made their mark through being limited-animation as well.) But what we have now is the true realization of the Jay Ward dream, where animation is the zest that brings life to an already golden script, rather than a crutch that props up writing that barely deserves to be credited.

Eventually the wheel will turn away once again, and shows like the ones that Tartakovsky does so well will fall out of favor. But in the meantime, let's revel in the joys of what we have: The impossible size and foggy, Myst-like mythical worldbuilding of the first "Scotsman" episode. The bone-chilling threat of the Jack-killer robots with their Vietnamese-esque armor and their Episode 1-battle-droid-with-actual-menace voices. The three minutes of silence as Jack meditates his way into a new form of sensory awareness before he attacks the tower with the wishing well.

Mako must be having the time of his life.

16:48 - The Ugliest Computer Ever


Oh, I love it. I just love it. Now, mind you, this isn't one of those cases that thinks it looks good, like those Intel/HP "concept PCs" that everyone's been guffawing at with such gusto for the past few months. No, this one's much more utilitarian, much less marketdroid-driven. It's... well, really, it's just a pile of goop with technology in it.

To be honest, I think it's really, really cool. I'm not saying I want one, mind you (and that's a good thing, considering the disclaimer at the bottom: "Due to the one-of-a-kind nature of the NHP200NC, reproduction is impossible and orders are thus futile"); but I do admire the forthright attitude of a guy who knows what he wants in a computer and enjoys having fun with the process of bringing it about.

It doesn't even count as an April Fool's joke, either, because the thing works and is real.

It's just something funny that happened to come to light on April Fool's.

12:59 - But at least the food's good...


MANUEL: Can I help you?

ME: yes, I'd like a large hot pastrami on white, please.

MANUEL. <pause> Large?

ME: <nod> Large.

MANUEL: <slicing the bread> Would you like everything on that?

ME: Yeah. And lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <pauses, looks at the sandwich, then at me> ...Pickles?

ME: Yes. Lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <looks confused some more, back down at the sandwich> ...No pickles?

ME: No, lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <nods> Oh!

He lays down the mustard. He lays down the lettuce, the tomatoes, the pepperoncinis, and the onions. Then he picks up the sandwich to take it over to where the meat is.

ME: Uh... no, I said lots of pickles.

MANUEL: <turns around, looks uncertain> ...Pickles?

ME: Yes!

He then puts on a moderate number of pickles, shaking his head to himself, undoubtedly silently cursing my indecision and peremptory attitude.

I keep telling myself that half the population is by definition under 100 in IQ. But even so...

Oh, and I've noticed lately that places like Togo's, Burrito Real, and even chains like Jack in the Box have little cups next to the cash register for tips. You know, at first I figured, hey-- these guys work hard for minimum wage, standing at the counter for hours on end. (Having once worked for a summer in the Ukiah pear sheds, standing for twelve hours a day, 6AM to 6PM, holding down the trailing flap of the pear boxes as they went into the gluing-shut machine, for $4.50 an hour, I know what it's like.) But after careful consideration, look: tips are for service. Cashiers don't get tips, because the service they provide that can't be done by a computer amounts to seeing what I have on my tray and making sure I'm paying for everything on it and not trying to sneak something past.

I tip heavily when I'm eating where there's an attentive waiter, especially so when the waiter is funny and acts like he's enjoying his job. I think such a case deserves all the economic incentive it can get.

But I'm not going to reward gross incompetence just because there's a handy place to put that reward.
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© Brian Tiemann