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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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
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  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, April 14, 2002
03:26 - Hee hee.

Chris and I were sitting, panting, at a table outside the squash court at the 24 Hour Fitness, like we often do on late weekend nights. It had been an exhausting game-- I'd just begun to play nasty, like he does all the time, and finally gave him a run for his money and actually made him fight for once.

As we sat, we could see a sidelong view of the TV behind the check-in counter, where the night attendants were watching... something. I knew they had an Xbox attached to it (I'd seen them playing Halo on it before), but this time we were far enough away from it-- across the lobby, and looking at the screen almost edge-on-- that I couldn't tell for sure whether it was a movie they were watching, or some game with lots of talking heads.

The faces looked chiseled, somehow; the heads moved in a staccato way that looked like they had been animated rather than filmed. It was a guy and a woman, talking under eerie bluish light in a techno-sort of office-type place. I thought for sure it was a game; maybe that James Bond thing or something.

We talked aimlessly for several minutes; then I looked over at the TV and noticed that the same two people were still talking.

"I sure hope that's a movie, because it'd be a boring-ass game."

And Chris replied, chortling, "Yeah-- must be an Xbox game."

Yay, their artistic vision is realized.

03:00 - Oh yeah--

While you're here, go read today's Bleat. It's about that photo down below. And it's good.

Well, good is sort of a relative term in this context. But it does help with the perspective-type stuff.

01:17 - Sage Words From Amongst Jollity...


From Cap'n Wacky's Unfortunate 4th of July Cards:

This card has it all, really: a grim joke about murdering your children, frightening cartoon characters, and (just in case you couldn't picture it on your own) a drawing of a boy blowing up.
To anyone who complains that our society has become too desensitized to violence in recent times because images in TV and movies, I urge you to take a close look at the exploding boy in this vintage postcard and ask you to never raise the argument again.

Good point, there.

I think the only difference is just that there's so much more media out there now that's too easy a target for people desperately wanting to blame the things that kids do on something. With evidence like this, it's easy to conclude that earlier decades were just as uncivilized and desensitized as we are today-- and perhaps more so, because of the macabre sense of humor that haunted us throughout the years following Poe and Twain.

Remember, this is a 4th of July greeting card.

23:00 - Force Powers-- a delete option?

That new Jedi Starfighter game, for Attack of the Clones, is now flooding the airwaves.

It's finally here.

With a sleek, aerodynamic design, state-of-the-art navigation system, and the most powerful engines in its class; the most-anticipated vehicle of the year is now available... with Force Powers.

First it was midichlorians. Then it was video games with Force-O-Meters to tell you when you could score critical hits and stuff. Now the Force is another name for nitrous.

By the time Episode 3 rolls around, we'll have Jedi Knights powering-up with the Force blasting all around them like Dragon Ball Z energy waves. "Forceu powah-uppu Very Jedi Wondaful! Level 100%!" And then they'll turn 30 feet tall and have seven-bladed lightsabers, or hey, maybe space mech battles too. Why the hell not?

The more Star Wars episodes we get, the more impossible it's going to be to watch all six in episodic order. How the devil can you go from Episode 1, with its "These credits are perfectly acceptable." "What, you think you some kind of Jedi or something? With you mind tricks?" to Episode IV, with its "These aren't the droids you're looking for"? It's not going to make any sense. The Force will go from being lots of big flashy lightning-bolt-looking things shooting out of everybody's fingertips into a Zen-like mystical fabric of being. Just how are we supposed to reconcile these two storylines? It would be one thing if it went progressively from one to the other; but it's bad in Episode 1, and getting worse in Episode 2. After Episode 3, the jolt going to 4 will be grinding the gears so hard the teeth will go pinging all over the engine compartment.

(Apologies to Lileks-- that bit was just too good not to reuse.)

I think it's safe to say we've lost any hope of Star Wars ever resembling what it once was.

21:27 - We're more alike than we think (or sound, or our best testing indicates)

I've had this cynical anti-religious set of reasoning in my utility belt for a while now; it goes like this:

HIM: You should join my religion, because it is the One True Way to salvation.

ME: Okay, tell me: Why are you trying to get me to join?

HIM: Well, because only those souls who accept <SAVIOR> will receive eternal reward in Paradise.

ME: In other words, if you do what your religion says, and make sure other people do too, you get to go to Heaven.

HIM: Er, yes.

ME: So what you're saying is, the human motivation to which religion appeals is... selfishness?

This always makes people put their index fingers in the air and go "Uhhh..." and sputter and get all indignant. But honestly, it's really an ingenious little trick, as old as time: Disguise social conscience as self interest, and because people will always act in a way that serves their own interests, this way you get all the good things religion teaches-- charity, brotherhood, love, peace, kindness, etc.-- because the people practicing it are acting in their own interests. They aren't trying to better the community or build strong families or whatever. They're doing what will benefit them in the long term. They get to go to Heaven.

So when I run across the following, quoted by Ken Layne...

Khaled, a hotel worker, spoke in wonderment of a martyr's encounter at the gates of heaven as someone having their file checked: "There will be blessings for 70 of his family and friends. The 72 virgins are real -- their skin is so pale and beautiful that you can see the blood in their veins. If one of these virgins spits in the ocean, the seawater becomes sweet. The martyr is so special he does not feel the pain of being in the grave and all that his family has to do to cleanse his file thoroughly, is to repay his outstanding debts."

Surely, we ask, this view of the Koran should be seen as philosophical? As a parable? But no, there was a chorus of disagreement from a gathering of his friends in the teeming Jabalya refugee camp near Gaza City: "No. This is real . . . this is as it will be," said Khaled, as much for himself as on behalf of younger Palestinians who now talk endlessly of the benefits of death over life in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 200 Israelis in 18 months.

But Dr Rabah Mohanna, whose Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has claimed its own share of the violence - including last year's assassination of a minister in the Israeli Government -- is confounded by youth's lunge for the grave: "Thousands of young men and women are ready to be blown up. It is a new phenomenon -- you have no idea how big it is."

...My first reaction, like (I believe) many other people's reactions, is along the lines of "Geez, these guys are really serious about building a Palestinian state, aren't they? They're so dedicated to their cause that they're willing to die for it. They're willing to see the cause succeed even if it means they can't be a part of it. God, I can't imagine believing so strongly in an ideal that I would go to that extreme, not in our culture. They must be so different from us, there's no way we can negotiate!"

And, well, I'd be wrong. Because the only thing that makes them different from us is the stories they believe.

Consider: You're a Palestinian teenager. Your life sucks. You live in a refugee camp. Instead of Digimon or N'Sync, your entertainment is the promise of 72 virgins awaiting you after death. There's no question that this is real; it's universally accepted as truth. So death is better than life-- that's all well and good. So let's all kill ourselves, right? Well, no-- there's a catch: you have to die as a martyr in order to get the 72 translucent virgins. Okay, so what's a martyr? Well, it's like a sports star. It's someone who dies a certain way: fighting in jihad. It's a role model, an example to follow. It's a "When I grow up..." figure.

Note that Israel isn't necessarily even part of this picture.

You're a teenager who wants the 72 virgins. Your overriding concern here is the virgins, not the jihad. The martyrdom is a means to an end. You're not thinking about a Palestinian state; you're just thinking "Hey, look-- a convenient cause which will qualify me as a martyr." And so you strap on a bomb and take out a Jerusalem coffee shop.

Mission accomplished.

When pressed, sure, they'll shout for the blood of the Jews to run in the streets. Of course they will-- incendiary rhetoric is easy to instill and amplify. People love to absorb stories to repeat, and they love to believe in a cause and shout out to the world about why it's right. We do exactly that in the Christian world; just look at a televangelist or two. But the motivation is still those 72 virgins. It's whatever will fulfill us personally, not the ideals of the rhetoric itself.

They're serving self-interest, not social conscience. Not the greater good. Not the Cause.

Whoever has been fomenting the recent fascination with the suicide fantasy among Palestinian firebrands is a genius: he knows exactly how to motivate people.

Just like Westerners, they're motivated by selfishness. It might look like piety and idealism, but deep down it's the same thing that drives people anywhere to do what they have justified to themselves as being "right".

Doesn't mean that we have to accept that it's right, though.

I've never been a religious person, because far too often I've seen exactly this kind of motivation at work, right here at home. Sure, religion is a fine way for many people to make sense of the world. I have no problem with that. But we'd better not be lying to ourselves when we think about why we're religious; because if we are, we're blinding ourselves to the mindset of other cultures-- particularly cultures that think nothing of making us infidels dead on their way to translucent-virgin-land.

20:10 - Where'd THAT come from?

Bizarre little stab at Cisco on the Simpsons just now.

An e-mail from Marge travels through wires and conduits... to a room where wires go in and out of a dented, dilapidated metal box with "CISCO SYSTEMS" stenciled on it and flies buzzing around it, and a caretaker snoring in a chair nearby.

What was that all about?

19:29 - From the What Were They Thinking? Department...


There's an ad campaign going on right now that I'm afraid I simply don't understand.

It's a candy from Topps called "Baby Bottle Pop". Apparently it's been around for a long time, but now all of a sudden they're advertising it during prime-time on Cartoon Network. And the way they're doing it... well, it just confuses me.

The kids in the commercials eating the candy (which is, not surprisingly, shaped like a baby bottle-- with what appears to be sort of a pacifier-dipping thing) are teenagers, hip skateboarder types. And yet as they eat it, they have the heads of babies. Computer-animated baby heads.

They're sitting on a park bench, eating their baby-bottle-shaped candy, with their goo-goo heads grinning at each other about how great their various flavors are. As soon as one of them runs out, his head reverts back to the 16-year-old actor's face, and the other baby-heads laugh at him.

Then, as the commercial ends, you get the candy's slogan: "Brings out the baby in you."

So tell me: Who thought this was a good idea?

Whose brilliant plan was it to sell candy by appealing to teenagers' desire to look like babies? What teens did they think would sit in parks, conspicuously holding and eating objects that look like baby bottles? Why did whoever-it-was think that this commercial would increase sales to anybody?

But then again, maybe it is working. At least, if you believe Topps' own page:

Baby Bottle Pops were launched in 1998, and have already become one of the top selling lollipop products in the U.S.. Kids love dunking the delicious candy nipple into the powdered candy for a burst of flavor. Sour Baby Bottle Pops were introduced in 1999 to add pucker power to the line.

I'll never understand marketing. Which is a good thing, now that I think about it.

16:41 - NVRAM Breakthrough

Man, do we ever take some things for granted in the computer world.

Like, for example, the inherent difference between RAM and hard-disk storage.

When you think about it, it seems a ridiculous couple of things to have to coexist in modern computers. And yet so many of the functions in computing-- in fact, almost all of them-- are dedicated to dealing with moving data from one to the other and back again.

Oddly enough, hard drive space and RAM size have not wildly diverged. Rather, they've stayed separated only by about one or two powers of ten. When 386-based PCs were all the rage, an 80MB hard drive and 2MB of RAM was quite a serviceable arrangement. A couple of years ago, 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive were fairly normal. Today, you can expect to get a fairly high-end machine with 1GB of RAM and 80GB of disk space.

If you'd asked me in 1991 what our computers' respective storage sizes would be in 2002, I'd probably have said we would have 1GB RAM/512MB hard drives, or maybe 100GB hard drives powering machines with 16MB of RAM. I wouldn't have known which way it would go-- but I would never have guessed that the ratio of sizes would remain roughly the same.

With this in mind, doesn't it seem weird that our mass storage media are still so much fundamentally slower than our powered run-time memory?

Why do we have to educate new computer users about such concepts as:
  • The computer has to "boot" each time you turn it on, so that it can copy the operating system from the disk into memory.
  • When you run programs, the computer has to copy the programs from the disk into memory before they can do anything. When you quit programs, they are deleted from RAM, but remain on the disk.
  • When you work on documents in applications, the data exists only in RAM, until you explicitly "save" it-- tell the program to copy it from RAM onto the disk.
  • Each time you turn the computer off, everything in the RAM is deleted-- any data in documents you haven't saved, any programs that are running, the whole active copy of the operating system. This means that when you turn it back on, you have to wait while the computer boots, copying it all back into memory again.

Is it just me, or does this seem a little bit ridiculous?

We expect people who are brand-new to computers to accept these machinations as "just the way it is". We have to have training courses which spend their first couple of weeks explaining the difference between hard drives and RAM and why the two exist. Yet we have Palm devices that we can "turn off" and turn back on-- only to have exactly the same data on the screen as was there when we turned it off; and we have Macs that can "sleep", use almost no power, and come back up to exactly where they were before. (Although Macs will still lose all their RAM contents if you unplug them-- and Wintel PCs have "sleep" too, but it isn't anywhere near as efficient or fast.) So why can't computers just... be like Palms?

Well, if this new NVRAM development is for real and viable, we may have just that in our future.

Imagine-- you boot your computer once, and that's the last time you'll do it unless the computer crashes or you have to upgrade the OS. Regular shutdowns, like at the end of the day, are like turning off a Palm or putting a Mac to sleep-- just touch a button and the screen goes dark and the fans spin down, but everything in memory is still right where you left it. Touch the same button again, and pop! There's all your data again, unharmed.

And booting the computer would take only ten seconds or so, because you don't have to copy anything from disk to memory. The operating system just runs from where it is-- the compiled bytecode exists on disk in a format that can be directly executed. The only thing the computer has to do during boot is to fire up the I/O systems and test the devices. Then it's ready to rock.

Want to run a program? No need to "load" it into memory anymore-- if it's stored on the computer, it's both permanently stored and ready to execute. Just open it and it's running.

Want to create a document, or edit some existing data? Just open the file-- it's right there in memory already. Make changes, and they're all instantly and permanently stored. No "saving" necessary.

Of course, this means that many applications' "Revert to Saved" functions would now have to be reworked-- right now, the function represents a cheap hack that simply discards whatever's in RAM and reloads the file from the disk. But if there's no discrepancy anymore between the file on disk and the file in memory-- there's only the one copy now-- the apps would have to consciously keep a copy of the file, in the form that it was in when you opened it, in a temporary memory location-- and "Revert" would throw out your current file and read in this backup copy. But then, this also opens up the door to any application having an arbitrary number of "undo" levels, rather than the binary nature of "what's on disk" and "what's in RAM".

Reportedly, this new NVRAM is both high-capacity and fast. It must be slower than existing RAM (there's more for it to do), but then it's definitely going to be faster than doing everything off disk (run an OS completely in swap space and you'll know how painful that can be). So that's two out of three: fast and spacious. If they can nail the third key factor-- cheap-- then we'll have a revolution on our hands that rivals the transistor.

15:39 - Pushing the UNIX Envelope


Reader David Newberry (whoah! I've never said something like that before-- does that mean this blog is growing up?) sends me this outstanding catch.

Apple's apparently starting to pull out the stops on its OS X ad campaign... including the UNIX prong of the attack. This ad, which I would assume appears in one of the more hard-core UNIX-geeky industry rags (somehow I doubt this is a Newsweek spread), specifically touts OS X as a UNIX-- at that, a UNIX with a real usable front-end and real usable software and real usable hardware compatibility. And the title of the ad just gives me warm fuzzies:

"Sends other UNIX boxes to /dev/null."

As some of the commentors have noted, there is no MSIE icon in the Dock-- instead, there's the Netscape "N". Though there are MS Office icons. So this Dock is carefully organized to send two messages: a) OS X is not a slave to Microsoft, at least, not any more-- see, we don't even bother with their browser; and b) Even so, OS X runs MS apps like Office.

And ther's the Terminal, front-and-center. Indeed, the screen has a Terminal window and a PowerPoint slide showing, and an iPod and a FireWire hard drive mounted.

In other words, UNIX nirvana.

I wonder what's next on the ad wagon...

14:05 - It's totally different! See, the name has changed

It has not escaped my attention that the name of the store in the strip mall a few blocks up Aborn, in the same place where the Taco Bell is that I frequent, has changed recently from "Budget Cigarettes" to "Aborn Cigarettes".

The question that's easy to pose rhetorically, but that I'm not willing to find out the answer to even though it's also easy, is whether this is because of a change of management where the new owner decided a name change would be a good idea for its own sake... or if it's because somehow the concept of "Budget Cigarettes" just seemed so horribly squalid and despairing that even the owner was feeling suicidal about it?
Saturday, April 13, 2002

Geez, it seems the Simpsons producers keep getting into hot water over their obstinate refusal to keep all the envelope-pushing social satire of the show bound within the alternate-universe bubble of Springfield, USA.

First, many years ago, it was New Orleans into which the show ventured-- with the musical of A Streetcar Named Desire. You remember the words: "Long before the Superdome, where the Saints of football play / Was a city that the damned called home-- hear their hellish rondelé..."

An episode or two later, Bart's blackboard read "I WILL NOT DEFAME NEW ORLEANS". Whether this was pre-emptive or the result of an actual Cajun outcry ("I sue yo ass, Ah gar-ron-tee!"), I do not know. But now, after poking fun at Presidents, Knoxville, Washington D.C., and Australia, they appear to have stepped on the toes of Rio de Janeiro.

In the episode, bumbling family head Homer Simpson is robbed by street kids and kidnapped by an unlicensed taxi driver after his family ventures to Rio to find a missing orphan that daughter Lisa sponsored.

The family runs across rats and monkeys while looking for the orphan. When they find him, he has grown rich working on a television show and pays for Homer's release in gratitude for shoes Lisa had bought him to escape monkeys at the orphanage.

Rio tourism board president Jose Eduardo Guinle asked the board's legal team to look into what action could be taken.

"He understands it is a satire," tourism board spokesman Sergio Cavalcanti said at the time. "What really hurt was the idea of the monkeys, the image that Rio de Janeiro was a jungle. ... It's a completely unreal image of the city."

What makes one satire target lift his voice in shrill complaint, while all the rest take it in good humor? Is Brazil's tourism industry that low on confidence, that it thinks people will stop coming to Rio because of a Simpsons episode?

Ah well. I'm glad Brooks' apology was on the flippant side.

19:19 - I must blog this drink...


I've discovered a drink that's delicious, healthy, rich in vitamins, and completely free of anything damaging or habit-forming. No caffeine, no calories, no sugar, no carbohydrates. And it looks awesome too.

1-2 fingers of lemon juice, then fill the glass with club soda. Add a generous splash of Da Vinci sugar-free cherry syrup-- or Torani if you don't mind having actual sugar in yours. Just put in enough to make it red, or more, depending on your taste for cherry syrup.

You can add a head by sprinkling on some Splenda or packet sugar.

I've had two glasses of this stuff already this afternoon, and I think it's going to become a staple for me. Yet another bad, nasty habit of mine. I just can't resist the siren song of lemon juice-- and this combines it with other stuff in such a way that it will fill my Atkins days with glee.

To life!

(What, you thought there was going to be alcohol involved or something?)
Friday, April 12, 2002
17:15 - I'm sure it's just my imagination...

Is it just me, or has there suddenly been a sharp increase in the number of @mac.com addresses seen roaming about the Net?

In my own correspondence, I've noticed that two or three people on each of the mailing lists I'm on, including a number of fan-artists, blog respondents, and random people mailing me for other reasons, have mac.com addreses. On examination of the headers on their messages, a large proportion of those-- almost all, in fact-- are using Mail on OS X.

It could be that my experience is atypical. (I wouldn't be surprised to find that I tend to magnetize people with Macs to write to me more than non-Mac-people do.) But something tells me it's not; somehow I suspect that Mail.app and OS X are reaching critical mass, the level of acceptance where (for those people in a position to use it) it's becoming the default, obvious choice-- like Hotmail or Outlook Express.

It's so good to see that occasionally it's not Microsoft software that does this.

10:55 - Calvin, eat your heart out...

Fresh Air this morning had a discussion of the physiology of tears-- why we cry, how we cry, the psychological aspects of crying, etcetera. They received a caller named Jasmine, who said, and I quote:

"Hi-- I'm ten years old, and I'm currently watching my three-year-old brother. It doesn't seem like he cries any more or less than girls his age. So I was wondering, what is the anatomical difference between boys and girls when it comes to crying?"

Damn... ten years old? That kid's gonna be going places.

10:17 - Oh. How romantic.


The big launch finally arrived. On November 14 at 12:01 a.m., Mr. Gates handed over the first Xbox to a dedicated gamer who had waited for hours at the Toys 'R' Us store in New York City's Times Square. Mr. Blackley and his new girlfriend, Vanessa Burnham, were at the scene. He introduced her to Mr. Gates.

"You know, Seamus, I think she could help you get your act together," Mr. Gates said.

"You think so?" Mr. Blackley asked. "Something has to."

"You ought to marry her," Mr. Gates said.

"You think so?" Mr. Blackley replied.

"Yeah, absolutely," Mr. Gates said. "Here's a ring."

"I'll give it a shot, OK, cool," Mr. Blackley said. He got down on one knee.

"Vanessa, will you marry me?"

She laughed, then answered, "Yes."

"Thank you," Mr. Blackley said.

He rose and they kissed. Everyone in the store applauded. Mr. Blackley put the ring on Ms. Burnham's finger. John Eyler, CEO of Toys 'R' Us, presented a stuffed animal to her. Mr. Gates had been briefed, but he had ad-libbed the part about Mr. Blackley getting his act together.

Oh, yes, honey, I want to tell our grandkids about how you proposed to me by having the richest tycoon in the world rehearse a ridiculous little off-the-cuff exchange at a public press event and give you a free ring paid for by the blood of all the companies he killed. At that, an exchange that makes it look like you'll do anything he says, like getting married on his offhand suggestion. "You think so?" You pathetic toady.

Great article. Five pages of behind-the-scenes action, the whole story of how the Xbox came to be. All Microsoft fans take note: It was not Billzor Gates and Steve "E-trip" Ballmer, hip 20-something geeks playing air-hockey in the steam room in the sub-basement of One Microsoft Way, who suddenly said to each other, "D3wd! We should like totally make a game console!" "Yeah! We'd be 3l33t!" No. Not hardly. Read this thing. It's all the brainchild of Seamus Blackley, a failed game developer with an ego to match Bill's own, who was desperate to rebuild his shattered self-image after a devastating failure on a game he was working on for Spielberg. He proposed the idea to the Microsoft execs, who hated the idea at first. They took a long time to warm to it. But Blackley kept at it, goat-skulled; he was going to get his own back, damn them all.

I mean, look at this story. It's all a huge, disgusting ego trip. Sure, the guy has an admirable quality to his ideals: video games that are art rather than entertainment (Sony) or toys (Nintendo). But dude, art doesn't sell. At least, not unless it's a part of something larger that does sell.

So when you have internal propaganda like this:

There were plenty of other moments when Mr. Blackley's flair for "morale building" activities got him into trouble. At one internal meeting, he showed an animation dubbed "Survival of the Fittest." It sported a couple of Microsoft's mascot characters at a shooting range. They fired weapons and eviscerated mascots like Sega's Sonic, Nintendo's Mario, and Sony's Crash Bandicoot. He was quoted in a newspaper as saying, "Playing video games is like masturbation; everyone does it but no one wants to admit it."

... Somebody's got to see this effort for what it is: the paranoid scheme of a megalomaniac with more ambition than sense, more talent than intellect. Oh, they all said I was mad... mad! They called me a no-talent hack! They all laughed! ...Well, who's laughing NOW? Haaah hah hah hah haaaaah!"

Granted, it's a perfect fit for Microsoft: inferior in every way that counts, they release their inadequacy-related stress by symbolically blowing up the symbols of the ones who are successful. Hey, look-- it's the David Gonterman of the technology industry! If they can't succeed, they just make it up in really crappy volume, mockery, and FUD. That's the American Way!

Look, I'm big enough to admit that there are many things that the Japanese do so much better than we do that we should not even try. Video games are clearly one of them. Sure, Nintendo and Sony may be big cutthroat corporations with hardly any more ethics than Microsoft. But at least they won on their own merits, by making products that people wanted and by appealing to people's imaginations. With the Xbox, Microsoft is being everything that everybody hates about America: big, dumb, megalomaniacal, ethically stunted, and yet backed by enough resources to shoulder aside the beloved incumbents purely because they think it's their manifest destiny to spread their influence into every corner of the technology market.

I kicked walls when Microsoft decided to move into the server market, bringing a decidedly inferior product to bear against far superior platforms that already served their purpose perfectly well. Windows has never been suited to servers. It's not even designed to be remotely-accessible, for God's sake. There's no useful command line. The distributed-client architecture of Windows client-server apps is a sick joke. Why did they get into this market? Because they could. Because there was money that other people were getting, that they decided they should have instead.

I shrieked to the heavens when Microsoft brought out WinCE devices, creating a monstrously crappy alternative to the already hugely popular Palm platform. WinCE has always suffered from Windows' flashier-is-obviously-better problems; even their ads tout WinCE as superior purely because its e-mail client has more colors. Can your palm do this? (moving loose fist up and down) Never mind which platform is more stable, more extensible, more flexible, or has about a thousand times as much software available for it. Why did Microsoft get into this market? Because they could. They saw someone else getting money hand over fist, and they wanted it instead.

As always, Microsoft will keep doggedly pouring money into these things, making new versions, supporting their initially bland sales figures, gradually patching up the products until they're passable in functionality. But by then, the marketing team will have done their job: convincing the public that the Microsoft product is the only viable choice, no matter how crappy it actually is. All that matters is convincing IT directors and CEOs and gamers that as long as something looks pretty, it must be better. They did it with Internet Explorer (IE3 was awful beyond belief and encouraged bad coding style and had a non-standard table specification, but hey-- it was free! So it's obviously the one we should all be coding for now!). They did it with AVI movies (gee, QuickTime invented the whole concept-- but we can't have that! It's not a Microsoft technology! So let 'em have their little "MPEG" standards. We'll use our own free crappy stuff, everybody will make AVIs because they can, and QuickTime will die!). They've done it with Windows and with WinCE. And now they're going to do the same thing with the Xbox.

Back in 1996, my concern with Microsoft was that they would splinter the Web by forcing everybody onto their inferior browser with its lack of adherence to standards and its poorly implemented feature set, and a great part of the flexibility and promise of the Web as envisioned in the HTTP and HTML specs would be lost forever. Given the garbaceous state of IE at the time, it seemed like a distinct possibility, and the appearance was that Microsoft was simply experimenting-- dabbling irresponsibly in a field where it was dangerous to do something half-assed, where their poorly implemented solutions would inadvertendly kill much that was good in the industry. I wrote many feverish e-mails to whatever addresses I could find at the Microsoft website, berating them saying, "If this is the best you can do, maybe you should stay out of the web browser market." After all, just a month or two before, when asked whether Microsoft would start up an Internet division, Bill Gates had snapped, "That would be like having an electricity division."

Well, as it turns out, my fears were exactly correct. The web now runs exclusively on IE. The coding idiocies that IE had encouraged are now accepted standards-- rendering tables without </TABLE> tags, displaying blank table cells as empty rather than blanked-out with the table border color, supporting BMP images inline, and worst of all, completely ignoring all HTTP headers-- such as Content-type, Content-length, and other such useful controls-- so that it can display Word documents inline even if you've explicitly set the Content-type to try to prevent it from doing that. We no longer have the ability to program web apps according to the flexible published specifications, all because Microsoft successfully pushed IE down everybody's throats.

And yet my reasoning behind this was completely wrong. This was no accident. Microsoft had intended all along for things to go exactly this way. IE3 was crappy on purpose-- or at least, they didn't sweat the details-- because all that mattered was market penetration. Just get it out there, and make sure it's free. Tout useless technologies lke COM+ and ActiveX. Sneer at browsers that don't display gargantuan BMP images inline. Just get it out there... and then worry about making the browser usable. And yes, IE is now a very good browser. It's very fast (well, hell, it's a kernel process now), it renders everything according to spec (because Microsoft took over the W3C and rewrote the spec to fit their rules), and it works with every page known to man. So is this success?

Is this the path to market that we should be encouraging? Isn't this a bit like allowing suicide-bombing to result in renewed negotiations for peace with more concessions given to the side of the bombers? The ends justify the means?

Personally, I do not like that prospect for the technology industry.

Is there any market into which Microsoft will not insert itself if it can be shown that there's money to be made? Obviously video game consoles are not so wildly off-the-beaten-path that they won't leap into the fray, pretending to be the underdog and appealing to the easily-impressed-by-surface-flash geek-wannabes who failed high school calculus but who pronounce SQL as "Sequel" and think they're hot bat shit, just like they did with WinNT/IIS and with WinCE. What's next? Digital TV devices? Oh wait, yeah. So... military equipment? Genetic therapy? Recombinant DNA and viral weapon research?

And of course we're going to keep on sucking up everything they give us, until every nightmare sci-fi scenario about a maniacal corporation that controls everything in the entire world, like in Resident Evil, has come true.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
00:56 - Oh yeah, this...


C'mon, tell us what you really think!

00:55 - Hey, this stuff could be fun...

So we were eating lunch today at Armadillo Willy's, with big Texas burgers and peanut slaw and those really good fries they do. Our new guy, Johnny, was along with us for the ride-- we've been giving him a crash course in what it's like to be a part of our freaky social circle (and QA team)-- the stories that make up our collective lore, the people who make up our cast of characters, and the opinions that inform the running gag that we call life.

I picked up my tray, with the double cheeseburger with no bun. See, I've been eating Atkins-style lately, mostly because the rest of the household is doing it, and as everybody knows I spend most of my time flailing in the air having jumped off cliffs from which my friends have already hurled themselves. So, no bun for Brian. In the words of that Jack in the Box ad, "My hands were covered with meat and cheese!" And Johnny gave my plate such a look...

His order was immediately called, and he went up to get it. During the meanwhilst, I half-seriously hatched up a scheme with David under which I would quickly affect a religion where it was forbidden for me to eat bread. Atkiism, or something, where carbohydrates are kufr and only greasy meat can be considered kosher. When pressed for details, I'd glare into Johnny's eyes: "Hey, don't you oppress me, white boy!"

Unfortunately our attention spans shoved us onto something else before he even got back-- ketchup-bottle physics or Australian Rules Football or animation cels from a tiny low-resolution, low-quality QuickTime movie, where each cel has all the low-res blockiness and JPEG artifacts dutifully painted onto the acetate... and so the moment had passed.

So why am I watching Taxi and pretending to work on new server tools instead of getting something useful done?

Because I've got stupid thoughts from the middle of the day to dredge back up and commit to electrons, that's why.

You don't have to thank me.

00:24 - It's times like this that I wish I had my camera along...

Now that we're on Daylight Savings Time, my drive home-- which takes me through downtown San Jose right about 7:20-- is the source of some of the best colors of the entire year.

Those who know me well know that I take a certain bizarre pleasure in the oddest of things. One of those is the drive home. It's relaxing, it's liberating, and it gives me a different movie to watch every time I do it. Tonight's feature gets three and a half stars.

Right after the DST switchover, the 7:00 hour is the sunset hour. This means that as I drive east through downtown, the sun is setting behind me-- it's already dipped behind the Santa Cruz Mountains enough that the freeway itself is in shadow, but the buildings of the skyline and the mountains behind them are still lit. And better yet, spring means the end of the smog season in the Bay Area-- it's now the era of clear air, high clouds, fog spilling through the cracks in the ridges of the Peninsula, and that golden quality to the light at sunset that reflects off all the downtown buildings' windows-- including the new one that's going up right next to the freeway. I don't know what it is, but it's turning out to be quite attractive-- tall (about 20 stories, which is tall for San Jose), symmetrical, clad in reflective glass except for the windowed stone-beige piers up the centers of the sides, and the westward-facing major wall sporting a gentle bulging curve that throws back the sunlight and strikes a pose like a building from the Presidio in a Star Trek future.

The best part of all this, though, is those eastern mountains. Tonight, as I passed through downtown, I noticed that the eastern ridge-- which got at least two dustings of snow this winter, luring me up into the Sierras for those two ski trips-- was still lit with that clear, golden sunset light. The cloud cover was wispy and high, lending some color to the landscape but not much obstruction to the light-- instead, the crest of the hills was wreathed with a series of what looked like that same kind of hill fog that constantly spills over into the Valley from over the western ridge, but that I'd never seen on the eastern one before. Depending on how poetic I'm trying to be, it looked either like a crown of thorns or a string of turds.

Above it, though, you could see the observatories. Those two or three bright white globes on Mt. Hamilton, the little specks of visible civilization that you can always see from down in the valley floor and dozens of miles away-- but today the light played on them in such a way that they leaped out from the cloud wreaths at their feet like a moon artificially inflated by being next to the horizon. They looked larger than life. They looked like the Spanish missions must have looked in the 1760s-- the only edifices of pure white to be seen for hundreds of miles, naturally attracting all the local tribes to come see them, to center their lives around them. The observatories seemed to be visible in as much detail as if I were standing in their parking lots, 3,000 feet up. With the sunlight glinting off them, with dim clouds behind them and drab fog below, they looked Olympian.

And then the sun went down all the way, foreground ridges obscured my view of the Hamilton crest, and I realized that my windshield was covered with spotty gunk from a recent rain spatter anyway-- so small good my camera would have done me.

Ah well. I saw it, at least.

19:47 - Ow ow ow.

Aaaaahhhh. I finally got that splinter out of my fingertip that had been in there for two or three days.

The only protruding bit had broken off, and most of it remained below the surface of the skin; it was very very very small, but not so small that I could type without getting a twinge every time I brushed against it.

I couldn't figure out which way in it was embedded. No matter which direction I tried scraping it with my fingernail, it never seemed to want to move toward the surface or stick out a tiny bit of length that I could grab with a pair of tiny little tweezers or a micropipette or something. It just kept hurting.

I always sort of wonder whether if you never get a splinter out of your finger, if your skin will grow back over it and it will become a permanent part of your body-- or if the act of healing sort of pushes it out regardless of how deeply it's buried or what its orientation is. I've never found out the answer, and frankly I'm not keen to.

So finally, this afternoon, I managed to dig it out with a staple. I used the sharp end to grind away the skin surrounding it until all that was left was a raw sort of miniscule hole-- and no splinter in sight. I don't know where it went. All I know is that I can press on my fingertip again, and all I feel is the light burning sting of raw skin-- not the set-your-teeth-on-edge stabbing pinch of nerve endings under a needle-sharp pressure.

Why am I writing this here? Well, because it was the most rewarding accomplishment of the day.

C'mon. Compared to getting lionking.org back online yesterday, anything else in a context larger than my fingertip seems sort of inappropriate. Work-- bah. Server features-- they can wait.

I got that damn splinter out.
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
21:38 - XBox Death Watch

The consensus seems to be forming across the Web: the Xbox is doomed.

Despite a brave face being put on lackluster sales by Microsoft's marketing machine, the numbers can't be denied: the Xbox is being outsold by the psOne. It's doing especially poorly in Japan and Europe, where they had hoped to make up for a weakish US start. They're taking a serious loss on the sale of each console, with an eye toward making up the cost on volume and firmware licensing agreements for developers-- and considering a) the low volume and b) the pathetic library of games, it would seem that the glowing green X-shaped tear in the top of the box is a gateway to Hell into which Microsoft is hurling bag after bag of large-denomination bills.

How sad does that make me? Hold on, I can't hear you-- too much loud music and carousing being done here. Someone just sprayed me with Silly String. The celebration party's a little too wild; I'll get back to you in a bit.

This Slashdot article has a lot of enlightening comments. (And a lot of insanely funny ones too-- one guy says "My kids think Gamecube is the cat's ass," to which another responds, "Help me out with the lingo here. Does this mean they like it, hate it, or just need a lesson in basic feline anatomy?") Among the less-raucous are tidbits like the one about how Microsoft plans to keep funding the Xbox sales push in order to keep the machines on store shelves for as much as five years, regardless of whether sales ever pick up. Hey, bring 'em on-- the more money we can make 'em lose, I'm all for it. Go nuts!

Other readers point out articles by Gord of the inimitable actsofgord.com: This one, where he speaks preemptively (in November) about the chances the Xbox might have against its entrenched competition in a real-world gamer's market-- and this one, in which he deconstructs the pricing schemes of the various companies and which ones subscribe to the "Sell the consoles at a loss and make it up on game licensing deals" scheme (hint: Microsoft is not the first to do it, but they're in the minority). The Gord hath spoken.

What you won't find among the Slashdot comments, however, is rhetoric from people who refuse to buy Xboxes on principle. You know, because it's Microsoft, regardless of how carefully they hide the MS logo in the Xbox ads. This is Slashdot we're talking about-- surely you'd expect that there would be at least some of the idealistic ranting. But there's none-- not a peep. I don't understand this. What has happened to these people's spirit? This is Slashdot, for Pete's sake. Open-source geeks. These people will fight a holy war over whether Linux or FreeBSD has the open-source license that's more likely to undermine and overthrow Microsoft's hegemony. These are people who will use StarOffice and KDE and GIMP and claim to their last dying breath that they have all the functionality of a Windows-using commercial-software sheep. And yet to judge by their comments, half these people bought Xboxes. What is wrong with this picture?

I was thoroughly convinced, along about November, that there would be throngs of Linux and open-source people out in front of Fry's at midnight on the day of the Xbox's launch, waving signs and passing out flyers and denouncing Microsoft's business practices-- just like they did at the Win95 launch and the Win98 launch. I was fully expecting to read all about it in the tech press the next day. But... I didn't. Why? Who knows? Who can understand the gamer's mind? The cynical side of me says "Sure, anybody can be idealistic when they're talking about office apps or Web servers-- but when it comes to Halo, all bets are off! W00o0ot! Go Xb0X!" And going by my experience with MMORPGs and the people who play them, I have a very hard time forcing that cynical side of me to shut up. I want to believe my friends have a little bit more integrity than that. I want to believe that the people I know and respect can resist the lure of bump-maps and battle-damaged cars and the gutted soulless husk of Bungie for the sake of a little solidarity in the face of a Microsoft marketing offensive explicitly designed to get under their defenses and win them over and make them start saying "Mmmmmicrosoft? Well... gee... I guess they're not all that bad..." as they bang away on their giant Xbox controllers.

No, it must be something else. Do these guys drop their facade of idealism in favor of sane pro-vs-con discussions whenever video game consoles are concerned-- because they're somehow not the same as desktop operating systems? Because the Microsoft that makes the Xbox is really not the same hated corporation that they've been fighting all their lives against-- they're an underdog now, so they deserve a fair shake and a chance to prove their worthiness in the market? Is that what's happening?

Unfortunately, I can't seem to convince myself that that's the case. My reasoning always seems to circle around to what my cynical side is telling me. Just wave some crack in the air, and the freedom-fighters will drop their keyboards and soak their chins with drool. If only the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were so easily won over.

I just got rid of my PS2 tonight-- I'd bought it on September 10th, so my heart was never really in it in the first place; I'd played Gran Turismo 3 for a few weeks, but as it turned out I haven't touched it in about four months. And truth be told, the only reason why I bought it in the first place was as a sort of preemptive strike-- to get a video game console into the house, so other members of my household would not feel tempted to fill that void by buying an Xbox for the house.

Now that such a move seems to be less and less likely, given the timbre of the headlines, I feel safe in unloading the PS2 to a friend. He wouldn't have been able to afford one on his own, and I was willing to pay to get the damn thing out of my room, so it worked out pretty well for all involved. And since the friend in question actually lives in the same house as me, the PS2 is moving to the big-screen TV downstairs, where it can be even more visible in its Xbox-displacing glory than it was before. I should have put it there in the first place.

And maybe it will elbow aside some sports from the TV. Believe it or not, I'd rather listen to video games all day than sports for ten minutes.

And in any case, it's not doing me any good up here. Time to send it back in to continue the good fight.

Meanwhile, I resume my quest to discover where the anti-Xbox solidarity has gone. Granted, people aren't buying Xboxes, but it's on the Xbox's merits (or lack thereof), not because of anti-Microsoft fervor. Hey, I'll take what I can get-- but I would love to see just one person refuse to buy an Xbox because they don't buy Microsoft products, even video game systems.

Is that too much to ask?
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
00:53 - Elijah Would


I've been meaning to post this for some time now; it came up while my server was offline, and it's been sitting open in a browser window on my desktop machine ever since then, rebuking me for not sending it on out into my freakish little corner of the world.

Okay, okay, little article-- you get your wish. I'm no match for your charms.

It's a Rolling Stone interview with Elijah Wood, with lots of fun insights into his character, his past, and his life on the Lord of the Rings set. This being Rolling Stone, frank language abounds. But that just helps make it all the more authentic. "Keepin' it reeeal", I believe is the official term.

Mostly, what one hears from those who shared his company in New Zealand are testaments to Wood's maturity. It is Wood who describes a rare exception to this - a night out in Wellington drinking vodka and cranberry juice that ended with Wood and fellow hobbit Dominic Monaghan climbing up a fountain statue that had been annoying Wood and pissing in it as Liv Tyler, cast as Arwen the elf princess, looked on and said (Wood does a high-pitched Tyler impression), "Guys, what are you doing? Did you just piss in the fountain?" He enjoys this story. "Funny though," he says. "Good memories."

Great little anecdotes. The article seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on what is clearly a lot less of a big deal than the interviewer seemed to think it must be-- Wood's lack of an emotionally close father-- but other than that, it's a whole lot of fun.

And the interviewer is clearly a fan, not just of Wood, but of the story.

Elijah Wood has the ring. There were other rings, used for different shots, but he has the ring he wore: the ring that was the ring. Jackson gave it to him in a wooden box as he left New Zealand at the end of filming. "It is the one ring," he says, "which is a pretty great thing to have."

He keeps the ring in his office. It's put away, out of sight.

I ask Wood whether he often takes it out and fondles it.

"No," he says. "I haven't taken it out in quite some time. I'd rather just keep it hidden away for now."

I don't know if TheOneRing.net counts as a blog, but if it does, it's certainly one of the best themed blogs I know. I can always count on it to turn up stuff like this.

00:33 - We have a new champion...


Watson was updated to version 1.5 recently.

Yeah, big whoop, huh?

Actually, kinda, yeah. See, Watson is in my humblest of opinions one of the coolest pieces of software ever to grace the world. Why? Well, because it's-- well, let's count the things it is:
  • Yahoo column-view navigator
  • Movie showtimes finder, trailer viewer, theater locator, poster viewer, and ticket-buying conduit
  • eBay auction manager
  • FedEx/UPS/USPS/Airborne Express package tracker
  • Currency converter
  • Image search tool
  • TV listings guide and search tool
  • O'Reilly "Meerkat" news browser
  • VersionTracker portal
  • Arriving Flight tracker
  • Recipe search tool
  • ZIP code search tool
  • Phone number search tool

...And several other things. More tool modules are being added all the time, accreting themselves into your Watson application like asteroids clattering together in space to form a moon.

Oh, and it's about 2MB.

This is about the most elegant thing I've ever seen. It's just a framework-- written in pure Cocoa-- for all kinds of web-enabled tools which suck in data from all sorts of online databases and format them in grids and detail drawers. The Movies tool, for example, lets you navigate through the Mac OS X-style column view by either theater or movie title (after entering your ZIP code); when you select a movie, the drawer at the bottom shows you movie details, the promo poster, and the trailer video which you can watch right inline. There's also a "Buy Tickets" link right there where applicable.

Because of the TV Listings tool, I now no longer need to deal with my AT&T Broadband on-screen guide system-- because Watson's is much faster and provides a whole lot more flexibility. After inputting my ZIP code and selecting my cable provider (it knows about all the local ones), I get to check off my favorite channels, and watch all the listings at once, clicking on each one to see the same show details that I get on the cable system. It has a search function, too, so I can see the next n showings of Invader ZIM.

What else? Well, plenty. For one thing, the reason for the title of this post is that Watson-- well, let's just say that they've improved their icon. Oh, how they have improved it.

This is the "installer" folder. Look at it. I mean, just look at it. The bag with the globe in it is the icon. (You simply drag it from there to your Applications folder.) The newspaper next to it is the Readme file. Before you jump to conclusions, no, Finder windows don't have live raytracing and 3D shading now; the newspaper icon is artificially shaded to fit in with the "streetlight" background image. And no, when you click on the bag and drag, you don't lift the shiny blue sphere out of the bag and and into the light. But damn-- is that not the coolest installer-folder presentation you have ever seen?

Okay, maybe I'm just easily impressed.

No, that's not it. This program just kicks ass. I've just sent in my $30-- if ever a shareware program deserved registration, Watson is it.

This is what Sherlock should have been-- and what Sherlock probably would have been if Apple had sat down to redesign it from scratch using the Cocoa frameworks rather than simply porting the legacy Find utility.

2MB... damn. This is exactly what everybody's been hooting about with Cocoa all this time. This is going to become an indispensable part of my life, if I let it.

Incidentally-- Chris, a dyed-in-the-wool Linux guy, saw me playing with Watson today. After watching me scoot around in the Movies tool for a minute or two, he said, "Okay, you're having far too much fun with your Mac. You need to give it to me now."

Open web resources and interconnectivity. .NET, eat your heart out.

Now if you'll excuse me, Watson has pointed out a number of movies that I've been meaning to see which are on at this very moment.

18:15 - Well Done, Mr. Fortune Man

I have a "fortune" database of all the Simpsons quotes for the first eight or nine seasons or so, compiled from the quote sections of the Episode Capsules at snpp.com. There are a lot of quotes-- like 5MB worth.

Each quote has a little credit line at the bottom, put there by whoever did the transcribing. If the quote is just a single line from one character, the credit line simply says (for instance), "Homer, 'Homer's Odyssey'", or if it's a dialogue, "-- 'Lisa's Date With Density'". But more often than not, and especially in the later episodes, the credit line includes an additional little witticism by the editor, for instance:

Homer: Donut?
Lisa: No, thanks. Do you have any fruit?
Homer: [offers some of the donut he's eating] This has purple stuff
inside. Purple is a fruit.
-- Mmm, purple, "Bart on the Road"

Often these little dabs of editorial wit are as amusing as the quote itself; just as frequently, though, they're just dumb. Regardless, they've attained their own life as an integral part of the process of quoting The Simpsons out of context.

Well, today I ran across what must be best quote credit line I've ever seen... the Perfect Tagline:

Bart: [sighs] I wasted five bucks on these.
Lisa: Where'd you get five bucks? I want five bucks.
Bart: Aw, I sold my soul to Milhouse?
Lisa: [incredulous] What? How could you _do_ that? Your soul is the
most valuable part of you.
Bart: You believe in that junk?
Lisa: Well, whether or not the soul is physically real, Bart, it's the
symbol of everything fine inside us.
Bart: [tsking sadly] Poor, gullible Lisa. I'll keep my crappy sponges,
Lisa: Bart, your soul is the only part of you that lasts forever. For
five dollars, Milhouse could own you for a zillion years!
Bart: Well, if you think he got such a good deal, I'll sell you my
conscience for $4.50.
[Lisa starts to walk off]
I'll throw in my sense of decency too. It's a Bart sales event!
Everything about me must go!
-- Great selection and rock-bottom prices, but where is the soul?, "Bart
Sells His Soul"

Bee-autiful. A masterful turn of the pen. As it were.

Best... tagline... ever.

Monday, April 8, 2002
22:52 - The Anti-Pickle Conspiracy

I think I know what the problem is.

The world is conspiring to deny Brian pickles.

About a week ago, I posted about my travails at the local Togo's with a server who seemed incapable of understanding that I wished him to put a large, plural number of pickles on my hot pastrami sandwich. I finally got my pickles-- oh yes, Brian will not be denied-- but not before reminding the guy no fewer than three times of my wishes that he should not only fail to ignore the giant bin of fluorescent salty green vegetable discs, but should fail spectacularly to ignore it. This he failed to do-- er, he failed to fail, I guess. He ignored me entirely, until I all but shoved two fingers up his nose and directed his head forcefully into the pickle hopper.

So I was in In-N-Out Burger the other day, with David. (In-N-Out, I should mention, for the benefit of those who don't live in the Southwestern U.S., is a rather spookily good burger chain-- spotless, spacious, all white tile with little red palm trees, with french fries that are fresh whole potatoes five minutes before they arrive on your tray and huge burgers with actual tasty cheese and with tomatoes and onions so fresh you can taste that they're cold inside. Their menu is almost a parody, comprising "Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Milkshake, Sodas, and Fries" like some kind of theme-park concession stand. But they also have unlisted "code" items: Double-Double (2x meat, 2x cheese), 3x3 (same thing times 1.5), all the way up through 8x8 (a friend of mine once ate one, very unhappily toward the end); Animal Style (with grilled onions), Protein Style (no bun, just a big leaf of lettuce wrapped around the innards, for those whose diets-- like the Atkins-- forbid them to eat bread), and plenty more that only the insiders know, like grilled-cheese sandwiches and salads and burger configurations familiar only to the elect few. In-N-Out employs clean-cut, white-bread, erudite, happy, eager-to-please, giggly but chaste high-schoolers from the 50s, plus happy-looking Anglo-Saxon family men who look like they must drive Lexuses, for $10 an hour-- almost twice the minimum wage. Every In-N-Out that has ever opened in California, Nevada, and Arizona has instantly had a lunch line that happily stretches out the door, around the parking lot, and down the street-- people are that enamored with the food this place serves, and for so little money too. And their soda cups and burger wrappers have little Book of Mormon verse references printed on them, hidden down in the corners and on the insides of the bottom rims. Make of this what the hell you will.)

...Right, anyway. So I was in In-N-Out with David, and I had just finished relating to him the hapless tale of Togo's and the Pickle Bait-and-Switch. I then casually mentioned how the last couple of times I had gone through the In-N-Out drive-thru, to get Protein Style burgers for my Atkins-Dieting roommates, In-N-Out had gotten something wrong in the order each time. First, they forgot Zjonni's chocolate shake. And on the subsequent time, they neglected (hey, surprise) to put pickles into my burger. Yes, I'd asked for extra pickles. Yes, they'd repeated extra back to me, quite clearly.

Just as I finish telling him this tale of woe, our orders are called. I go and pick mine up. We sit back down; he's rolling with silent laughter, and he reflects on the cruel irony of a worldwide conspiracy that seeks to deny pickles to me, the person who would cheerfully support the pickle industry singlehandedly if need be. Ah, life. He tears into his burger. I tear into mine. Wait. I pause, startled. I look closer. I look at David.

"Guess what they forgot to put on mine?"

22:28 - Blog Drought

Lately I've simply not felt very much like typing. I'm not sure why it is-- whether because world events just feel too large for me to pretend I understand them, or because everything I say seems unfailingly to offend someone whom I have no wish to offend, or because I have too much emotional energy wrapped up in getting my server back online, or because I have too much e-mail to answer and simply don't want to start because it's all the same stuff over and over again-- I don't know. But the upshot is that I can't blog even though I have tons of links to post, tons of opinion to write about, tons of stuff to accomplish.

I think my motivation gland has just shut down production temporarily. Or at least rerouted its efforts to other pursuits, like encoding QuickTime movies of Cartoon Network shorts and Samurai Jack episodes.

I know I owe a lot of stuff to a lot of people right now, but I'm afraid it's going to have to wait a little longer. There are some tangles in my life at the moment that I need to work up the energy to tackle with a comb.
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© Brian Tiemann