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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12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, April 21, 2002
22:30 - This guy must be in league with SATAN.

Fortune has a nice little article, by Stewart Allsop, on Windows XP and its not-exactly-fulfilled promises.

I agree with the reviewers. There's nothing in Windows XP to cause anyone to go out of his way to get it. In fact, I wonder why such an amazing giant of technology as Microsoft--which argues vociferously for its right to integrate new technology into its operating system--can't do better than this. XP was supposed to finally replace old-world MS-DOS with a modern, stable platform that can be modified for new technologies without the pain and suffering we all experienced in the past. So why doesn't XP work a whole lot better?

Ah, yes. How many versions of Windows now have been "supposed to finally replace old-world MS-DOS with a modern, stable platform"?

It gets better:
XP really isn't all that new or stable. XP is based on what used to be called Windows NT, which Microsoft developed over many years as a competitive response to Unix. Yet XP requires you to do things Unix doesn't require, like restart your machine when you install a new application. That's the Windows legacy: XP has to work with software designed for previous versions of Windows, and programmers know that with Windows software, it's safer to tell users to restart the PC after a program is installed. This reflects the design of the core of the operating system, called the kernel. The kernel in XP is not fully protected against what application programs might do; the kernel in Unix is. So for all the hoopla about stability, XP still puts an extra burden on the user.

I love this. It's not just user-level disappointment that XP doesn't brush your teeth and file your nails and turn you into a Hollywood producer overnight. This is informed frustration from a technologist who knows what he's talking about. He sees Windows XP for what it is: a comic-book mosaic of blues and greens and oranges pasted on top of the same old Windows, replete with more monopoly-power leveraging than ever. He talks about how Windows Messenger is now integrated into the system and can't be turned off without hacking the Registry-- gotta kill AIM and ICQ and Yahoo, after all. Lawsuit? Shyeah, what's the government going to do? We've seen how much good they can do against Microsoft. We've seen how effective they are at making Microsoft stop leveraging their monopoly.

But then there's this icing-on-the-cake:
As many readers know, I've been using the Macintosh more and more at home. Apple recently upgraded its operating system to what's known as OS X. That is based on Unix. You don't have to restart your computer all the time. Managing programs and data is even easier than before. Of course, Apple is still the same old company too. But I'm beginning to think that Apple might actually be able to use such advantages to compete effectively. And I'm beginning to think that Microsoft looks like a company too wedded to past practices to keep up. Heck, what do they need to worry about with $38 billion in cash and net profits close to 30% on every dollar they collect? Yes, indeed, what does Microsoft have to worry about?

Exactly. Allsop gets it. Apple is willing to devote the necessary investment toward making computers better, not just selling more of them. I mean, think about it. All the new features in Windows XP are about making more money or capturing more market share (as if they needed to); Product Activation, single-machine license enforcement, WMA instead of MP3s, Windows Messenger-- they're all about kicking competitors in the teeth and diverting their money into Microsoft's coffers. But the new features that Apple puts into the Mac OS and its computers-- floating LCDs on desktop computers. FireWire. DVD burning. Application "packages" instead of a Registry. Final Cut Pro and all the new software they keep bringing out to go with it. Quartz. AirPort. I could go on. They're about improving the concept of the computer-- not just blathering about it on whiteboards in front of guys in ties, but actually doing it. Apple is about letting people do more and be more, while Microsoft just advertises about people doing more and being more. And that's the fundamental difference between Apple and Microsoft, and the reason why I will always endorse Apple for as long as they remain true to their vision.

Yeah, they're showing us the One True Way. And if that's the way of Satan, draw me a pentagram and kill me some chickens, baby.

20:20 - S0Xx0rz


I've said it before: there are few joys to compare with that of putting on brand-new socks.

Ever since junior high, I've worn the same kind of socks: those Crew-length ones you get at JCPenney. These socks have been continuously available for at least fifteen years, and I like them purely because the seams are on top of the toes, not right against your toe-tips. I hate that kind of seam. The JCPenney socks are the only ones that have it the way I like it. They're tube socks, so they gradually shape themselves to your feet; the seam says which side is the top, but after two or three wearings, the left and right tribes of socks have irretrievably separated into their warring factions, never again to be reintegrated into the Pure Sock Society-- forever separate but equal.

They haven't remained unchanged, though. These socks have always come in packages of six pairs; way back when, all six pairs had a different-colored stripe around the top. (A previous model had two stripes or even three-- how very 80s, now that I think about it.) I'd get a package of socks, and it would have a red pair, a navy pair, a dark brown pair, an aquamarine pair, a blue pair, and a yellow pair.

I think. It's been a long time. See, about six years ago, right about when I went off to college, they reduced the number of colors. A package of six pairs now had only three colors: red, navy, and brown. There were two pairs of each. This wasa major blow to me. Beforehand, it was easy: I had a single pair of each color; getting ready for school in the morning, I had only to find two socks with the same color stripe and I was on the road to sock-town. (Never mind that I usually had two packages' worth of socks, so there were actually potentially two of each side of each color.)

But now, the susceptibility to drawing socks of the same side and the same color was that much worse. In a sock population of two packages, there were now four pairs of each color-- meaning that I could sit there in the morning pulling socks out of the clean-clothes basket for minutes on end until I'd found five of the same color; only then would I be guaranteed to have a matched pair.

(To say nothing of the fact that I usually could tell which two socks happened to go together; they have the same "look" about them. So it often took even longer to get them sorted out into their proper registered couples.)

Well, now we seem to have reached a major cosmic change: the JCPenney Crew Socks, while seemingly unchanged in construction from their longtime configuration, now no longer have the colored stripe at all. They're just white. Pure, boring white. Not 80s-zany or 90s-neat; just... naughties-white.

At first I was furious. How dare they! I'd known this day would probably come-- the socks with the colored stripes were getting stuck further and further into the corners of the section in JCPenney, and the plain-white ones were encroaching on their territory. But I was determined to hang on. Well, the last time I'd been in there was about a year ago... and today, as it came time to refresh my sock supply, the conquest was complete.

I mourn.

But there arises new hope. See, now that there is no color to match, there is no need to paw through as many socks to find a matching pair. No more Balkanization of sock society. Granted, I now have to fish out thirteen socks from the basket before I can be sure I have a pair-- but it's from a much bigger, much less restrictive source. All socks are now fair game.

Could this be the dawning of a bright new era? As I take the first blinking steps into the glaring light, it's hard for me to tell. But I'm willing to see what's beyond, to explore the possibilities with a glad and open mind.

I told you-- I like putting on new socks.

19:56 - Hey, Adil's back...

The last few days have seen a lot of activity over at MuslimPundit.com, and it's all really good stuff: eyewitness accounts of what's going on in Jenin, historical perspective on Israel's various conflicts and their transformations in the public mind, links to new worth-reading blogs, and (as always) a whole lot of good reassurance that not all Muslims are insane.

19:52 - Al


The things I wake up with stuck in my brain in the wee hours...
Saturday, April 20, 2002
02:54 - Moto's losing friends...

Check out this article on osopinion.com.

The author, a self-described PPC enthusiast specializing in Altivec, paints a pretty grim picture of what life will be like in Motorola-land before too much longer. It feels like a rather biased article with a bone to pick, but it's also got a lot of (unfortunately) well-reasoned arguments and historical context to back them up. It's certainly educational, if nothing else.

Once again I reiterate, I hope to Jebus that Apple has a non-Motorola contingency plan in hand right bloody now.

02:50 - God, I'm dense.

Just saw The Sixth Sense tonight.

I guess I just have certain periods of extreme denseness that come upon me without warning-- and tonight I suppose conditions were perfect for my density to pass critical. After spending all day driving to Fremont and back, to In-N-Out and back, then to In-N-Out again (to give them a piece of my mind for forgetting to put the goddamed pickles on my burger for the third consecutive time and see if maybe they could sell me a whole jar of their pickles so I could keep it in the fridge to use whenever I get burgers that they forget to put pickles on-- and no, they couldn't) and back, and then to the video store to get the movie and to look in vain for The Game which they didn't seem to have any copies of, and then to the store to get more lemon juice after finding that Lance had thrown out my lemon-juice-and-cherry-syrup-and-club-soda drink that I'd put in the fridge for the duration of the ten-minute trip to the video store... yeah. I wasn't at my sharpest.

So when the Big Cool Secret Twist in The Sixth Sense comes, about three minutes before the end of the film, where the whole audience is supposed to sit there gape-mouthed and then smack their foreheads and go Aaaahh! Durr! I'm so STUPID! Of COURSE! ... I just sat squinting at the screen and wondering why it was ending so confusingly.

I didn't "get it" until Zjonni explicitly explained it to me over the credits.

And then on the DVD bonus features, they had whole commentary bits on how the directors put in all the little clues and things for you to follow, and all the places where they thought the gag was so obvious that they were sure the whole audience would immediately pick up on it and the whole rest of the movie would be given away. They seemed almost embarrassed over how easy they thought it was to "get it" even before the movie was half over.

God, I feel like such an idiot.
Friday, April 19, 2002
19:34 - Apple's CPU Prospects

There's a well-worth-reading and in-depth discussion over at USS Clueless' discussion boards where the members are pondering the possibilities for Apple in a post-Motorola world.

The sad probability, as Cap'n den Beste pointed out a couple of days ago, is that Motorola is heading straight for the toilet. That means Apple will be left high and dry without a CPU maker. What do they do? There are a lot of possibilities, ranging from going Intel (which would destroy them as a differentiated computer maker and eliminate compatibility with any existing applications) to using IBM's current POWER4 (their supercomputer chip) or G3 (effectively the G4 without Altivec). The latter choice sounds like fun, but they would definitely need a middle-ground chip somewhere between the two in functionality and price.

I dunno, though. Pretty much all the viable options are discussed in the thread, very capably too-- and I don't see much sunshine. As the Captain puts it, "every answer leads to disaster."

Maybe someone will pull something heretofore unknown out of his ass. It's happened before. But Apple had better have been working on a contingency plan, and have at least one good one in place right now. The Motorola road is losing lanes and getting more and more full of potholes and tar cracks, and sooner or later it'll turn to gravel and wander off into the desert. And we're running out of intersections where we can turn off.

17:55 - But... but... we were just kidding! Yeah!


Carney said the popular youth clothing maker had believed the shirts might appeal to Asian-American consumers, and was surprised by the hostile reception they received.

"The thought was that everyone would love them, especially the Asian community. We thought they were cheeky, irreverent and funny and everyone would love them. But that has not been the case."

This, boys and girls, is why most companies use focus groups. And don't ignore what they say.

15:57 - Picard to Opps, come in please...


"Oops"-- you know, the thing you say when you drop something or break something or accidentally forward spam to somebody in your address book-- is spelled "Oops", not "Opps"!

What is so difficult to understand? Double consonants do not mean a longer VOWEL sound. "Opps" rhymes with "cops". "Oops" rhymes with "loops"-- c'mon, pick up that box of Froot Loops that I know is on your table and peer real careful-like at the words and sound them out. I swear, I've seen people write to me saying things like "Opppppppps" when what they really mean is "Ooooooops". How can this be possible? What goes through these people's minds?

It's like that show "Ahhhhh! Real Monsters". You know, I'm sure you meant "Aaaaaah!"... because "Ahhhhh" is a sigh of pleasure.

Though that does lend an interesting sense to that title.

15:53 - Hey, this "hype" thing might actually work!

Mark Weaver of XFactor wonders why Apple is taking the decidedly un-Apple-like angle of pre-announcing a sneak peek at the next OS X release for WWDC 2002. Un-Apple-like, of course, because Apple traditionally announces new products at the same time that it unveils them; they seldom tell everyone beforehand that they will be showing something off, or even say anything that might potentially fuel the rumor mill.

Well, the times they are a-changin', it seems. Apple may finally have realized that rumors will be rumors, whether they try to pretend they have anything waiting in the wings or not; and if they say something, the added mindshare that it might get, the elevated level of excitement surrounding the actual launch, would offset any credibility loss they might suffer from people getting their hopes up over groundless rumors that they take as gospel.

What Weaver seems to have forgotten to mention is the pre-show hype that Apple put up on their website prior to the early January unveiling of the new iMac. Each day there was a new tantalizing slogan: "Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond." "Full Speed Ahead: Lust Factor Ten." Definitely not the stuff we'd come to expect from Apple, but apparently it was the beginning of a new phase of audacity in marketing, an aggressiveness in pushing PR that goes along nicely with the "outreach" effort they've been pursuing with the retails stores and the whole "5 down, 95 to go" strategy.

And now there's word that they're just about to start turning up the heat on the Mac OS X ad machine; maybe that's set to coincide with the release of 10.2, or 10.5 or whatever it's going to be called. They'll be flooding the airwaves and the billboards, now that those spots have seen the back of the retreating Windows XP ad blitz. It's time to press the offensive now, make up all that lost ground, and get the name into everybody's sights. If a few rumor sites get kooky ideas, hey, let 'em-- at least this way people will have somewhat more realistic ideas of what's coming, and maybe they won't be so disappointed when Apple doesn't come out with quad-core G5s and gigabit wireless FireWire and personal transporters and so on.

It's about flippin' time, says I.

15:26 - Haw!


Nice commentary on the times. Very well done.

You know, this is the tone that comic strips about the Internet took back in about 1995, when only a few people in the audience would have any idea what it they were talking about-- but those people were reduced to hysterics. For Doonesbury to mention "hard drives" or for Dilbert to dig at propeller-beanie-wearing bearded UNIX gurus was the height of hilarity. When User Friendly debuted, we thought the Apocalypse was nigh; when The Simpsons tackled topics like Homer starting up an Internet company that didn't really seem to do anything (but got bought out by Bill Gates anyway), or even the stumbling earlier attempts (that felt like those clueless 1995 comics all over again) where Snake steals money from people's bank accounts by putting floppy disks into their iMacs and then running away saying "Yoink dot adios, backslash losers!"-- it was clear that the mainstream had its new lexicon.

Now we've got blogs to make fun of, and most of the world doesn't know what they are. Prior to about December 15, I didn't know what they were either-- I'd never heard the term before. But then Lileks mentioned a few blogs that he read regularly, I checked them out-- and within a week I was blogging myself, posting like six times a day. Then at least three friends started blogging within the next two weeks. And now, four months later, the word "blog" is on the verge of reaching the print comics pages of hometown newspapers.

The print and mainstream media have approached blogging like wolves cornering a porcupine. They know that blogs are a potential threat, but they have no idea how to go about addressing that threat-- so some ridicule bloggers, some vilify them, some poke gentle fun, and some few actually run guest columns by bloggers in a gesture of symbiotic brotherhood. The bloggers have yet to really decide how they feel about it, too-- they swarm with great glee around high-profile morons like Ted Rall and Alex Beam, they rally behind Blogland heads of state like Lileks and Reynolds and Sullivan, and they trash the mainstream media probably more than it deserves to be trashed. The balance and symbiosis that will eventually emerge will probably look nothing like what we have today, and everybody knows it. We just can't predict what will end up happening.

So, "Blog" is today about where "Website" was in 1995. Where will it be in 2009? And what will be the new "Blog"?

12:53 - Virtual Parks-- Best Use of QTVR Yet


An enterprising photographer has decided to make QuickTime VR panoramas of just about the entire national park system of the western US and Canada. It's-- well, here's what it said in the QuickTime Newsletter that pointed me toward the site:

“Now that humanity completely dominates and influences the natural environment, my vision is to use QuickTime as an artform in the 2000s to help preserve what precious little wilderness is still left.”

So says Erik Goetze, publisher of Virtual Parks, a website with hundreds of incredibly photographed, large-scale QuickTime VR panoramas of North American wilderness.

Let Erik take you from ghost towns to lighthouses, from fields of wildflowers bursting with life, to the eerie, desolate landscape of California’s Mono Lake. Explore the John Muir Trail, or witness the first sunset of the new millennium off Point Lobos at California’s Big Sur.

Browse panoramas by geography, visual theme, best-of-site, or by alphabetic index.

It's a really nice site-- very smoothly navigable, fast, and very full of some of the best VR content I've ever seen. Give it a look, if you have any interest in the outdoors. And I hope you do. You don't have to be freakishly obsessive about it like I am (I spent the drive in this morning looking at every panorama and mentally adding different kinds of trees and different road systems and deleting buildings and imagining the Valley of Hearts' Delight-- as Silicon Valley was once known-- having developed in any number of different possbible ways), but I suspect that just about anybody will find something to like.

11:47 - Macs are Slow as Hell

Ah, this is refreshing. It's time for a good ol' "Why are Macs so slow?" article in a major tech magazine. It's been a long time since I saw one of these-- and one with this kind of candor is actually rather refreshing.

But I'm glad that it takes a real problem-solving approach to the issue and realizes that it's only certain things that are slow-- not just some woeful lack in the fundamentals of the hardware. What Wired is discussing here does not refute things like three-digit Quake frame rates or the G4's trouncing of top-end P4s in RC5 tests.

The slowness is all in the UI layer-- it's all OS X's fault. Granted, 10.1 is a huge improvement over 10.0.x in this regard-- it makes it usable rather than painful. But it's still not zippy or done-before-you-blink like Windows is.

That's right-- I use Windows machines at work every day, and everything I do on them-- opening a web browser, loading a page, bringing up the system clock, switching apps, opening accessories like Paint-- it's done before I've taken my finger off the mouse button. And this is on two-year-old 400MHz Franken-boxes, let alone brand-new P4-based workstations.

Kris constantly reassures me, when I raise these complaints, that the issue is exactly as Wired concludes: Mac OS X is very, very young. Their priorities are getting it out into the mainstream, making it compatible with hardware and building an application base, and making it just fast enough for it to be usable. And it is.

This is because the entire OS is written in object-oriented code-- C++, Objective-C, Java. OO is easy to maintain and allows for quick and efficient development of code, but it's slow. Procedural languages like C are faster, and as the code for the various parts of the OS stabilizes and matures, the engineers rewrite parts of it in C for the speed boost. And C, in turn, is really fast to write and slow to execute compared to assembly language-- so when the C code stabilizes, they optimize things further by rewriting critical parts of it in assembly.

This takes time. Lots of time. And the perceived speed improvements in Windows over the years have been as much due to these kinds of optimizations, occurring over the course of the last ten years, as to advancing hardware. IE has become a native kernel process, as one "minor" example-- the reason why IE launches instantly, while Netscape takes a few seconds to launch on Windows.

So OS X has a long way to go down this road, and I'm rather impressed that they were able to get such a candid confirmation of exactly that from an Apple spokeswoman.

The culprit, it turns out, isn't the new iMac's hardware, but its operating system, which Apple focused on getting to market first and bringing up to speed later. In order to let OS X support as many existing software applications as possible, "Apple supported a number of legacy technologies designed to ease their transition to the new operating system," said Nathalie Welch, the company's public relations manager for hardware.

As a result, Welch said, "We are merely at the beginning of the performance opportunities in Mac OS X."

You can bet that performance is still very high on the list of priorities. The 10.1.4 release which just appeared speeds up indexed filesystem searches by many hundreds of percent-- it would seem that a lot of OO code has been optimized in there. And they're not done yet. Not by a long shot.

It'll be a few years yet before OS X grows up. But when it does, just stay out of its way...
Thursday, April 18, 2002
13:16 - At least some things never change.

I don't have a URL for this-- it was on NPR, and I haven't been able to find it on the web news yet. But...

You know how there's that standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, with Israeli tanks in Manger Square and Palestinian militia holed up inside?

Apparently, a group of Japanese tourists went inside and started taking pictures.

Nobody had informed them that there was a war going on.

UPDATE: Some kind readers have furnished me with the URL.

11:41 - Al Qaeda's getting desperate...


Looks like just an accident... after all, the pilot radioed in an SOS beforehand.

And besides, if this was a terrorist attack, it's a pretty bloody stupid one.

11:31 - Oh, God.

According to this, the government is considering using Microsoft Passport as a means of central personal identification.

How long before the government requires that every adult in the country sign up for a Passport account? How long before Passport gets hacked-- possibly by unfriendly foreign nationals who now have more to gain than simply people's credit-card numbers? Now they would have the census database of the entire US?

How many catastrophic and embarrassing mistakes does the government have to make with implementing Microsoft software before they deem it "too great a risk"? Remember when that Navy destroyer went out with an experimental machine running Windows NT manning the helm-- and it crashed? And they had to tow the ship back into port?

Isn't it a little bit sickening that the government's "Chief Technology Officer" is considering adopting the very technology that IT departments all over the country-- including the one at my company-- refuse to let inside the building because of its demonstrated insecurity and its network intrusiveness?

Okay, in this case I'm all for the government dragging its feet.
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
03:16 - Hey, keep up the good work, guys!

Remember a couple of months ago when Microsoft announced to the world that they would abruptly stop pursuing "more features" as their primary development goal, and instead focus on "more security"? How they would place security above all other priorities? How they would rework all their corporate action policies to take security very very very seriously indeed, thereby to address the long-standing, well-supported, and unwavering public perception that Microsoft software is about as secure as a cat on vacuuming day?

Well, gee, guess what: there's another egregious IE security hole. And it's easily exploited, requiring the user to do nothing more complex than press the Back button.

And Microsoft refuses to acknowledge that it's a problem.

"Originally, I was only able to produce the same result when the user pressed the refresh button," Sandblad said in an e-mail. "I contacted Microsoft about it in November and they confirmed the problem. On Feb. 28, I received mail from them saying that they didn't think the problem was serious enough to fix."

"Later, I e-mailed Microsoft with additional information, describing how it was possible to trigger the same flaw with the back button. A couple of days later I received a mail explaining that they might fix the problem in a future service pack. I told them that I was planning to go public with the vulnerability but that I could wait if they could convince me that they were going to fix the issue in reasonable time. They didn't respond at all."


"Why the hell did they put a back button into the browser toolbar if they didn't want me to use it?" Martin Montez, a stockbroker, wondered. "I'm one of the few people in the world who actually reads the manuals and there's no warning anywhere that using the back button could compromise your system."

Microsoft's spokesman said that the company "remains vigilant in our commitment to keeping users information safe and will be addressing this issue in an upcoming release."

Yeah. Of course we believe you. After all, what reason could you have to lie?

What I'm waiting for is the Big One-- the security flaw that results in a huge amount of lost national-security data, bank customer information, or critical government files. Something that will get the Big Boys so seriously pissed-off at Microsoft that they will smush them into the dirt like a big, indolent cockroach.

I'm almost sad to see that they're abandoning .NET so early-- because it was our best hope to date of seeing that happen.

19:14 - Microcosms

In our weekly meeting today, our group leader was talking about a discussion he had been having with the VP of Engineering. The topic was product quality, which I mention only for context. There's been a fair amount of disagreement around here among the developers, Marketing, Customer Ops, and the executive staff as to where our company's weaknesses are and how we can best tackle them. Some say perceived quality is our biggest Achilles' heel, others think it's about product functionality and diversification and placement. Our boss told the VP that "I don't see that there's much consensus that quality is where we should be investing right now."

The VP replied, "I'm not looking for consensus. Sometimes you just have to be a leader, and convince everybody that this is where we need to be going-- not to just wait until everybody agrees on something."

It's relevant in business, and it's just as relevant in international politics.

16:51 - What you say!

An NPR commentary on the recent revelations by the Mexican council of Catholic bishops that there had indeed been a history of sexual abuse by priests said that up till now, priests who had problems with sexual misconduct had been "reassigned to other parts of the country."

...Where, presumably, they don't have children.

15:38 - No point in wasting time...

I'm getting less and less patient with people who urge patience-- about taking care of business in Iraq and other such places. Like the WAMM (as mentioned in Lileks' bleat today) and the other peace-activist groups who think we should just wait, negotiate, and dispose of all our military weapons. "Weapons kill and injure people, pollute and destroy the environment, fuel hatred, divert funds better spent on domestic needs, devastate families and communities, and create a false sense of security." Uh, yeah, and your point is what?

Let's have some WAMM member's daughter get blown up in a coffee shop, or have their headquarters get firebombed and grafitti'ed, and we'll see how evil and unnecessary they think weapons are.

But what gets me is this idea that we should solve these problems by waiting and thinking. As though that's helped any in the past 6,000 years. As many have noted lately, the longer we wait and do nothing, the closer Iraq gets to having nuclear weapons and citywide-deployable anthrax. But that's okay, as long as we don't provoke them, right?

Uh huh. Tell that to Lower Manhattan.

These are the same people-- or people with the same attitude-- as the ones who "appeased" Hitler, and who let the Microsoft antitrust case drag on for five years while their monopoly grew more and more unbreakable-- to the point where even if the case had turned out to rule against Microsoft, any punitive action they could take would be utterly meaningless. (Oh wait-- the courts did rule against Microsoft? Why, so help me, I never even noticed! How could I have overlooked all the damage Microsoft suffered as punishment?)

I can only assume that when the government drags its feet on some issue like this, it's because they're taking their time to ponder and think and make sure everybody will be happy. They're weighing all the options, building a case, gathering the troops, and making sure they have complete justification for everything they plan to do. Government action is often slowed down so much by negotiation and politics that they're brought to a complete standstill, while the issues they're arguing over trundle on by.

Presumably there's a reason why they do this. Presumably they legitimately fear a backlash if they were to act rashly.

But I have to ask this: When was the last time the government ever suffered under accusations that it was acting too quickly and boldly?

In the case of Iraq, scuttlebutt at InstaPundit is that we're waiting only as long as it takes us to rebuild our weapons supply:
We still have a lot of bombs to build before we take out Iraq.

At the end of last year, people noticed that we had greatly diminished our stockpiles of smart bombs and non-nuclear cruise missles in Afghanistan. I recall (but do not have a citation) that the general guestimate was Sept/Oct of this year to build enough ordinance to drop on Saddam.

In the mean time, the US is playing the Israel/Palestinian game to make the rest of the Arab world go nuts. The US supports Israel, plays with Arafat, and hopes to rope a bunch of dopes into our sights when the bombs start dropping. Until we have the bombs we need to end this quickly, we're going to do what it takes to keep the Middle East and the numerous maniacs that inhabit it looking like the evil idiots that they are.

Once we have enough bombs, we'll know who to drop them on and this will come to an end.

Well, we'll find out soon enough whether that's the case.

WAMM opposed the war in Afghanistan, before it began-- presumably because it was to involve weapons. Now, naturally, they oppose any action against the Palestinian suicide bombers, because that would obviously make us "executioners" (and dynamite belts don't count as "weapons" because they're not military, I assume).

Yeah, if I were bin Laden, and I saw that a hated oppressor nation had people in it who talked like this, I'd attack it too.

15:13 - Not quite a conspiracy theory, but...

Another nugget of joy from David Newberry-- a transcript from a recent PBS show about the Freedom of Information Act, atomic testing, Watergate, and the Bush administration's behavior since 9/11 with regards to putting all government accountability on a need-to-know basis.

Give it a read. It's worthwhile stuff.

It also has worrisome little bits like the following:
President BUSH (FROM TAPE): Yeah. I – uh – heh – yes. There needs to be balance when it comes to freedom of information laws. There are some things that when I discuss in the privacy of the Oval Office – or national security matters – that should just not be in the national arena. I'll give you one area, though, where I'm very cautious and that's about e-mailing. I used to be an avid e-mailer. And I e-mailed to my daughters or e-mailed to my father. And I don't want those e-mails to be in the public domain. So I don't e-mail any more. Out of concern for freedom of information laws, but also concern for my privacy. And, uh, but we'll cooperate with the press unless we think it's a matter of national security or something that's entirely private.

Indeed. So in other words, the President doesn't trust the security or privacy of e-mail enough to use it. Which tells us, I suppose, even if we'd previously dismissed Carnivore and Echelon as harmless anti-terrorism tools that only the paranoid feared, that we should have legitimate cause to avoid e-mail? That if even the President can't guarantee his own e-mail privacy, we certainly can't assume that our own privacy is any better guaranteed? The fact that his worries stem from his e-mails being a lot more likely to contain matters of national security interest than yours or mine is not really at issue, nor is the fact that the people he's trying to protect his e-mails from are the General Public rather than malicious hackers. The principle is the same, and the message is the same.

It's called "eating your own dogfood" in the software industry: Visibly use your own product, or else nobody will have faith in it. Why should people use Windows 2000 when Hotmail runs on Suns and FreeBSD? Likewise, if the government is avoiding e-mail because of privacy concerns, that should freak us out.

Once the war is over, I hope we step back and take a good long look at the things that the government has done lately to seal off its accountability from the scrutiny of the public. And we need to keep Ashcroft on the run-- we need a few more black eyes for him, like the one he was just handed by the Supreme Court over the child-porn case, to show that he has no public mandate to keep us all in the dark and under thought control.

It's still 1974, and we still don't need no education.

13:25 - If you can't beat 'em...

Well, this was certainly an unexpected twist.

A British firm called Coderus has just announced a development API toolkit called MacDX. This product's lofty goals are nothing less than an implementation of DirectX for the Mac.

They claim that this has the potential to cut porting turnaround time on DirectX games from months to days. Which in turn would pretty much eliminate any of the economic commitment barriers preventing game developers from releasing Mac versions, which until now have had to be developed for OpenGL and GameSprockets/OS X HID.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this-- the gut reaction is naturally "Feh! More stooping to the lowest common denominator! More crawling on the floor for scraps from Microsoft's table!"

But then, the more I think about it, this is probably going to turn out to be a very significant benefit-- and almost without drawbacks, in fact. Considering that this article is an exclusive pre-story before a much longer one in the upcoming MacWorld issue, it seems many people are hailing it as such.

And with good reason, I would venture. Okay: Idealism is one thing. Native Mac applications have their set of philosophical standards, their UI guidelines, their Cocoa frameworks and their open-source spirit. We can revel with pride in those. But games... well, it's been a long, long time since games had any visual or operational bearing on the platforms they ran on. The line between PC and console games is blurring more and more with each passing day. (Think back to 1993-- and imagine a TV ad for a game, like Doom for instance, that is being released simultaneously for PC and the currently popular consoles. Wow! Freak show! Remember what happened when they tried? Remember that so-awful-it-caused-permanent-brain-damage port of Wing Commander for the SNES?) UI issues are a thing of the past; every game now has its own interface and its own set of controls, and there's no dependence on Windows control methods or even any understanding of how Windows works. Port a game to the Mac and it looks almost exactly the same as on the PC. So where's the "purity" argument?

There really isn't one. The only complaint I would have is about users having to install this implementation of DirectX in order to play games developed with it. But apparently that's not going to be necessary:

A developer-level solution, MacDX furnishes an application with DirectX- interfaces and functionality, so the product runs as it would on a Windows PC. Thomas explains: “The MacDX interface provides a development path to the Mac OS platform, which gets the most out of your existing development investment with minimum development-time required.”

So this isn't going to be like a "DirectX emulator" or a Classic compatibility box. It's something for the developers themselves to use, and end-users would see nothing but the usual game installation. And it would just work.

If this works as well as Coderus claims, it could well open the floodgates. After all, how many people do I know who say with wistfulness and considered thought, "Gee, I'd like to buy a Mac-- except there are so few games available for it"? A lot. The perceived lack of a game library is a very big part of what's keep people off the Mac right now.

Why didn't anybody see this coming? Was it that off-the-wall an idea? Did people just not think it was possible to port DirectX to another platform?

And if this was possible, what about DirectX on Linux? Huh? Huh?
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
22:43 - Hey, maybe there's hope after all...

I had planned to sit out on the topic of today's decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the earlier law that bans any depictions of children in sexual situations, whether there were children involved in creating those depictions or not. I figured that surely someone else (probably someone further east who got home and started blogging earlier than I do) would weigh in, and more efficiently than I could in any case.

Well, surprise surprise-- Steven den Beste leaps to the podium:

No-one I know defends anyone who gets off on child porn. Neither do I. But that's not the issue involved. The point is that this particular kind of material can be produced without children being harmed. Given that, the Court just decided that Congress could not ban it.

The government's argument, which the Court rejected, was that the existence of this kind of material was a danger to children anyway because it might induce those who viewed it to go out and molest real children. But as soon as you accept that argument, you've opened the flood gates. Does that mean you should be able to ban racist hate speech because someone who hears it might later go out on a lynching expedition? Or ban books about jewel thieves because those who read them might become thieves? Indeed, for almost any kind of expression, popular or unpopular, can't you produce a plausible reason why letting it be expressed might cause someone to commit a crime of some kind?


This decision gave Ashcroft a nice black eye, too. He'd been winning every battle he stepped into ever since 9/11, getting all kinds of measures put into place that never would have flown prior to the attacks. He's been cruising for some come-uppance, and this is just the kind of smackdown that he deserves. The Supreme Court has shown itself to have a more thorough understanding of the First Amendment than he does, and they believe in it more strongly.

I'm also glad to see a Supreme Court ruling go in a positive direction-- because it means you don't have to read those words that set my teeth so neatly on edge: The counsel for the prosecution said that they were disappointed with the verdict, but that they would appeal. This was the Supreme Court, bub. No appeals for you.

And good luck trying to slip something like this into our coffee again, unless you're willing to wait until the whole Supreme Court is staffed by right-wing control freaks appointed by some despotic lunatic who thinks he's acting For Our Own Good.

13:52 - Little do they know...

I love this.

Lately, on the way out to lunch or randomly where I happen to be in the office, I'm doing my usual vaulting-off-handrails and leaping-in-the-air stuff. (David says I must burn 6,000 calories a day just being me.) And people who walk by look back with bemusement and say,

"You've had a bit too much sugar today!"

Uh huh. I haven't had sugar now for six weeks.
Monday, April 15, 2002
01:06 - Oh. ...Right.

I had something I needed to mail out to somebody today; I was thinking, on the way in to work this morning, that I would swing by the post office over lunch, get a mailer envelope, and send it on its merry way and be back at work before my test run had completed.

But then I realized-- oh yeah.

Never mind.

I'll do it tomorrow.

00:47 - More about Selfishness and Religion

As has happened an eerie number of times lately, Steven den Beste and I have independently arrived at very similar topics to write about. In this case, it's about the role of selfishness in religion.

He has a correspondent who writes:

Anyway, when I did teach morality - and even in the other subjects, since morality came up all the time - I always got very tired of the constant student refrain, "Why should we (fill in the blank)? Why be honest? Why wait until marriage? Why be pro-life? Why care about the poor?

And then one day, I shot back another question in response to theirs:

Why not?

As den Beste immediately points, out, this is a shift of the burden of proof-- and I would like to note that such a shift is epidemic to religious thought. You will always run across such reasoning in creationism-vs-evolution debates, for example. And the reason is that shifting the burden of proof onto the nonbeliever is the biggest logical weapon that believers have in these kinds of debates. "You have to prove that God doesn't exist," they say. And because it is scientifically impossible to do this, the Babel Fish argument notwithstanding, they will claim victory.

The crux is that religions tend to have axioms of ineffability. These axioms are what render any scientific reasoning useless. "You can't use things like dinosaur bones or radiocarbon dating or cosmology to say anything definitive about the nature of the universe, because God could have made everything look however He wanted to." It's impossible to argue against this. We can't know anything for certain about anything beyond "I think, therefore I am"; based on that foundation, any postulate that requires absolute certainty is by its nature one-sided. Science is based on theories that continually change; religious dogma, as den Beste points out, is based on stated truths that even science cannot assail on its own terms. The two sides use different rules.

I'm agnostic; by definition, that's pretty much the only thing a scientist can be, as I learned through long, sleepless discussions in darkened libraries with friends in college. In science, we can't be sure of anything, let alone the existence or nonexistence of an omnipotent force in the Universe that can choose to obscure itself at will (or indeed to manipulate the perceptions of the humans who try to contemplate His nature). Science is about proceeding based upon the facts we have been able to prove; nothing is assumed to be true unless we can prove it. This is the opposite approach from the dogmatic one, or even from the atheistic one: both dogmatists and atheists know the truth about God. Scientists know that knowing about the patently unknowable is impossible, and so agnosticism is the best anyone can do.

Anyway... after discussing these kinds of issues for a while, den Beste turns to the idea of selfishness. His tack on it is not the same as mine from yesterday (that religious belief tends to be based fundamentally on selfishness), but I believe it's related: he says, using the correspondent's letter as a prime example, that selfishness is taken to be an axiomatic evil in Christianty. If anything you do is selfish in nature, you are acting counter to the will of God and you must change your lifestyle.

And ever since, it's become my handiest moral decision-making tool, for myself and to share. Try it. Think of your most pressing current moral dilemma or even spiritual growth issues and apply that question. And see if the only answers you come up with don't make you feel like the biggest snake in the grass ever, and move you a couple of feet closer to doing the right thing.

Why not give more to the poor?

Why not tell the truth?

Why not address your children with a little more patience?

Why not apologize?

Why not go to Mass this morning?

Why not pray tonight?

Honestly - aren't the answers coming into your head along the lines of, Because I want more stuff. Because I'll be embarrassed. Because I don't want to make the effort. Because it will wound my pride. Because I don't feel like it. Because I'd rather watch television. Because I'm afraid of what I'll lose.

Sheesh. Can I feel any more selfish? Can I be any more convinced of my need for God's grace to overcome these stupid reasons not to act out of love?

Funny-- these aren't the reasons I think of when I ask myself "Why not" do these things. My responses are about social responsibility, discretion, social grace, being right, and knowing from my own scientific experience that praying and going to Mass aren't going to make my life (or anyone else's around me) better-- not when I can be doing things for other people based on my own motivations, rather than based on the assumption that if I can't come up with a good reason not to do something, I must do it. There are some things that don't need to be rationalized. Why not go attend the pro-Israel rally in San Francisco today? Because while it's a nice idea, my time is better spent elsewhere, and will provide more of a benefit in the long run. This isn't selfishness, even if we accept that selfishness isn't inherently evil. It's just practicality.

But that's still avoiding the issue that I wanted to return to before closing. Selfishness, I believe, is seen as such a hideous crime in religious eyes specifically because so many people's religious thoughts are founded on their own selfish desires to get to Heaven. They may know subconsciously that that's exactly what it's all about-- and oh, the guilt they feel. Hence their need to decry it all the more in other people, when it's manifested in secular guises. It's the same reason why we saw the 9/11 hijackers in strip bars, using cell phones and wearing expensive sneakers-- the symbolic rejection of such temptation is the whole basis of their spiritual cleansing. When Muslims, Mormons, and the Amish take field trips in their youth to Las Vegas, there to revel in the hedonism of it all and then virtuously reject it-- they're illustrating exactly this phenomenon. Denial of a human instinct on one front so they can have it in a more "pure" form elsewhere.

Don't be selfish in secular matters, say the Christians, and you can safely be selfish about going to Heaven.

Be chaste and ascetic and embrace death, say the Muslims, and you get endless sex and debauchery in Paradise.

It's a double standard, yes. And that's part of what I find so repugnant about organized religion: it's designed very carefully to manipulate these basic human urges-- calling people to deny them so they can be rewarded later by indulgence of those same urges.

I prefer not to be manipulated, thanks. I like to think I can decide what's right and wrong on my own, and act according to the rewards I expect to get directly from those actions. And that, right there, is what makes me a secularist.

...Anyway, on another note. I was sort of hoping nobody would catch me omitting the bit about how there are female teenagers blowing themselves up in the West Bank as well as young men; so what's their motivation? Surely it isn't those 72 membraneous virgins, is it? Nah, I kinda doubt it. But rather than completely puncturing my argument, I think it's more likely just an example of there being a spectrum of motivation for the suicide bombers. Some honestly believe in the 72 virgins and all that. Some don't really believe it, but they're idealistic and desperate enough to blow themselves up anyway. And some are simply miserable and want a way out, one for which they will be remembered.

Which is still serving one's self-interest, come to think of it.

05:26 - 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.

05:00 - 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.
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© Brian Tiemann