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:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Thursday, May 23, 2002
00:52 - Sparse (if any) blogging till Monday...
http://www.humguide.com/kinetic/

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My college chum Allison just flew in, and I'm about to crash now so I can get up early-- we're driving up to Arcata to attend the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race there. I have no idea what it is, other than it looks bizarre and fun.

I wish, for the third time this week, that my camera weren't in being repaired. Maybe I'll take my old one, the one with the SuperDisk media and the missing USB cable so I won't be able to extract any of the pictures. It'll be so I can take a bunch of shots, and if I get any good ones, I'll feel bad; but if I don't, then I'll feel okay. Neat plan, eh?

We might be able to rig up a network while on the road, in which case I'll blog as conditions permit. But chances are that I'll be incommunicado until Monday night, after marching in the Memorial Day parade in Ukiah and driving approximately 14 hours from there to Arcata and back down to San Jose.

Whatever I end up typing then probably will be less than edifying.

17:56 - Eric Conveys an Emotion
http://www.emotioneric.com

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Reaction 1: What the hell is this?

Reaction 2: This is the funniest, most original personal website I've run across in an extremely long time.

Reaction 3: Boy, blogs can certainly take on some odd forms, can't they?

Reaction 4: Hmm, this guy lives in Mountain View. Yay, a local boy!

17:45 - Aww.
http://www.jpost.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=JPost/A/JPArticle/Full&cid=102

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Remember the PizzaIDF site, where you could order pizzas and Pepsi to be delivered to IDF units in Israel?

Well, seems the party's over now-- the military has apparently gotten just a little bit too nervous about the idea of soldiers happily accepting flat boxes from people they'd never seen before.

I guess that's smart, but... damn. Here I was thinking that the nature of war really had changed-- the "Home Front" this time, rather than driving rivets into Liberty Ships, is surfing websites and sending pizza to the boys in the field. But I guess reality is reality.

4,000 deliveries, though. That's not bad...

16:55 - Exterior Desecrators

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Apparently we've been trying to get the front deck at our company repainted for a long time now. But every weekend when it's been scheduled this spring, it's rained. And you know, when you paint large wooden structures, there's this whole "needing to dry" thing that gets in the way.

Last year we repainted it for the first time, but within a week it had bubbled and peeled and had to be redone all over again. And now apparently they need to strip it and start over from scratch.

That's fine with me; whatever works. But I wonder if, this time, they'd consider painting it some other color than "diarrhea".

16:53 - Finally, the amoebae are safe
http://www.protozoa.us/

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It's the .protozoa.us TLD! Yeah, whatever country has the .us domain group is probably going to make a fortune from th-- oh, wait. Never mind.

Anyway, take a look. At last, the Internet is safe for protozoa to take part freely without fear of being targeted by predators.

11:16 - "Ease of Use" is a Misnomer

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Comparative descriptions of the Mac versus the PC have always talked about "ease of use". Back to the earliest days, and up to the current day, the main selling point for Macs has been that they're easier to use; the PR copy for every new Apple product talks about the Mac's "legendary ease of use". This may well be true; certainly it's been what has sold most of the Macs that have been bought by new computer users daunted by technology.

But I think it's an unfortunate term, and counterproductive in the push to sell Macs to people who are computer-savvy. Most PC users (who are less than open-minded or curious enough to explore different platforms for themselves) think, "Ease of use? Who cares? I know how my computer works. I don't need it to be made more 'easy'." And so they tend to dismiss the Mac with the same prejudicial disdain that seasoned Internet users have for AOL, thinking that it's targeted for undemanding users and therefore inherently has only limited functionality. And therefore they never see what advantages the design of the Mac platform has.

What I think would be a better term to describe the Mac OS is elegance. It's a term that most of the savvy tech press already uses, fortunately, and even uses correctly: it describes what in engineers' lingo is something that is "done right". It's the kind of implementation of technology that you just look at and think, "Well, damn, there's no better way this could have been done. It all just makes sense." Engineers love elegance. We might shun ease-of-use that exists only for its own sake (e.g. AOL); but we praise and worship elegance above all other goals. It's the mathematicians in us, seeking the proof that can be completed in the fewest and cleanest steps, the most understandably and obviously to the reader. And that's what the design of the Mac is all about, which is why the hard-core geeks who use Macs do so.

For us, Mac advocacy is not about destroying Microsoft, or being rebels, or supporting a cool and charismatic leader (though those things are nice bonuses). What it's all about, for us, is making sure that the elegance of the Mac design does not go extinct. We look at Windows, with all of its glaring design flaws, many of which we still have to live with to this very day, and we see a system that looks like the refugee starbase in Titan A.E.-- a software shantytown, a monstrosity that's been cobbled together with so many successive hacks, so many incomplete spackle jobs and coats of paint, without ever stopping to rebuild the foundation, that while it may work, it causes a reaction of revulsion in the mind of any engineer who contemplates it. Everyday PC users have learned to ignore these flaws and to work around them, and to accept them as "just part of using a computer". But if the system had been designed properly in the first place-- had been "done right"-- they'd only be distant memories.

Let's look at a few of these little quirks that Mac users have never had to deal with, but that are par for the course in the PC world.
  • Drive letters. Back in the early days of DOS, it was simply common knowledge that your floppy drives were A: and B:, your hard drive was C:, and for those rich souls who had CD-ROM drives, it was D:. To do any DOS operations on files, you would switch from disk to disk by typing the drive letter at the prompt. That was Just the Way it Was. Boy, what a primitive time, eh? It sure is good that we don't have that anymore, right?

    Yeah, well, guess what: the drive letters are still there. Windows still shows them to you. If you have to do any DOS stuff, especially on remotely mounted volumes, you find yourself staring at prompts like O:\> and S:\>, and you'd better have your path set up properly, or else you won't be able to do a lot.

    Whereas with the Mac, whenever you insert a disk, it pops up on the desktop with an icon that reflects what kind of medium it is and whatever name or label you chose to put on it. It's not an alias for anything low-level; it's not inserted into an arbitrary priority ordering scheme like in DOS. It's just another volume. And its name is My Disk, or October PSD Files, not D:. It doesn't even matter what drive a disk is in; the icon leads to the disk, wherever it is.

    Granted, there are some benefits to having your drives addressed by letters that correspond to physical drives. If you have two optical drives, for instance. Hmm, which drive is "Giants: Citizen Kabuto Disc 1" in? I guess I have to check both. But then, because all drives have always had software eject mechanisms on the Mac, you never have to touch a physical button to get a disc out; you just eject it in the OS and out it comes. Wouldn't it be nice if PCs could do that?

  • Filename extensions. Remember this?


    Filenames were never meant to incorporate that stupid three-letter extension into the actual label of the file itself. Just look: the 8-letter basename and the three-letter extension were displayed in different columns. Even back in the early DOS days, the people who designed the 8.3 filename format considered the basename to be the filename, and the extension was merely file-typing meta-data. You can see that in the fact that you could run executable .EXE, .COM, and .BAT files by simply typing the basename without the extension. It was purely for convenience that the filenames were stored in such a way that you could address a file by referring to its name and its type in combination, e.g. MYFILE.TXT. Ideally, there would be content negotiation like with HTTP/1.1, where the same basename would be used for similar files in different formats; you could address a file by its basename, and the application would choose the proper variant.

    But that never caught on. And because of the limitations of the 8-letter basename, people started using the extensions as a legitimate and inextricable part of the filenames. So you got archiving systems like ARJ that created files with names like FILE.A00, FILE.A01, FILE.A02, and so on-- mocking the concept of registered extensions used deterministically for file-typing. Then, Windows came along, and filenames were now displayed in proportional screen fonts, with the extensions tacked on to the end of the filenames, no matter how descriptive, long, or natural-language the basenames were. And filename-extension mapping and display were spackled into law.

    And now we have this:


    Ah, progress.

  • Remember the 640K Barrier? Marcus just told a customer in his store, who was converting to the Mac from Windows and was frustrated that his PC would only accept 640MB of memory, that "Well, 640MB should be enough for anybody." They stared at each other, then broke into hysterical laughter. Then the guy bought a Mac.

    One of the most daunting terrors in the early DOS world was the 640K Barrier. Because of shoddy design work, DOS couldn't support memory sizes greater than that (well, actually 1MB-- though the upper part was mostly reserved for low-level drivers and stuff), and so users had to choose between the competing "expanded" and "extended" memory formats, both hacks that mostly worked-- but were incompatible with each other. Some programs would only run in the base 640K, and not in expanded or extended memory-- so users had to try to squeeze the most space possible out of the lower 640K, by loading device drivers into the "upper memory blocks" that existed in the attic above 640K. (Remember LOADHIGH? How about EMM386?) Lots of trial-and-error, lots of hoping-and-praying, and lots of wondering what kind of mental illness could have produced a design this hemorrhagingly bad.

    As with filename extensions, complementary artificial limitations led to compromises and crappiness for all involved. And it wasn't until Windows NT/2000 and finally XP that the home user was finally rid of all the vestiges of that memory model-- because now it was on an entirely different OS platform, and the old one had been jettisoned and retired rather than redesigned properly and elegantly.

    Now, granted, the classic Mac OS' memory model wasn't exactly ideal either. Because it wasn't designed for multi-user functionality or to have all the robustness inherent in server OSes like UNIX, the Mac's memory model was an unprotected one where the user had to manually set "preferred" and "minimum" memory sizes for their applications to run. Most applications came with appropriate values for these settings filled in already, and smart installers would tweak them according to system configuration. But it still wasn't exactly a picnic. Still, though, the interface for modifying these values was made as elegant and streamlined as possible under the circumstances, and was eliminated entirely in OS X. And oddly enough, OS X is what's attracting so many new geeks to the Mac who appreciate elegance in design-- and who may have been put off until now by the memory model.

  • No Unique File IDs. When you move a file from one place to another in the DOS/Windows filesystem, its path through the folders-- which is the only definitive way to locate or address the file-- is changed.

    See any problems with that?

    I sure do. What if you have shortcuts or aliases pointing to it? What if you have applications (such as MP3 organizers) that expect to find the files in a certain place? Those things become instantly useless if you move the target.

    On the Mac, files have unique identifiers-- so if you make an alias to a file or program, and then you move the target somewhere else in the sytem, the alias will still point to it. Wouldn't that be nice to have on Windows? And you know, that's the whole reason iTunes works so well: toss an MP3 file into it, no matter where in the filesystem it is, and from then on iTunes will always know where to find that file, no matter where you move it. It will keep track of it through its unique ID, and will only lose track if you delete the file.

    Same goes for applications. Ever find it annoying that you couldn't easily install anything anywhere other than "Program Files"-- or if you did, you couldn't then move it to somewhere else, because it had hard-coded the path to parts of the application into the Registry? Hard-coding is one of the ugliest, most godawful thing you can do in programming, and any coder who has any sense of elegance or design will recoil in horror when a program does this. But on the Mac, you can install a program anywhere you want, often by simply dragging a folder from a disk image into wherever you want to put it. Move it anywhere else in the system, it'll still run just fine. To delete an application, you throw it in the Trash. No "uninstallers", no Registry cleaning. Just delete it.

    See, this isn't just ease of use. This is proper design. This is why Mac people get warm fuzzies from using Macs.

  • The Registry. Microsoft wanted a way to emulate the Mac's ability to "know" where an application was (through its unique file IDs and the Desktop database), so apps could see if each other were installed and quickly access bits of data about the system and each other. But as any Windows user knows, a central database like the Registry that is definitive leads only to pain and suffering. How do you rebuild the Registry if it gets corrupted? You can't; you have to reinstall everything from scratch. It's not merely a cache, which the Desktop DB on the Mac is. On the Mac, each application registers its four-letter signature and the Type codes of the kinds of files that it will accept for opening, and the Finder and other apps can then know instantly, even pre-emptively, whether an app will be able to open a file that you've dragged over it. And if the Desktop DB should become corrupted, well-- you just run a "Rebuild Desktop" job, and the system takes that same information from the definitive repositories in the applications themselves. The Desktop DB is only there for speed. It's central, but it can be rebuilt. The Registry can't.

    I hardly need to say what else is wrong with the Registry. Again, anybody who has used Windows is aware of the pain it can cause-- how ad-ware and spy-ware can hide in it, and even non-malicious software can leave keys strewn all over it; how applications can collide, using the same keys and being unable to co-exist; how you can never completely un-install even some commercial programs; how manually editing the Registry is an ordeal we wouldn't wish upon our worst enemy. And Microsoft's tech support recommends that you reinstall Windows every six months anyway, preferably with a nuke-and-pave so as to clean out the Registry. This is why Windows servers seldom run more than one service at a time, incidentally-- not for performance reasons, but because nobody can predict what kinds of interactions might occur in the Registry. When it comes to ugly hacks that make engineers' skin crawl, the Registry is the prime poster child. And it's nowhere to be found on the Mac.

  • Limited Window Position Memory. Did you know that Windows does not keep track of the window positions and settings of all the folders in your system? Nooo. It only knows about the last sixteen windows that you've opened. It doesn't keep folder window settings in a cache along with each folder, like the Mac does; no. It keeps them in a separate buffer in the OS, a very small one at that.

    This may not be true in more modern iterations of Windows, but it certainly was in Win95/98. And if it's fixed in current versions, I'd wager it's because they've simply increased the buffer size, rather than re-architecting the system. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about-- if they'd "done it right", this kind of problem would be unthinkable.

  • No global drag-and-drop. On my Windows machine, I frequently find myself grabbing a URL from a browser window and trying to drag it into an application. In some special cases it works, but globally I'm out of luck-- I have to manually Copy the URL, then go to my destination and Paste it. Every time I have to do that I groan in exasperation. Because on the Mac, I can grab any text in the system-- any text, not just URLs-- and drag it to any other place in the system, and it will be copied and dropped (with as much of the formatting and style preserved as the destination will support). I can toss URLs from one browser to another or into an ICQ window with a flick of the mouse. Ever wonder how you could possibly get by with a single-button mouse? Well, how about by not having to use the right button for anything? That's proper design-- the kind of thing they didn't have to do, but they did, all because it was the right way to design something. It was hard, but they went the extra mile to make it something they could be proud of, not something that they simply expect people to tolerate.

  • Shortcuts. UNIX has links, either hard or symbolic; the Mac has aliases. Windows, however, was the last of these operating systems to develop such a concept-- and they did it in the worst conceivable way possible.

    UNIX hard links are simply duplicated identifiers for the same inode, and symbolic links are just pointers that refer to a file or directory. Any "pipe" operation on a link-- an operation that reads or writes data to the target-- is performed on the target item instead of the link itself. Other than that, it's just an invisible little placeholder in the filesystem. Symlinks don't keep track of their targets, though-- so if you move a link's target, the link will go dead.

    Mac aliases work the same way as symlinks, except that because of unique file IDs, the aliases will continue to point to their targets even if you move them. Furthermore, aliases have embedded data in them like "folder actions", modem scripts, AppleScript events, and other things that should be executed when the alias is opened-- for instance, if the target is on a remote server, the alias will know to open your network connection and mount the server to get to the alias' target. Aliases are thus "files" in the filesystem, with the data needed to get to the target-- but all applications display them properly as aliases.

    But Windows "shortcuts" are the worst of both worlds. They're ".lnk" files in the underlying filesystem, so applications can't access their targets-- they're just impenetrable files. But those files don't keep any useful information or any ability to extend the action executed by opening it. They're just special files that can only be executed by Windows-- an ugly hack, one that gives the user the requisite functionality, but in a way that makes both UNIX and Mac users cringe. And they can't keep track of their targets.

  • Only One Bootable System Folder. C:\WINDOWS is it, baby. (Or C:\WINNT, or whatever.) You can't rename it or move it. Of course not. Hell, you're not even supposed to upgrade a Windows system-- you're supposed to back up your data, nuke-and-pave the disk, and install the new OS from scratch.

    On the Mac, you can have as many System Folders as you want. You can have an OS9.1 one, an OS8.6 one, an OS7.5 one, and an OS X one-- and the OS lets you select in software which one you want to boot into next time. If they're on different disk partitions, you can hold down Option while you're booting, and you get a visual menu with all the bootable Systems that you can choose between. They all coexist happily, and they can be anywhere on the disk you want them to be.

    Similarly, you can hold down C to boot from the CD-ROM, F to boot from the first FireWire device, S for the first SCSI device, and so on. If there's a floppy drive, and the disk in it isn't bootable, the system doesn't collapse and lie on the ground bitching and whining like a PC does-- it ejects it and boots from the hard disk.

  • Booting in Text Mode. I mean, come on. This is 2002, for Christ's sake.

Whole websites have been devoted to the stupidities of design in DOS and Windows, and I don't need to replicate their efforts here. But I just wanted to give a good sampling of the kinds of things that engineers who appreciate elegant design find so repugnant about Windows, and that cause so many of us to gravitate toward Apple as a company that "gets it". Since they live and die by innovation and radical change, they can afford to do the foundational renovations that true steps forward and proper design require.

With Mac OS X, we're having to make some concessions to the ugliness of the Windows platform, purely for the sake of compatibility. Filename extensions are a front where we've surrendered and compromised. If networkable filesystems had been designed properly in the first place (e.g. if AppleTalk had become the standard instead of SMB/CIFS or TCP/IP protocols like FTP and HTTP), we would have complete filesystem meta-data available to all files to tell us their types and creators and version numbers and previews and all sorts of attendant information. But we've had to give up that dream so as to interoperate with a computing world that has standardized on much more limiting protocols. And so a great beauty is lost forever.

Most PC users don't think about this sort of stuff at all. During casual computing, all that matters is surfing the Web, working within Word or Photoshop, sending e-mail-- actions that take place within applications. That kind of user experience can be made infinitely elegant by application developers who know what they're doing, and interaction with the actual OS can be minimized so that it's hardly a bother at all. So the flaws are covered up and forgotten, and layered over with boards and plaster so that all anybody sees is the pretty surface, and doesn't have to think about the gruesome mess underneath. Elegant design becomes a lost esoteric art, and computers become a necessary evil, like government or the phone company-- and no engineers can imagine getting excited about working with it.

We Mac geeks don't want Apple to take over the world. We know full well that they'd become as bad as Microsoft, or worse (Microsoft is certainly better equipped to run as a despotic monopoly, and would please its shareholders better). We don't want all our Windows-using friends to switch platforms, and we don't want Mt. Rainier to erupt and drown Redmond in the collected effluent of seven thousand years of untreated sewage from Satan's public-works infrastructure.

No, all we want is to make sure the world remains aware that proper design is out there, and that having it die out and Windows to be the only OS in the world would be like leaving the unicorn off of Noah's Ark.

There's a reason why we call it the Joy of Tech.
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
14:43 - iPod for Windows?
http://www.thinksecret.com/features/ipodwindows.html

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Should Apple make a Windows version of the iPod?

That's a question that people have been asking now for months-- ever since the November introduction of the device. "Sure, it's great," everyone agrees. "But it's Mac-only! Why in the hell would Apple artificially lock out 95% of their potential market?"

Well, first of all, they've sold hundreds of thousands of the things, just to Mac users and to Windows users who are willing to use XPlay. And, not to forget, a significant number of Windows users who have then gone on to buy Macs. They're not having trouble moving the things off shelves, even at their prices. The iPod is really just that good.

(Today at lunch: Johnny, who had never used an iPod before, was looking up a song on mine that I wanted him to hear. He was muttering, "Bad! Bad interface! I can't figure this out!" So I reached over and twirled the dial-- and he stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh!" It's that millisecond of realization, when suddenly you understand how the rotary-dial interface works, that it isn't all clumsy push-buttons like everything else-- and suddenly, a few more seconds of exploration and you understand the interface from top to bottom so well that any other way of doing it seems completely brain-dead. By the time he was done listening to "Zero to Phantom", he was saying, "Okay, that's it-- I want one of these. Next paycheck. I will get one of these." He'd had a Rio and an MP3/CD player, and he'd stopped using both because the interfaces were so dumb. But now he's in love.)

But here's the decision: Does Apple a) make client software for Windows that opens up the iPod to the rest of the Windows market, so they can get the full ease-of-use experience that Mac users enjoy? Or b) keep the iPod's full functionality limited to the Mac platform, so Mac people will feel justified in using Macs, and Windows people will have an incentive to switch?

According to Think Secret, the Infinite Loop marketeers and engineers have been toying with option a)... and not just as described above, but in the sense of creating a completely different device for Windows users. It'd still be an iPod, it would still use FireWire, but it would involve "hardware and design tweaks" specific to that model. In other words, Mac-only and Windows-only models.

Fortunately, that idea seems to be in the scrap heap now. I say "fortunately" because I think it would be a spectacularly bad idea. Here we are trying to be the paragon of interoperability and open standards adherence and playing nice in a heterogeneous environment, and look-- iPods that actively widen the divide and can't be shared by friends across platforms. Yeah, brilliant.

No, I like the original choice better-- whether it would be more lucrative to simply make Windows software for the existing iPod so as to sell millions more to Windows users, or else to keep it Mac-only and sell more Macs to converts.

The latter is what they're doing now, and it seems to be working awfully well. Besides, if they do Windows software, it'll be very hard to put a positive PR spin on a later decision to kill the Windows version if that should come to pass. Remember how much outrage there was when Steve Jobs killed the clone market? He destroyed the business plans of five or six companies with a stroke of the pen.

So personally, I'd like to see Apple stick with the current plan. The iPod is another Apple perk-- just like iTunes, iMovie, and iPhoto, something for David Coursey to mutter and smirk about and jerk his head suggestively in its direction. Sure, it makes people grumble when you say "Yeah, it's Mac-only"... but that's what makes Macs desirable, and not just expensive PC clones that do the same stuff.

With some eight people (soon to be nine) in my company now toting iPods, only three of whom have Macs (though more and more of them are buying Macs because of the iPod), I think it's a sound plan. They're doing just fine.

11:10 - Y'know, this is getting kinda monotonous.
http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2865139,00.html

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It's getting so the articles on ZDNet are now a pleasure to read, rather than something I avoid like the plague. This time it's a Coursey column on photo-manipulation software, namely After Shot from Jasc (the Paint Shop Pro people); and while he likes the software, he has two problems with it:
  • The photo-manipulation software that's built into Windows XP obviates the need for 90% of After Shot's features
  • He's spoiled from using iPhoto, and by comparison both After Shot and the built-in XP stuff blow monkey chunks.

It's already gotten to the point where whenever there's a tech-press article about MP3 players, you're guaranteed to see the iPod mentioned at least once; if the article is about DV editing, it won't be able to avoid mentioning iMovie, even if it's a PC-centric article. iTunes has similar mindshare among music organizers. There hasn't been an article about new-PC design in months that hasn't mentioned the new iMac. (Hell, the Chrysler Crossfire concept car which showed at Geneva recently was touted as having translucent gauges and a sleek interior design that are "iMac-inspired"-- though I suppose that means they're still inspired by the old one). And now, even though Coursey is trying to review a piece of photo-editing software for Windows, and speaking to a Windows audience, he can't resist throwing in a dig about iPhoto. Nothing blatant, nothing confrontational, just the kind of "You know-- all this would be so much easier if you just got a Mac" line that PC users hate so much to hear from smug Mac people.

Welcome to the Dark Side, David.

Speaking of PC people, though-- it's a ZDNet article, which means (yes, you guessed it) TalkBack Morons!

"Apple has DEVELOPED their entire platform - the OS MacOS X is just a part of that platform."

And I'm really tired of all those naysayers arguing that the GUI was really invented by Xerox's PARC and that Apple just stole it faster than M$.

This is the company run by his highness SJ and I think one of Steve's ancestors was the one that invented the wheel.

Come on, Apple has been around forever and has invented evverything related to computers. If you go to a computer museum you can even see a little Apple logo on the back of ENIACs behind all those tubes. Hell, Apple invented the vacuum tube itself!

Oooooh, he's trying sarcasm now! Doug and Dinsdale Piranha would be so proud. Look at 'im, he's using dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire. He's vicious.

As (fortunately) this person's respondents sternly note, this whole "Apple stole the GUI from Xerox PARC" blood-libel is yet another urban legend from the late 80s that people just won't let go. To use a term that's been popular in the blogosphere lately, these people ascribe moral equivalence to Microsoft's whole-cloth theft of Apple's GUI and to Apple's having incorporated some ideas from a non-profit corporate think-tank whose purpose was to develop ideas to be incorporated into commercial products.

First of all: Apple was already working on their GUI before they ever visited PARC. They'd already developed menus and icons and a mouse-driven UI, and when they saw the SmallTalk demo at PARC, they were inspired (by the sight of such a thing in action) to develop it still more fully. They then paid Xerox for the intellectual property and hired PARC engineers such as Jef Raskin and Bruce Horn to head the UI development team at Apple. PARC would never have considered developing their SmallTalk system into a product for themselves or for Xerox-- their purpose in existence was to generate ideas to be further developed by other commercial entities.

So then, Apple licensed an Application Suite (which included a large part of the Mac UI) to Microsoft so that they could develop apps like Word and Excel (or their immediate precursors) for the PC; this licensing was done under duress, as Bill Gates had threatened to pull those applications from the Mac unless Apple gave them the code which would allow them to use the same kind of cool windowing stuff on DOS. Then Microsoft took this Application Suite, reverse-engineered it, massaged it, and out came Windows 1.0. (That's why the function names in Windows were the same as in the Mac codebase-- as those who recall the early Apple-vs-Microsoft lawsuits will remember.)

This whole story is told by the people who were directly involved in it, namely Raskin and Horn, over at MacKiDo.

Anyone wanting anti-Apple myths and slogans to chant will need to invent new ones, because I'm sick of hearing this one.
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
21:51 - Get Your War On
http://www.mnftiu.cc/mnftiu.cc/war.html

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Okay-- this is good. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Ten pages of hilarity, as Marcus put it-- and it's the kind of humor that you feel really guilty, or maybe at least naughty, for finding funny. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those willing to find laughs however serious the subject.

It starts in early October, which means that the earliest strips are the best-- it's a raucous takeoff on the post-9/11 fervor that had us all running around in confused shrieking circles, and it's quite a time-warp to see it through this lens. It gets less good as time goes on, though, and the relevant issues become more subtle and divisive. Ah well.

Enjoy...

15:14 - Do Servers Need GUIs?
http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2866486,00.html

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Hell yes, they do.

This ZDNet article represents the third AnchorDesk pundit who's weighing in on the Xserve, and his opinions seem to be drowned out by those of the people he's interviewed.

"Sys admins are not impressed by screen candy. And let's face it, there's no such thing as a 'server for the masses.' The masses don't need or use servers; systems administrators are the folks who baby-sit servers. Less is more in server land, and cute GUIs are not a plus. At best, they consume machine resources that could be going towards useful work. At worst, they get in the way," expounded Lynwood Hines. "Face it, there are very few Mac-centric networks out there. The market for this thing is tiny. I wish them all the luck in the world, but there's nothing earth-shattering or society-changing about this server."

See, there's a trap waiting for those who are too eager to dismiss Aqua as "cute": they fail to notice that these administration interfaces are designed with sysadmins in mind. More than that, they're designed by sysadmins and geeks-- people who have been able to let go of the ego-driven spotlight of Computer Literacy (about which I wrote several days ago) and realize that a well-designed GUI is a Godsend-- even to geeks.


Anybody who dismisses the Xserve as "just another 1U box" hasn't watched the keynote presentation of its introduction. There's so much in there that just doesn't come out in the bare spec sheets. It's ninety minutes long, but if you've got that much time to spare, do yourself a favor and watch it (click on the picture); you'll see what I'm talking about.

(Life is about the fleeting little moments. That's why I wrote about yesterday's sunshowers this morning. It's impossible, even with a camera, to capture all the little flashes of color, all the subtle shifts and glints of air and water and tree and metal and distant mountain that made yesterday's drive home something I wished could have lasted for hours. I could have written about it until the post's length overran the size of a MEDIUMTEXT field, and you still wouldn't have experienced what I experienced. Likewise, you can stare at a spec sheet all day and mull over numbers, but unless you watch the presentation, you won't know sublime joys like the mass giggle Phil Schiller got when he described his TiBook as "the administrator's tool of choice", or seeing him add an Xserve that was "over in the Piano Bar" to the monitor list, or hearing the shh-TUNK as Steve slid the stage demo Xserve back into its slot in the rack. It's these little joys, these little moments that make Mac users believe in the greater vision-- because it all seems so real, such a shared experience. We're all up there on stage with him.)

The Server Monitor application is a perfect illustration of "whole-widget" engineering; it will tell you when a fan goes out, cross-monitor with the temperature of the CPU that fan protects, and let you speed up the other fan to compensate until you can swap in a new one (which, by the way, can be done without a screwdriver or even powering-down the server). It will send e-mails or pages to hierarchies of recipients (starting with the lowest-level, first-tier, then graduating to the next-tier guy if the first-tier guy hasn't woken up yet) whenever some alert happens, according to your configuration. Sure, an astute UNIX geek can rig up the same thing using healthd, cron, weird sendmail aliases, and some home-grown Perl scripts-- and that geek will feel awfully proud of himself for having done so. (Trust me, I've been in exactly that position before, many times.) But even the hardest-core of IT geeks will see the benefit-- or at least, they will if they're worth their salary-- in having that functionality built-in, easy to use, attractive (and therefore likely to encourage you to use it-- don't discount the psychological aspect of software that creates a pleasant environment), and complete-- thus saving him all the time and effort of putting that rig together.

When the vendor is solving your problems for you, only an idiot will argue.

In the same vein, Server Admin is the kind of thing that Apache administrators secretly long for. Sure, we can feel all smug about knowing how to tweak the httpd.conf file and then type "apachectl restart". But listen: Remember when you had to manually grep the process table for the master httpd process and kill -HUP it in order to restart Apache? Remember when apachectl was first introduced-- it was a vast improvement, a single centralized command that gave you complete control over the server processes without having to delve into the ps table? Remember how a little voice in the back of your head told you, Hey-- hey! That's the sissy way out! Stick to grepping for PIDs, dagnabbit! Remember telling that voice to shut up, because apachectl was just so damned slick and useful?

I've got a secret for you: Apple's Server Admin app is exactly the same kind of thing as apachectl. It's an attractive, easy-to-use shortcut. It's a centralized piece of functionality that saves you time. Because it's so dang easy, your whole IT body will rebel against you as you reach for that mouse-- but if you're worth your salt, you will immediately realize the freedom that having a one-button server start/stop button gives you.

And yes, you can open up the details of the configuration and change it all on the fly. And it's much better organized than in httpd.conf, for which it's all a front-end. Apache configuration front-ends have been written before, and they've always been eschewed by the purists-- until they try them, and grudgingly realize that to use a GUI is not such a hateful form of selling-out as they might at first think-- because even geeks strive for ease-of-use. That's what apachectl is. A geek trying to make his life easier.

Watch the keynote, and you'll see what I mean.

Mind you, I'm no CLI-hater. I wrote half of a thousand-page book about how to administer a UNIX server through command-line tools, and I spent a lot of those pages describing cool hints and tips and ways the savvy IT guy can make himself even more the master of his esoteric domain. I can tell you how to make Sendmail sing, how to dish out DNS, how to brew up a firewall that will zip up your network to be totally airtight without ever having to grovel with your hat in your hand before the doors of a commercial software vendor.

But I know a superior solution to an age-old problem when I see one. And if Apple's tools can make my ability to write a Sendmail filter irrelevant, then by gum I've got some brain cells to retask to something more important.

Now, one might say that Windows' server GUI has already solved these same problems. Well, sure, I reply. But you know... one thing Windows never solved is complete headless operation. To use the GUI, you had to stand at the local machine, with a monitor and keyboard and mouse hooked up to the rack panel, and a KVM switching between the machines. There are some funky centralized tools for Windows network administrators, but every single one of them looks exactly the same-- "Component Services", "Computer Management", "Distributed File System", "Event Viewer", "Internet Services Manager". Every one of these tools has the same layout-- a hierarchy of objects down the left column, details on the right, and the option you want is always grayed-out. As is so often the case with Windows, the functionality is there, in a basic form-- but it's impossible to figure out. Windows administrators often lament that they wish they had a command-line interface to use, because the GUI is just so unconscionably bad. And in any case, most of these tools can only be used from the local console.

The Xserve is a "best of both worlds" platform. You've got command-line UNIX administration if you want it, but IT engineers who understand the value of their time will quickly discover how valuable it is to pop open a single remote-administration application, press a couple of obvious buttons with instant visual feedback, and be done with their task. And for people who appreciate a GUI already, but who wish it could just be understandable, and would just work without cursing and spitting and chicken-blood sacrifices, and would let you do it all remotely without having to go into the server room and figure out how to work the damned KVM-- a few minutes playing with an Xserve from an iMac in the next room will make a believer out of any of them.

Oh, and it all comes for free with the server. I keep not forgetting to mention that.

(By the way, the presentation talks about RAID, including striping and mirroring; so if you watch it, you'll see plenty of discussion of that and other topics that look like liabilities on paper, only because the spec sheets don't adequately explain what's going on.)

It remains to be seen whether the Xserve will sell well. But some IT people will buy them, and word will spread. Word tends to spread in IT circles.

And if Apple has indeed "done it right", as all visual evidence suggests they have, then the people who continue to cling to the merits of GUI-less server platforms for lack of a good counterexample will have one fed to them with great gusto by their peers.

09:48 - Sunshowers

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I wish my camera were not down in Torrance getting repaired.

Two evenings ago, I was so distracted by the huge multicolored clouds gathering at sunset that I spent no less than an hour leaning out my window, staring out across the valley, unable to bring myself to sit at my computer and do e-mail and talk to friends. The clouds were jagged, broken, and heavy-- very weird for late May around here. The air smelled like vegetation, and there wasn't an insect to be seen or heard. All I saw were neighborhood cats sniffing around the tires of my car, then moving on down the street and tripping the motion-sensor lights in people's driveways.

Then, yesterday, we had an unseasonable storm. It rained all day. But it wasn't the heavy, sullen rain that we usually get; instead, it was all sunshowers, as Chris put it-- off-and-on flurries of sometimes intense rain, back-lit by patches of sunlight that lit up the trees and glinted off each individual raindrop. Every region of the sky was a different color; some places were thick with ready-to-fall rain, some were illuminated pinkish-gold, some were clear blue. At any given time during the day, we could look out the plate-glass window that covered what was once our loading dock, facing westward toward the Cupertino mountains, and see the greens on the trees and the colors of the parked cars more vividly than during any clear and sunny day. As the sun started setting, the rich light streamed into the lab area, fighting its way through the clouds that still kept trying to throw streamers over it.

On the drive home, the sun was lighting up the jagged edges of the weirdly westward-moving cloud shreds over the western side of the valley; but as I came through downtown San Jose, and just as I passed the downtown buildings with their deep blue and silver and gold reflective surfaces (and the repeated Kiki's Delivery Service line in my head: "I sure do love this city"), we hit first a veil and then a torrent of water. All of eastern San Jose was still staggering under a different front of the attacker. We felt it all night-- and I heard, also, that across the mountains, in the exotic otherworldly regions of Sacramento (which as far as we're concerned may as well be on another continent), tornadoes and hail were forcing the populace to dive for cover.

This morning, the colors across the street are fading and brightening, and the air is drenched-- like it's going to start shaking itself off like a dog. The storm seems to be largely over. The clouds have turned fluffy, though they're still jammed together.

And when the air is this freshly washed, the views are spectacular.
Monday, May 20, 2002
01:09 - Against all odds...

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On the ever-widening subject of the "Warriors-vs-Soldiers" metaphor espoused over at USS Clueless and responded to here (scroll down a few entries), and in response to my statement (regarding Apple) that "When you're outnumbered twenty to one, you'd better be warriors and not soldiers-- it takes different tactics," James A. Wolf writes me thus:

Two words... Rourke's Drift.

Rourke's Drift was an 1879 Boer War battle in which fewer than 200 British soldiers fought off an onslaught by some four thousand Zulu warriors. As has been discussed in Carnage and Culture by Victor David Hanson, and also in James O. Gump's The Dust Rose Like Smoke (which I remember reading in college), the British won through being disciplined and steadfast, rather than by adopting unconventional ("warrior-like") tactics to counter what was actually a very well-organized attack (the Zulu were trained under Shaka and Mzilikazi, brilliant tacticians by any standards). So where I had suggested that any vastly outnumbered party is well served by going "warrior", it would seem that we have a good counter-argument here.

But the other half of Gump's book, discussed in opposition to the Rourke's Drift battle, is Custer's Last Stand. The numbers of Custer's cavalry and the Sioux fighters were fairly comparable to those of the British and Zulu, and the fighting tactics of the respective sides were similar. And as we know, Custer's column was annihilated. They were outnumbered, they fought like soldiers, and they lost badly.

Granted, the difference between the outcomes of these two battles can be ascribed to the quality of the leadership as much as to anything else; Custer and his lieutenants were ineffectual and incompetent, whereas the British command at Rourke's Drift were highly professional. But these are both such isolated cases that it's hard to tell what of the many variables involved had a hand in determining the battles' outcomes, and which ones didn't matter. (For instance, Custer's unit and the Sioux both had fairly similar rifles to fight with-- but the Zulus were using spears and shields against an entrenched nest of Martini-Henrys and Lee-Metfords. And Gatling guns.)

It seems to me, though, that there's some difference rooted in whether the outnumbered party is defending or attacking. A highly regimented but small force can hold off a much larger attacking party that is less well disciplined. Rourke's Drift illustrates this success, and the WTC is perhaps the converse-- a small group of guerrillas on the attack, drawing down unstoppable regimented and soldierly force in retaliation.

But when the outnumbered party is on the defensive, well... history is full of examples of where guerrilla warfare has succeeded in defending against an attacking or occupying force of regimented and disciplined soldiers. The mujahedin drove out the Russians from Afghanistan. The American Revolutionary militia drove out the British. William Wallace mowed down the English army in Scotland. In each of these cases, it was unconventional tactics and individual initiative that really spurred victory for the outnumbered warriors-- who, if they had behaved like well-trained soldiers, probably wouldn't have had a chance.



Now, this whole argument goes rather beyond my original intent, which was simply to extend the metaphor which Steven den Beste began-- that Microsoft and Dell are soldiers, getting the job done with no fuss and no muss; while Apple is a warrior, shaking its AK-47 in the air and ranting about ideals, which drives off as many potential converts to its cause as it attracts.

It's not really clear whether the Apple guerrilla warriors are on the defensive or the offensive; it seems that it depends on who you ask. PC users will probably claim that Apple is under attack, defending an ever-shrinking piece of ground. But Mac users, watching all the new product announcements and using the new hardware and riding the current euphoric wave, will tend to say that Apple is on the attack. Whether or not it means (historically) that it would give us a good fighting chance, we who see Apple as being on the offensive are probably more willing to defend Apple's "warrior" stance, because of how much more romantic it is and how well it meshes with ideals and reality.

(Chris (a Linux man), interestingly, was pondering the above division while I was out of the room-- and when I came back in, he had come to the disturbing realization that because he saw Apple as being on the attack, that meant he was on Apple's side. Interesting Rorschach's test, there.)

But, again, I'm leery of applying these military metaphors too directly to the behavior of technology companies. The reason I extended den Beste's metaphor was to illustrate that if Apple were as pallid and un-showmanlike as, say, IBM or Dell, then nobody would be a Mac fan or an Apple zealot, and the company would be long gone. It's on the strength of a segment of the computer industry who applauds Apple's flamboyant, "warrior-like" behavior that Apple continues to exist at all. We like being part of what feels like a revolution, cheering Steve Jobs as he shakes his AK-47 up on stage. It's because we believe in the same ideals of computing and technology that he does that we've aligned ourselves with his company; and if that company behaved like everybody else, we wouldn't be touching it with a ten-foot pole.

That's all I meant.


15:54 - From the "Be Careful What You Wish For" Department...
http://www.pvponline.com/newspro/archives/arc4-2002.html

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Scott Kurtz of PVP (which has a pretty smirk-worthy cartoon today, if you're so inclined) has an interesting take on the whole Phantom Menace let-down phenomenon and how Episode II fits in in a post-letdown fan society. He's had an epiphany, he says, and he may indeed have a point:

I'm tired of talking about Star Wars. I'm exhausted. The debates, the arguments, the speculating, the spoilers, all of it. Somwhere between RETURN OF THE JEDI, and THE PHANTOM MENACE, I stopped loving Star Wars and started loving "being a star wars fan."

Somewhere between the late 80's and now, it became more important to talk about the movies, speculate and philosophize about the mythos, than to just like the movies themselves. Somewhere along the line, I stopped loving STAR WARS and just started loving being a geek about Star Wars.

I was one of those people who felt hurt by THE PHANTOM MENACE. I was one of those guys screaming about how Lucas "raped my childhood." I'm one of those guys who has spent the last three years debating the issue with all my other geek friends.

Last night, sitting in that theatre, waiting for five hours to see a movie, I think I finally came to my senses. PHANTOM MENACE didn't destroy Star Wars. PHANTOM MENACE made me realize how silly I am for putting such an intense importance on a series of movies. MENACE didn't make me hate Star Wars, It made me hate being a Star Wars Fanatic.

Luckily, George Lucas gives us fanatics everything that we want in CLONES. Absent are any mention midichlorians or virgin births. All the cheesy lines are delivered by the droid we grew up with rather than a new CGI created character.

It really feels as if this time around, Lucas had at least one person holding him back and reminding him not to do anything that might upset us zombies.

So my non-review of CLONES is a message to all you fellow fanatics out there. Take it or leave it, I really feel it's the truth.

If you don't like ATTACK OF THE CLONES, you have no one to blame but yourself. George Lucas didn't ruin Star Wars for us. I think we ruined it for him.

Hmm. Could be, could be.

I know Lucas has expressed a certain scorn for the "fanboy" element in recent interviews; in the Time cover story a couple of weeks ago he talked about them as though they all resembled nothing so much as the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, whining and demanding. But maybe he's taken the fan-demand element so seriously now that he's trammeled in and unable to explore new story possibilities...? Is his creativity being hemmed in by fear? Has he given in to the critics?

If so, it should be sobering for us all. Sure, maybe Episode I sucked-- but at least it was surprising and kept opening up new vistas. Now that the gap between the Early Story and the Late Story is closing up, there's less and less wiggle room for Lucas to get creative.

That may be Episode III's biggest challenge: tying together the two ends of the storyline without being predictable as hell. And still more importantly, without it being drudgery for him, instead of the intensely personal act of creation that it's supposed to be.
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