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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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
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 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
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 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
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  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
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 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
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 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, June 2, 2002
03:44 - Spiwit, bwavado, and dewwing-do

I just saw Spirit tonight. And despite the worrisome marketing angle, despite the seemingly pandering nature, despite the fact that almost none of my animation-loving friends seem to have any inclination to see it, I really enjoyed it. It was all the things that I predicted it would have, when I posted about it a couple of weeks back.

Like all such things, it has its good and bad points.

Bad points:
  • Really atrocious song-soundtrack by Bryan Adams. Featureless, uninspired soft-pop-glop songs that dribble out one after another, they illustrate some of the emotion of various scenes (and act as a surrogate for elided dialogue), but if you heard these things on the radio you'd forget the damn thing was on. It wasn't sufficient that the Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions; he's clearly still a threat. Maybe war-crimes accusations are in order.
  • Slightly too many aaawwww moments for my taste... but then, this thing is marketed primarily at pre-teen girls, so I'll allow them this conceit. It'll probably actually be more bearable without said pre-teen girls squealing and cooing in the seats behind me throughout the whole movie.
  • I take some issue with the gratuitousness of the setting changes. Sorry, but you don't get to go from Yellowstone to Monument Valley to Yosemite on foot.
  • Similarly, how many horses does it take to drag a steam locomotive on sledge rails up a mountain? Would a 150-horsepower engine (like the one in my Jetta) be able to do the job? No, didn't think so.

Good points:
  • Outstanding animation, probably the best and most pleasing blend of "look" I've seen to date. Since all the characters are modeled in 3D before being rendered by hand in 2D, there's a lot of camera rotations and a lot of shots that would have been very expensive before; we've lost a little bit of sharp spontaneity in the decreased pure-2D, but what it makes up in directorial freedom is immeasurable.
  • Hans Zimmer's orchestral soundtrack is delicious. I think I'll have to pick this up on CD. God bless MP3 players and the ability to make playlists of just some tracks and not others.
  • Gorgeous backgrounds and set pieces. This is one of the most visually stunning animated features since The Iron Giant.
  • This is about the most dialogue-free animated feature I've ever seen. Most of the interaction between characters takes place in horse vocalizations and facial expressions, and it's done shockingly well. You think you wouldn't be able to tell when a horse is saying RUN? Trust me, you would.
  • The resolution of the "villain" plot is both innovative and supremely satisfying. It's the least trite ending that I've seen in a long time. Katzenberg should be very proud of having pulled it off the way he did.

As I'd hoped it would be, it's a paean to the art of animation and the visual backdrop of the American West, and any allegory that might be present in it is obscured by the purity of the character piece that forms the movie's backbone. There are some nods in vague, disparate directions to larger movie-type issues: the Noble Redman, the Heartless Bloodthirsty U.S. Cavalryman, the Relentless Manifest-Destiny Push West. It's got elements of that whole Dances With Wolves milieu that makes you shudder at the sight of the Stars and Stripes. But when that resolution comes at the end, and you see into all the characters' hearts in a blinding instant and understand all of their motives and values without a single word being spoken, you can do nothing but smile-- the Indians aren't perfect after all. The Cavalry are just trying to do a job. The railroads represent a great sacrifice on the part of the pristine wilderness, but what we buy with that sacrifice-- say those wordless gazes in that blinding instant-- is well worth it. Things change, says the movie. What's important is not that you stand firm against the very concept of something you don't like or even understand. What's important is making the most of what time we have, riding the waves of change, and helping to modulate them. You can't stop a rising tide, but through your actions you can help it be a good thing rather than a bad thing.

The feeling one is left with, upon exiting the theater, is that of the nature of legends: a hero can do great things in his lifetime, but it's only after he's died and the world has changed that the true power of his legend is realized. Likewise, the wilderness that plays such an active character role in Spirit is a legend, a myth-- but we never would have appreciated it to the degree that we do now if we had never lost it.

If the World Trade Center were still standing today, we'd still be giggling at the Klau Khalash vendor in the plaza and barely giving a glance upwards at the nondescript duoliths casting those huge shadows. But now, those buildings are raised to the level of myth. Memory and legend makes them greater than they ever were.

... Anyway. It's been a pretty good weekend, all considered. Babylon 5 movie marathon, DV editing, and emulated video games. It's a rest I needed.

Oh, and Lileks is proposing a Star Trek-style "odd movies good, even numbers bad" scheme for the Indiana Jones series.

14:58 - This isn't the time for goddamned aphorisms, either.

It was brought rather smugly to my attention recently that Patriotism is the belief that your country is better because you were born in it.

I would counter this by re-emphasizing that the biggest American patriots seem to be those who immigrated here.

Also, in the same conversation, I was directed to a Slovenian proverb that says People should sweep their own doorsteps first; the point being that we should concern ourselves with issues like the FBI extending their e-mail surveillance powers and so on before we start doing drastic things like bombing terrorist camps and anthrax factories.

But you know, you don't worry about sweeping your doorstep when the fucking house is on fire.

Yes, it sucks that the FBI can snoop my e-mail, and that Hollings wants us to burn our MP3 players and D-A converters, and that my car is due for a frickin' wheel rotation. But Jesus Christ, man, I think we're capable of prioritizing matters here. And I think we're capable of addressing more than one issue at a time.

13:57 - On the Burial of the WTC

Via Cold Fury, Pejman Yousefzadeh has a thoughtful and worthwhile post about the end of the WTC cleanup, the ceremony, and what America means to a first-generation citizen like himself.

I've always noticed that the fiercest defenders of something are always the most recent converts. Fiery young Muslim extremists come from Lindh-esque rallying for a cause. Mac zealots are easiest found among those who have just bought their first Mac. And the biggest US patriots, the ones who most clearly grasp America's founding ideals and hold them in higher regard than anyone else, seem to be the ones who have just become citizens themselves.

After all, to change one's nationality means a pretty drastic idealistic decision. Someone willing to make that decision will tend to have the force of conviction behind it.

I said in the past that I have a practice of viewing American society as an outsider. I have been an American all my life, but as a first-generation American, I cannot help but set myself apart at times, and view my country and my compatriots the way an outsider might. And I repeatedly find that Americans are a curious lot. Andrew Sullivan pointed out that we don't want to be bothered, really. We want to pursue this particular dream that we have, and we would like it if the world left us alone to pursue it. We don't particularly lust for an empire, or for hegemony--we take up the task of superpower out of a sense of obligation, not out of a desire to bestride the world like a Colossus. There is no song exhorting "Rule Americana." Many of us would be perfectly happy to be able to drop all of this superpower stuff, and take our society closer to the principles and ideals that bind us as a nation.

Then, something invariably intrudes on that dream. Something inevitably threatens those ideals. Something unfailingly presents itself as a mortal peril to America.

And almost immediately, this introspective American society turns to face that intrusion, that threat, that mortal peril, and wages a singleminded, passionate war to defeat it. The transformation in the national mood is akin to the transformation from night to day. Whether that war is fought with guns and tanks, or with stealth and diplomacy, it is fought by Americans with ardor, strength, intelligence and vigor. There are defeats, setbacks, botched schemes and foolish plans in the course of that war, but in the end, America ends up winning. Those who attack America and those who underestimate Americans, end up being astonished at the speed of America's response, annihilated by the ferocity of America's power, and ultimately aided by America's magnanimous generosity.

We don't like making war as a nation. And we despise it as individuals. Some people foolishly pronounce Americans as warlike. In the Blogosphere, we "warbloggers" have even been stupidly called "bloodthirsty" by those who just don't understand. No one I know covets a state of war. We would all prefer peace. Were I to find anyone who lusts for war, for war's sake alone, I would recommend their institutionalization--after I finish giving them a sound and deserved thrashing.

But we understand, especially on days like this, that we may have no choice. That there are enemies out in the world who wish nothing for us other than ultimate and absolute destruction. They will not be bought off, they cannot be negotiated with, they cannot be charmed or converted into being friends. They must be destroyed before they destroy more of us. No other way is possible. It is sad, regretful, and profoundly unfortunate that such a state of affairs exists. But exist it does. And we must face it.

I'm sick of America being critized for not being more involved in world affairs, and then reluctantly dragging itself into some provincial conflict that affects us not at all-- and then America gets criticized for playing "the world's policeman". Remember the Monroe Doctrine-- and pre-WWI isolationism? The dwarfs are for the dwarfs. But we got pulled into WWI to remember our friendship with our European allies, and WWII because we'd done so before. After WWII, it was expected that we'd do so every time. After all, we've got the biggest army anywhere, right? What could it possibly be for other than to defend the rest of the world against tyranny?

That's so cute... but it's wrong! The US Government exists to protect Americans, not to rule the world; and the US Army exists to defend our interests, not everybody else's who rubs their summon-the-Americans magic lamp.

And so it's mystifying to us to learn that Europeans have little sympathy for 9/11, because we didn't immediately leap to the defense of the thousands of victims of genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, or that we're not in force defending East Timor or Rwanda from their own civil wars. It's like we were sitting there quietly doing our homework, and then some professor calls up demanding to know why we didn't turn in our Underwater Basket-Weaving final. Huh? I don't remember signing up for Underwater Basket-Weaving.

And then when 9/11 happened, you know what? We didn't really expect sympathy either. We just expected people to get out of our way while we went and kicked the requisite amount of ass. We knew who was responsible, we knew what needed to be done about it. We expected Europe to realize that we might possibly have our wits about us, that we didn't need to consult them and get their unanimous approval before acting, allowing al Qaeda to plan their followup attack in the time we spent waiting. I humbly submit that bin Laden was banking on the US response being held up by European dithering, just as Churchill had thought that America would turn out to be ineffectual in WWII. (The full quote is at PejmanPundit; follow the link.) But we swooped right in, and that second blow never fell. Yes, I know it might still. But I'm certain that it would have already, if we had done nothing.

Those who look at 9/11 and say, "Yes, it's terrible, but..." inevitably have some argument about perspective, or moral equivalence, or the big picture, or some conspiracy theory about how the US just wants an excuse to bomb Saudi Arabia so we can take over the oil fields to shake their fingers at us over. Listen: bullshit. I realize you may consider it to be a liability that the US is strong enough to act quickly and decisively to protect its own interests, but you know, we consider it to be a virtue. And the fact that it works is a powerful argument against our changing our minds.

13:48 - A tired weekend...

No bloggage yesterday, I know-- I was helping someone move all day, and when I got home (and after spending about six hours having a slow, drawn-out dinner and talking with friends) I inexplicably felt compelled to play Secret of Mana on a Super NES emulator rather than to do any of the things I'd slated for this weekend:
  • Unpack from last weekend
  • DV-edit the footage from the Kinetic Sculpture Race and burn some DVDs
  • Address three pending art-theft reports
  • Add two new user accounts
  • Review and approve 200 fan-art uploads
  • Write some blog entries

Something tells me that I'm only going to get to the last of those today.

Oh, and because I also spent Friday and yesterday privately defending US policy in one of those recurring "You Americans never take any interest in the outside world, except to kill people... oh, and you need to become perfect and eradicate all your own problems before you are allowed to take any interest in the outside world" arguments that every blogger in the world seems to have taken part in lately. So if I blog today, it'll probably be along the lines of "USA A-OK!" Hope you don't mind terribly.
Friday, May 31, 2002
20:23 - The really important topics...

Steven den Beste is back from Vegas, and it would seem that he had himself a good time.

17:16 - Designing the iPod


The iPod is such a marvel of design and engineering, apparently, that it's become the subject of a case-study article at Electronics Design Chain, and held up as a prime example of "design done right" for others to emulate.

It would be a huge mistake to assume that all the design work happened elsewhere and that Apple had no substantial input. A reference design is far from having a finished product, even electronically. The ultimate circuit design was still Apple's, as far as any outsider can tell.

"The value is putting it all together and optimizing the design to eek out the best performance, get the best power utilization, the best audio performance," says Wolfson's Hayes. "That is not a trivial task by any means. Sometimes it's very difficult in a cost constrained [situation] and small form factor to get the performance." Factors that can influence the final sound can be the circuit board layout, the circuit design itself, the handling of the power supply and the overall implementation.

"It's a combination of all those things that create that high-quality performance," Hayes adds.

In his opinion, and in that of many reviewers, Apple hit a home run. "Certainly I think it's about the best audio quality we've come across for that type of product in the marketplace in terms of intrinsic audio quality and delivered audio quality," Hayes says.

Sounds pretty accurate to me. The iPod is another one of those things, like OS X, that even people who dislike Apple are having to admit is a pretty damned sweet piece of kit. Oh, and another employee at my company just bought one. He'll be using it with Windows, but it just couldn't itself be resisted.

Sure, it's good that there's a Windows compatibility option out there. But you know, it's rather nice for once to be on the "have" side of one of these technological-divide situations for once, and to have the Windows users coming to us with their hats in their hands for a change. It's quite nice for our biggest problem to be avoiding saying "I told you so".
Thursday, May 30, 2002
03:01 - Oh yeah: Memorial Day Weekend.

Yeah, I know-- I'd promised to write this up on Monday night (well, I should say, I promised-- on Monday night-- to write this up on Tuesday). But I've been recovering all week, which involves more work than you might imagine. I haven't felt much like writing accounts of recent experiences, and I wouldn't be doing it now if it weren't for the nagging feeling that one more night of sleep will erase enough pieces of the narrative from my mind that the effort will become pointless. So, here goes.

Thursday night, Allison flew in to San Francisco from Boston. She's been here before, and so the oddities of this house didn't fluster her-- she had some choice things to say about the unacceptable state of our bathroom for use by persons of the female gender, but hey-- you don't like our daddy longlegs, feel free to roll the tanks and see if you can impose your multilateral political ideals on-- oh, wait. Sorry. She must have been saying "Eeeww", not "EU".

Anyway-- so we got up early on Friday, threw together our bags, I briefly pondered telling work that I wouldn't be in-- and we set out up I-280, the Most Beautiful Freeway in the World. (It says so right there on a sign.) It's the spiritual 101-- the freeway that should be 101. It parallels 101, but in the rural panorama that is the Peninsula, the undeveloped western slope-- following the San Andreas Fault-- of the same spine of hills that on their eastern side houses half the suburban population of the Bay Area. It's always amazed me that so much city population and industry could exist so close to so much wide open space and picturesque beauty, but hey-- that's the Bay for you. And anyway, for the rest of the trip we'd be on 101 in its trek north of the Bay, so I figured we should follow its coastal mountainous path for its entire environmental gradient along the 350-mile course.

So we rolled into San Francisco at about 10AM-- but not before Allison spied a Krispy Kreme perched behind a retaining wall some 30 feet above the freeway. She all but grabbed the steering wheel, and I had to cross eight lanes just to miss the last exit in the neighborhood before being shunted off to the cross-town freeway spur which doesn't have another exit for five miles. So we trundled down into the heard of The City, turned around, got off at the appropriate exit, turned onto a street adjoining the Krispy Kreme, got ready to turn left into the parking lot-- and there was a three-inch-high barricade erected specifically to prevent exactly that. Aaauugh! Okay, so I keep going straight (which takes me over the freeway). I try to turn around, but there's a NO U TURN sign. At the next light it's a one-way street going right. I have to travel three blocks before I can edge my way around the security cameras that I'm sure are watching my every move and get going in the opposite direction. (Allison told me that in Boston, one would simply ka-CHUNK-ka-THUMP over the barricade and be done with it.) So we park tiredly in the lot, go up to the big double doors facing us, and... EXIT ONLY.

I don't know what gods we angered that day, but they were assholes.

Anyway, they were pulling the ol' bait-and-switch inside-- giving out free donuts to entice customers (who are already standing in line) to buy more donuts. Allison just wanted the one, and I waved away the smiling offer of a second one with what must have been a stomach-turning grimace (my nostrils and digestive system will forever rebel against the very concept of eating pastry, and just to be inside that store was making me distinctly nauseous). But she wondered, what are you supposed to do if you just want one donut? Take the free one and leave? Naw, the lady was too nice and kindly and smiling, though her English skills seemed too rusty for her to comprehend my not wanting a donut, my GAWD get that frickin' thing away from me. So Allison bought a dozen... somethings. I have no idea what. The box stayed closed while it was in my car. That was all I cared about.

Anyway, it was 10:45 by the time we got to Taraval and John's new ticky-tacky house, which costs him and his three roommates $2100/month and involves a huge kitchen, three bedrooms (one with a view out over the city and a big patio, another with a gigantic closet bigger than a Caltech single), two big ornately tiled bathrooms, a living room, a fireplace, and a waist-high "Alice in Wonderland" door halfway up the interior staircase for God-knows-what. I want a house like that. And not just because every room had a Mac in it, either.

We said hello to Mic (a former fellow Mole who seems to be part of this crew in the post-Tech world) and took our leave, after hearing John demonstrate his dexterity on the harpsichord he has. (Yeah.) Off we flew, northward, through the City, over the Golden Gate in the clear sunlight, through Marin, through Sonoma, through Cloverdale and the Russian River canyon, and through Ukiah and down into Redwood Valley, where (at my old house) we stopped for taquitos and the grand tour of the walls and possessions that defined my childhood.

I applaud Allison and John for having the superhuman patience to withstand it all.

Leaving the Wine Country behind, we headed up into the mountains, where (after Willits) the landscape suddenly changes to Coast Redwoods mode-- lofty rolling ridges covered with dark woodsy robes, and the winding Eel River cleaving a deep canyon through them. Three hours of driving, past Laytonville and Garberville and Leggett and Myers Flat, into increasingly dense hippie country (the coastline-hugging Highway 1 ducks inward at Leggett to avoid the Lost Coast, a jumble of 4,000-foot mountains that vault out of the sea so steeply that even Hwy 1 can't cling to the face-- but in the canyons of which reside the densest pockets of hippie culture that survive today, happily swapping tales and evolving into their own sub-species), to finally emerge into the flat expanse of Humboldt Bay.

Past the pulp-mill smells of Eureka, which has always seemed to me to be rather like an abandoned fishing village that was frozen in the 50s and was repopulated by a band of Biosphere scientists determined to make a go of it, and up through the strictly monitored 50mph Safety Corridor that skirts the harbor's edge, you get to Arcata. This little hamlet is what you get if you take San Francisco, import it into iPhoto, and jam the little scaling slider about 3/4 of the way to the left. The town is all built on hills, and parking involves lots of wheel-turning-- but the houses are tiny little carriage-bungalows surrounded by lush greenery, laid out on a grid of number-streets-versus-letter-streets in blocks no more than two or three houses long. Something that's "two blocks away" really means "shouting distance". And fortunately, that includes everything a 21st-century hippie needs: a strict organic supermarket (with a superb deli counter), the center of subsistence known as the CO-OP, a Mexican bagel place called "Los Bagels", an outstanding Japanese restaurant, lots and lots of bookstores, hippie supply stores, folk-singing coffee shops, and the Town Square with its statue of William McKinley. All of it is two blocks away from everything else. Shouting distance.

We found our way to the inclined doorstep of Branden, a gangly friend of John's with a gigantic orange beard and a BSD Daemon hat. He was a gracious host, and showed us into his house-- which consisted of two sparsely furnished existence rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The front room had a giant shapeless aluminum-foil sculpture over the light fixture, made from the wrappers from pieces of pizza from the Pizza Deli two blocks away. There were letter-size pieces of blue paper pasted all over the ceiling, and in the corner was a hook with a glass jug hanging from it, inside which was a bone. When pressed for explanation, Branden explained that the paper on the ceiling was "Pieces of blue paper on the ceiling, in a carefully random pattern", and that the story with the hook was "There's a glass jug hanging from it. There's a bone in it."

He also had a number of plants growing in his kitchen-- none of which, indeed, was a controlled substance. And there were bizarre photos of worldly items of interest coating the walls, many of which somehow involved squids, and a lonely futon in the corner.

After we set up an impromptu network involving my iBook, Branden's iBook, John's Linux Vaio, and the single-IP-address 802.11 network being beamed from an antenna at the top of a building in the Town Square two blocks away, we went down to the Pizza Deli for dinner. (We'd picked up Edward, another friend of John's, along the way-- a pleasant chap with many engaging stories about his piratical travels on the Seven Seas in a 50-foot sailboat with his parents during his teen years.) After downing our enormous sandwiches (they make a mean roast-beef-and-cheddar up there in Fog Town), we went for a wander about the town. I noticed the charming epithetical nickname for Arcata espoused by so many storefronts: Northtown. It sounds like a town from some 80s Squaresoft video game, doesn't it? Welcome to Empire Northtown. Eyes of skull has a secret!

Our wanderings took us a distance of two blocks, where we found ourselves shivering in our shorts and t-shirts (having come from the heat of Silicon Valley earlier in the day-- yay, microclimates!) in front of a quaint little Finnish coffee shop. Inside the room was no bigger than a hundred square feet, but I swear two dozen people were crammed inside there, sprawling over chairs and tables, sipping mochas and lattés and reading thick paperback books and listening to a Celtic chamber group play their energetic, haunting music while surrounded by the hot crush of humanity that caused all of our glasses to fog up instantly as we came in the door.

We all got drinks of various stripes and went out back, where tables and chairs nestled under redwood trees next to a frog pond and several sauna cabins. (Apparently this place was more than just a coffee shop.) We sipped and talked and laughed and became acquainted, and it was well past midnight before we got up and hiked the two blocks back to Branden's house and sprawled in our sleeping backs on the floor.

Sometime in the night, ODie and the remainder of the crew from Caltech arrived. And in the morning, we awoke with the knowledge that the Kinetic Sculpture Race was to begin today at noon! We hopped out of bed, ate some pancakes, and headed down to the Square for a look at the early risers among the Sculptures. There were a dozen or so already there-- in among a crush of at least a hundred onlookers, at 9AM. I took in some video, and we gathered our troops together. We waited. Before we knew it, the flatbed truck had pulled up to the starting line, and the announcer was peppering out his introductory schpiel. The vehicles began their brake tests. The Rutabaga Queen gave her speech. The Nefarious Rissouli made some ominous statements. The tuxedoed officials mocked the sculptures and their ability to stop on a dime, which indeed few could. Hobart, the Glorious Founder, said a few words-- as did the winner of the first KSR, 34 years ago, who mentioned that they'd rigged up a cannon for the starting signal.

We headed back to the room to change clothes and slather ourselves with sunscreen, and we hiked the two blocks back to the starting line (a few hundred yards down it, this time, rather than in the square itself) just before noon. I was taping it all, but I managed to miss the cannon going off, more's the pity. But nonetheless, the sculptures-- ungainly, elaborate, sleek, monstrous, lithe, overbearing, artistic, uproarious-- clanked and clattered and whirred past the hundreds and hundreds of people who were gathered on the streets to see them off.

A word is in order: The KSR is such a huge event in the region that the whole year revolves around it. Three cities back it-- Arcata, Eureka, and Ferndale-- and everybody in all three towns loves it, except for a few disgruntled farmers who seem to have a problem with hundreds of Glorious Spectators tramping across their land. Reportedly, one such homesteader went out to a spectator access path and dumped about 1,000 pounds of fresh manure in the middle of it since the trail was staked out on Friday. He also reportedly threatened to shoot any spectators who set foot on his land. Also reportedly, he mouthed off to the wrong person, and the cops came and put his ass in jail for the weekend. If you live in the Eureka area, you do not dis the Race.

SO ANYWAY: You may want to review the KSR Rules or the Course Map in order to get some idea of the scope and the texture of this Race. The first order of business, after we'd all fought with the entire population of all three towns for deli sandwiches at the grocery store (every other restaurant in Arcata had a line twenty deep lined up outside the front door right after noon), was to head down to the dunes at the edge of the Bay, the first big obstacle for the Sculptures. On the way into the dunes, kids with catapults pelt the passing machines with water balloons. Hey, it's just another part of the course! And after they all trundle their way into the dunes (which we missed), you have to get to the end of the dune segment, which is Dead Man's Drop-- a long, tall dune right at the edge of solid land (and mosquitoes-as-big-as-vampire-bats country) down which all the scupltures must travel intact.

Watching all 37 machines negotiate the slope was an all-afternoon affair, but the community spirit was something else again. Hundreds of people and dozens of dogs were clustered all over the dunes, cheering and clapping and hooting and laughing all day, mosquitoes or no. And only one machine-- the first one down the hill-- took a fall. Even the giant steel Rhino made it down intact-- though it did plow into the trees at the bottom and had to be forcibly fished out.

We ate en masse at the Japanese restaurant on the Town Square, and then retired (after a trip to the liquor store) to the house for a long evening of atmospheric music from my iPod, weird RPG/board games, reminiscence of Tech, and single-malt whiskey and mead (I'm told it was very funky). By the time we all collapsed from exhaustion, around 2AM, we had all recaptured a bonhomie that had never existed when we were all students and trying to prove our academic prowess to each other. Now we were all living life on our own terms, and there was more respect all around because of it.

Well, that's what I saw. Some others had certain problems with the interpersonal politics, but that's not what my sensors are equipped to detect.

In the morning, though, while the rest of the group was to wake up late and spend the day lounging around the house and missing the second day of the KSR altogether, I was to shift a gear. Rising at 9:00, I hopped in my car and drove the 150 miles back down through the mountains to Redwood Valley (for lunch and a rest in the air I grew up with) and to Ukiah, where an untidy clan of former Ukiahi Marching Band members was gathering.

Have you ever seen Mr. Holland's Opus? That's what my high school experience was like. Our band director, Rowland Nielson, retired after my senior year, taking with him a thirty-year career and a marching-band tradition that had upheld a standard of championship performances for decades. When Rowland retired, our black tuxedo-like uniforms with their gold overlays and our tall fur shakos went into cold storage, and a halfhearted jazz band took its place at the high school. There was no funding to support such a monstrously expensive program as a marching band, even if the director who succeeded Rowland had wanted to. But now, eight years later, the new young fiery director wants to bring the marching band back-- and so the tactic is to create an Alumni Marching Band, made up of all those band geeks who loved the fact that at Ukiahi, the band was the most admired organization on campus (hell, the football team was an embarrassment, and the marching band consistently brought home huge trophies). We would march in the Memorial Day parade, and the whole town would be stirred by a performance they hadn't seen or heard since 1994.

The rehearsal on Sunday evening went very well. The music was easy, and we all were startled to discover that we still had Wildcat Victory memorized. I hadn't touched my clarinet since 1996, and I'd had to make impromptu repairs of its disintegrated pads with rolls of taped toilet paper, but within an hour or two of practice I was playing with the same proficiency that I'd had as an 18-year-old. It'd amazing how some things never leave you.

Speaking of which, Rowland was the same as ever. His hair was a little whiter, but he still barked at us for chewing gum, and it nearly brought tears to our eyes.

Oh, and as always, we had an inordinate number of flute players-- nine or ten of them, out of about 40 alumni altogether. And they all giggled and chattered incessantly, as though they were still teenagers.

The motley group was full of 30- and 40-year olds, many of whom had become rather portly and/or motherly, and what I'd remembered as a group of kids with their whole lives ahead of them now had facial wrinkles and made Viagra jokes. But there were still tongue studs to be found, if you knew where to look. My second-grade teacher, now 51, was a majorette, twirling her battered old baton with an ease that made a mockery of the 34 years it had been. And one band member, who was now an award-winning band instructor himself, was playing the cymbals.

The following morning dawned with bright sunshine and cloying heat, and I spackled on the SPF 45 like I didn't care that I had bought it in Canada and probably wouldn't be able to get stuff of that strength here in the States. (45-- what, is that metric?) But by the time we had all gathered in front of the Ukiah Civic Center for some photos in our new purple Alumni band t-shirts and baseball caps, a thin cloud cover had rolled in and deadened the most worry-inducing of the rays. And before we knew it, we were lined up behind the California Conservation Corps van and a troop of Boy Scouts, and we were off down School Street, our two international-award-winning drum majors spinning their maces in tandem and sending them higher than the tops of the downtown 2-story storefronts, and our drum cadence-- with its intoxicating interleaved rim-taps and tri-tom exhortations and the insistent drive of the snares and the cymbals-- starting out uncertain, but gathering strength as we all remembered being there, doing that, ten or twenty years before, in city after city all over the state. It was ten years ago, twenty years ago. Our parents were all out there watching, just like before, no matter how old we were or how many Viagra we had in our pockets. By the time we turned the corner onto State Street next to the Palace Hotel and the drum cadence reached the point where the whole band had traditionally let out an unexpected whoop, many of our eyes were streaming as we let it rip.

We played through Wildcat Victory over and over, and You're a Grand Old Flag, and America the Beautiful, not caring how loose and fatigued our embouchures were getting, or how sloppy our marching. The crowds on the sidelines were going nuts as we passed. We remembered how at the rehearsal the night before, we had marched further down Despina Drive than we ever had back in the day-- we'd always turned back while we were still parallel to the football field, before heading into the adjoining residential area. This time, we'd gone past those first few houses before turning around-- and the residents came out on the lawn to watch, and to express with astonished delight that they'd never been able to see the band in the earlier years, and they'd thought they'd missed us forever-- and now, look! Here we are!

We squeezed in formation into the parking lot behind the District Office, the drum major barked out a BAND! To atten-HUT! and we exploded back, SIR!... and then, BAND! ...DisMISSED!

And oh, how the whoops and the cheers did ensue.

His little speech to us all as we gathered around was clumsy and choked with sweat as much as with emotion, but we all knew what he was trying to say. We'd done what we had set out to do. And it wasn't an ending to an era that had never really resolved itself; it was a new opening to a book that should never have been closed. We all shuttled back to our cars knowing that we'd be back next year, and the next, and as long as it took.

I caught up with my parents, drove my mom home, filled up on gas, got some lunch at the Redwood Valley burrito place, and once more embarked on the road north.

I ARRIVED in Ferndale at about 3:00, just when I'd hoped I would-- just in time to catch the last five or six finishers as they huffed and puffed their way down the main street across the mobbed finish line. Lots of machines had already finished, and a light-to-moderate rain that had materialized out of the wispy cloud cover that had protected us earlier in the day was soaking the streets, but the Race was finishing itself up in fine style. I met up with John and Allison and Branden and Erik as they finished a late lunch, and we went into the KSR Museum there near the traditional finish line to see some great and legendary Kinetic Sculptures of the past. Some of them, like the Quagmire Queen, were eye-popping in their size and their engineering. I got them all on video.

After a quick run back up to Arcata to pick up the iBook power supply that I'd managed to leave under the futon, I started back southward with Allison and John and Erik in tow. We reached Redwood Valley around 8:30, as the sun was setting, and we sat around my parents' living room telling the tales of our respective weekends. I picked up my Pizza Ettica, and we trundled off to the sounds of our stomachs growling for In-N-Out, which we reached in Rohnert Park after 10:00. Another hour and we were back on Taraval, and John was returned safely to his nest, along with Erik; one hour more and we were back in San Jose, and sleep ensued soon afterwards.

I was up early one more time on Tuesday morning, to take Allison back up to SFO-- not a brief drive by any stretch, but compared to the eleven hours of driving I'd done on Monday, and the four traversals of the Ukiah-to-Eureka run and the two passages of Ukiah-to-San Jose, it was barely noteworthy at all-- except that I put off showering or even changing until after I got home. (I'd slept on the couch in my marching band clothes.) So Tuesday at work was consumed mostly in bleary hunting-and-pecking through e-mail, and I slept extremely well that night.

Now, I've just finished importing the hour of DV footage from the KSR, and I'll have it iMovied and burned onto a DVD probably by the end of the weekend. And that's all the more likely now that I've got this blog entry out of the way. You know how it feels-- once you've accomplished something that you'd considered really daunting (hey, and rightly so, I humbly submit), you feel like you can accomplish anything.

Although right now the only thing I really feel like accomplishing is breaking some kind of world record for the quickness of falling asleep while draped out a window into the cool night breeze.

Late May. Memorial Day always brings such heat to this little microclimate.

Just another day out of the year, I guess. But while we might not usually get very hung up about the actual meaning of the holiday, we certainly know how to celebrate the spirit of the ideals which it purports to defend, don't we?

02:23 - Poor, poor Outlook users...

Yesterday's Something Awful was good-- the lead story was all about the Klez worm and the wonders of ubiquitous software that's designed and implemented so eye-explodingly badly (sorry, had to borrow one of SA's favorite terms) and deployed to so many innocent and uncomprehending end-users that even if Microsoft did discover and fix a significant number of the security holes in Outlook, 85% of the Windows/Outlook users in the world (which is to say, millions and millions and millions of them) will never download the fixed version. Hey, Bill-- guess what! You wanted "a computer on every desk"? Well, congratulations! Now everybody on Earth has one-- and they all use Outlook, and they don't have the faintest idea how to upgrade it, even if they knew they were supposed to!

I don't think it will surprise anybody when I reveal that the worm thrives on one of the approximately five gazillion vulnerabilities of Microsoft Outlook, a program that was apparently coded in six hours by two guys who move furniture for a living. It doesn't matter to Microsoft that their mail program is one of the most widely used email clients in the universe; they are undoubtedly too busy praying to the god of their choice that somebody somewhere will make a good game for the X-Box or Bill Gates will discover how to travel back in time and decide to allocate resources to a better profit-generating product than the X-Box, such as "Microsoft Bob XP." Now I don't want to get all you console nerds out there in a fit over poking fun at the X-Box because I know how much you cretins love to write 15-page flame messages explaining why the game system of your choice is better than Jesus Himself. I don't care for playing games on the X-Box, Gamecube, PS2, or PC. I don't play games much these days except cat and mouse games where the hunter becomes the hunted and nothing is what it seems and he's a good cop gone bad, framed for a crime he didn't commit and is now out for revenge, out for justice, out for lunch.

It used to baffle my mind how Microsoft didn't give a flying donut about patching up their email client to contain less holes than an average Israeli child. It's not like Outlook and Outlook Express are two tiny programs that nobody uses; these are major applications that are installed in like 126% of the population's computers. While us Windows / Outlook chumps sit here and delete spoofed Klez worms all day like a crazed duck pecking at, uh, a piece of bread that looks like the "delete" key, the Mac and Linux weirdos are undoubtedly sitting comfortably in their very, very, very large load-balancing chairs and proclaiming their OS's superiority to Microsoft Windows. That's all fine and good by me, however I'd like to point out one little fact: neither Mac or Linux can run MS Paint. Point, match, and checkmate, inferior operating systems!

There, there. It's not so bad. (Not so bad? You fail everything except animation!)

Though I can't help but point out that even Lowtax doesn't seem to consider USING SOME E-MAIL PROGRAM OTHER THAN OUTLOOK.

Even those crusaders for computing sanity seem unable to apprehend this immediate, obvious solution. Or is it obvious to nobody else but me?

20:27 - It is with a heavy heart that we raise the scaffold...

I'm going to have to pay closer attention to Cold Fury, because without it I would have missed this article by Jamie Glazov, from which I'll quote a few paragraphs that I hope will not dissuade readers from going and reading the whole thing.

The problem here, therefore, is that Islam is inherently oppressive and violent. Yes, I know about all of those verses here and there in the Koran that talk about peace and love. Very heart warming indeed.

But the problem is that Islam forbids the separation of Church and State (Surah 2:193), as well as the right of dissent (Surah 4:59). And that is what Sharia Law, the religious law of Islam, holds in place. It makes no distinction between spiritual and temporal life. In other words, it covers not only ritual, but every aspect of life. In so doing, it makes sure to dish out severe punishments for any transgression of the rules.

It is obvious, therefore, that the very notion of Islam allowing democracy is simply ludicrous. If this occurred, then a majority of people might just decide that women don’t need to wear veils and that starting an official opposition party to the established Islamic structure is a good idea.

In these circumstances, how long do you think Islam would remain Islam?

And Mike's response:

A while back, I wrote a column-length piece about whether or not the war on terror could truly be said to be a war on Islam itself. I was pretty reticent at that time about the proposition of making war on an entire religion and not just its fundamentalist crazies - the libertarian in me simply abhors the idea of denying anyone's right to worship whatever the hell they want to worship, no matter how ass-backwards and intellectually disjointed their beliefs might seem to me. I said at the time that what the world most needed to hear from Muslims everywhere was a blanket condemnation of terrorism as a means of pursuing any political goal whatsoever, a no-nonsense and unequivocal expression of outrage over the hijacking of their religion by their so-called brothers; that the intentional targeting of innocents was wrong at all times and in all circumstances.

Well, the world has waited in vain for that denunciation. What we've gotten has been flaccid apologia, always coupled with the usual rationalizations and moral-equivalency arguments, and even so discouraging a response as that has been somewhat exceptional. The silence from Muslims in the face of suicide bombings in Israel and continued threats of terrorism elsewhere actually speaks volumes, and I find myself less and less willing to make excuses for it.

Now, only now-- months after 9/11, and years and decades after Islamic terrorism first became a global issue-- are people starting to put out the first careful feelers into the waters of scholarly criticism of a major religion or culture. See, ever since World War II, the world-- well, particularly America-- has shied away so violently from any kind of blanket criticism of any people or its customs that now we're deathly afraid to say anything bad about a culture which has repeatedly demonstrated that such criticisms are valid.

The Jews always used to be the whipping boys of the world-- right up until Hitler. After the concentration camps were opened, we were so horrified as an "enlightened" world that such a thing could have happened that we supported Israel's colonization and war efforts, desperate to prove that we were the antithesis of Nazi anti-semitism. And then it branched out. We launched and carried out complete broad-based civil rights movements for blacks and for women. We vehemently opposed our own military actions in Vietnam. We made movies and wrote history books that glorified Native American cultures, and an entire "New Age" subculture of rejection of modern convenience and the upholding of indigenous peoples throughout history and all over the world was born. We discovered fusion music. We watched PBS and Discovery Channel series. We all but exterminated the KKK. We created "affirmative action" in universities. We invented a new term: Political Correctness.

It's been a fifty-year backlash, and we're still discovering new ways to compensate for the global cultural guilt we feel for what the Nazis did.

So now, after the Twin Towers have fallen in a monstrous fireball and plume of smoke and ash that rose to the heavens for an entire month, and after our embassies have been blown up and our ships have been attacked in their harbors and our planes have been hijacked and our interests have been threatened all over the world with still more and greater destruction, we are still loath to consider criticizing the culture that every single one of these attacks has come from.

We're deathly afraid of saying "Down with Islam", lest someone make political cartoons showing the American flag with a swastika in place of the stars.

What is wrong with this picture? For thousands of years the Jews have been universally hated by almost every culture on earth, and it's only in the latter part of this century that they've finally gotten a break-- only to have the fight continue to be brought to their doorstep in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today. But why? Never in history have the Jewish people ever been demonstrated to be guilty of any transgressions against other cultures beyond vague grumblings about how they "control the media" and "control the stock market" and "killed Jesus". Where in history is the Jewish-led conflagration that has justified their being persecuted and tarred with blood-libel and blamed for every kind of evil straight on through to the present day? Where is their historical 9/11? Where is the Holocaust that they perpetrated against their neighbors? Hell, even Germany has been forgiven for Hitler a scant fifty years later, and is again a leading world power. Whence this implacable, unquestioned hatred for the Hebrew race?

And yet, even after it's been demonstrated that Islam-- the vociferous but impotent protests of its blog-reading adherents notwithstanding-- is by its very nature incompatible with any other world than one in which it is all-encompassing and totalitarian and tyrannical, we still can't bring ourselves to utter any of the same criticisms about it that anybody in the pre-WWII world ever uttered about the Jews or any other downtrodden scapegoat race.

After all, the Jews have in fact been scapegoats: a convenient entity on which to blame things, whether deserved or not. But the Islamofascists aren't scapegoats, because they are responsible for the terrorism they continue to threaten.

It's wrong to stereotype, we're now taught from birth. Never say such things as They're evil or They're a dangerous race or Kill 'em all. No, we still try to find the good in Islam. We admire their architecture, we laud their medieval mathematical achievements, we write term papers about the life of the Prophet and the terror and injustice of the Crusades. We desperately comb through the Koran to see for ourselves what a peaceful, gentle, freedom-loving, self-confident religion the true Islam is.

And how horrified we are to discover that it's nothing of the sort.

Is it time, finally, to admit that there is some evil in the world that does not lie within the hearts of isolated, individual madmen? Can we conclude that an entire major religion fits the definition of "evil" just as well as any fantastical Dark Lord ever did?

Have fifty years of mounting political correctness softened us too much, or do we have the sack to stand up and declare war on a corrupt people?

And if not, how many more September Elevenths will it take before we can?

Oh, and if anyone disagrees with these statements that there's something rotten in the state of Islam, then I'd like to hear a good, plausible explanation for why the Islamic Council of Victoria wants to stop people from quoting the Koran on the grounds that it makes Islam look bad.

17:14 - On Digital Film & Projectors

Paul Summers has some comments (gee, how did I know he would?) on the digital-film post from earlier:

Just fwiw... there are arguments for and against digital projection, but you shouldn't use star wars as a baseline. It was shot in digital, and then rolled out to film, thus producing a slightly grainy and fuzzy image compared to what real film is like.

It's not so much that digital projection is better, it is however at a significant advantage in this case as everything was filmed in DVCAM.

Pound for pound, I'll put digital up against film any day, and film will still have a better tone, higher resolution, and allows for many things that digital just can't do yet. That's the reason Spielberg has said he'll be the last person to shoot in digitial. Unfortunately, it requires a stupidly expensive projector and a very new reel to make the 'flicker' and such become un-noticeable. What I'd love to see is an overhaul of the very old 35mm format, to either double it's frame rate, double the frame size, and replace all of the audio information with timecode, which could be used to control a digital audio solution.

Case in point, no one ever notices flicker on IMAX films, because they're moving at twice the frame rate, have 6x the resolution, and are generally projected on much better equipment. :)

I have nothing to add to this. Just for the information of all those fascinated parties...

12:50 - Oh, my. We seem to have made a slight miscalculation.

Four of us went out and saw Star Wars last night in one of those digital-projection theaters-- and I must say that digital projection does indeed look like the way to go.

The picture isn't necessarily any sharper (they do still have to get it focused just right). But the big benefit, at least as far as I was able to see, was no flicker. The human eye is supposed to stop being able to track changes in input any faster than about 60-75Hz, which is why screen resolutions on analog monitors try to get above that boundary. At 24 fps, the eye definitely sees flicker-- which is how film works, actually (all that after-image stuff).

On a full-size digital-projection screen, though, there's no need for film advancement frames, no need for afterimages, no need for refresh rates. The image input simply changes for each new frame of video. and the result is a rock-steady picture, one that's gorgeous to look at. I loved every second of it. Lance said he could still see some R-G-B pixel variation in some wide smooth color areas, but I wasn't looking that closely for something to complain about. (Just kidding, Lance.)

Anyway, I noticed something this time through, a new plot hole that for some reason had eluded me before. And that is the droids. They are going to have to pull some fast-ass shit in Episode III to work this out-- and if they can do it in a way that's plausible, I'll never doubt Lucas again. To wit:

I was willing all along to accept that C-3PO was going to have to lose his memory somewhere along the line, so as to forget having been built by Darth Vader. Hey, that's fine-- whatever it is that gets him his gold skin probably just reboots his brain or something. And Artoo never says anything intelligible anyway, so now we'd have an explanation for why he always seemed so sure of where he was headed on Tatooine in Episode IV. But...

Now, what about Owen and Beru? Somewhere between Episodes II and IV, they're going to have to somehow lose track of the fact that they once owned C-3PO, so that Owen can buy him from the Jawas.

I can buy the whole reboot-the-brain thing. But now, what-- is Owen going to have to get amnesia? Or is he colorblind and unable to make the connection between the gun-metal-gray 3PO and the gold 3PO? Or is he just really stupid? I suppose he sort of looks the part. But it looks to me as though Lucas has painted himself rather badly into a corner.

Either Episode III is going to have to focus inordinately much on whatever story ties all these loose ends with the droids together, or Lucas is just going to have to punt and hope nobody really minds how little sense it makes. Because after all, even if Episode III does somehow manage to come up with a plausible solution, there's still no satisfying resolution in Episode VI to whatever "amnesia" plot-devices get brought in. C-3PO never remembers being built by Vader. Artoo never uses his little hover-rockets again. That whole plot-line just sort of fades away and gets more confusing if you watch the movies in episodic order. (To say nothing of how the moment Artoo pushes him off that ledge in the droid works, 3PO transforms instantly from the fussbudgety but erudite character we all know into a blithering one-liner-spewing piece of inept slapstick comic-relief.)

Lucas obviously hadn't ever considered Artoo's and 3PO's origins back when he was making the first three movies. And now he's inserted an unresolvable twist into the timeline that violates the Temporal Prime Directive no matter what galaxy you're in.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
22:11 - What is it, fluoridated water?

NY Times Foreign Affairs Columnist Tom Friedman (who will be picking up a Pulitzer tomorrow for his post-9/11 columns) was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross tonight. He made an offhand comment, speaking of Yasser Arafat's advancing age, about what must be marketable as the "Dictator's Diet":

What is it with these guys? Arafat, Hussein, Castro-- what, they all smoke, they eat yogurt, they take naps in the afternoon-- what? Here I am, watching my cholesterol, and they just keep going and going...!

Upon which Terry suggested that she should invite them all to be on a future show, so we can all find out.

Friedman also noted a recent feature of Israeli politics: according to polls, there's a significant majority in the Israeli populace-- like 60, 70, 80 percent-- who are united on two points:
  • As long as the suicide bombings continue, the Israeli people will absolutely support crushing those responsible with tanks or bombs or whatever the hell is necessary.
  • The instant that the suicide bombings stop, the Israeli people will absolutely accept the Saudi peace deal-- or any peace deal that involves a two-state solution and an end to the conflict.

The myth that the Palestinians have been entertaining is that the Israelis are just a bunch of overfed, soft, Silicon-Valley-esque yuppies and wimps who care only for their stock options and their new BMWs; that if the Palestinians are willing to sacrifice all they have to give, even their children, they can drive the Israelis out of the country and into the sea.

It seems that, like the Americans, yes, the Israelis like to pursue wealth and personal achievement. But where the myth falls down is in assuming that the Israelis won't drop their pizzas and pick up AK-47s if that's what it will take for them to be able to get back to their lives and go about their business without having to worry about raving madmen blowing them up.

Note to Islamic terrorists: screw your frickin' ideals. The rest of the world has learned what being human is all about-- namely, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-- and you might like it too if you gave it a chance.

21:26 - Bring It

Oh, this is good. Jonah Goldberg offers some realistic, if flippant (and highly entertaining), thoughts on just what would happen if the entire Islamic world did in fact decide to rise up in global holy jihad against the infidels.

Conclusion: There wouldn't be any more Islamic world. And Goldberg doesn't even play the "lob a Patriot missile into the Ka'aba" card, which shows significant restraint.

I wonder whether any of the Islamic Wackos of the world have it in them to read this article and seriously think about its implications?

Or are they all going to suddenly pull off their beards and turbans in a year or two, point, laugh, and say, "Ha ha! We sure had you going there, didn't we? You thought we actually believed all that stuff! Great Allah! We were just trying to get you to see how seriously you all take yourselves! Look at you! You treat the loss of 3,000 civilians like it's the end of the world! You believed we were all ready to drive you into the sea! What a bunch of morons you Americans are! Now let's go order us some pizzas, huh?"

18:46 - Maw! Come quick-- I ain't never seen nothin' like this before!

This is amazing. Check it out.

Not just the article itself, which is purportedly a Linux Journal treatise by Miles Nordin about how Mac OS X's Mach microkernel is doomed to lag Linux's monolithic kernel in performance. No, what I find interesting is the feedback.

Dozens of responses-- each and every one of which is attacking the article's premises and defending OS X's design.

There are even people in there who hate Apple and who are defending OS X.

I didn't think it was possible. I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime. But not only is the field of Linux opinion unanimous, it's unanimous against the Linux design principles.

It's also unanimous in presenting benchmarks, specifications, fact sheets, design documents, and references. Useful little tidbits like "Darwin's kernel is not a pure microkernel-- it's a hybrid Mach-based kernel with a microkernel architecture and a BSD-derived monolithic function-call structure, so as to have the best of both worlds", and "Core Audio provides a pathway with less lag into and out of the kernel than any other OS on the market, including the monolithic-kernel Linux", and "Linus Torvalds always did prefer microkernels, and would have used one if it had been available at the time (regardless of that 'piece of crap' comment he made at one point)" are evident. I'm sure that if we let the discussion continue further, someone will mention the extremely cool and elegant hierarchical and modular device-pruning architecture by which OS X loads support during boot and at connection time for existent devices and loads nothing which is not needed, unlike in Linux where you have to recompile the kernel every time you want support for a new device. Well, unless you use modules-- in which case it's no longer monolithic.

Looks to me as though the geek community is rallying to Apple's side even more enthusiastically than I'd thought. When you get people saying that they dislike Apple but they love OS X, you know there's some momentum-- if it's people who hate the products but love the company, it's zealotry. But what we've got here is genuine engineering respect.

FUD doesn't stand a chance.

15:34 - Speaking of McDonalds and Coca-Cola...

I was just thinking-- wouldn't it be bizarre to be the VP in charge of international expansion at one of these hated bastions of capitalism?

What must it be like to know that the product you make or the company you represent-- and the policies over which you yourself have control-- are symbols burning in the minds of the 19 who flew the planes in September and their compatriots who continue to skulk in Paktia?

What would you do if you were handed a proposal from your field research teams discussing the opportunities for expansion of McDonald's into Saudi Arabia or Iran?

At the "World of Coca-Cola" museum in Atlanta, which I visited (by chance) in the week following 9/11, they had a movie proudly showing all the different countries into which the Coca-Cola Company sells its products, and all the different ways the bottles and cans get to the smiling faces of the people-- by rickety van, by river punt, by bicycle cart, by rickshaw, by towering backpack. The crowds of villagers would always come running and swarm in a cheering, ecstatic mass as the Coke arrived. They would all down their bottles of carbonated sugar syrup with the relish of wanderers in the desert who had just crested a dune and stumbled into a suburban swimming pool.

Perhaps reveling in the global ubiquity of American brands, seeing the happy third-world consumption of our exported hip culture, is not quite the heartwarming Sunday family event anymore that it always has been. I know it felt awfully weird to me, that mid-September day.

I'd say it must be even less fun to be the person in charge of finding new cultures into which to insert our memes than it is to be President right now. And if it were up to me to sign a paper which would probably net the Company an extra few percent of revenue each year, but that would give the Islamic terrorists that much more reason to resent our success in their own backyards-- well, I'd make myself a flaming paper airplane.

I'm not against globalization. I think McDonald's is a fine thing to have in Afghanistan and Sudan, if the people want it there. (If they don't, maybe they shouldn't be clamoring for it to come there, then.) What McDonald's lacks in soul it makes up in the ability to provide cheap, clean food to a population that doesn't necessarily have a guarantee of those things.

I just think the roles of these companies in directly influencing world affairs and the motivations of our enemies isn't getting a whole lot of play in the public eye these days, and perhaps it should.

15:14 - We're all doomed! Dooooomed! To succeed!

Back in high school, I was all about overpopulation. I'd just learned geometry and trig and was looking at population curves in Biology and realizing with a chill that this thing was an exponential curve, going upwards, and there was a big black horizontal line representing the LIMIT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CAPACITY towards which it was hurtling. I'd seen bacteria multiply in a petri dish. I looked up from the dish and pictured a world where skyscrapers and above-ground tunnels covered metropolitan regions that sprawled unbroken across thousands of square miles, encompassing states and regions and countries. In other words, I pictured the Earth turning into Coruscant-- only a lot less clean.

So I got newsletters from ZPG and NPG, who visited our high school campus during Earth Day. I wrote angry little tracts and kept them on a floppy disk in my jacket pocket. Naturally, I figured that the cause behind all this population-explosion stuff was a religious and political exhortation for all good people to have as many children as possible, regardless of whether the world needed them. I saw the US as one of the biggest sinners in that regard, if only because of which points I chose for my extrapolations.

But then I realized something: rich countries have fewer children. I may not have liked the thought of High City sprawling from Los Angeles to Eureka, but no matter how apocalyptic my visions, they weren't going to come true in this country. It was places like Bangladesh and India and China that had real problems with an anonymized, overpopulated urban future-- not the places where birth rates consistently fell below the replacement rate and where the main population increase was due to immigration.

And as time went on, and as during college I saw our worries about oil reserves and air pollution dissolve away as all our processes and our cars became more efficient, and as I saw the prices of housing in various urban areas become subject to the kinds of sinusoidal checks and balances that by rights I always thought they should be, I stopped worrying so much.

And, well, now here's an article that says why true "environmentalists" should be cheering the US and the developed West rather than blaming them for the destruction of the natural world.

Since 1970, when the great northern forest was being felled to print Paul Ehrlich best-sellers, the U.S. economy has swollen by 150%; automobile traffic has increased by 143%; and energy consumption has grown 45%.

During this same period, air pollutants have declined by 29%, toxic emissions by 48.5%, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3%, and airborne lead by 97.3%. For anywhere other than Antarctica and a few sparsely inhabited islands, the first condition for a healthy environment is a strong economy. President Carter and the other apocalyptic prognosticators of the Seventies made a simple mistake: In their predictions about natural resources, they failed to take into account the natural resourcefulness of the market. The government regulates problems, but the market solves them. So if, as Kyoto does, you seek to punish capitalism in the West and restrict it in the developing world, you'll pretty much guarantee a poorer, dirtier, unhealthier planet.

Hey, Paul: you want capitalist propaganda? This oughtta do you fine. Hail the Free Market! Make us rich, and we reward the world in kind!

I also like this, by the way:

I'd like to be an "environmentalist," really I would. I spend quite a bit of my time in the environment and I'm rather fond of it. But these days "environmentalism" is mostly unrelated to the environment: It's a cult, and, like most cults, heavy on ostentatious displays of self-denial, perfectly encapsulated by the time-consuming rituals of "recycling," an activity of no discernible benefit other than as a communal profession of faith.

Hmm. Didn't I just say this a few posts ago? Oh, wait-- I was talking about Linux. Or was I?

We've been awfully patriotic these days, imagining that 9/11 was an attack specifically on America, just for being America. So our response has been to fly a lot of flags and sing a lot of anthems-- but I think we might be defending an ideal that's just a little to the side of where we should be defending: the free-market way of life. Success. Wealth. Leisure. Personal achievement.

Because these things lead to beauty, art, environmental conscience, charity, innovation, and discovery-- and you know what? They occur of the people's own accord. Why legislate having fewer than 2.4 children when a country that's successful will choose to do so on its own anyway? Why decree protection of the natural world when an enlightened society will pressure the government en masse to set aside more untamed wilderness?

McDonalds and Coca-Cola might be symbols of evil global capitalism... but you know, they make us happier and richer people. And happy rich people do more good for the world than an entire hemisphere full of culturally pure but miserable peasants under a warmongering despot ever can.

14:06 - "FireWire" -- note the lack of ™

The IEEE 1394 Trade Association has officially adopted "FireWire" as the trade name for the interface standard.

Yay, I say!

I'd guess this is out of a fear that USB2 is gaining momentum, in no small part because "IEEE 1394" is a hell of a thing to get your mouth around-- it's just not the kind of thing consumers like to have to say. "FireWire" sounds a whole lot more cool. (Besides, most people seem to think that the interface is called simply "IEEE"-- which is perfectly understandable for people who aren't founded in electrical-engineering education, but which makes the rest of our brains explode with rage.) After all, who wants to try to pronounce what sounds like a comic-book shriek of fear and pain?

Naturally, of course, I'm sure USB2 will eventually become the de facto standard, and FireWire-- a superior technology that happens to be used for similar applications, but that isn't backed by Intel and Microsoft-- will be marginalized and killed off. If history has taught us anything, it's that Intel and Microsoft get their way, and that their way always sucks.

12:54 - Bush Kneeewwwwww...

The immediate reaction to all these "Bush Knew All Along" stories in the news lately is fear, anger, and a sense of betrayal.

But you know, I'm actually comforted to think that there was foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks in the FBI and the White House. You know why?

Because I find it more reassuring to think that we had all kinds of information about it and didn't do anything only because it seemed so far-fetched and implausible, than that we were completely caught with our pants down and had no idea whatsoever that this kind of thing could happen.

If we knew about it, I can completely understand not doing anything. Alert the public? Then if you avert the disaster, you're being alarmist and you get voted out of office. Tighten airport security? C'mon, look how effective that's been even after the fact. Kick out all Arabs that are here on illegal visas? Yeah, right-- Ashcroft denied the court order which would have allowed the FBI to search Moussaoui's computer. Bomb Afghanistan? Yeah, good luck getting public support for that out of nowhere without a 9/11 to fuel it.

But if it were completely random and out-of-the-blue, then that would mean our counterterrorism intelligence was worth a couple of wet wooden nickels.

Say you live in the inner city, and there's a drive-by shooting. Are you more comforted to find out that it was a premeditated homicide, or that it was a completely random act? For my money, I'll take the personal-vendetta homicide, because that means I am not a potential target. Sure, I might get caught in the crossfire, but the scope of targets for random violence is a whole lot larger than that of premeditated murder. And so I find the latter more livable. On the face of it, you'd think it would be more comforting if the violence were just random-- until you think about it.

(For the record, yes, I once witnessed exactly this happening outside the computer-lab window at Caltech, in Pasadena, where one of our janitors was killed. Turns out that it was a family matter, a personal vendetta-- which I found a whole lot more comforting than if it were something random, where that bullet could just as easily have come through my window.)

At any rate, now that 9/11 has happened, our counterterrorism-- which as it turns out was on the ball-- will have a much less difficult time doing something substantive when a threat becomes known. And I find that to be a relief.

04:11 - Yeah? So it's a chick flick...

Katzenberg, on Spirit:

''This is a chick flick. I'm proud of it," Jeffrey Katzenberg told USA Today.  "Beauty and the Beast was a chick flick. The Lion King was a chick flick. Those are good things. When you look at the marketplace with Spider-Man and Star Wars, we're the alternative."  He predicts that Spirit will play best to girls ages 8-12, tapping into the ongoing National Velvet-style romance between prepubescent females and pretty ponies, and will be lucky to corral $100 million--respectable but not anywhere as green as Shrek's $267.6 million.

Okay-- leaving aside the odd statement that TLK was a "chick flick", and the expectations that Spirit would make only modest opening-weekend box-office figures (actually it's turned out that it's pulled in the biggest weekend for a traditionally-animated film since Tarzan), I have to smirk a little bit at this.

The ads for Spirit, the ones that show satisfied moviegoers coming out of a screening, are very light on the twentysomething guys with the big teeth and the sunglasses on chains gesticulating about the suspense and the animation-- and very heavy on the cherubic pre-teen girls lisping "Bye, horsie!"

I guess that was to be expected. But regardless of the powerful deterrent that these ads might be for me, I'm still going to go see the film, and I'll probably enjoy it a vast amount.

Maybe tomorrow night, when the squealing target audience has all tottered off to bed, and I can enjoy it for the technical and visual feast that all reports claim it is.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
03:55 - You... you resource!

I found out today from Chris that, at least according to the conventional wisdom of the artists of the VCL, fanart.lionking.org has become known as the definitive fan-art site that people know about. Everybody seems to mention it, to know its features, to have friends who use it, and to use it as an archetype to inform their ideas of what an art archive should be.

It's caught me rather by surprise-- after all, it's got a pretty limited scope (ostensibly, it's just supposed to be for fan-art for one particular movie, though the boundaries of that get pushed to completely ridiculous lengths at times). But since we're just about to tick over 40,000 pictures in the database, and 1,000 active artists, I guess it's getting so it's hard not to run into it if you're anywhere near the demographic that the site seems to attract.

It seems that Lileks knows all too well what it's like to be a resource-- after all, he does get an awful lot more e-mail about his Bleats than I do about my art archive. But I do suspect I know how he feels.

But he's doing it because he loves it, and my motives are similar. Sure, being a Resource has its downsides-- expense, time, aggravation, resilience, vigilance, and ingenuity when you can squeeze it out. But you know, it's also a whole lot of fun, and there's no way to deny that.

03:31 - Further Xplanations

Here's the question I want to ask the people I mention in that last Xbox post:

Assuming that you use Linux and not Windows, do you do so based on the platform's actual merits as a workstation-- or because you want to stick it to Microsoft?

The reason I ask is that I find it very difficult to believe that any rational geek would legitimately prefer the user experience of KDE or Gnome over the undeniable convenience of Windows. Yeah, sure, it's more configurable, it lets you put windows every which where, it has transparent xterms and virtual desktops, yadda yadda. But is that enough to make up for the lack of Word and Excel and Photoshop, or for the dearth of games that makes the Mac look like a choice gaming platform by comparison, or for the need to live a life of web-based groupware clients and shareware that's perpetually in version numbers below 1.0?

There are benefits to using Linux or FreeBSD as a desktop workstation, yes. Some of the alternatives you use in that environment are in fact superior to Windows' native versions. But the reality is that most Linux-on-the-desktop users have chosen their platform out of rebellion against the Evil Empire.

The entire defining decision in desktop computing, then, is founded on idealism rather than practicality. It's a major concession and sacrifice in the name of ethical purity.

So, then, why in God's name would these same people turn around and buy Xboxes?

My theory, depressing though it is, is that games are an exception to every rule-- like any mind-altering drug, they crawl under the skin, they blur reality, they alter priorities, and they make a person's ethics and ideals sizzle away like so much Hawaiian shave ice on a Palm Springs sidewalk.

I hear story after story now about people we used to know who have mysteriously vanished off the face of the earth-- they appear only sporadically in social circles (if at all), they call to say they'll be somewhere or do something and then they don't, they languish for months or years without finding gainful employment. It's all an insoluble mystery to those who wonder where the person has gone.

Well, I know what's happened.

01:42 - The Hypocrisy Box

I've covered this topic before, and in much greater detail. But since this just came up at work the other day, it bears repeating:

The next person wearing a Linux t-shirt who says, "Yeah, Mount Rainier should erupt and wipe Microsoft off the face of the earth... oh, except for the one building where the guys are who make the Xbox! I can't live without my Halo crack!" will get a glowing green X-shaped hole in the chest.

Way back when, like before I had this blog, I'd written about how the Xbox was Microsoft's equivalent of Joe Camel; it wins over impressionable youngsters to the sympathetic-to-Microsoft side through providing that without which they cannot live, to wit, video games.

But while that may indeed have been a successful prong of their attack, they've had still more success-- and a much more telling sort-- in winning over all the idealistic Slashdot geeks who have gone from "Microsoft is evil and must be stopped" to "Microsoft is evil annnnd... well, hey, let's not go nuts here. Leave our Xbox alone, man!"

One thing I fucking cannot stand is hypocrisy.

00:33 - Wishing revealing!

Remember the We Drink Ritalin Flash animutation video? Well, here are the real lyrics.

Is it just me, or do they make less sense than the deliberately misheard ones in the video?

Either way, I think I know what I'm going to be doing for Halloween this year: I'll make a big grayscale Chiu head, wear it as a body-suit, and do the Chiu Dance in big leather boots and Immortality Rings all around the office. Thus continuing the tradition of dressing up as memes-- the Pusher and Shover robots last year, and Brak the year before.

Incidentally, it seems to me that J-Pop music-- the descendant both of American rock and Japanese video games-- has become a genre all its own, and a lot more vibrant and unified and prolific than anything back here. Sure, we've got indie rock and neo-punk and ska and swing, but the energy of classic rock seems to have fizzled out into soft-pop glop, a decade of "alternative" thrash, and a million little shards of genres that no longer have any implicit identification or features that tie them to anything else in their class.

J-pop is defining a generation in a culture where unity is important, and our music is reflecting our general lack of a defining rallying point. Sure, we've got the Internet-- but it's fragmentary by its very nature. And sure, we've got 9/11, which might lead to a whole new era of art just as Hiroshima led to the nihilism of anime.

What's my point? Nothing, I guess. Just rambling.

00:09 - Isn't it weird how you can hear the subtle pronunciation of the Z?

I'll describe the situation in more detail a little later-- but suffice it for the moment to say that there were some five of us sharing a floor in a three-room carriage-house on an inclined Arcata street on Friday night; six more arrived in the night, and we all arranged ourselves somehow on the floor and the newly disassembed futon. In the morning, we were offhandedly discussing the bleary wee hours when the carloads of Techers trekkin' up from Pasadena had waded into the room; one person, whose identity completely escapes me, noted that she hadn't even woken up.

"I was showing off my l33t sleeping skillz."

00:05 - Working on the backlog... fueled by pizza.

I'm going to be chipping away slowly at blog entries about this weekend, probably starting tomorrow; because tonight I'm just too tired, and there's too much to write about. It's just too daunting to think about covering the entire KSR and the Ukiah Memorial Day Parade tonight.

But at least I have one consolation: pizza from Pizza Etc.

It's a nondescript little take-and-bake place in the scale-model-of-a-strip-mall that sits at the southern end of East Road in Redwood Valley, right next to the on-ramp to Highway 20. (These are the kinds of directions we have to live by in rural North Coast land.) It's run by this little old lady with big round glasses who remembers her customers even if they come in only once every six months, and the pizza you get there is-- indescribably good.

I don't know quite what it is about Pizza Etc. pizza (which, by the way, my family and I pronounce "Pizza Ettica"). The crust is firm and tasty without being overly greasy, and lined with a coarse flour on the bottom that lets you slide the pizza from the cardboard onto the oven rack or pizza stone without it sticking-- it lends a certain something to the texture. And the cheese is piled thickly and the mushrooms are hand-sliced real thin, and they always volunteer to add garlic, which they heap on if you say yes.

I think it's the crust that does it. It fluffs up really thick during baking, with a rigid and dense bottom layer and a high-piled, fluffy top; it's a live-yeast dough, the lady who gave me mine on Sunday told me, and so the trick is to let it rise a little bit before baking it, if you have to freeze or refrigerate it.

See, the thing about Pizza Etc. is that they have a very, very, very loyal clientele. Loyal enough that people who have had pizza from there once, and who live far afield (like, for instance, in another state), will often pick up pizzas there to take home with them as they trek across country. I was asking the employee (who had been recently added, along with an espresso bar and lots of other accoutrements which could only indicate an intensely booming business) about how best to transport a pizza the 200 miles between Redwood Valley and San Jose without it getting too warm or stale; she said that this was a question that they get asked all the time. It doesn't surprise me, frankly-- the pizza is really that good-- but I guess I was made unanticipatedly happy hearing that the business was doing so well that not only is Pizza Ettica not only not likely to go under anytime soon, it's becoming a cult phenomenon.

And to think-- I knew them when they first opened their doors.

I just polished off the pizza I'd schlepped home in my trunk, after having my long-suffering and ever-cooperative parents transfer it from the refrigerator to the freezer two hours before I diverted my carful of Glorious Kinetic Spectators thence to pick it up (and provide them a potty break), and it was every bit as good as their pizza always is. It seems to be getting better, even. "15 minutes at 425°" is a mantra that's spreading throughout the West on refrigerator magnets and little slips of paper, and the lady at the counter said that she was working there in the off-time from a job she held down in San Francisco. She was erudite and helpful and seemed every bit as keenly aware of her customers' identities as the kindly little old lady who runs the store is, which leads me to believe they're related. She was passionate about pizza, which isn't something you get here in the city, even at the very best of Mexican or Vietnamese restaurants. It's just a job, here in the burbs. Up there, it's a way of life.

There's also a pretty kickin' burrito place up there at the rural crossroads. If you ask me, Redwood Valley's turning out to be quite a nice place to be from.

18:57 - Now that's a corporate response.


For those who were watching the Xserve announcement video really closely, there's a little gem in there that fills any geek with glee. To quote Slashdot's summary:

In the recent 'Apple Introduces Xserve' video, an audience member asks two questions, the first regarding Apple's plans for licensing WebObjects, and the second a slam on Apple -- and a poorly aimed one, considering it focuses on slamming Apple's choice several years ago to license AIX for some of their early server offerings. Steve's response while the man is answering his question had me rolling on the floor practically in tears. To see it for yourself, take a look at the video and skip ahead to about 01:28:30 and watch from there. At 01:29:02, Steve makes a familiar gesture to push up his glasses -- glasses which by any account needed no adjustment.

"Mercurial", they call him. This is what he does at a press event. I can only imagine what it must be like to work for the man. (From what friends have told me, it's gruelling.)

I'll bet he's got one hell of a sense of humor, though.
Monday, May 27, 2002
03:17 - Homer sleep now.

Well, I'm back from the KSR... and after 11 hours of driving, plus marching in the Memorial Day parade in Ukiah, I think I'm just about ready to collapse in a heap without blogging.

I'll get all the details written down tomorrow, I promise. I can give you the short summary, though: it rocked.
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© Brian Tiemann