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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, June 23, 2002
16:59 - And here we ban firecrackers.

Honestly, this defies commentary.

A wedding feast in north-east Pakistan turned to carnage after a mortar shell launched in celebration misfired, killing 21 people, including the bridegroom.

More than 40 guests were wounded in the accident, which happened in the village of Korez, 250 kilometres (180 miles) south-west of the border city of Peshawar.

Local officials said guests had been "joyously" firing their weapons in the air in a traditional act of celebration, when one of the groom's relatives loaded the mortar "upside-down".

What could I possibly say that could add to this?
Friday, June 21, 2002
16:26 - Site stats

Mike says:

As I said to Steven, it really ain't all about who gets the most hits, and I try not to gauge what I do by how many folks read it, but it is definitely nice to be appreciated, and any blogger who claims not to regularly check his site stats is a liar.

I dunno, I have yet to check mine...

Honestly, I have no interest in knowing how many people are reading this site-- I'm operating on the assumption that only two or three people are, and beyond that the prospects get kinda creepy. I suspect that I would change my writing habits if I knew more people were reading me, and I don't want to run that risk.

So I'm content in gauging this blog's popularity by second-hand factors such as how much e-mail I get (next to none, usually) and whether I happen to stumble across somebody who's got me in their blogroll. Beyond that I say, "Who's counting?"

14:24 - There is a difference

With this weekend's Lileks Screed in mind, and after meandering through a few discussions in blogland (the latest of which express fresh outrage over the death of Gal, the sweet-faced little girl at the bottom of today's Bleat), I find that the biggest ideological confrontation going on these days seems to be between the outrage of people who want to see the Palestinians defeated (and then rewarded with a state, as with Japan), and the caution of people who see such talk as being tantamount to Naziism.

I tell you, though, I'm getting awfully sick of that accusation. Especially coming from people whose forebears didn't exactly take such caution to heart themselves.

There is a fundamental difference between American public anger against Islamic fundamentalism, and Nazi anti-Semitism. I would have thought that was obvious, but apparently it's not. Evidently the very fact that our enemies seem to speak a common language and worship the same God is enough to make any attack upon them, even a self-defensive one, "racist" and therefore the work of evil monsters.

Take another look, if you will, at Michael Trossman's post from a few days ago-- or read it now if you missed it the first time. Consider how it was that Hitler came to power. Consider the national mood that codified anti-Semitism into law. And imagine that happening in America today with Muslims.

Doesn't really work, does it?

No, because the situations are entirely different.

Hitler wanted to kill the Jews because-- well, because of a personal grudge, evidently. Because it would help him leverage the will of the people to vault himself into power-- find a cheap and easy scapegoat, something that the country can feel that it's "cleansing" itself of by scouring it from within themselves, after which they can consider themselves "pure". Hitler's method was to dig up old racial libels, make propagandistic films, play on Germany's humiliation in the aftermath of WWI, and create a mythological "fatherland" that didn't really exist yet-- but that was only because of this one straw-man obstacle, this enemy-in-our-midst, which-- if they're rounded up and wiped out-- means that the German people would become the rightful inheritors of the Earth.

An ingenious plan, and one that came damned close to working, too.

But for anybody to claim that that's the motivation of the Americans who want to see an end brought to militant Islam-- well, that takes a person with an agenda, an anti-American axe to grind. Because even the most perfunctory glimpse can reveal that it isn't the case.

If America were to go to war against Islam-- a far-fetched concept in itself, because no matter how much proof were offered to the world community of Islam's harmful nature with respect to the modern planet, nobody would endorse us in it-- we would be doing it with deep regret, searching desperately for an alternative right up to the very last minute. We would destroy only the most strategic targets, taking only the bare minimum of lives necessary to remove the threat posed by those who consider 9/11 only to be the first stroke in a grand holy war. We would stop attacking the instant it became clear that the threat had been neutralized in a way that would last. (If that ends up meaning that all of Islam has to be undermined, well, we would deeply regret that too-- but it isn't our fault that Islam was founded with the principles that it was. It predates us. And so we won't stop short of that goal if that's what it takes.)

Hitler took on the Jews for no good reason-- where were the Jewish suicide bombers in Munich and Dresden? Where were the angry Jewish mobs calling for German blood? Where were the militant Jewish factions preaching a bloody end to the European races? Nowhere. Hitler simply needed a scapegoat for political gain, and the Jews were a convenient target. Hitler hated the Jews for ideological and political reasons, not for living historical ones. He hated the Jews for what they were, not for anything they did.

And that's what made his racism evil.

But we are going to war out of self-defense. We've been attacked, and we know that more attacks are coming-- they've only been prevented so far by intense efforts both at home and abroad. It's a sad fact that our enemy is a race, or more accurately (and more troublesome), a religion-- how do we target that enemy without being "racist"? We're bound to get these accusations, but that's the magnitude of the dichotomy that's been thrust upon us. It's really that big a decision to have to make.

We're on the brink of a new sea change in thought regarding race, religion, fascism, democracy, and the like, on the same scale as the one that Hitler brought to the world-- if World War II marked the beginning of the age of the sensibilities we've all known (tolerance, political correctness, anti-discrimination, the "Noble Redman", and the big enemy being Communism), 9/11 has marked the beginning of a new age that's just as important to recognize. A history book written in the year 3000 will use the same bold-face heading to describe World War II and whatever 9/11 has now touched off.

And now, while al Qaeda regroups in countries surrounding Afghanistan and plots the Next Big Move, the Palestinians prove that giving them their own state is not only no longer deserved, but a grave strategic error both in military and cultural terms-- and we have to put up with people who look at five-year-old Palestinian girls deliberately put into the line of Israeli fire and accidentally killed by ricocheting debris (and mourned by Israelis), and five-year-old Israeli girls shot through the head point-blank by Palestinian terrorists invading a home (and cheered by Palestinians)-- and claim that they're morally equivalent.

These are the same people who see the first tentative steps taken by America towards reining in Islam, and shout "Nazi!" at the top of their lungs. They're the people who tell pollsters that they'd be willing to dodge the draft, because, y'know, that means we'd be fighting for The Man and stuff, y'know? They're the people who think that understanding the answer to "Why do they hate us?" means we can pay someone some money, tweak a few buttons or levers in our global financial influence, and al Qaeda would become satisfied and go away. They're the people who say that "violence is not the answer" and talk of a "cycle of violence", as though if the Palestinians stopped blowing up bus stops and hotels, the IDF would keep bulldozing private homes. They're the people who claim that the Palestinian actions are the result of "desperation", when it's affluent and intelligent college students working on their master's theses who do the bombing these days, as happened in one of the recent attacks-- not the poor and desperate, as one might expect.

Some people just don't want to see the US get involved in another war-- even though it's painfully clear that we're already in one, whether we like it or not. We didn't start this one, no matter what "globalization" arguments are brought to bear-- but we will finish it. And we'll do so regardless of whether someone tries to invoke Godwin's Law on America's ass. It doesn't work that way. Thanks for playing.

10:58 - It's the details, stupid

I've never really been someone who hated Macs, though I did go through a phase during high school and early in college where I was dismissive of them and engaged in the usual chortling (What's the best way to accelerate a Mac? -9.8 m/s2!). However, as time went on and I learned from experience the difference between Photoshop on Windows and Photoshop on a Mac, I became much more tolerant and open and respectful of Apple's products, and then I had the fortune to work for Pacific Internet for a few years-- an ISP run by a former manager of the WebStar group at StarNine. That meant we were a Mac shop, and it meant I got a Power Mac 7600/120 to use at work. Outstanding little machine. I never wanted for anything-- I liked its telnet better than the Windows equivalents, it had Photoshop and plenty of RAM, and... well, hey, what else was there in 1996?

But I still wasn't interested in making my own personal machine a Mac; no, at that time I was still in that libertarian phase of free computing r00lz & Linux is da b0mb!!111`` in which I spent a futile period trying to make FreeBSD suffice as a desktop OS. (Being used to Photoshop and having to make do with GIMP can make a guy bitter.) The iMacs were out, but that wasn't for me. Nah, I was a geek, right? Those things weren't for geeks.

Some people recently have been seduced to the Mac by OS X. Some people have been drawn in by the iBook or the TiBook or the flat-panel iMac-- irresistibly cool as those things are. Some people have succumbed to peer pressure and bought iPods-- and then decided that they may as well just go all the way, because how can a company that makes something as damn-cool as the iPod be as bad as it's cracked up to be? Then they discover that it's not. Hey, any way of breaching the barriers.

But that's not what sucked me in. No, I was lured in by something much more obscure, but to me earth-shattering: the case design on the G3/G4 PowerMac.

Pull a ring on the side of the case, and... the whole thing just swings open. The motherboard is attached to the door segment. PCI cards and half of the back panel swing out with the door section. Drives are mounted in the body of the case. Cables are routed out of the way. To close the case, just snap it shut. No screwdrivers, no thumbscrews, no cutting your hand open. They made opening the case as simple as opening an oven, yet managed to keep it somewhat "hidden" so as not to be inviting people to open it if they had no reason to. You can even pull a tab out the back panel (which moves an entire plate into interlock) and padlock it shut. How cool is that?

Too cool for any other PC manufacturer, apparently, because nobody else has managed to do anything like this. Not even Dell. Why is this? I'm sure it can't be that Apple has a patent on this kind of design; it's just a clever variation on something that everybody else had been doing for years. It's deceptively simple. So why hasn't anybody else-- even those who specialize in case design-- been able to do anything remotely so good, even after Apple's design hit the market? All I can attribute it to is incompetence, sad to say. Nobody else has the motivation to make screw-free and blood-free cases, because their current products sell just fine-- and people either take their computers in to the shop to be serviced, or they accept that some physical pain is inherent in adding new PCI cards... right?

This case sent me a strong message, in about 1998 when it appeared: it said that Apple is all about geeks. They know what it is we value, and they know what we don't have time for. They were willing to put in the effort to design a case that would make geeks stop short and their jaws hit the floor in amazement at how good it is. Geeks like to be excited by technology, and Apple realized through some stroke of insight that while a case design like this might cost a lot of money in R&D and implementation, it would make drooling fanboys out of people who appreciated that kind of attention to detail-- those who were excited by such things. And hey, it worked.

The current swing-open Power Mac case design has undergone only minor revisions since its introduction in 1998, and it's due for a full-scale revamp-- it's expected in July. Fans of the current case can't much imagine that a new version can be much of an improvement; we can only hope that it won't be worse. But while it's lasted, I know it's made more converts than just myself-- and so whoever had the idea for it initially ought to be given some kind of award for insight above and beyond the call of duty.

And that's just one detail out of thousands.

Do I want to be condemned to a world where nobody has the competence to do the kind of design that Apple has been doing all these years? Obviously nobody's qualified to fill their shoes, otherwise, someone would have done it by now. Do I want to live in a world where mediocrity in design is not only the norm, but the only standard with no superior alternative?

Not just no-- hell no.

Okay-- in the course of his habitual fact-checking of my ass, Chris informs me that Apple does in fact have a patent on this design, and that's why nobody else has done something like it. Well, okay... though I have to imagine that this can't be the only possible good case design that doesn't involve screws or sharp metal edges. Can't someone come up with something else that's just as good, let alone revolutionary? And in any case (hyuck), what's to stop other companies licensing Apple's design for their own cases? Nah, gotta keep those boxes cheap, right?
Thursday, June 20, 2002
23:39 - Mmmyep. Good Screed.

Lileks is at it again-- and after reading this, I don't know if I've ever felt so distant from the world of college. I'm less than three years out, and I just spent Memorial Day weekend with Mole chums, reminiscing about AMa95 and Ditch Day... but after reading the college-student poll results that he seethes at here, in which the overwhelming majority of the nations Beautiful Young Adults reveal themselves to feel that America is evil and not worth defending against fanatical religious terrorists who, after all, live in cultural purity and don't have McDonald's-- well, I feel like I've suddenly and unexpectedly landed in a whole new tax bracket or something.

I wonder where these poll questions were asked. I somehow have to imagine that, just as with high school, my college experience was somewhat tilted from the norm-- at Caltech, there's no protesting, no hippies (well, there are CS geeks, but while they look similar, they're not), almost no sex, and certainly not much politics. All we cared about was math and physucks. But these polled students seem to be under the impression that just because there's a war on, it automatically means that it's Vietnam all over again-- which means that they, as college students, are required to be against it. Hey, it's tradition, right? And all wars are the same! ...Right?

Hmm. At least there seems to be a healthy majority sympathizing with Israel rather than with the Palestinians. But that's about the only bright spot to be seen.

Read the Screed. You Need a Thneed.

Oh, and by the way-- at the exact same moment that I read "BUT if I’d given in to the temptation to defend the machines, today would be a good example", Homer on TV said "I don't give in to temptation that easily!"

21:06 - What to do, what to do...

Okay, so Eric S. Raymond's blog (pointed to via Cold Fury) is turning out to be pretty linkworthy-- well, as long as he's not talking about Linux-- "A reader complains that Linux is difficult to install. Answer: Get thee to the Linux user group near you, who will be more than happy to help you get liberated". This week he's got a series on Islam and its history that is both sobering and enlightening-- I hadn't realized, for instance, that purdah is not in fact required by the Koran.

But, unfortunately, it doesn't much dispel the suspicions that have been gnawing at me over the past several months, regarding the idea that Islam is a religion that is uniquely, inherently, by its very nature, harmful to the rest of the world-- and what is therefore in store for it in the years to come:

This drama keeps getting re-enacted because, in general, these charismatic fundamentalist looney-toons are correct in their criticism of `soft' Islam. The Koran, the actions and statements of the prophet Mohammed, and the witness of the lives of his immediate followers are pretty clear on what the religious duties of a Muslim are. Long before the 9/11 attacks, I read large portions of the Koran (in translation) and more than one history of Islam, because I collect religions. I learned about the Five Pillars and the hadith (the traditional sayings of Mohammed) and the ulama. The picture is not a pretty or reassuring one.

Moderate Muslims trying to argue against the latest version of Islamic fundamentalism are in a difficult situation. All the fundamentalists have to do to support their position is to point at the Koran, which is much more authoritative in an Islamic context than the Bible is in most Christian ones. Moderates are reduced to arguing that the Koran doesn't really mean what it says, or arguing from hadith that qualify or contradict the Koranic text. Since the Koran trumps the hadith, this is generally a losing position.

The grim truth is that Osama bin Laden's fanatic interpretation of Islam is Koranically correct. The God of the Koran and Mohammed truly does demand that idolatry be purged with fire and sword, and that infidels must be forced either to convert to Islam or (as a limited exception for Christians and Jews, the "Peoples of the Book") live as second-class citizens subject to special taxes and legal restrictions. The Koran really does endorse suicidal martyrdom and the indiscriminate killing of infidels for the faith.

So the inevitable question, the one that people have been dancing around but not really asking for a while now, is this:

Does there come a time when a religion must be declared "evil" and incorrigible, and must be therefore stricken from the planet?

Or, more bluntly:

Should we in fact be considering wiping out Islam?

I hope not. And I wish it weren't true that Islam, unlike pretty much any other religion that's big enough to matter, is so dead-set upon these fantasy-novel concepts of Arthurian warriors and Caliphs and carrying sword and fire into the land of the infidels for the glory of Allah. But as Jamie Glazov and others continue to illustrate, Islam has at its core the codified exhortation to subjugate and convert the infidels, and that cannot be changed without involving changes to Shari'a Law and to the Koran itself-- Bida, a new (and therefore unholy) idea. Modern Islam has demonstrated both the will and the ability to attack the secular, Western world-- Quixotic it might be, but that's all part of the romance. And so there's no hope that they will simply get tired of it and give up. If anything, the more desperate their cause appears, the more fiercely they'll fight, and the more extreme techniques they'll employ, because they have less to lose.

How does one wipe out a religion, anyway? It's like banning an idea-- something that we've been very vehement (with the shoe on the other foot) in claiming to be impossible to eradicate or suppress completely. You can't wipe out democracy by burning the Constitution, and you can't erase Christianity by burning Bibles. The ideas live on regardless of whether they're endorsed by the local government, or whether they're declared subversive. And in any case, we've been vociferous in the blogosphere about the nature of randomly developed ideas as being the ingredients in the rich stew of an open culture-- if we truly feel confident in our thought system, we not only do not declare any idea to be blasphemous, we welcome it into the common discourse to be discussed and accepted or rejected, as appropriate, on the popular level. So thinking about attacking the Muslim religion does rather go against the very grain of our creed, as it were.

But as luck would have it, Islam isn't just a set of ideas: it's a set of ideas with actual physical components, relics that exist in the modern world which are said to play a part in the mythology of the past, present, and future. To wit, the Ka'aba-- the black meteoric stone in the square building in the middle of the square in Mecca. The object of the hajj, the pilgrimage that constitutes one of the Five Pillars of Islam, central to the contemporary practice of the faith as well as its storied founding and its prophesied future. For a bellicose and arrogant religion bent on taking on the entire world, it's founded on a remarkably exposed and vulnerable piece of physical reliquary.

So: What would actually happen if we were to put a cruise missile into the Ka'aba?

Would that finally put paid to the idea that everything in the Koran is an unequivocable script for the future of the world-- if the Ka'aba is destroyed, how can it be moved to Jerusalem in the End Times? How can such a thing happen without being mentioned in the predictions in the text? Would that be enough to dissolve Islam's fanatical core, and the Koranically correct notions that keep attracting Muslims back to strict fundamentalism in a way that no other religion does?

And is there any action we can take short of that, that can result in the modern world remaining safe from attack from that quarter in the future? After all, going to that length would be an act of cultural and historical barbarism worse than the Taliban's destruction of the cliffside Buddhas, which they undertook because... uh, because they were threatened by the influence of a competing religion.

One of our big tenets is "freedom of religion"-- we don't tell you what to believe, as long as you don't tell us what to believe. It's that second bit that's important. Self-determination, and the mind-your-own-business attitude that is fostered in the United States, is not an absolute concept; it is tempered by the clause of "As long as such freedom does not threaten our own survival". There haven't been many-- or indeed any-- immediate and direct threats on our country's ideals in our history, on our own ground, until now. And we're still unwilling to believe the magnitude of the decisions we're going to have to make in defense of what we believe to be right and just.

The point where we must all make that decision is coming, and soon.

Wait, I've got an idea. How about if we send into Mecca a cruise missile that's not armed-- instead of blowing up its target, it simply explodes on contact in a shower of Arabic confetti that reads, "The next one won't be corked"? Because just maybe, the knowledge of such chilling vulnerability is all that it would take...

Response from Mike at Cold Fury. Looks like this idea is becoming more than just a guilt-ridden murmur.

20:27 - Wheee!

The second printing of FreeBSD Unleashed just came through-- I got a copy in the mail today. It includes (at a brief glance) all the changes that I'd flagged, including the improved disk geometry diagram in Chapter 19.

The fact that it's gone to a second printing is very encouraging. If I'd decided to be in a bad mood tonight, I think this would have put a monkey wrench into those plans.

18:52 - “Software sucks because users demand it to.”

Here's a good, revealing article on software design from Charles C. Mann of Technology Review.

It's got some brusque remarks in it from Microsoft's former CTO (from the 80s era) and the usual kind of comparisons to space-travel technology and car design that you would expect in this kind of article. Most refreshingly, it points out the fact that software design is fundamentally different from other kinds of engineering-- "If a bridge survives a 500-kilogram weight and a 50,000-kilogram weight, Pfleeger notes, engineers can assume that it will bear all the values between. With software, she says, 'I can’t make that assumption—I can’t interpolate.'"

It also notes that software is inherently buggy because customers demand new features all the time. As I've mentioned before, devices like digital cameras and MP3 players are in that bleeding-edge phase that personal computers have exemplified in macrocosm for twenty years now: every six months, a company brings out a device that's twice as good as its previous one, just to keep pace with the competition and the demands of the available technology (which keeps changing just as fast). From a stereo-design or car-design or bridge-design standpoint, such thinking is insane.

How much longer can we expect to keep this up? Moore's Law can't keep on going forever, can it? Will there come a time when CPU cycles and RAM are so cheap that no amount of programmatic complexity can drive hardware upgrades? Obviously not for decades at least, or even centuries-- even when we have fully-functional holodecks and transporters, there will still be a demand for still more complex computing tasks. At least, that's the impression of technology that I get from Star Trek-- even over the course of a few fictional decades of a hypothetical future, such new developments as holographic doctors and food replicators are greeted with the same fervor that we emit today over the newest gadgets and peripherals. And because of the egalitarian nature of software creation, the limits on what software can do are still imposed by hardware rather than by human imagination-- as will continue to be the case for a long time, I suspect.

And we can't treat software as an exception to the rules of engineering, either; as time goes on, software will become more and more important a part of the engineering world-- and sooner or later, mechanical and civil and electrical engineering will be treated as the poor cousins of software engineering, the latter of which will be so ubiquitous that its rules will be the ones bent to accommodate the rest of the world's disciplines, not the other way around. Ready to start thinking about quality-control at Ford in terms of defects per kLOCs?

18:19 - From the "Leave it to Japan" department...


In-dash MP3 player. With tube amps.

What more needs to be said?

17:47 - John C. Qwerty

Wow. Never in months have I seen this kind of reaction from across the Mac community to a column than to the John Dvorak one from yesterday.

As near as I can tell, he's saying that Apple is the only innovator in the entire computer industry, and that computers are only worth using if they from how they work currently. He's using your basic Shock Jock technique of yellow journalism to generate controversy (Oooh, I'll pick on Apple and people will yap for days about this one!). And, look, it's worked.

I'll say. Here's just a sampling:
Stepping back a bit, this can easily be seen as a microcosm of Mac Evangelism in general: What makes a columnist bash Macs? Even those who clearly have it in for Apple can't be entirely negative these days; some of the things Apple has been doing lately are just too undeniably cool for even the staunchest anti-Mac warrior to fail to concede. So is it just that people like Dvorak (who used to have a Mac-related column, for God's sake!) are bitter and resentful and desperately want some attention-- and are willing to take groundless pot-shots at what's currently stealing the limelight in order to get their own names into Google?

I've been taking some admonishment lately for simply being too much of a Macophile here in this blog-- which, considering that (as I've stated) I never intended this to be a Mac-centric site, I would have to agree has a point. Can't I just accept that Apple's fortunes will go whichever way they'll go, regardless of whether I take up the sword and try to rebut and counter whatever paranoid propaganda spews from the FUD-monkeys in the media? Don't I realize that no matter how much theory I quote or how many documented examples I give in support of my platform, all I'll end up doing is driving people further and further away-- because a zealot with facts backing him up is still a zealot?

On an unrelated note, Apple has posted another round of Real Stories on their site-- letters from users which I would be willing to bet are fully legally documented and traceable to actual humans (so any accusations of their being a "load of BS and “opinionated fact”" will have to be taken up with those people, not with Apple).

When I come home now I immediately start iTunes, which has my entire music collection. Then I begin working on photo albums. In fact, I started a business making iPhoto photo albums. It is amazing. I burn CDs and DVDs with photo albums for customers (in addition to the amazing print copies) set to music. I have even learned to touch up photos with Adobe Elements and iPhoto 1.1.

Look, what I'm trying to do here is celebrate what I see as a genuine force of good in the technology industry. If someone's willing to try to convince me that Apple is in fact a backward and stodgy company that stifles innovation and prevents people from doing great and creative things and whose extermination would in fact greatly liberate the computing industry, they're welcome to try. But if they're unable to convince me of that (and I promise I will make every attempt to listen with an impartial ear), then I will have to continue to do as I have been: when I see someone attacking what I consider to be a force of good, I have to ask what that person's motivations are. What could they possibly find threatening about a company that has less than 4% of the market? Is it purely the fact that almost everybody who uses a Mac loves it? Is that what's so menacing? The thought that something could exist that makes that many of its customers happy?

I'll say it again: I don't like zealotry (any kind of zealotry) any more than anybody else does. But I recognize when a company has something special going on for it, and as far as I'm concerned this is a Golden Age that I will look back on fondly after it's long gone. If that's because Apple is only a memory by that time, and if that's attributable to jealous and bitter columnists mercilessly flogging Apple for succeeding against all odds when it mattered most, then I'm going to be a very angry person later in life.

But I like to think we're better than that. This is America, isn't it?

14:10 - Let's hear it for the good guys

Blogging from India, Shuman Palit has a list of the top twenty reasons to like/love/admire Israel. Go read it, and be sure to also read the responses from Solly Ezekiel and Michael Trossman.

It's good to see that there are more countries on "our side" than just ourselves. What gets me, though, is that there's this unspoken rule that "you don't help the Israelis"-- almost as though the very fact that they've succeeded using the same methods as America did, with a culture of personal expression and individual freedom and innovation, lumps them into a hated category of countries that nobody is willing to emulate because of their success.

Nobody wants to be like the US, because capitalism and democracy and secularity are seen deep down in other parts of the world as dirty and dehumanizing. Nobody wants to be like Israel, because they've got all the bad aspects of the US, plus they're Jews.

If we weren't concerned with what the rest of the world thinks, or whether it would constitute treason or something, I can imagine that a lot of people in this country would happily form a militia to go to Israel and fight on the side of the people that represents a "right" that no accusations of Naziism can assail: this "right" is one where the only possible casualties are the romanticism and idealism of what has been called the "Old World" for centuries now.

If we were to gather together the countries who seem to "get it"-- America, Israel, Britain, India, Japan, perhaps a few others-- and secede and form our own planet, I've got a guess as to which planet would survive longer.

09:20 - Wait a minute. What time is it?

There wasn't much evening bloggage last night because I had what has to be the quickest and most intense fever ever; about eight hours of my life have been sort of snipped out of my consciousness.

I've had a mysterious sore throat for two days, and at about 7:00 last night, after I picked up my car and while Chris and I tried dumbfoundedly to fix a bizarre Sendmail problem, I started feeling really cold. And tired. To steal a line from James Herriot, I felt as though a group of strong men had been kicking me enthusiastically for several hours.

So I got home, I lay down for a while, then moved to the couch downstairs with my comforter, curling up in a desperate attempt to get warm while the TNN Star Trek marathon played. Then dinner was ready-- and as I sat up, suddenly I was unbearably hot. No food could I manage; the best I could do was to go upstairs, fling my window open, and drape myself out into the night air. We didn't seem to have any Tylenol or whatever you're supposed to take in these circumstances; we didn't even have a thermometer, so I have no idea what was going on.

Whenever I've been sick, which is seldom, I tend to always have a single dream which plays for hours and hours, never seeming to make any progress story-wise. Often it's a dream about a bunch of green wire-frame hexagons and squares and pentagons floating about in black space, like a CADKEY project. But not this time; this time I was in charge of removing the foul language from a whole bunch of TV shows. (Apparently these shows were filmed with all the foul language in, which then had to be edited out.) Except the shows weren't on video or anything; they were physical blobs or sticks or something, piled up in a huge sticky mound, and if I cut a piece of bad language from one show, unless I really knew what I was doing, it would appear in a different show. So it was like a game of Jenga or Kalto or something, and I played it all freakin' night.

So now it all seems to be over-- not even my sore throat remains. I'm still a bit dizzy, though... but I don't think I'll stay home. I've never yet missed a day of work due to being sick, and I'm not keen on starting now.

Wish me luck...
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
14:50 - Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


OS-level scanner driving in Jaguar! Hot damn!

Meanwhile, John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine says that Apple hasn't had an original idea since 1984, and should be exterminated.

(Or maybe that Apple should discontinue the Macintosh and "replace it with something new". Uh... what, so now what you're bitching about is the name? What the hell would constitute a "new computer that is not a Mac"? Something with entirely new hardware, running an entirely new operating system? Uh... 'scuse me, how is that different from the current Macs running OS X?

Wait-- maybe he's saying Apple should stop making proprietary computers, port OS X to Intel, and sell beige boxes. That'd sure be revolutionary. Or maybe he's one of those forward-thinking pundits who thinks Apple should be liquidated, its assets sold to the stockholders, and its intellectual property thrown into a dump (it's no good anyway, is it? After all, if it was any good, wouldn't Apple be the majority player?) Oh, I know. Maybe he thinks Apple should do something totally unprecedented, like a PDA. Everybody likes PDAs! Or maybe a tablet PC with a telepathic interface. Or a teleporter. Anything-- by Christ, we've got to do something! Every day Apple makes computers, they're setting the world's technological frontiers back another two weeks! Nahh, that can't be it. He probably thinks Apple should become a pure software maker, or possibly an Internet portal, serving e-mail and news and weather and sports scores. From there it's only a skip and a jump to being one of those random penny-stock companies juggled around by anonymous German investors, the niche they so richly deserve.

He's positive that now that Apple has released the new iMac (which he calls "I-Mac"), there's nothing else they could possibly do to follow it up with.

Is there any wonder why I have no interest in being part of a community where people like Dvorak are seen as "visionary"?)

12:07 - Windows Moment of Zen

I haven't had occasion to mention one of these in a while-- coincidentally since I got the iMac for work and shelved my Windows2000 machine for use in testing Windows apps and playing AVIs with funky encoding that QuickTime doesn't support (not that WMP lets me copy still frames from them or anything).

All I want is to take a screen shot, paste it into Paint, save it into "My Pictures", and then go to the command line to FTP it to my other machine (because the FTP client built into Windows Explorer works not at all).

So I do that. I save it there. The path appears to be Desktop->My Documents->My Pictures. That's where it appears to be. That's where the files are if I double-click on the "My Documents" on my desktop.

But after painstakingly cd'ing through "Documents and Settings" and "briant" and "Desktop" and "My Documents", I find... that it's empty.

There's also a "My Documents" directly under the "BrianT" level, but-- yes, it's also empty.

Hmm, maybe it's in "All Users.WINDOWS" or "Default User.WINDOWS". Nope, not there either. "Administrator"? Nope.

It's only after much scrolling and prodding that we discover that the files, as well as a Word document that seems to be accessible by Word and nothing else, are in a "My Documents" folder directly under the C:\ root. Same with "My Music" and "My Download Files".

What the hell is this? Does every user share these top-level folders? Or does Windows actively copy all the files around the system, out of your user-specific folder and into this top-level thing every time you log in? Is this their helpful way of making the files accessible to you-- shuffling them into a completely backwards and counterintuitive location so you don't have to go down two extra levels in Windows Explorer to find them? Oh, thank you for your generous assistance.

This is Microsoft's idea of a multi-user operating system, is it? Good Lord.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
14:39 - Shee-frickin-hosaphat!


Is this the front-runner? It certainly seems to be well-developed, and if the poll is to be believed it has an over 80% approval rate. It seems to cover all the bases-- the 2833 trees, the bigger-than-before, the whole-world-exchange aspect... I have to give it some more thought, but I might be able to get behind this...

14:25 - Hee hee hee! Oh, I am amused!

No need to say much about this, I suppose-- it speaks for itself, really. But I guess this is exactly the kind of thing we should have expected from Apple daring to poke their nose a little further out of the ghetto.

If you’re the kind of computer user that worries about the feds raiding your shit-hole apartment every time you drop off a roll of film at 'The Wal-Mart', then you NEED a Mac. Stop spending time in a sweaty state of paranoia, and start spending it organizing those compromising photos you took during that “work-related” trip to Japan. With iPhoto, all your twelve-year-old-school-uniform-clad-plastic-prop-tentacle-rape porn will be easier to organize than your scant black book!

'Course, if this is the best they can do, then maybe things are pretty bright after all. After all, if they actually feel threatened enough by Apple with the market share that it has to spend the time to put together a page like this, then they've got about the same problems that the Taliban had.

One thing I do envy the PC side is that while they feel "preached to" by Mac users, we feel "personally physically threatened" in return. I'll take Mormons on the doorstep over flaming crosses on the front lawn any day.

Disclaimer: I have not recently used a Macintosh, so I do not know how “amazing” OSX (or even an iBook) is. Also, it’s important to note that I am by no means a Windows/PC Fanboy. With that said, I must point out the load of BS and “opinionated fact” that is Apple.com/switch.

Go there and giggle a bit. Then come back here and (hopefully) giggle a little bit more. eject and I put an entire day-and-a-half into this, and if you enjoy it we’ll definitely throw a little more sweat into it. Hope you like, the truth.

See, this isn't satire; this isn't parody. This is just the kind of vicious, feral smacking-each-other-with bones that some embarrassments to the human race have just never evolved out of. Yeah, I know it's flamebait; I know I should just let it roll off my back. But-- God dammit, you people. Jesus Christ.

Yeah, kick that underdog! C'mon, kick it! Kick it!

11:43 - Quicktime: Not Much of an Ambassador

The QuickTime player is one of the very few pieces of software that Apple writes for Windows (WebObjects is just about the only other), and unequivocally the most widely used. And as has been brought to my attention by multiple people since discussing it with Steven den Beste last night, it could hardly do a worse job of carrying the Apple brand into the Windows-user mindshare.

The biggest complaints have to do with two things:
  • The nag screen that appears when the player is launched
  • The fact that upon installation, QuickTime snags control of a number of image/audio/video filename-extension associations, resulting in seeing the nag screen a lot more

Both of these are valid complaints, too, and I won't try to apologize for them. They are an area where Apple really ought to be concentrating a good deal of effort if they expect to give Windows users a good first impression. I'd like to point out that improvements have been made, but not enough.

First of all, some background. QuickTime isn't some new upstart video format trying to gain ground. It's been around since 1991, appearing around the same time as the first MPEG encoders and players, and long before any such Microsoft equivalent existed. QuickTime has always been available for both platforms, and became the de facto standard very quickly. Back in 1992, QuickTime developers were able to demo a 3D cube spinning in space, each of whose six sides had a playing QuickTime movie mapped onto it. Since then it's grown to encompass VR, cubic, and hot-spot-embedded movies, as well as Flash integration. This is core stuff, here. Apple invented multimedia video, and the only reason that Apple lost market share in the mid-90s was that they ignored the up-and-coming streaming video market, instead focusing on embedded solutions for CD-ROM games and the like, and they had their lunch eaten by Real and, later, Windows Media.

But there's still a lot of QuickTime media on the net, and not just what's on Apple's own website (for instance, those "Real People" ads on the Switch page). Thanks in large part to iMovie, consumer video production for Web distribution has given QuickTime another boost lately; and the largest selection of movie trailers online is at Apple's own QuickTime site. So Web users find themselves exhorted to install QuickTime at every turn, and when they do, it's a minefield that almost seems designed to snare the unwary.

First of all, the installer has a checkbox option that asks you whether you want to associate file types like JPEG, BMP, and PNG with QuickTime. This checkbox is (rather, was-- more on this later) selected by default, and it really shouldn't be. But most users won't uncheck the box (it is, after all, assumed to be standard workflow), and that's where the trouble begins.

Once the software is installed, every time you launch it, it puts up a nag screen coaxing you to pay $30 for the Pro version. Now, I'm not going to apologize for this-- it seems like a really crappy thing for them to do, and quite un-Apple. (If it's any consolation, we get the nag message on the Mac too. But it should be noted that on the Mac, because of the modal nature of applications, you generally launch the program once per uptime, and then you simply don't have any windows open-- you seldom actually quit the player. But in Windows, because you can't have an application running without any windows open, people will tend to close down the application when they're done viewing movies, to get that floating toolbar or the default movie out of the way-- and then they have to launch it again to watch another movie later. So, hello nag screen again, more than Mac users tend to have to see it.)

I realize that this is solving the wrong problem, but I'd also like to mention that the $30 is a lot more than just a ransom to get the nag screen to go away. It gets you a key that lets you trim, copy, paste, create, and export movie files in any of dozens of different formats, from AVI to BMP to FLC to DV stream. You can encapsulate everything from MPEG-4 to Flash to MP3 into a QuickTime movie wrapper, and $30 gets you the lifetime ability to do that (well, QT6 will require a new license key because of the MPEG-4 licensing stuff). I use the Pro features all the time, and $30 for a full-featured video-media editing suite seems like a pretty kickass deal to me. But I realize, again that that's not solving the problem, which is that Windows users don't want video-authoring features or to see the nag screen. They just want to play the goddamned movies.

So then there's the player itself. Now, it's gotten a lot better than the QuickTime 4 days, when Apple regrettably fell headlong into the trap of the then-vogue trend of "writing softare that ...looks like things!" And the player they produced, the first to use their now-common "brushed-metal" look, was so stupidly designed that it earned a spot at the Interface Hall of Shame. The designers tried to make the player look and operate like an everyday physical device, right down to simulating the limitations of physical devices. Example: the volume control widget. It's a thumb-wheel. While this kind of control makes sense for a real-world piece of consumer electronics, it's a completely moronic metaphor to use in software. There's no visual feedback, tactile response using a mouse is negative, and Apple changed it to a simple slider in QuickTime 5. They changed a lot of things in QT5. They know how shamefully bad QT4 was, especially since they're supposed to be the paragon of good user interface design.

Let's face it: Apple just doesn't "get" Windows. (Or didn't, in the QT4 era.) What would typically happen would be that a hapless user would download QuickTime, run the installer, and end up with GIF and JPEG and AVI associated with QuickTime. Then, they'd be browsing through their pictures or movies, and each double-click would bring up the QuickTime player, which would pop up its nag screen. The user swears, closes down the window, double-clicks on another picture, gets the QT window and the nag screen again, swears louder-- it's a quagmire, to use a word we've all been avoiding in other contexts, one in which the best of intentions on Apple's part have ended up reinforcing in Windows users' minds the association of the Apple logo with "Annoying piece of motherfucking shit" every time it appears.

Totally understandable. But Apple has been working on it.

The interface isn't all that QT5 fixed, for one thing. Starting with that version, file-type associations became manageable in the system-wide Control Panel (under "File type Associations"), and now it no longer tries to take control of any file types that are not Mac-specific. The MIME-types settings that plug QT into the browser only take control of file types such as PICT and QTIF, and the check-box in the next screen which offers to associate QuickTime with "Internet file types" such as GIF and JPEG is not checked. Apple does listen.

(Besides, I suppose it would be gauche to point out that on the Mac, because of Type/Creator codes and the hierarchical override system, you can associate multiple individual files of the same type with different opener applications. Changing the opener app of a file, a group of files, or an entire file class, is a simple straightforward matter and very flexible. There's none of this "One program per file type" bullcrap you get on Windows; and so on the Mac it's really not a problem.)

At any rate, there are other advantages to QuickTime as well, over the competition. Why is it, for instance, that neither Windows Media Player nor the Real player allow you to scrub live through a video clip? In QuickTime, you can move the slider throughout the playback duration, and the video updates smoothly to follow your mouse movement. Holding the left and right arrows gives you smooth control, as do the fast-forward and rewind buttons, which play it at 2x (including the sound). But in WMP and Real, if you scrub the slider back and forth, the window goes black-- and if you press Play, it might eventually start playing the video again near where you left the slider, but it'll probably take several seconds for it to figure out the keying. And to add insult to injury, you can't even Copy a still frame out of WMP or Real to paste into another application; you can do that even in the free QT player, and I don't understand how anybody who needs still frames from video clips can possibly stand using the other players. (You can also create video-player skins, save per-movie brightness/contrast/hue/cry/volume/balance settings, fiddle with masking layers, and set "poster frames"-- the initial frame that shows at the beginning of a movie.)

But that nag screen is still there, and if you've got QT4 installed, your Registry is probably irreparably screwed up-- they fixed that functionality decisively in QT5, in response to overwhelming-- er, "opinion", but that's small consolation to anybody who's been burned by what QT4 does to a Windows system.

And it's still fairly easy to get yourself into that maddening cycle, even in QT6. A user might totally innocently end up associating BMP and AVI files with QuickTime, and from then on be unable to view their files free of the nag screen (not realizing that the ability to fix it is right there in the Control Panels). Regardless of what features QuickTime actually has, it's still going to annoy people who are squarely in Apple's target demographic, and they're not likely ever to seek out any other example of Apple's software or hardware mojo-- which is a shame, considering how good things like iTunes and iMovie and iPhoto are. In the Mac world, we take these things for granted, and we forget what it's like to be a Windows user looking with distaste at us and wondering just what the hell it is we're smoking, if software like QuickTime is what excites us.

Apple's gone part of the way by giving Windows users a genuinely enviable set of controls over file-type association. In fact, over the course of writing this article and researching what the installation procedure on Windows is like these days, my thesis has gone from "QT on Windows is Apple's biggest liability and a woefully bad piece of software" to "Okay, they've actually made a lot of progress-- some of this stuff is really nice". But now they need to go one step further and address that nag screen. There's got to be a better way to sell the Pro version of the player-- and making the user curse Apple's name every time they launch the software for a completely un-Apple-related task like viewing a picture or movie file is not a good goal. Just a button or banner unobtrusively placed somewhere in the interface would be fine. Anything... we just need to stop alienating Windows users by making them think that if QuickTime is this crappy, then why should they take anything else Apple makes seriously?
Monday, June 17, 2002
02:10 - "Real People" Whitewash

You know, that's worth an entry: Why aren't there any non-whites in the Apple "Real People" ads?

There are three women and five men, all with Anglo-Judeo-Christian-Indo-European names you might find in a children's reading textbook in the 50s. Sure, they range from the geeky to the freaky, from the hip and stunning to the wild-eyed and the goofy. But they're all white-bread.

I can think of a good number of possibilities for why this is. Let's go through the litany:
  1. Apple is racist all of a sudden. Nahh, I don't think so. They've had Seal and Barry White and George Clinton and all kinds of people from all walks of life doing their PR for years now. And forgive me for a little bit of gut-feeling, but it just doesn't feel like the company I know.
  2. Apple has carefully engineered the ads to employ the most visually appealing personalities they could find, to present in a bloc to the meat of their target demographic-- and they believe that such a demographic is most comfortable seeing unassuming white guys and ladies instead of black or Asian or Hispanic faces selling them lifestyle products. Hmm... could be, but that's awfully Machiavellian. I wonder what this means for potential "Real People" ads made for the Japanese or European or Latin American markets? Will they do new screenings of testimonials by local familiar faces?
  3. This lineup of eight people, chosen for the uniqueness of their stories and their presence on camera, used to contain a single black person and/or Asian person, etc. ...But to the ad people it looked too much like tokenism-- and they replaced the "token" players with white runners-up. Sort of a negative affirmative action, to stem accusations of tokenism-- these days just as regrettable a thing to be accused of as racism. Maybe Apple is trying to start a new backlash in advertising, calling for an end to the "Bobby, Pedro, and Lamar"-ism of cereal ads and candy-bar wrapper mascots. Maybe this is the first arrows-in-the-back harbinger of a new era in which political correctness in advertising will be seen as an anachronism-- because hey, this is America, and we don't need to fuss and putter about who thinks we're racist these days, do we? Certainly not by comparison to some.
  4. These eight people, by pure chance and the luck of the draw, happened to be the best qualified eight for the ads-- the ones with the best stories to tell and who looked best against a white backdrop. And Apple was unconcerned enough with political correctness that they didn't seek out "minority" candidates to insert artificially into the lineup, because they felt it wasn't necessary.

Naturally, these possibilities all give me different levels of comfort, and I'm not sure which I think is the most likely. On a hunch, I'd say it's either #2 or #4... but I have no way of knowing.

I wonder if any of the major pundits will pick up on this-- and if so, if there will be a stink raised?

23:24 - Orlowski, you're a sad, strange little man.

Andrew Orlowski of The Register has an article, referred to me by Steven den Beste, in which he responds to the new Apple ads with shock and horror. He says that the "Real People" campaign paints Mac users as pathetic losers, sexual deviants, and general lowlife idiots. This from a usually quite content iBook user, too.

Well, I disagree, but at this stage I'm not sure if it's because of any one particular point he makes, or if it's just that I've only now finished reading it and am still sort of at a loss for words, as though I'd been walking down the street and had someone leap out of an alley, whap me about the face with a pair of wrapping-paper rolls, and then run away.

I think he's really reaching with his "Losers" observation. Sarah Whistler gives him dominatrix vibes, and he freeze-frames Damon Wright in a pose where it looks like he's groping for boobs-- I think that tells us more about Orlowski's particular psychological quirks than anything else, to say nothing of the pettiness and the flimsiness of premise that you'd have to have in order to make these kinds of cheap-shots the basis for your article.

"It is my friend," says one 'Dianne Dyruff'.

"I think we'll have another little iBook in the family soon!" she concludes, revealing a fetish every bit as bizarre as Furries.

Surely 'Real People' don't pretend that computers are their friends, or their children? How sad is that?

I dunno, Andrew. How sad is it to have to cast aspersions on the nature of someone's nice haircut in order to prove your case? How sad is it to take what to everybody else is a happy, silly, human ad campaign that manages to take an aggressive stance through the casting of vulnerable Everymen-- and try to prove that it's a hellacious "theatre of cruelty" that exploits Apple's own users as helpless pathetic pawns?

Orlowski has spent the past year griping about the horizontal pin-striping in OS X-- I don't think he's missed mentioning it in a single Mac article, even though they've been present (and even more prominent) in the classic OS, dating back to 1984. And that's just for starters. I've always considered him to have some very peculiar, inscrutable axes to grind, and this latest bit doesn't do much to dissolve that opinion.

Sure, he may be "terrified" by the new ads. I think he's succumbing to the kind of guilt you feel if you've been caught in something naughty-- someone peels the roof off the alley where you're shooting up, and you flail about until you see someone else you can point at and yell "He did it first!" He's feeling weird about being an underground rebellious Mac user who suddenly has the eyes of the world on the platform he's just become aware that he's been writing about for so long from the haven of obscurity.

But if I were Apple, and I were trying to cast a cross-section of society (leaning tangibly on the creative and technological), I don't know if I'd have been able to do it better:
  • Aaron Adams - Windows LAN administrator, looks like a nice boring kinda guy
  • Sarah Whistler - Writer, non-technical motherly type (dominatrix? C'mon...)
  • Mark Frauenfelder - geek who likes geek toys
  • Liza Richardson - DJ, very attractive gal with stringent demands for quality
  • Diane Druyff - that fun, sort of plump woman in every workplace who unapologetically loves life
  • Dave Haxton - Propeller-beanied developer
  • Patrick Gant - Everyday guy who simply wants his computer to quit making his life miserable
  • Damon Wright - IT manager with a movie-star coif-- beaming the smile of the recently converted

What does Orlowski think is missing? Gamer kids? College dudes? Bleached blondes? Is he weirded-out that there aren't any token non-whites in the lineup (granted, that is kinda strange, this day and age)? This is a strong "professional" cross-section, and one that ought to hit its target demographics square-on.

What else is bizarre about this article? Let's see. For one thing, I think the "slow mocking balalaika score" is meant to personify the frustrated bleary floundering of life in a Windows world, which these people spend much of the time in the ads describing having escaped. It's not mocking *them*, it's mocking their tormentor and sympathizing with their plight. It humanizes them. I think that comes across pretty clearly in the ads, especially as the music ends before they introduce themselves (at the end of the ads, clearly re-shuffled), being confident and happy.

And as for wanting to see comparisons between iTunes and Windows Media Player, or between iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, they're all there on the site, for those willing to take a few moments to look.

From a Mac-user perspective, the ads feel like they're finally speaking our mind, not that of the company-- these are the things we've been saying all these years, not cooked-up marketing-ese. But from a PC user standpoint, they're meant to be silly and human and a plea for sanity without being confrontational, and I think they do that very well.

Orlowski's done a fine job of showing that he's happiest when he's bitching about something, even if he has to make up something to bitch about.

20:59 - This slope ain't that slippery

Marcus forwards me the folowing e-mail, which reinforces the fact that there's a long way to go between security profiling and Naziism:

To ensure we Americans never offend anyone, particularly fanatics intent on killing us, airport screeners will not be allowed to profile people.

They will continue random searches of 80 year old women, little kids, airline pilots with proper identification, Secret Service agents who are members of the President's security detail, 85 year old Congressmen with metal hips, and Medal Of Honor winners.

Let's pause a moment and take the following test:
In 1972, at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnaped and massacred by:
(a) Olga Korbut
(b) Sitting Bull
(c) Arnold Schwartzenegger
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:
(a) Lost Norwegians
(b) Elvis
(c) A tour bus full of 80 year old women
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

During the 1980's, a number of Americans were kidnaped in Lebanon by:
(a) John Dillinger
(b) The King of Sweden
(c) The Boy Scouts
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:
(a) A pizza delivery boy
(b) Pee Wee Herman
(c) Geraldo Rivera
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked, and a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard by:
(a) The Smurfs
(b) Davy Jones
(c) The Little Mermaid
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens, and a US Navy diver was murdered by:
(a) Captain Kidd
(b) Charles Lindbergh
(c) Mother Teresa
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by:
(a) Scooby Doo
(b) The Tooth Fairy
(c) Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by:
(a) Richard Simmons
(b) Grandma Moses
(c) Michael Jordan
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by:
(a) Mr. Rogers
(b) Hillary Clinton
(c) The World Wrestling Federation
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

On 9/11/01, four airliners were hijacked and destroyed, and thousands of people were killed by:
(a) Wiley E. Coyote
(b) The Supreme Court of Florida
(c) Mr. Bean
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 2002, the United States fought a war in Afghanistan against:
(a) Enron
(b) The Lutheran Church
(c) The NFL
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

In 2002, reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnaped and murdered by:
(a) Bonnie and Clyde
(b) Captain Kangaroo
(c) Billy Graham
(d) Muslim males between the ages of 17 & 40

Nope, no pattern here!!

19:35 - Where do you think you're going today?

If you've got a name like "Woodcock", I hope you don't harbor aspirations of signing up with Microsoft's Passport service. You disgusting pervert.

That is, until the fateful day recently when trying to sign up for Passport. When I try I get a little message that says "Your lastname contains a word that has been reserved or is prohibited for .NET Passport registration. Please type in a different lastname". If only the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages had said something similar 25 years ago...

Being temporarily unemployed, I spent a rather entertaining afternoon entering slight-moderate rude words into the sign on process. Alas, only my name and similar names were rejected. Harold Wanker, Fred Prostitute and Josiah Feltch (and Felch, I never know how to spell it, neither does /usr/dict/words) all seem to be perfectly acceptable names. So it would appear to be a mistake... (And you should hear what "Gates" means in our house).

One day later, I finally found an email address to write to to point out this oversight. Surely there is a quick fix. But no. I got an email from some polite lady pointing out what a disgusting and offensive little man my forebear was and does this satisfy my query?

I love how their marketing slogan these days is "Yes You Can".

16:24 - Jasper: Most Famous Dog in the Blogosphere

Leave it to Lileks to corral together the wildly disparate topics of home life, Islamofascism, the Macintosh, Star Trek, and agnosticism under one three-letter heading: Dog.

But who civilizes the dog? Man. And it’s so very easy to do; it requires only connection and the will to do good. Which is why I’ve often said, half facetiously, that the relationship between man and dog is the same as man to God. Dogs don’t understand our books or physics or spacecraft or lawn mower engines or flat-screen monitors or 99.8% of our world. They do not know what it is that they do not know. They don’t even know how to pose the question, frame the argument, find their way into to realm of the human mind. The connection to the human being is sufficient. And that’s why I’m not an atheist, as much as every single rational fiber of my being tells me I should be: don’t know what I don’t know. (And I know that for a fact.) I find no more empirical proof of God than my dog finds proof of satellite TV. But at night when we’re on the sofa he sees the inscrutable stories flickering on the box in the corner. I note his disinterest: one of those things, whaddagonna do. But the fact that he doesn’t get the story doesn’t mean there’s not a story being told.

It's so hard to quote the guy, because I hate having to choose one paragraph and implicitly circular-file the rest. So go read the whole thing and put my mind at ease. Thank you... I feel much better.

(Oh, and I do believe that was my Dogcow post he was referring to. Hot diggety damn!)

15:37 - The Future of Office

A few more comments on the Mac Business Unit and the relationship between Microsoft and Apple have been submitted by reader Paul S. Linsay:

So what if MS stops developing for the Mac! A little background. A friend of mine used to administer about 2000 PC's for a large insurance company, he now does the same for a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. Know what operating systems they use? Not WinXP, not Win2K, not even Win98, they use Win95. Because it is so damn hard to administer so many Windows boxes and the problems of upgrading systems are so monumental they are literally afraid to upgrade operating systems. Do you think they are running the latest and greatest Office suite on those boxes, nope. Know what the gold standard in MSWord documents is? Hold your breath: Word5, written how long ago? My wife worked for AT&T for several years. If you wanted to be sure that your docs an memos got read, it had to be Word5 or you were sure to lose some people. Given all this, most corporate types are way behind the curve on the latest and greatest in Office. Face it, how many people even use more than 5 or 10% of the features available? As long as you can read Word5 docs, it's probably not going to matter to 99% of the population.

I hadn't really thought of that, but it's likely true. Even if this very day, Office were to bifurcate irreparably, the Windows version going one way and the Mac version going another or even being discontinued-- it's not like that would make every existing, earlier copy of Office for either platform suddenly vaporize. (Well, maybe if they get everybody using phone-home software that's licensed by subscription... but again, earlier versions won't have that problem either.) Right now, there's parity at the Office XP/v.X level, and that's pretty damned powerful-- there's probably not a whole lot more in the killer-feature column that Microsoft could add to a Windows-only version of Office to help differentiate it, if they were interested in actively crippling the Mac version; if they had any such ideas, they've had some fifteen years now to add them. Office is at its peak of developmental maturity, and without Microsoft materially altering Office's mandate (like, say, by adding a Photoshop-like image editing program, or a PageMaker-like layout application), the state of the art for word processing and spreadsheets isn't going to advance much further. So even in the (I think) unlikely event that Microsoft "goes limp" and deflates support for the Mac version of Office, the world will still be standardized on nothing more recent than what's currently out there, with feature parity across platforms.


Just how sophisticated does a word processor/spreadsheet/presentation program have to be? After a while it's irrelevant as long as it's possible to exchange docs with other people. So long as MS is required to maintain backward compatibility with its own earlier versions, this is not the big deal people think it is.

And, the judge in the nine state's suit against MS, just threw out MS's latest arguments, so it may still be possible that MS has to divest Office per the states' request...!

Indeed. And that's something I've been fiddling with in my brain for a while now: What if, as antitrust punishment, Microsoft were forced to sign legal agreements to open the file-format standard for Word and Excel and the like, so that any company could write 100% compliant files, like with HTML? The only thing keeping companies like Apple and Corel and WordPerfect from writing applications that match Word feature-for-feature is the inability to guarantee file-format compatibility-- and the fear that if they're seen as infringing too closely upon Microsoft's monopoly, Microsoft will just make a gratuitous change to the file format to make them instantly incompatible. (They've done this twice in the past.) But if they were legally thwarted from doing that, and it was required of them that they make the Office formats into published, open specifications á la HTML, then it would cease to be a club for them to use in platform-monopoly games. Linux could have a true Word-workalike. Apple could write a pro-level companion to AppleWorks with all the features of Office-- and sending Word and Excel and PowerPoint documents around the office would become no more an issue of compatibility than writing a web page for multiple browsers. (Yes, iffy example-- browsers aren't known for being perfectly identical. But that's just a real-world implementation detail.)

And there's nothing Microsoft could do about it.

Isn't it about time we recognized that word-processing and spreadsheets are a fundamental part of computing-- every bit as much so as web browsing is? And by that token, shouldn't Word and Excel be granted the status of "public utility" that their de facto standard nature has earned them? Nobody makes money from the use of HTML or JPEG or PNG or ASCII text; even Photoshop PSD is a publicly writable standard now. (The reason Adobe doesn't fear competition is that it's bloody hard to write a Photoshop-level image editing program.) Shouldn't Office be placed on the same model as Photoshop is already?

Windows users can already open Word files in WordPad, even if they don't have Office. A thin, invisible wall prevents the same functionality from being available to all other platforms, and for application writers on those other platforms to be able to match Office feature-for-feature. If the States can't force Microsoft to divest Office, then it's time to declaw the Office Weapon by opening up the file-format standard. Then we wouldn't have to have anything more to do with Microsoft, or any further interest in Apple's maintaining good public relations with them, than if we found a huge, easily accessible, unquenchable source of oil or alternative fuel that rendered Saudi control of the oil fields irrelevant to us. Think of the problems that that would solve.

13:57 - Fighting the Sandalistas

This article at War Now! could well be considered the manifesto for the new worldwide face-off that's coming-- deserving like nothing else has been of the title World War III.

The Kiwi author draws the battle lines as being between "civilization" and "barbarism"-- the former of which is exemplified by the capitalist and democratic middle class of the Western states, and the latter of which is an unlikely coalition between the "Jackboots"-- classic political idealists who have given us Hitler and Stalin-- and the "Sandals", or in other words the hippie-activist-Islamofascist axis. The members of this last group are described in many an example.

The article is good reading, and I recommend it-- except that there's one point where in his delineation of the Sandalistas faction, he lumps in-- as though out of hand-- the euthanasia supporters and abortion activists, tarring them along with destructionist barbarians as being "anti-human". I'm afraid I have to disagree there, as do some of the people in the article's Comments. I would say that being in favor of euthanasia and the right-to-die, as well as of abortion rights, is an affirmation of life. The issue involved is as follows: Begin with two lives, one happy, one miserable. Make your choice. Would you rather see a) two lives, both somewhat miserable, or b) one life, happy?

I hold that happiness is a force multiplier for life. And so one happy life is much preferable to two dismal ones.

This is a stance, I feel, that affirms the sanctity of life, but in a scientifically rational way. I'm of the mind that the purpose of being here on Earth is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering for the maximum number of people, and that goal cannot be achieved simply by setting as your carrot "saving all lives at all costs". It involves being a lot more judicious; and if an elderly relative is suffering in a coma, or if a baby would be born into a home that's lacking in attention or love, then it's criminal to sacrifice overall quality of life-- and cause additional suffering-- simply because of an unwillingness to end a life purely because it's human. That, I feel, is one of the most civilized levels a society can reach.

Other than that, though, thumbs-up.

12:09 - We've got sad days in the Mac Web too...

Rodney O. Lain, popularly known as the iBrotha, has died. Evidently suicide, as the result of long-standing depression.

I never knew him myself, but he was one of the most well-known and respected of the backyard opinion columnists with self-titled Mac info sites that have been around since before the blogging phenomenon really got moving. He had his controversial and widely criticized entries, but he was a big name for a reason. People liked reading his stuff.

Many of the sites right now are hosting forum discussions where people are expressing condolences and such. It's times like this that "community" is tangible.
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© Brian Tiemann