g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
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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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  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
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 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
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 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, July 14, 2002
01:10 - My brain says BOO!

(top)
Why are the terms "caretaker" and "caregiver" interchangeable?

23:53 - Something odd...

(top)
I've not made a habit of talking here about my personal health, because a) I think it would be fairly tacky, and b) very little tends to go wrong with me. I'm one of the healthiest people I've ever met, which I tend to attribute to growing up in a rural valley surrounded by farm animals and agriculture, and drinking well water.

But ever since Friday night, I've been feeling very oddly dizzy. I've been having trouble keeping comfortably upright; my arms and hands have been tingling off and on, I get an intermittent spaced-out sensation throughout my whole upper body and head, and my heart-- though it's beating very slowly-- is beating very hard.

I've been hoping it would go away all weekend, but it's just as present now as it was when it very started on Friday evening-- and it's very unnerving.

I may have to make one of those once-per-two-years trips to Kaiser to see if anybody can shed any light on it...

23:45 - Oh yes...

(top)
Incidentally, the South Park caricature of me in the previous post was not done by me-- it's courtesy of ShyZhadow, who created it without my knowledge.

I think it's absolutely horrible. I love it so much I may have to adopt it permanently.

21:27 - Filename Extensions Suck

(top)
I don't know if the English language is a sufficient tool for me to adequately convey just how much I despise filename extensions.

Just recently, Kris told a story from several months ago about installing FileMaker Pro on Windows NT, a process that involved a plain-text configuration file whose name ended with ".pdf"-- because it was a "Product Description File" or some such. And because Windows had determined that all files whose names happen to end in that particular dot-and-three-letter combination were Adobe PDF documents, every time he had to open that file during the installation (which occurred numerous times because the procedure was a pile of puke), double-clicking on it would open it in the Acrobat Reader, which couldn't read it. And because .pdf was a registered extension in Windows, it wouldn't give him the "Open With..." option in the right-click menu, which wouldn't have stuck anyway for future openings of the file, but which would have allowed him to open it in NotePad. No, he had to find NotePad each time, then open the file manually from within the program, steering clumsily through the labyrinthine filesystem monstrosity that is the NT user-directory structure.

This occurred on a weekend, and by the time I came in on Monday, he had destroyed a mouse in fury over the idiocy of his Windows box-- he had been driven to such heights of pique that he had grabbed hold of the mouse, slammed it down onto the table, and with a Braveheart battle-cry and an inexorable and fluid movement, yanked the mouse out from the box into which it was plugged below the desk. Its carcass, the next day, was ruptured and shattered, with the cord morphed at its (former) point of attachment to the mouse's body into a grotesque intestinal deformation of instantaneous plastic fatigue.

At least it made Kris feel better.

But it points squarely to one thing: If there is one crime of software design for which I hold Microsoft accountable, for which I will never forgive them, it's filename extensions. That garbaceous hack, that ill-conceived relic of a dim and all-but-forgotten age, that pathetic little attempt at file-typing meta-data that has forced us in the fucking year 2002 to have no more heuristic control over the behavior of our files than we did in 1983 under DOS. This is criminal, and I will explain why, through anecdotes of pain.

First of all, over the past several weeks, I have noticed more and more of the following behavior among the artists on my site. They upload files with names of the form "picture1jpg.jpg" into my system. See what's going on there? Windows hides filename extensions by default, and the icons in the filesystem don't distinguish between different kinds of "picture" files (they all have the same damn icon), but they have a vague notion in their minds of files whose names end with "jpg" or "gif". So how do they label these files? How do they make the format visible? Not by turning on the display of filename extensions in Windows, no, heavens no! They just put "jpg" onto the end of the portion of the filename that they can see. To them, it appears as "picture1jpg". And it works, more or less. Sure, it seems sorta clunky, even to them-- but then, computers are just "like that", right?

No, they sure didn't bloody have to be; but that's getting ahead of myself.

No, that's not the half of it. See, here's the really irritating part: People hear about different graphics "formats". GIF and JPEG and BMP and PNG. My site only accepts GIF and JPEG. But everybody's creating their pictures in the graphics tools that come with Windows-- namely, Paint-- and Paint doesn't acknowledge the existence of JPEG, and its GIF output support alters the palettes of pictures to an unacceptable level. So people demand that I accept BMP images into my site, which I can't do because they're fucking uncompressed and would take forever to load-- and there aren't any browsers on earth that will display them inline, though IE used to until somebody at Microsoft had a brief inkling of clue and tore out that Ernest P. Worrell of a feature.

So how are they supposed to convert their files from one format to another? Windows sure doesn't come with any tools that make it obvious how it's done. And people who are new to computers don't know which shareware programs to go out and download.

So what do they do? Easy... they change the donkey-humping filename extensions.

People create files on Oekaki boards and attempt to save them on their local machines-- and when the browser gives them a filename that ends in ".png", they have the brainstorm that in order to save them as GIF files, all they have to do is replace that ".png" with ".gif". Glory be! It looks like it worked! Hey, they can do that with files that are already saved on their machines, too! Sure, it gives you that strange warning message about how changing the filename might cause things to not work properly, but hey-- the file now has a .gif extension! It's converted! And the warning message must mean something momentous took place-- so certainly it's been changed somehow!

And then I get to explain how that is not the way computers work. It's not as fun a task as you might imagine it is, especially the ninth or tenth time in a month, especially when the frequency of these events is increasing.

But I put up with it, because that's just the way the world is, right? I note with amusement that ACDSee, the world's most popular image-archival and browsing software, stores image description meta-data in a per-folder file which contains a flat text database, tab-delimited, with filenames on the left and descriptions on the right. What's this file's name? descript.ion. Yeah, that's right, Windows, it's an ION file. It opens in the Molecule Editor program I just bought, which I hope to use in a plot to go back in time and tweak a few random base-pairs in Bill Gates' DNA to make him grow up to be a chimpanzee or a football player or something, or at the very least to have the good, common, human decency not to go into a career in technology.

The plan is still in its infancy, but it's progressing.


And then I open up my e-mail, and I notice with dismay the crop of ten or fifteen attachments with filenames like "friend.gif.vbs" or "annakournikova.jpg.scr", which take advantage of this unconscionably bad design decision in Windows to hide all filenames by default-- so all you'd see is "friend.gif" or "annakournikova.jpg", and naturally the double-click reflex takes over and the virus storms with a Pashtun battle-cry into Outlook and I get another layer of these damnable things crowding out my legitimate e-mail. I get more viruses than spam these days, you know. It doesn't particularly amuse me anymore. I'm the first person to appreciate a good joke, but...

I've talked about the history of filename extensions before, haven't I? I've pointed out how the basename and the extension were never meant to be mashed together into a single string. Look at a DIR listing in DOS; the filenames look like this:

COMMAND       COM


The file was called "Command". That's how the engineers thought people would use the names. The extension was a simple piece of meta-data for defining certain types of files, and simultaneously binding those types of files to certain programs. (Using a dot to connect the two elements was just a convenient shortcut for addressing the files programmatically.) The theory was that every single program would have its own private file types-- nobody at the time had envisioned things like GIF or JPEG, file types that could be read and written by thousands of different applications, and could be shared between them all. Nah, instead it was all going to be .PCX for PC Paintbrush, .CUT for Dr. Halo, .TGA for Targa, and so on.

But interchangeable file types came, whether the DOS engineers had predicted them or not. The proliferation of incompatible formats vanished very rapidly. This was a Good Thing. But how were you supposed to tell which application you wanted to open your various GIF and JPEG files?

Well, that's easy. Just set it globally.

What if you want some GIFs and JPEGs to open in one application, and other such files to open in a different application? What if you wanted to double-click some in-progress art files and have them open in Photoshop, or double-click some Web graphics and have them open in a browser, or double-click some porn and have it open in ACDSee?

Well, now... sorry, mister. That's a bit of a tall order. No sirree, it's best that you just make a decision and stick to it; see, 'cause we never really designed DOS to have any facility for assigning files different type designations that are separable from the application binding on those files. Just never crossed our mind, really. But you can cope, can't you?

Meanwhile, when PCs made the leap to Windows, those 8.3-style filenames were dutifully shown on-screen in a nice proportional font. And then there was Windows 95, which finally-- after twelve long years-- managed to implement a way to get the DOS filesystem to support filenames longer than eight letters plus that three-letter extension, which some applications had taken to using as part of the filename (ludicrous limitations often lead to very creative solutions, as with the ARJ archiver-- whose registered extensions included ".a00", ".a01", ".a02", and so on). Granted, the DOS console still didn't support these long filenames because they were really just secondary labels in the file's header, that Windows 95 knew how to read through some funky magical juggling; but that's just details. Keep on plowing on ahead. At Microsoft, there isn't time to do it right or to do it over.

So what about those extensions? Well, they traveled right along with the long filenames, which could now support spaces. Yeah. Frickin' spaces in filenames that by necessity have to have a .ext extension on the end. So we have filenames like "My 2000 Taxes.pdf" and "Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien.mp3". You know what that kind of filename looks like, assuming you haven't accepted Microsoft's already-lambasted-earlier horrific hack-job of hiding all filename extensions by default? To the human eye, used to reading English, it looks like this:

Joe
Satriani
-
Surfing
With
The


Alien.mp3


What the ass is that? This is having control over what our files are called? God, no, say the engineers; if you try to take off that ".mp3" at the end, or change it to something else, you get a dire warning about how it will break your system and make that file not work properly. Which it will. Remove the extension, and the icon changes to the generic Windows icon. Change it to, say, ".doc"-- and suddenly the icon reflects the obvious fact that you've just converted the file to a Microsoft Word document. Yay! Hooray for technology!


Don't you think that by this supposedly advanced age in the technology revolution, we would be able to assign all kinds of different meta-data to our files-- like, oh, I don't know... which program we want our files to open in, independent of what type it is? Wouldn't you have thought we should be able to name our files whatever we want, without having to worry about whether forgetting to add the correct esoteric little three-letter tag at the end will cause the system to forget what the hell kind of file it is and what to do with it if you double-click on it, even though the file's contents and validity have not changed in the slightest? Oh, yes-- Windows XP has all kinds of meta-data you can assign to files, including owner name, camera make and model, favorite color, allergies, credit history, and whether the file is stoichiometrically right-handed or left. But not the god-frickin-blasted opener application!


What is wrong with these people? Who the hell hired them and paid them six-figure salaries to dictate this as our computing destiny?

And why is Apple ridiculed and sneered at for somehow managing to avoid this litany of successive pieces of apocalyptically bad design and ridiculous hack-jobs to cover them up, the horrific lack of elegance of which should have earned Windows some kind of MPAA rating to protect it from the sensitive eyes of youngsters?

I suppose I don't need to (and shouldn't) point out, once again, that the Mac OS has always had mutable and immutable forms of meta-data: the mutable kind, like the icon and the filename, could always be changed to the user's heart's content; you could apply custom icons to the files, you could rename a GIF file to "My Picture" or even "My Picture.jpg.doc.tiff.pict.html" and it would still open in the application specified in its Creator code, the application that created the file-- a piece of immutable meta-data, like the last-modified date, which could be overridden and changed as the user saw fit (though not as part of the standard workflow). The file's type and what application it opened in could not be inadvertently changed through something as simple and innocent as changing its pus-guzzling name. You couldn't break your files' functionality by doing something totally reasonable that's right smack in the standard expected user-level workflow.

Whereas Windows had a simple one-dimensional mapping table between filename extensions and their associated applications, the Mac had the Desktop Database. This non-authoritative data store, which could be rebuilt at any time by re-caching the data from the applications themselves, kept a record of all apps installed on the system-- by their four-letter Creator code-- and each application had a list of which four-letter Type codes it would accept. Thus the system knew at all times which apps would accept which files. You could drag a JPEG file over GraphicConverter, and the GraphicConverter icon would darken to show that it was willing to open that type of file; but drag that file over AppleWorks, or drag a text file over GraphicConverter, and it wouldn't darken. This was the way things were always supposed to work. It was beautiful, it was elegant, and it made those of us who knew how it was engineered piss our pants and wet our cheeks with emotion.

In Mac OS X, we got good news and bad news. First the good: We got more meta-data. Yaaay! Happy day! Namely, we got an "open with application" subsystem-- a database with global settings per file type/creator, with individual per-file overrides. The Creator code still remained-- but now we had a standard-workflow way to permanently change the application some or all of our files of a certain type opened in. More control! Something we needed!


But this came with a price. In the name of "compatibility", and as a peace offering to the Windows world, Mac OS X added filename-extension dependence on a certain level... and filename extension hiding. But not in the way that Windows does it. No... granted, it's far from ideal, and it's fairly ugly. But for practicality's sake, it's quite ingenious. Here's how it works: If you have a "picture1.gif", and you rename it to "picture1", the ".gif" is not deleted; it's merely hidden, causing the user no more consternation, and moved into what's effectively a piece of inline meta-data: the "compatibility extension". The neat part is that if you use any applications that ignore the "hide extension" bit, which they added in Mac OS 10.1, those applications simply use the extension as a completely visible part of the filename... so you can FTP or e-mail files to Windows users, or burn them onto CDs, and the files will appear on Windows machines with the right extensions and work just as expected.

There are pros and cons to this scheme. On the plus side, it definitely does increase compatibility, without causing more than a miniscule bit of discomfort to Mac users. But at the same time, there are pitfalls; we're now susceptible to the same "virus.gif.vbs" types of attacks, and extensions are being used even by Mac developers-- and even by Apple itself-- in the old DOS sense, to associate certain private file types with their respective applications, rather than using the Creator code, which is now relegated to all but a legacy status. Indeed, instead of the clean and elegant Type and Creator codes, we're now being subtly encouraged to use the extension to determine the Type, and the Open With subsystem to determine the opener app. The functionality is more or less the same, and it's been engineered very smoothly to maintain consistent workflow. But for those of us who know how technically ravishing the Type/Creator system and the Desktop database were, the new system seems asymmetrical, ungainly, error-prone... we wouldn't go so far as to say Windows-like, but the thought has crossed our minds.

Apple clearly knows how terrible a thing filename extensions are, and how much of a bane they've been on the computing world; and they want to associate with them only as perfunctorily as they have to, and at all costs do it the right way, for God's sake. Because they look at that feature, above all others, as emblematic of the design "ethic" of Microsoft-- as clear an example as any other of "what not to do, because-- why, because we're Apple. We don't do shit like that."

If bad software design were a crime, filename extensions would be earning a number of early-80s engineers long sentences of hard time; and companies everywhere would be working Microsoft over from head to toe in class-action lawsuits. To anybody who has taken a peek under the hoods of operating systems, it's painfully clear that we're now irrevocably committed to internal-combustion engines only because it was better marketed than the cold-fusion engines that the turn-of-the-century inventors also happened to have on hand. Whichever one makes more noise, right?

Twenty years from now, will we be tapping our eyeglass-mounted, voice-activated computers to life and saying, "Okay, show me the expense report that Johnson sent me-- dot doc"? Will we be waving a casual hand toward our in-desk terminals and saying, "Open up a new message to Grandma, and send her that picture we took of the kids-- dot picture"?

Believe it or not, there are things Microsoft has done for which I'm willing to forgive them. But one thing which does not fall into that category-- one thing for which I will curse Bill Gates' name until my dying day-- is codifying into de facto and de jure standard computing procedure the crime against humanity that is the filename extension. For steadfastly refusing, for twenty bloody years, and with no end in sight to that number, to stop and redo Windows' application-binding system the right way, the way that would give users more control and ease in their lives-- and instead, as though purely out of spite, making it so that my repeated railing against filename extensions appears only as so much pointless, pathetic bin-Laden-esque ranting against the Way Things Are from a remote and anonymous heroin-filled cave.

If I ever meet him, I will personally carve ".JPG" into Bill's forehead with an ice pick. I'll make sure the dot goes nice and deep.

Nah. Maybe I'll do his Type/Creator codes: SHIT/SATN.



UPDATE: Kris corrects...

A minor correction to your file type story about my destroying a mouse. I was only annoyed at having to manually open the ".pdf" file in WinPad or NotePad or whatever I was using.

<Sideline>
Which bring up an interesting point. Would NotePad allow you to open a .jpg file? Is there any protection under Windows to not allow opening a file if the application does not understand what the file contains? (A protection against data crashing a program.) And conversly, a way to force open a file if you know what you are doing?
</Sideline>

What made me mad enough to commit mousyside was NT's stupid path mechanism. I renamed a folder in a path. A dialog appeared which said I could not do that because the path was locked. The only option was the (OK) button which gave you the error again. The error dialog contained contained a text field with the new name. You would have to retype in the original folder name into the dialog box, which I could not remember as it was long with lots of numbers. Undo would not work and clicking outside the box produced only a beep. Results, a slammed mouse, a pulled mouse tail and a mouse explodie(tm) as it smashed into the floor. Then a very careful reset of my system after I replaced the mouse (I didn't like that mouse anyway).

I don't know about how Windows protects against apps opening inappropriate file types, or if it does; but for the benefit of anybody who might care, Mac apps will only open file types that they say they can open, as discussed above in the Desktop Database bit. You can hold down Option when you drag a file onto an app, to force it to try to open that file. The Option key generally is for "Do the slightly more funky version of this action", like "Force Quit" instead of "Quit".

Anyway-- after lengthy discussions with Matt Robinson, I must concede that Windows XP has indeed made some very concrete steps forward in its handling of application binding. Granted, you still can't set a per-file opener app; but you can fairly easily add apps to the contextual menu, for "Open With..." entries; and finally, application names show up as "Adobe Photoshop 7.0" and "ACDSee™" rather than "NOTEPAD.EXE" and "IEXPLORE".

All more spackle and paint over a dog's breakfast of a substructure, but of course for most people it's good enough.



19:50 - Holy crow!
http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/story.jsp?story=314832

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Looks like England has just officially become the crime capital of the western world.

The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute reveals that people in England and Wales experience more crime per head than people in the 17 other developed countries analysed in the survey.

The findings are expected to cause further embarrassment to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has pledged to have street crime under control by September.

This week, the Home Office will publish its White Paper outlining radical reform of the criminal justice system, in part to curb spiralling street crime and to punish more offenders. Government sources confirmed to the IoS that the reforms will also include empowering judges to tell rape-trial jurors about a defendant's previous convictions.

In the UN study, researchers found that nearly 55 crimes are committed per 100 people in England and Wales compared with an average of 35 per 100 in other industrialised countries.

The UN study analysed Home Office crime statistics for England and Wales and also carried out telephone interviews with victims of crime in the 17 countries surveyed, including the US, Japan, France and Spain.

England and Wales also have the worst record for "very serious" offences, recording 18 such crimes for every 100 inhabitants, followed by Australia with 16.

And "contact crime", defined as robbery, sexual assault and assault with force, was second highest in England and Wales – 3.6 per cent of those surveyed. This compares with 1.9 per cent in the US.

As Paul noted, gee-- looks like having strict gun-control laws really forces people to become law-abiding citizens, don't it?
Saturday, July 13, 2002
03:21 - Stamping Out Engrish
http://mdn.mainichi.co.jp/news/20020712p2a00m0fp030000c.html

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Hey, look-- according to Mainichi Daily News, Japan is taking an active concerned interest in how their grasp of English is being ridiculed abroad and costing them credibility.

Under the title, "English Strategy Initiative," the report recommends that high school graduates be required to "hold daily conversation in English." For university graduates, the recommendation requires that they be able to use the language in their jobs and research.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology became concerned about the nation's English ability apparently because the average scores of Japanese in major English tests for non-native speakers have been poor.

The average score for Japanese examinees in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) stands at 513 out of the total 667 points possible. The score ranks 144th among the 156 nations and regions where the TOEFL is regularly conducted.

Among 23 Asian countries, Japan's score ranks a pitiful 22nd.

Wow. I had no idea that what we'd grown to accept as camp actually had a basis in fact.

But I know I'll miss seeing old ladies walking around with t-shirts that say "RAPE ME" in huge letters, and restaurant ads that say "Domestic careful selection pork with little fat of female liking is used; it has healthy vegetables with salad feeling fully."


On another note, though, I can't help but notice-- the Japanese certainly seem to have more exciting headlines than we do. Just look down the left-hand column at the following "Top News" links:
  • S. Korean questioned over fake World Cup tickets
  • Judo tournament bans kids with plucked eyebrows
  • ANA plane makes emergency landing after woman dies
  • Man runs down son while washing car
  • Outrage greets origami stork sales
  • Man pounds baby girl senseless
  • Top university student molests first grader
  • Fascist thugs bash breakaway members
  • Suspect claims lack of love refutes stalker charges
  • Suicide leap thwarted by 35-cm gap on tracks
  • Pornographic vending machine sparks bust
  • Severed head belongs to slain hostess

I mean, dude, man!

00:17 - Chunnel Across the Species Gap
http://hikeryote.blogspot.com/2002_07_14_hikeryote_archive.html#78928100

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I address the following to the set of (readers who own cats) + (Lileks). If your identity mask combines positively with this set definition, you must follow the link.

Hiker has just had a moment involving his cat, accomplishing-- well, maybe accomplishing isn't quite the right word for it; but doing something that has contributed another valuable fragment of data to the body of human knowledge about the mind of the cat, the feline body of knowledge about the human mind, and the fateful but impenetrable interaction between the two that has remained so fitfully static for so many thousand years.

It's confusing. It makes no sense. But it changes everything I thought I knew about my cat. I thought I was just this huge, lumbering force that delivered food unto her dish and occassionally offended her dignity by picking her up and showing affection. Now that there is a chance that she might respect me, albeit in some strange feline way, I must reassess how I behave in order to return that respect.

You're curious; I know you are.

And you know what a cat would do in such circumstances.

11:22 - Four-day Turnaround
http://www.info.apple.com/kbnum/n75304

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Well, lookee here.

Security Update 7-12-02 delivers a more secure Software Update service to verify that future updates originate from Apple. If you would prefer to download this manually from a secure Apple server you can download the package at http://www.info.apple.com/kbnum/n75304

Concise and to the point, no?

I wonder what's involved in this update. Adding an authentication mechanism to Software Update is something I would have expected to take longer than three or four days.

Granted, it was stupidly designed in the first place-- using the assumption that the Internet was an ideal entity and that DNS was trustworthy and a sufficient guarantee of authenticity in itself. Dumb.

But this is pretty damn quick turnaround, and I'm impressed.

(Shut up-- I'm not that easily impressed.)

Friday, July 12, 2002
17:17 - How, indeed.
http://www.dieselsweeties.com/

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The Penny Arcade commentary that goes with the cartoon from two or three posts ago goes thus:

The Mac users I know don't like the Switch campaign any more than I do. And, I've got to be honest with you, I didn't know this kind of crap was still going on - indeed, I thought it was over. I thought that the front in the techno-cultural war had progressed to moving between Windows and Linux, God knows I must endure hearing about it, and that human beings by and large simply purchased a PC or a Macintosh based on personal preference or prior experience or whatever else. Anything aside from the implied difference between what a "real" or "smart" person would do, which has been Apple's motif for as long as I can remember. I don't find the neurotic caricatures selected for these ads compelling in the least, they're not realer, they're people I want to avoid at all costs, examining my own life to systematically eradicate any similarities I might find between us. They are avatars of a corporation, not some kind of social movement, inheriting at full volume the smug superiority that Windows users seek to return in kind.

Everyone who has ever brushed up against this issue is well acquainted with the major arguments for each side, but I'm simply not fascinated with the prospect of investigating it here. I think it's boring. I'd imagine most people just think it's boring. And if people on both platforms can play Warcraft III native, well, what the fuck are we talking about this for? Mac gamers are no longer martyrs, and it's actually possible to enjoy using Windows anymore. The whole thing is stupid. If Apple really wanted to sell more Macs, they should just show people how it looks when you minimize shit in OS X. I thought I was going to pee my pants.

Yeah, well, you know, they've been trying to show off their software and what you can do with it in the earlier campaigns. The general consensus was that ads focusing on the computers themselves weren't getting anywhere, and that they needed to do something that brought a human touch to the venture, instead of making it all look like some kind of computing theme-park full of eloping couples and newborn babies and computers zooming around the screen to funky sarcastic music like "It's Not Easy Being Green" and "She Comes In Colors".

Granted, the one thing we haven't seen anything of on TV so far is OS X itself. There has been no TV presence of OS X and all its eye-candy, though it has appeared in print ads all over the place (where people can't see how it moves), and is fully documented at apple.com, complete with movies of all the whiz-bang features-- though evidently nobody's going there.

I think that may be what Apple is (mistakenly) counting on: that people will go to apple.com and explore. The "apple.com/switch" URL on the Switch ads is supposed to get people to go to the website, which is jam-packed with things like side-by-side comparisons of iTunes vs. Windows Media Player, iMovie vs. Windows Movie Maker, and so on. The website has all kinds of exactly what we know will actually sway people, but nobody's going there. They're seeing the URL on their TV screens and on the inside jackets of their Newsweeks and thinking, "Ah, right, a corporate website"; they're not thinking, "Hello, what's this? A source I can peruse full of more information which might help me change my mind!"

Maybe Apple's waiting for Jaguar before they release a whole bunch of OS X ads. I can understand that. Jaguar is going to have still more cool stuff to look at than 10.1 does; and it will be fast and stable enough that nobody who decides to test-drive it will frown and curl their lips at how much slower it is than Windows.

Then again, maybe Apple's just being stupid, and thinks people will seek out information on OS X just because they want to be blown away. Sorry, guys, that's not gonna happen.

And in the meantime, the Switch ads show people talking about how easy the switch was, but they don't provide any context as to what they were switching to. It's like someone telling you to buy a Lexus instead of a Nissan, without explaining in any concrete terms why that move would benefit you or why the Lexus is better.

At the very least, though, we can conclude that Apple is in a position to start grabbing for territory-- and I'm sure the Switch campaign is only the first wave in that strategy. They'll learn from it. They tend to do that.

16:38 - Hah hah hah haah, I get it.

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Gee, this Islamic mailing list just keeps getting better and better.

Not for the faint of heart, this picture, so I've scaled down the thumbnail a whole lot.

Don't these guys realize what monsters stuff like this makes them look like?

16:30 - Doin' the Happy Dance
http://www.macgamer.com/features/publish.php?id=1014

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Microsoft has just announced its plans for bringing Halo to the PC and Mac.

In 1999 I went to my first MacWorld expo in New York City. This was a special thing not only because I was thrilled to be part of the giant religious fervor of Mac users from all over the globe, but because this was the first time anyone in the world laid eyes on the brainchild of Bungie's Jason Jones (the man who gave the world Marathon and Myth), and it was called Halo. When Steve Jobs introduced Jones and the lights went down, what we saw was the game that would impregnate our imaginations as a collective of Mac users and vindicate us as gamers. Halo was a compelling panorama of sprawling outdoor scenes, impossibly huge landscapes, gorgeously detailed models of soldiers firing weaponry at a strange alien race and, lets not forget, the Halo itself: A breath-taking ring of mystery which turned silently in space.

I remember it well. Jaws dropped. People gasped. A lot of naughty words were uttered in astonishment and stupor. This was Halo; brought to us by the company which was known for stalwartly bringing out Mac games of high quality. The mystical part about it is that we really felt, as Mac users, that it was ours. It was running on a Mac. It was shown first at MacWorld. It was promised to us. It's the kind of thing we really need from time to time, and we fell in love with Bungie again for delivering it.

Then the event which broke the spines of our morale like twigs: Roughly a year later the word went out that Bungie had been bought. This, in itself, was sobering news, but when the world realized that it was Microsoft that had done the buying it completely stopped us in our tracks. Microsoft had not only purchased Bungie but had secured Halo as the flagship game for their upcoming console, the X Box. Those who aren't Mac users probably wouldn't understand what an affront this was for us: It was like the meanest, nastiest, richest kid in school marrying your favorite sister. It was the one company Mac users wanted to have nothing to do with absorbing the one company we prayed would always belong to us and us alone. A whole lot of Mac users wrote off Halo immediately, deciding to sit shiva for the game legends and move on to Starsiege Tribes 2 (which, at the time, we thought was a sure thing. Riiiiiiight).

I don't need to tell you which camp I fell into.

That's three years ago that Halo was being readied for release-- for the time, immeasurably jaw-dropping, and it was going to be the Mac's crown jewel. But instead, it took two more years for the game to appear, and though it was pretty much universally lauded, imagine the storm by which it would have taken the gaming world if it had been released in its original time frame?

There were any number of game companies with kickass flagship products in the works that Microsoft could have bought. But they had to choose Bungie's driveway to receive their dump-truck full of money, and while many in the gaming world at large won't see it as such, in the Mac community it was one of those evil, malicious snubs that you only see in movies-- like when the villain forces you to watch while he pours boiling acid on your puppy, cackling maniacally.

So now, yay-- we're getting Halo, only four years after we were supposed to.

This isn't a concession of defeat or anything on Microsoft's part; word is that they'd planned it to go down like this all along. And I'm still not going to buy it or anything. This development does not exonerate Bungie, not one bit.

But if there's any genuinely happy side to this news, it's that once Halo is ported, there will no longer be any reason to buy an Xbox.

16:16 - Well, gee, that's nice to know...
http://www.atnewyork.com/news/article.php/1403581

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From atnewyork.com, a Nielsen//Netratings study has determined the following:

New York and Milpitas, Calif.-based Nielsen//NetRatings also found Mac users are 58 percent more likely than the average surfer to build Web pages and 53 percent more likely to seek out product reviews.

The Apple elite also have a higher propensity to purchase online than the average surfer, with the most popular purchases falling into the computer hardware, software and music categories.

On the other hand, Mac owners are less likely to read horoscopes online or play any kind of online game.

"Well, duh, because Macs cost more", I hear the cry go up. "Of course the people who use them are rich and stupid."

Well, make that "rich and creative" or "rich and tech-savvy" and you'll have it right.




My only question in, where did this study get its figure that Mac users account for 8.2% of the online population?

12:15 - Fuzzy Blue-Green Numbers
http://www.apple.com/xserve/performance.html

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The competitor servers listed at Apple's Xserve specs page are from Dell, IBM, and Sun. It seems clear to me, at least at a cursory glance, that the reason for this choice was to pit the Xserve against the most comparable equipment from the most high-profile manufacturers in the business. Dell and IBM, for instance, are the only server makers that my company will buy boxes from; we've standardized on the PowerEdge line, and somehow I don't think we're statistical outliers.

But the sticky point is that Dell's 1U machine, the PowerEdge 1650, in its most maxed-out configuration has non-DDR SDRAM and comes to about $4300. The Sun Fire V100 also only supports SDRAM, and it's a lot more expensive too. I haven't checked the IBM x330, but I'd wager that it too doesn't do DDR, and probably comes to a similar price point as the Dell does.

Strictly speaking, the only points on which the Xserve (which in its tested configuration comes to about $6000, or $5000 if you were to outfit it with the smaller 60GB drives, which they have no reason not to do for the purposes of these tests) competes with the Dell and IBM servers is their 1U profile. The Xserve is really a 1U unit competing against 2U units from these companies, and with 1U units from third-parties who produce a better package than Dell and IBM do.

For instance, as has been brought to my attention in an e-mail discussion, APPRO makes a 1U Xeon-based server with four drive bays and support for a whole lotta DDR SDRAM. (No easily accessible price, though.) And PogoLinux makes a similar box based on AMD Thunderbirds that will run you about $4500, including 1GB of DDR SDRAM.

It seems reasonable to me that Apple should not have configured their entire competition lineup from machines like these, though they do match the Xserve's specs more closely; their purpose in positioning the Xserve is to compete with the status quo of Dell and IBM, and who would have guessed that these companies' offerings would be significantly less studly than those from relative unknowns?

But would it have killed them to have included one of these kinds of boxes in their tests?

Maybe it would have, and that's why they didn't do it.


The trouble with Apple-- okay, yes, I'm boiling down a lot of different concepts lately into "the trouble with Apple"-- is that they're falling prey to the old Dilbertian admonishment that "one lie is always more convincing than two lies":

COW-ORKER: Why weren't you at the meeting? I left you a message.

DILBERT: I didn't get any message.

COW-ORKER: Oh...

DILBERT: And when I tried to call you back, you weren't there.

...Or at least a variation on this. See, Apple has two tiers to its marketing strategy: the products themselves, and their PR department. One or the other of these would make an effective sales plan. But both together can result in trouble.

Most companies' marketing departments are weaselly. That's sort of expected. It's generally assumed that if a company is saying anything more grandiose about their products than simply listing the specs, there's probably a lie in there somewhere. Microsoft's touting of the handwriting recognition functionality in their Tablet PC as "the best in the industry", for instance, is blatantly untrue-- especially considering that they spent their pre-bake-off time educating David Coursey and others about how "handwriting recognition doesn't matter". But... people forgive them that, beacause people expect the products to be shoddy and the marketing to be weaselly. It's a stable system. It meets our expectations. There's no cognitive dissonance, and we buy the products.

But Apple's problem is that the products themselves, if shorn of all their PR, if placed in a darkened room with their direct competitors and tested by an unbiased subject in isolation from societal pressures, are in fact better. Any open-minded tester would find the user experience on the Mac to be more satisfying. This is widely accepted truth even among my PC-using friends.

But on top of that, we have Apple's legendary PR machine. Steve Jobs is still the master showman; his speeches at MacWorld cause the audience to scream and swoon like girls at an Elvis concert. When he smirks and tells us that a machine is "insanely great", or that it blows away the competition in performance specs, we believe him-- but to PC users, it sounds ludicrous. They're used to weaselly marketing. They're used to being told lies, and assuming that whatever those lies are about is probably nowhere near as great as it looks in the magazine photos. So they assume that the more grandiose Jobs' claims, and the more the apple.com website gushes, the more crappy Apple's actual products must be.

The products themselves, in an ideal world, would sell themselves. There would be no need for marketing. And in a world where Apple's products really did suck, the weaselly marketing would be looked at as par for the course.

But the two in combination make a volatile brew.

Am I saying that Jobs is Apple's worst enemy? Well, in part-- that's the conclusion that the board of directors reached in the late 80s, when they forced Jobs out. He was just too idealistic, too blinded by his own vision, and he was hurting sales. So Apple marketing from then on, until Steve's return, was fairly demure and benign-- and yet that didn't save the company from continuing to lose market share.

Does this invalidate my point? I don't think so, because what I'm talking about is a new, post-Jobs-return phenomenon. Ever since he's come back, the new product announcements and MacWorld keynotes have been showpieces like they were of old, and the website has become such a fairyland of promise and light. Before Jobs' return, the products were lackluster too, and failing to capture the imagination of the public is what really made Apple dwindle in the last decade.

That's not a problem anymore. Apple design makes waves again. People are proud to put the decals on their cars. Apple's market share is growing again, the company is turning a profit and expanding its physical presence back into its old buildings-- they're healthy again, and ready to send out new exploratory feelers, like the Xserve.

But when the products themselves are good, and the marketing is grandiose, it unsettles customers. They can't see an obvious small lie, so they assume there must be an even bigger, hidden lie. Nothing can be that good... can it?

No, I'm not going to claim that Apple's products are every bit as good as Jobs' rhetoric claims it to be. But it is damned good. OS X does in fact kick ass. iTunes is, dare I say it, insanely great. iMovie and iPhoto are excellent tools that not only allow people to do things, but that invite them to. Jaguar is the result of uncompromising effort from some of the best engineers in the industry, and when it's out we'll have a multithreaded Finder, network services that configure themselves through Rendezvous, handwriting recognition in any app, the spring-loaded folders that everyone's been clamoring for, and even redone interface widgets that indicate that someone looked at Aqua and said, "No, it doesn't quite look good enough yet".

Apple has a whole lot going for it. It's a company that does more work for less thanks than almost anybody else in the industry. And their products do in fact display superiority in a whole lot of ways. But, unfortunately, because of the grandiose marketing-- which is just a corporate extension of the evangelism that people like me feel compelled to do by way of spreading the word-- those benefits of their products may as well be null and void.

I'm the target audience of the keynote speeches and the marketing websites. I eat it up. I relish it. It's written by people like me, for people like me-- and so naturally I can't resist basking in it a bit.

But Apple does need to realize how they appear to the public at large; what successfully sells new Macs to existing Apple fans is not going to have the same success selling to the Other Side. The "Switch" ads are a step in that direction, but...

I'm operating from one simple basic principle, one with which I realize others may not agree: Apple having financial success and gaining market share is a good thing. From that axiom, it's logical for me to try to defend Apple's decisions, to try to dispel FUD and slander about them, to try to figure out new ways to pitch the company to those who wouldn't otherwise consider it. Right now, that means looking at stuff like the Xserve specs and giving Apple the benefit of the doubt as far as fairness against the competition goes; I want to believe their tests were conducted fairly, and that their choices in competitor hardware were informed by realistic analytical goals.

This may not be the case. Maybe Apple is being weaselly about it, and we won't know that until we start seeing some independent anecdotal numbers.

But I'm of the mind that regardless of how the numbers are sliced, Apple has produced a very compelling entry into a very demanding market, and I think it would be a shame to see it dismissed out of hand because the numbers don't appear trustworthy.



UPDATE: As I'd kinda hoped he would, Paul Summers weighs in with comments on the competitive boxes mentioned above.

Just a quick point-- the reason Apple didn't include any boxes such as the two you note from Pogo Linux and APPRO, is because they're not comparable, nor are the competition.

Firstoff, the hardware-- the pogo linux box comes to $4,588 in an XServe-like configuration. BUT, you can only put three IDE drives in it (due to the fact that they are using cheap ass on board IDE controllers, and the cdrom eats one channel up-- whereas Apple has a separate controller for each device). You can only get one GB ethernet port, to boot.

Upgrading that box to four SCSI drives brings the total to $6805, and it's still not as feature-packed as the XServe. This of course, ignores the fact that you get a piece of shit OS in place of OS X.

And, a final point on that ridiculous box. Four 10k rpm drives, and two athlon processors, in a 1U case? Remember how hot ONE 10k rpm drive got in lionking.org, which was a full ATX case? Fill a rack with those things, and not only will you be sucking enough power to light up Chicago, you'll be calling the fire department in short order. Hell, the boxes on top of the stack would probably get so hot that the solder on the boards would melt, to say nothing about thermal failure of the drives.

The APPRO thing is even worse. Same lack of 5 IDE device support. Same heat issues with two high voltage procs and four hot drives. Same lack of dual gigabit. Same lack of three PCI slots. Same lack of an AGP slot. The list goes on.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Computers are tools, and the measure of success of a tool is how well it -works-, not the raw specs.

You can fill an entire rack with XServes and use far less power, generate far less heat, and as a result of the reduced heat, have a much longer MTBF on the boxes and their parts. This of course, is with all of the things the competition doesn't have. Dual Gigabit. Firewire. Four IDE drives AND a cdrom. A slide-open case. A smaller, cooler power source.

And, let us not forget the primary advantage. OS X and it's bloody -insane- remote management apps. Unfortunately, as is always the case with Apple, some people will always overlook the simply amazing engineering in their products, and assume the raw numbers are the end all be all.

...The tweakers [e.g. APPRO and PogoLinux] aren't competition, as they don't have any (or very little) accountability or support. That may be all fine and good for a linux geek who likes to sit on the sidelines and quote numbers-- but no corporation with an actual IT department is ever going to buy such machines.

Whereas they will from Dell and IBM, and hopefully Apple.

Not that this really addresses the problem-- it still looks as though these machines are more closely competitive with the Xserve than the Dells and IBMs are, and I'd have liked to see at least lip service or some acknowledgment of the weird fact that they out-compete the Big Boys. But it does get some more facts thrown onto the table.


Thursday, July 11, 2002
01:07 - Another Satisfied Customer
http://www.furry.org.au/BO/

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No way could I let this pass without comment.

I really, really hate fucking Windows and the fact that things just fail for no reason, and you can never tell whether it's hardware or software. You never know who's to blame, or whom to ask for help. I don't want to depend on computers anymore, either, so I won't update my website very often. I don't even want to play computer games, anymore. Now that I've tried XP, I've sworn never to updrage anything ever again. I just hate computers. I started out on an Amiga 1000 when I was eight years old and since then, all I ever wanted to do is program computers and develop kickass video games. Now, I can't even stand to look at one. It's not the hardware that bugs me, it's the fact that programmers are just so stupid and don't understand basic design principles, like labeling, and telling the user what the program needs, instead of trying to find it automatically, and simply quitting if the program can't find it. Many programmers in the world just deserve to be thrown into a pit and lit on fire. I just wish my job didn't require such an intimate knowledge of them. But then, who has a choice? Everything is computerized these days and it's driving me nuts!

...And that's just the very beginning.

If you have any desire to read a long tale of Windows-induced woe, either for purposes of commiseration or of schadenfreude, I recommend taking in this Dostoevskian tract. Make sure you've got a stiff drink or something handy, though, so you can raise it to him and his fortitude and wish him improved mental health, toward which (in my opinion) taking a vacation from Windows will contribute more than Zoloft will.

No, before you sneer at me to such an effect, I wouldn't dream of e-mailing this guy to tell him to get a Mac. Yes, it's an extremely easy conclusion to draw for someone in my position that not a word of this story would have occurred if he'd been running Macs (no BIOS-flashing woes, no unlabeled and indistinguishable motherboards, no worrying about whether doing file operations in console mode will truncate your long filenames, no hardware made by a "weird Japanese company I'd never heard of"... and no, Macs really do not have a separate-but-equal litany of things that can go wrong)-- but that's not helpful at all. If someone wants to discover for himself why tech-savvy computing veterans like us have made the switch to the Mac and never for an instant regretted it, that's his business-- we'd welcome it, naturally, but nobody likes to be consoled over the death of a friend by a white-shirted Dapper Dan who pats you on the shoulder and tells you that if only he'd become a brother in the One True Church of Frank, your friend would now be frolicking happily in Heaven. But it's not too late for you, friend!

But for the benefit of any readers who have any interest in such matters-- just read the page, and then you will understand what we understand. And that is this:

Computing does not have to be this way.


How else can I say it?

It saddens me to see people have to go through this kind of pain, but it saddens me still more to know that if the fortunes of the world had gone a little bit differently-- if the buying public's priorities had been tilted just a whisker more toward uncompromising quality than rock-bottom price, which in a very minutely different alternate universe it might well have been-- these kinds of nightmares would be all but unknown. I can't adequately convey the grief I feel at the thought that this is the kind of impression of computers that we will look back on in history books a hundred years from now, seeking answers to why our laws of technology and our expectations of what the computers of that age are like have become so intractably convoluted and inefficient and antagonistic toward us humans.

The problems described in the article are exactly the kinds of problems that are alleviated by whole-widget engineering. Choice in hardware is nice, but look-- more and more, people are deciding that the instability and unpredictability that it introduces are too high a price to pay; a marginally slower computer that works is infinitely more useful than a superfly computer that you have to wrestle with just to get it to boot. More and more people are buying prebuilt Dells and Compaqs with paid tech support than building their own computers, and that's another trend that Apple predicted twenty years ago and addressed long before its time.

If I were Steve Jobs, I would be sitting with my head in my hands at my desk, wondering just why in God's green Hell anybody still puts up with Windows.

(Yes, I know the answer. But from Steve's perspective, he has the solution. It's so obvious as to cause physical pain. But the people who are discovering that solution are still being outnumbered by new Windows users coming online every day.)

It's not a hopeless situation, though. There's still a chance while Apple lives, and as long as there are still people who both a) understand the importance of good human-centric design and b) do not feel too helpless in the face of a monolithic status quo to do anything about it.

I don't know what else I can say to try to get this point across. The Mac is not just a marginalized also-ran made by a dying company. It is a symbol of a better world; it's computing the way it should have been. And those who have switched to it feel no desire to switch back-- lack of games or no, slower CPUs or no, limited choice in hardware or no, higher prices or no, it really is that much better.

More and more people are discovering that on their own steam, though, and that's where so much of my optimism these days comes from.

00:30 - FreeBSD Spatchka Pectopah Kaopectate

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I just got something in the mail that tripped me out completely.

It's a copy of the Russian translation of FreeBSD Unleashed.

It's a hardcover, somewhat smaller than the English version; all the diagrams and things are there, but somehow Cyrillic text never seems to look like it's laid out correctly, to me. And they transliterated my name wrong-- judging from the Cyrillic, they thought it rhymes with "pieman", which (believe me) is an awfully common mistake.

Overall, though, it looks pretty neato... and at the very least I get to strut around and act like I wrote a 700-page book in Russian.

17:17 - The Wussification of the Military

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An article by Clark Elder Morrow, forwarded in text without any Web reference, tells us that we've fallen dreadfully far from the grand old days of names for military Operations.

Operation Spin This

by Clark Elder Morrow

Back in the old days (the 1940s), when warfare was thought of as something rather imposing and inspiring, the code names given to military operations reflected the fact that war was also considered a fierce, competitive, and youthful enterprise. If Hollywood had "faces" back then, the military — when it came to their World War II exploits — had great names: Operation Torch, for example, or Operation Overlord. Overlord. Now there's a name a band of brothers engaged in life-or-death activities could be proud of.

Today, we have an entirely different brace of sensibilities at work. Today the PR specialist has set his chilling and eviscerating hand upon the Department of Defense, and the "nominative" results have been disastrous. Today, we are subjected to Operations the names of which are (what the British call) "shy-making": embarrassing, mawkish, mildly shameful, hopelessly wrongheaded. One's silly self-humiliating uncle — the one who sets everyone squirming and groaning with his appalling blend of sentimentality and cornball humor at every family gathering — he is shy-making. And so are code names like Operation Enduring Freedom.

Are we, I wonder, sufficiently alive to the precipitous plummet (stylistically speaking) from Operation Overlord to Operation Enduring Freedom? Do we feel, as we should, the ghastly gulf that separates the two appellations? And do we abhor enough the degradation that marks off the latter from the former?

Consider a few examples. In 1941, the British launched an operation in southern Italy code-named Colossus. By contrast, one expects every day now to hear from the Pentagon that the United States has initiated something called Operation Kumbaya. In World War II, you could thrill to the sound of Operation Galahad, or Operation Mailfist, or Operation Firebrand. In our day and age, some mealy-mouthed nonentity from the Defense Department shuffles around behind the microphones and mutters bureaucratically that his colleagues are instigating Operation We Are The World.

Even the humorous names used in the past had more of genuine pluck and nerve and wink-at-the-enemy bravura than anything the sappy feel-good monikers of our own time can muster. The country that produced the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields and H. L. Mencken could also boast of Operation Bunghole, and Operation Pigstick, and Operation Toenails (real names, by the way). Compare and contrast those with Operation Offend No-One (which I fully expect to hear about soon), and once again you see how debased the Name Game has become.

Give me the likes of Operation Buccaneer, or Fortitude, or Battleaxe. Those were names that recognized the fact that war was — not only hell — but heroic as well; that the potential for dash and swashbuckle remained in modern combat, and that if you were going to undertake a massive amount of bloodletting in a good cause you could at least grace the attempt with a name worthy of the purpose.

Even as late as Vietnam you had Operations like Flaming Dart, Kingfisher, and Rolling Thunder (though note that already — in the mid-1960s — the lamentable tendency toward two-word code names is emerging: this is the first ill omen of later chatty monstrosities like Operation Restore Freedom, and Reinstate Niceness, and Let's Behave.

Somewhere between Korea and the Gulf War of 1991, the military lost sight of the fact that code names are supposed to be short, colorful, memorable tags, designed to allow warriors the freedom to discuss secret plans and ops in an air of treehouse mystery, without giving the game away. Nowadays, when practically every movement of American troops is laid out naked beneath the glaring sun of the international press, the code name has lost its purpose, and survives vestigially as an opportunity for the suits at Foggy Bottom to slip in a little ham-fisted spin control.

Yet it behooves these fighting eagles in bowties to remember: when it comes to slapping snappy labels on military projects, it is best to stick with a Boy Scout–sports team mentality. In other words, use the kinds of names you would use for brand-new football clubs (minus anything of a politically incorrect nature, of course — no sense telling the press that you've just launched Operation Speedy Gonzalez if you can avoid it). Stick to large wild animals, ancient weapons, and — if you feel the need — funny catch phrases like Nosejob, or Betty Boop, or the like. Even something as childish as Operation Kickbutt partakes of a certain boyish braggadocio that is infinitely preferable to the namby-pambyism of code names seemingly escaped from Soccer Mom Association press releases. It is simply wrong to try to squeeze a socially conscious and sensitive mission statement into the code name of your latest attempt to blunderbuss the barbarians.

There are signs of hope. One of the latest undertakings in the war in Afghanistan was code-named Operation Anaconda. That is a magnificent reversion to the glory days of Dragon Teeth, and Hangman, and Crossbow, and Brimstone. Those were names, and I for one cultivate a strong wish that we never again succumb to the temptation (and temptation it is for some people) to call a crucial portion of our war on terrorism something along the lines of Operation Please Don't Dislike Us. It would be so ... shy-making.

Word.

I think there's a more insidious element to this; it's not just that the names are stupid or that they don't inspire the necessary mystique. It's that they fail to project any resolve. A name that sounds like it was designed by committee speaks volumes about how the operation itself is being planned-- sure, some spokesman might be preaching fire-and-brimstone about how deadly serious the military is in such-and-such objectives for Operation Rocky Mountains, but who's going to believe him? The unspoken message will be that it's just another tentative committee resolution, terrified of offending some European body or failing to respect someone's cultural traditions while we plow through their villages looking for terrorists. (Remember how Enduring Freedom itself was a cop-out after some people objected to "Operation Infinite Justice"?)

Israel's "Operation Defensive Shield" and "Operation Determined Path" fall prey to the same problem. They sound capitulative and lame, evoking images of cowering for shelter or wandering in the desert; whereas you just know that the Palestinians are using names like "Operation Bloody Scimitar" and "Operation Righteous Wrath" and "Operation Dead Jewish Pig-Babies". Remember when they found plans in an Afghan safe-house for an al Qaeda germ-warfare program? They called it "al Zabadi", or "Curdled Milk". That's chilling.

I think we need to go beyond a simple return to the old-fashioned blustery-sounding names. Sure, they're effective-- who's going to suggest that the army in Operation Thunderbolt or Operation Hellfire doesn't mean business or know what it's doing?-- but those names have a quaint, simplistic, black-and-white storybookish nature.

(Hang on-- bear with me. I'm not going where you think I'm going with this.)

I think the simplistic nature of those types of names is counterproductive, but I also think that the solution we've chosen is the wrong one. Those in charge have been instead choosing names that are too symbolic or too demure-- whereas what we need are names that get more visceral, more ostentatious... and that play upon the strengths that our country brings to bear against our enemies.

We need names that evoke images that have no parallel in the enemy's world.

For instance: we have Hollywood. Let's use that. Don't you think we'd have better success gaining international support for "Operation Terminator" than for our current plans? How about "Operation Punisher" or "Operation Godzilla"? Pop culture is what defines America. What could be more American than riding into battle under the banner of "Operation McBain" or "Operation King Kong" or something nice and recursive like "Operation Rambo"?

We have sex for use as a potential weapon. We've joked about Barbie dolls and porn sites being the avenues down which Muslim youth are being irresistibly drawn, toward the ultimate undermining of the fundamentalists' aims. Well, what about playing on that? How about "Operation Raging Hardon" or "Operation Ron Jeremy" or "Operation No Lube"?

And perhaps most importantly, we have a sense of humor-- something that seems to be completely missing from the fanatic's mindset. So why not use it? Self-effacing humor can instill more respect than anything else-- only someone who's really sure of himself, goes the logic, would feel comfortable making fun of himself like that. I remember reading a message board right after 9/11 where people were tossing around potential names for the soon-to-be-launched war on terrorism; one of the most astute suggestions I saw was "Operation Whac-A-Mole".

So how about "Operation Whup-Ass" or "Operation Piledriver" or "Operation Turkey Trot" or "Operation Gobsmack" or "Operation McDonald's"? Maybe "Operation Yee-haw" or "Operation Playboy" or Operation TIMMEAAH!" or "Operation Cholesterol"?

Whatever we use, it's got to be something that rallies the enthusiasm of the populace. People on the street spoke of Operation Overlord in hushed tones out of respect for it, not out of embarrassment like with Operation Noble Eagle or Operation Enduring Freedom. Those just sound dorky. We want to sound like badasses.

So how 'bout it, Rumsfeld? Let's see an Operation Roach Motel or Operation Boiling Oil or Operation Spiked Dildo-- then the people who complain about the simplisme of names like Operation Overlord will really have something they can complain about.

14:41 - Xserve Specs
http://www.apple.com/xserve/performance.html

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Though they were performed by Apple and the results are posted on Apple's site, they're independent test suites, developed by other companies. Okay? There's a whole battery of them, ranging from BLAST (the DNA-sequencing software) to Photoshop file open/save (not any controversial filter tests), network throughput, and disk storage speed.

Not all the tests even show the Xserve as being the leader. In the Photoshop file-open test, for instance, the Xserve is at the bottom of the pack-- though as the number of simulated clients rises, the Xserve's performance continues to scale up, while the competitors begin to nose-dive. And in RIP printing (at right), the Xserve leaps out to an early lead-- but then flattens off, while the competitors scale past it.

But look at these graphs, man. No matter how you tilt your screen (assuming you can tilt your screen, hyuk hyuk), these are benchmarks to be proud of.

I'm sure someone will find a way to claim that the tests were rigged, that the test suites are flawed or the playing field was tilted. I'm sure some people (okay, many people) are already so well conditioned by past controversy as to treat any numbers quoted by Apple as automatically suspect at best.

But, well, it does seem just possible that these numbers represent what they appear to represent.

11:40 - These are humans we're dealing with here

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In a post to the RISKS list, Peter da Silva explains why Palladium is an outstanding idea-- if only we were all machines who obeyed rules and didn't continually find ingenious ways to get around onerous security measures.

The referenced article included such gems as "Palladium stops viruses and worms. The system won't run unauthorized programs, preventing viruses from trashing your system." Setting aside all the other issues in the article, this by itself is a remarkable piece of misdirection.

Why? Well, let's look at viruses...

There are four main avenues that viruses and worms use to spread. There are others, but the vast majority of outbreaks have used these avenues of attack.

The first, and oldest, is "social engineering". You trick a human into running a program for you. This is the electronic equivalent of calling up the sysop at a company and saying "hey, this is Jack Smith in accounting, I can't get in, I forgot my password because I had it programmed into my mail program, can you clear it for me?". Making the OS more secure can help somewhat, but you don't need to wait for Palladium to do this... most multi-user operating systems are designed so that users normally run with restricted privileges, and so can only damage their own files... not the OS or other user's programs.

The second is exploiting a straightforward bug, usually a buffer overflow. To fix this you don't need a new security model, you need a programming language that doesn't allow buffer overflows.

The third is a "cross frame attack": you trick the client software (web browser, e-mail program, music player) into running untrusted code without restrictions. This is almost always an attack on Microsoft's poorly-advised merge of the web browser (which is almost always dealing with untrusted objects) with the desktop, mail software, and so on. If they had integrated the HTML rendering engine in the OS and left the Internet access code in a separate program that used the HTML rendering code but otherwise managed its own access controls... at least 90% of the widespread virus outbreaks would never have happened.

The fourth is conversion attacks. You encode the message containing the attack code inside a package the outer layers of the OS or application don't know how to open. Ironically, Palladium is likely to make this kind of attack easier, because it's almost certain that part of the security model will involve separating the system up into components that don't have the keys to each other's files.

Ironically, one of the latest security issues with a Microsoft product is due to the first Palladium-type software having three of the kind of security holes I just listed above... Windows Media Player. The second of the three holes would not exist if Media Player didn't have to have access to the OS internals to implement Digital Rights Management.

Of more concern, the integration of the browser and the desktop and other components that created the possibility of "cross frame attacks" is due specifically to Microsoft's attempt to avoid complying with their original agreement with the Justice Department by bundling the Browser and the OS. Microsoft has maintained this dangerous design despite years of massive virus outbreaks caused by this decision, because otherwise they'd have to admit fault. Even now, when they have been found at fault, and there's nothing left to lose, they refuse to unbundle the Internet access from the rendering code.

So, not only has Microsoft never before shown much concern for this problem, they have actively worked to prevent a straightforward fix that they are legally required to implement. Using this issue as a hook to get more control of the computer is, well, there are polite terms for it and I'll let you decide which one to apply.

Even if you don't care about this specific issue, what does this say about their likely behaviour if security problems crop up in the design of Palladium?

You know, we can haggle about statistics and numbers all we want. We can argue over the relevance of elegance and aesthetics in computer design, and we can disagree over whether treating the Mac-vs-PC battle as a "morality play" is juvenile or seminal.

But the fact of the matter is that I feel a whole lot better commentating on things like Palladium from a position of not ever having to worry about it being a part of my future.
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
22:11 - Nyah nyah nyah! <punch> Uuughh...
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/07/MacWorldRumors.shtml

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Yeah, I knew I was going to hell with that last post.

Lots of good observations about the Mac community; lots of facts and lots of numbers to address, and I'm not going to. I will say that a number of the things he quotes are half-truths (the iMac is not a dog, not by any standards; the "slower than the eMachine it replaced" quote comes from an article specifically about Internet Explorer speed, which is an optimized kernel process in Windows and very much non-optimized in OS X, though that's the biggest thing the MacBU is addressing for the upcoming IE6), and some are speculation that can be addressed with more quotations (sales have been disappointing in the entire computer sector lately, not just for Apple-- and the current Power Mac G4 series has been listed as EOL-- which means that it will be updated soon).

I'm not going to take personal exception to any of it, though-- because more and more people I know have switched to Macs over the past two or three years, and not one of them has regretted it for an instant. Not one. They range from the silently satisfied to the giddy, but they all believe they have made a good move.

True, there are disadvantages. There aren't as many games. Certain tasks are slower. You find yourself marginalized, and must resort to either vociferous defense of your position, or meek cowering from the interrogation lights of IT departments and raucous PC-using friends.

But-- well, I'll let Paul Summers take it:

Sorry Steve. For the first time in a GREAT many years, I like my laptop. I haven't sworn at it or hit it once. First. Time. Ever.

What is the greater measure of a computer, which is basically a tool? That one runs faster by strictly raw factoids, or that one runs *Better* by any *human* measure of success?

Yeah. I don't usually like to reference my own older posts, but...


I never know whether I'm doing more harm than good by writing these things here-- whether people who might have had tolerant or fence-sitting sorts of views on the Apple issue have now, thanks to me, been driven into fierce defensive mode, something that I consider a major failing on my part even if I have managed to convince a few other people to give Apple a break.

I like to imagine I'm not, and hence I'll keep doing it, in particular attempting to demystify the mentality behind Mac evangelism and somehow combat the sense that those who trumpet Apple's achievements are crying wolf. It may well be an impossible undertaking, and the ground on which I stand isn't the firmest kind of bedrock I'd like.

But it is something I believe in.



UPDATE: Steven tells me he was already busy writing his article before he noticed mine; so all's well in this little corner of Lower Blogovia.




17:37 - Cheap shot alert
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/07/Newtoys.shtml

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The Cap'm is getting a new computer, and his tastes in monitors are refined.

And I finally found one; it's the dream monitor: Eizo's FlexScan F980. It's got features up the wazoo. Like most top-end monitors these days it contains a USB hub. But it's not just there for devices like mouses and keyboards, the monitor itself is actually a USB device. You can run a program on the PC which controls the monitor settings through USB, which should be pretty interesting to mess with.

Yup. That kind of thing is really neat, even today. It was awesome back in about 1992, when Apple monitors had ADB connectors for out-of-band management and control and hub duties, as they're doing now with USB. So ever since then you could adjust the stretch, positioning, keystone, parallelogram, pincushion, rotation, and other settings visually by dragging with the mouse in the OS control panels. And eventually that management channel (ADB, and later USB) was merged into the main video cable, and later still with the power cable into one connector for the entire monitor.

Those monitors were also pretty cool in that they would auto-recalibrate over time, compensating for the aging of the phosphors; they would also update the computer's ColorSync profile, so images created on that machine would still appear the way the user intended when opened on a remote machine.

It's always nice to see the rest of the industry eventually coming to recognize certain advancements as worthwhile.


(Sorry; couldn't resist.)




UPDATE: Matt Robinson notes:

Everyone knows that the Mac has had a sensible, innovative approach to hardware that the PC can't approach due to the generalisation and generic-componentisation that they have to deal with. When you control the hardware and the software, implementing an new power/graphic/usb socket is simple - for a PC manufacturer it's a bloody nightmare. I'm not excusing them, but it's not always that Apple has the best ideas: it's that Apple has the best ideas AND the ability to implement them - to change their own standards, because no one else relies on them.

I'd suggest that Apple fits the "benevolent dictatorship" model and PC is more like "sprawling beurocratic democracy". Steve decides to change something for the better and he'll kick a bit of ass, raise a bit of hell, and it'll get done. Back in the PC world, someone has an idea, but for it to be implemented, it must be economically feasible, it must be adopted by sufficient manufacturers to become popular, and have support along the line from hardware vendor to software drivers and support from Redmond. All this via endless meetings, forms in triplicate, business flights to visit allied companies, etc.

Yup. That's called "whole widget" product development. Cons: costs more, limits choice. Pros: you get kickass toys ten years before everybody else does.



12:21 - Aha.
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/mwny02apple.html

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Here's the Think Secret rundown on MacWorld announcements. Considering their accuracy so far, I'm inclined to give them credence.

One interesting aside:
100% - Official Jaguar release date

The recent CNET story is right on the money. Apple has moved up the release of the newest OS X to early/mid-August. Jobs will announce an exact date after he's bored us to sleep.

(By the way: Do any of you find it interesting that Apple hasn't objected to the screenshots of Jaguar all over the Web? We're told by our sources that this is deliberate and that Apple wants pre-announcement hype. They got what they wanted.)

Ahh, I get it. Why break their policy of pre-announcement blackouts, or spend the money on pre-marketing, when they can just seed builds and trust the Mac Web to take up their slack by publishing a certain percentage of the leakage? Not bad, not bad-- if true.

God, they've got a weird attitude toward rumor sites.

11:49 - The Man and the Myth
http://www.macnet2.com/comments.php?id=110_0_1_0_C

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John Manzione has an article pleading for proper homage to Steve Jobs and his vision and contributions to the computing world throughout his career. He's taking exception to all the rumor sites who have had their MacWorld press passes revoked, and who are lashing out personally at Steve in frustration; Manzione wants to remind everybody of just how much we owe Jobs and how underappreciated his efforts have been.

I do agree that Jobs is a visionary, and a great one; he's one of my personal heroes, and I can't stand to hear people rail ignorantly against him. And I applaud the general thrust of the article, though its motives seem to be clouded in controversy.

BUT... I disagree that Jobs is personally responsible for all the things Manzione lays at his feet.

The Internet, for example. It was well on its way to becoming what it is today before Macs could even do TCP/IP networking. As a university research resource, it had reached its full penetration by 1992; and even the recreational aspect of it was up-and-coming fast. When I wrote my first websites in 1994, it was on HP-UX workstations, with the understanding that they would be viewed on other UNIX workstations. At the time, putting a Windows machine or a Mac on the Internet sounded like proposing to ride a bicycle on the freeway.

(It should be noted, though, that the first Web browsers were developed at CERN on... <drum roll> NeXT boxes. So there is a Jobs/Web connection after all... even if it is sort of a fortuitous one.)

Without Apple, business computing today would probably be full of DOS terminals. (It wouldn't be all men in white coats and tape reels and punch cards, as Manzione thinks it would.) Remember that in the 80s, Apple was just one of many makers of text-based computers with rudimentary GUIs. The Apple I was indeed a pioneering machine for programmability, and Jobs was the one who told Woz he thought he could sell it; and the Apple II was what popularized the personal computer. But remember, it wasn't until the IBM PC that DOS became the standard environment in which you operated, rather than in whatever application you booted into. The IBM PC was the first to envision an all-purpose Operating System for consumers, rather than just a platform for running programs. Jobs then was responsible for taking that to the next level with the Mac GUI.

Jobs' vision encompasses things like what people will actually find useful-- hence his Digital Hub strategy, and his staunch backing of music consumer rights against the RIAA and record companies. Those are the modern visions that Jobs is responsible for, and probably more likely to strike a chord with today's computing audience.

He's been able to predict trends and figure out how to kick-start them, even if the solutions he comes up with don't end up being the cheap, second-generation, mainstream version that ends up taking over the world. He actually likes it that way. He wouldn't be able to stand being second to implement something; he would much rather be seen as a penniless pioneer than as a wildly successful copycat. That's the crucial difference between him and other CEOs, and between Mac users and Windows users. We're willing to give up some convenience and some classical success for the idealistic satisfaction of being in on the ground floor.

This isn't without its downsides, though. Jobs is an egomaniacal perfectionist; his vision is so powerfully right in his eyes that he refuses to listen to dissent. As I said yesterday, Jobs often infuriates and frustrates engineers no end by repeatedly and unceremoniously sending less-than-perfect-in-his-eyes prototypes back to the labs to be completely reworked. (If Jobs hadn't personally involved himself in its design criteria, the new iMac would have been just an old iMac with a flat screen, vertical components, and with the back lopped off.) As Robert Bundy, one of the article's respondents, very astutely says:

First of all, your notion that Steve Jobs may not have ahd anything to do with ANY policy shift at Apple is either naive or disengenuous. If it wasn't him, or if it was not an expression of his views, then folks would be fired for it. That's the precedent set by history, like it or not.

Second of all I don't hate Steve Jobs. Not even a little. I am a die-hard, committed Mac-user. But Apple's not perfect and I understand many people's frustration with Apple and thier perception with its fearless leader's control freak/perfectionist tendencies. A good analogy can be found in popular Science-Fiction. One of the stock characters of sci-fi is the evil megalomaniac that thirsts for unlimited power. While striding around his secret hideout he's likely to say things like, "When I have ultimate power there will be no more wars, hunger or homelessness! I will create a Utopian society-- ruled by me!" The hero inevitably points out that even God grants Humans that thing which allows them to define themselves: Freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom to publicly speculate on the future of thier computer platform without fear of reprisals.

Steve Jobs is a wonderful visionary who has gifted the world with some wonderful ways of working through his orchestration of other, truly gifted people and his legendary charisma. But the deal should be: Apple makes something, defines a price, you either buy it or you don't and the world at large gets to say what they want about it without fear of censure. Is it any wonder that many in the Press are bridling at the sight of many of thier number being turned away for refusing to simply parrot press releases or be undiscriminating cheerleaders?

This is a battle of ideals, and as such it's describable in sci-fi terms. Sci-fi and fantasy likes to tell about struggle, adversity, change, and the underdog winning. But in real life, we prefer stability, prosperity, leisure, peace, and the status quo. That's why nobody's going to be able to write a successful novel about 9/11 and its aftermath; who wants to read about a huge and successful society, seen by many as oppressive, crushing the idealistic revolt of a few downtrodden, religious rebels leading a quixotic charge against the Beast? No, Star Wars takes the side of the rebels, and we accept it as gospel that the rebels must be right and the Empire must be evil. Maintaining the status quo hardly makes for good reading.

Jobs lives in a fantasy world, and so do those who follow him. To us, our cause is righteous; it's not perfect, we do make mistakes, and victory is not guaranteed even though it all feels so storybookish.

It would be terribly tragic to see so many people so horribly deluded... if only it weren't working.
Tuesday, July 9, 2002
12:22 - But then, this rather sucks...
http://www.vnunet.com/News/1133364

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Hey, why be left out of the game? At least save a major security hole for us poor Mac users.

The update mechanism carries out its tasks over plain old HTTP without any form of authentication.

"Using well known techniques, such as DNS spoofing, or DNS cache poisoning, it is trivial to trick a user into installing a malicious program posing as an update from Apple," warned Harding.

DNS spoofing and cache poisoning are methods of fooling a machine into thinking that a rogue computer is legitimate. For those in the know, it is easy to carry out.

The vulnerability is further compounded by the fact that Mac OSX updates are installed as root.

"Exploiting this vulnerability can lead to root compromise on affected systems. These are known to include Mac OS 10.1.X and possibly 10.0.X," said Harding.

Harding has released a full exploit for this vulnerability in a bid to "convince Apple that it needs, at the very least, some basic authentication in SoftwareUpdate". The package includes everything needed to impersonate the update site.

Apple has not yet released any sort of patch, but is looking into the matter.

Their commitment to quick turnaround on the discovery of security holes was given a good bolstering with the recent SSH patch, but this one's going to be a bit more problematic; it's not a two-day turnaround kind of thing for them to add MD5 checksums and authentication to Software Update. (To say nothing of the fact that to update Software Update to the fixed version, people are going to have to run Software Update.)

TechFocus says, "Once again, I ask, who's running the show over at Apple? Wait, let me answer my own question: the moronic Jobs - fresh on the heels of his graduation from a*sclown school" ... Now, c'mon, isn't that a little bit unfair? Does he say the same things about Microsoft's security holes? There are an awful lot more of them.

But even so, it seems that Software Update was written very naïvely. The only security in it is that it points to a specific DNS-based host, and DNS is hardly flaw-free. Sure, in an ideal world, it would have been fine, but... well, sometimes ideals aren't the best things in the world.

11:57 - It's not a browser war-- just a sanity war
http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=makali&itemid=66838

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Matt Robinson has some words of wisdom for the people at macsurfshop.com, who don't work with Netscape 6 because of an HTTP_REFERER bug in that browser. Matt's contention? It's a mistake to rely on the referer in the first place, for many other reasons than Netscape 6 not using it properly. He's absolutely right, too.

10:51 - Freeeeoowwww.
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/jaguarmiscellaneous2.html

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Okay, so this may be a good sign: we're seeing more and more appearances of ".Mac" in recent Jaguar builds, and it appears to be intended for serving up things like... subscription-based screen-saver slideshows.

Remember that PPG episode where they followed around this strraaaaAAaaaAAanger, a sinister silhouette with a trench coat and a double-peaked fedora and two glowing yellow eyes... but then the light was turned full on him, and he turned out to be a pleasant little man with a flowerpot and a watering can? That's kinda what this feels like.

Yeah, it's apparently for subscription-based services; .Mac is evidently intended to provide certain avenues by which Apple can suck money out of customers' wallets. But... well, not that I want to seem hypocritical or anything (as they said in Forum this morning, "hypocrisy is better than having no values at all")... but unless there's some major .NET-esque can-of-worms that we have yet to discover, the attitude behind these services appears to be comparatively pure. Apple already provides 5MB of free iDisk space to users, and lets you have more-- if you pay for it. Now it's stuff like screen-savers. Entirely optional, entirely non-intrusive. Can it be that Apple is finding a way to turn the .NET philosophy to good instead of evil?

Naturally, it entails forgoing some revenue, revenue that Microsoft isn't afraid to go for. But hey, isn't that the ongoing story?

But anyway, that's just one little piece of this latest set of Jaguar updates and screenshots. Look at some of the other ones:

When a user is deleted, its files are now saved as a disk image.

Jaguar's developer tools include a new app called Picture Sharing. It appears to be a sort of test app for Rendezvous, allowing you to share images over a network. Picture Sharing Browser is the client application.

In the Mouse preferences, you can now configure your PowerBook to ignore trackpad input when an external mouse is connected.

There are several new cursor icon indicators for copying, selecting, and moving files.

Yeah, look at these screenshots. Even the mouse cursors are works of art, for God's sake.

The newest builds have an interesting new startup sequence. Upon bootup, after the Happy Mac, a message greets "hello" on the screen, with the blue beachball cursor spinning below it. This feature is still in development.

I wanna see this. Too bad there's no screenshot/photo.

As mentioned previously, the Desktop preference pane can be set to change the desktop picture upon login, when waking from sleep, or every time period ranging from every five seconds (for the Mac user who simply must change his desktop picture every five seconds) to every day.

Applications that aren't responding receive a yellow warning sign in the dock. You can then force quit them from a their contextual menus in the dock. Additionally, in the force quit dialog, non-responding apps are highlighted in red for easy identification.

If you get a kernel panic in Jaguar, a message comes up helpfully informing you: "A problem has occured and you need to restart your computer. To do this, hold down the Power key for several seconds." It is then repeated in several languages. Additionally, the kernel panic is automatically logged on your system.

Okay, now this is exactly what I'm talking about. Okay, OS X isn't perfectly "uncrashable"-- no OS is, right? Even the big-iron can kernel-panic, and OS X has been known to do so itself. Until now, such a condition has resulted in lines of ugly console text painting themselves over the suddenly inert GUI.

But now, Apple has GUI-ified the kernel panic.

Now, this isn't as ideal as figuring out a way to eliminate kernel panics altogether; Marcus suggests some kind of redundant-kernel arrangement, where the secondary microkernel would freeze the RAM state and restart the primary kernel. I have to find out why this wouldn't be possible. (It probably would be, but it'd be insanely, insanely hard.)

But it does close the loop. OS X is now completely GUI, from power-on to power-off, even in error conditions. All the UNIX ugliness is now officially wrung out. All they need now is to get it so the mouse will still work in a kernel-panic situation, so you can just click a button to restart instead of having to press the Power button.

This is just another of those details that under any other company's management would just go unaddressed. Steve Jobs is notorious for being someone who is both infuriating and infinitely rewarding to work for; he thinks nothing of looking at a prototype and saying, "This sucks-- do it again." Engineers wither and die under his piercing stare. Software goes through the cycle over and over again. But eventually it's good enough to satisfy him, and that means it's uncompromising in quality, and those engineers who have stuck it out get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction almost unknown elsewhere in the industry.

Jaguar is full of these little tweaks, these little labor-of-love details, these diamonds strewn on the beach. Booting up a new Jaguar build has to be like reaching a new level in a video game, full of little discoveries and baubles to find.

Whatever charmed life Nick DePlume is leading, he must be having so much fun, seeing the OS evolve like this, with new little gems appearing every few days. I envy him... but not it if means he's having to post this stuff from a hut in the Caymans.
Monday, July 8, 2002
01:37 - Round 2... Fight!
http://www.apple.com/switch/ads/

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There are two new Switch ads up now-- by David Carey, a magazine publisher who likes to do digital media; and Juan Proaño, a project manager and the first "minority" to be represented in the ads (well, there go the conspiracy theories).

Their messages are down-to-earth and reasonable; they have realistic, homey appeal and aren't confrontational at all. But you just know that John Dvorak and a horde of screeching monkeys all over the Web will immediately descend upon the new ads with renewed cackling venom; they'll call David a clueless pathetic fatso who probably molests children-- how much you wanna bet those iMovies he makes are illegal in 120 countries, hmm? And you don't wanna know what he's got in his iPhoto library! And then there's Juan, who's obviously some kind of gang-banger; better do as he says and buy a Mac, or he'll come mess you up, cabrón.

You think I'm exaggerating. Hey, I've seen what level these idiots are willing to stoop to. I'm not putting anything past them.

00:25 - Wonder what he thinks of "Tokyo Breakfast"...
http://hikeryote.blogspot.com/?/2002_07_07_hikeryote_archive.html#78721752

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Michael Jackson sucks, according to Hiker. I'm inclined to agree. If he didn't before, he sure does now.

I've been of the mind that when celebrities reach about age 40, they are presented with a decision: to start making fun of themselves, or not to start doing so. Depending on the choice they make, they enter my good graces or they leave them.

William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are two prime examples of people who get more mileage out of lampooning themselves these days than taking on serious roles. For that they have my undying respect. Ah-nuld is another. Hell, even Bill Gates wins points for things like starring in that internal Microsoft parody of the VW "stinky chair" ad a few years back. And just look what happened to Bob Dole once the election spotlight skipped off his Viagra-chomping, Pepsi-swilling visage.

But Michael Jackson appears unwilling to let go of the time when he was relevant; and, like Bill Watterson and ... well, honestly, mercifully few celebrities refuse to lampoon themselves these days; even Stallone does it. But Jackson has entered a very elite club, the club of Washed-Up Ex-Celebrity Losers who get no more benefit of any doubt from me.

20:03 - Wife of LAX Shooter Says He's Innocent-- hey, stop laughing!
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2002/07/08/lax-shooting-wife.htm

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I'm totally serious. She thinks he couldn't possibly have done it. Even though the whole thing was recorded from twelve different angles by airport security cameras, and police have his crusty hole-in-the-head ass in a refrigerated drawer.

"My husband didn't do such a thing. This is nonsense," 41-year-old Hala Mohammed Sadeq El-Awadly told The Associated Press on Monday in Cairo.

"Hesham called on July 4, it was his birthday. His voice was very beautiful," she said. "He asked about the boys, asked me to take them out a lot and to review their lessons with them in order to be ready for next year."

Well, golly whillikers-- you don't think that maybe, just maybe, the reason he said those things was because he knew he wouldn't be around to do it himself?


For Pete's sake-- what is wrong with these people? A couple years ago, it was Egyptian authorities and Muslims everywhere who were convinced that the EgyptAir pilot who dumped his plane into the ocean couldn't possibly have done it as an act of suicide-- because suicide is prohibited in the Koran, and the pilot was a Muslim. It's just not possible! Never mind the black-box recordings with the pilot's voice asking for forgiveness from Allah, and the instrument recorders showing him turning off the autopilot. Those things mean nothing, because he was a Muslim, and Muslims don't do things like that.

Does reality have no bearing at all on these people's brains?

El-Awadly said she did not believe her husband was responsible for the July 4 shooting and was being blamed because he was Arab and Muslim.

"He is a victim of injustice," she said three times. "In America, they hate Islam and Arabs after Sept. 11."

@#$%*#. @#$%*#. @#$%*#.

(Saying something three times makes it true, doesn't it?)

18:48 - What the hell was that?

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I saw the PowerPuff Girls movie last night. Very... well, very odd movie. It didn't play like I expected it would. It wasn't anywhere near as sarcastic, injokey, or smart as it could have been-- and while it did have moments of brilliance (the Chemical X injector reservoir centrifuge, the bizarre wordplay in the monkeys' names, the adult-perspective glimpses from the Professor and Ms. Keane, the protracted argument between the girls on the asteroid), it seemed to have an uncharacteristic amount of "kiddie material". An overabundance of sweetness-and-light. And while it makes for a stark, very mind-scraping contrast to have the classroom darkened, painted in aggressive grays and browns, with the din of construction and a stream of water from the busted sink the day after the cutesy and sugary-sweet name-reciting introductions, it's still a presentation that I wasn't quite ready for.

Maybe McCracken's and Tartakovsky's directorial style-- ponderous, lingering reaction shots and comedic beats punctuating impossibly long bouts of freakish action-- just doesn't quite work on a feature-length scale. I dunno. I'm still trying to figure out why the movie puzzled me so much. I did enjoy it; it took a while to get moving, but eventually it started to feel like a cross between Tron and The Wizard of Speed and Time-- not something that works terribly well right out of the gate, but something that you grow into.

Oh, and there's enough destruction of tall buildings-- even though in the jokey PPG style-- that this movie probably couldn't have flown if released in the first few months after 9/11. Really.


...But that's not what I wanted to write about. No, what really caught me off guard was the featurette before the PPG movie, a Dexter's Laboratory short titled "Chicken Scratch". It was directed by Tartakovsky, which hasn't been true of any Dexters for about a year now, much to the series' detriment, but... what the hell was that?!


"Chicken Scratch" bewildered me. Sure, the story was funny enough, and the directing was spot-on from what I'd come to expect from Tartakovky. But... what the hell was up with the art style? It looked like the unholy union of Dexter's Lab with Ren & Stimpy. The background art style had taken on the retro 50's look that the current Dexter season seems to be clawing for. Every shot of any of the characters seemed to have been drawn from a different model sheet. Proportions were monstrously overdone, facial expressions were full of uncharacteristic creases-- seriously, it looked like something done by John Kricfalusi-- and while I generally will go out of my way to see something John K. had a hand in desecrating, Dexter's Lab is not what I had in mind as the target for such a treatment.

... I dunno. I left the theater last night very, very confused.

13:50 - ... But that doesn't mean they're incapable of being morons
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/itoolsdotmac.html

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If these screenshots from recent Jaguar builds are anything but a very tasteless joke, iTools (the online services that Apple provides for users to host websites, e-mail, send postcards, and store files on their iDisk) is set to be renamed shortly to ".Mac".

"I was shocked, to say the least," said one Mac developer who spoke with Think Secret on the condition of anonymity. "Can we possibly get used to this new, very confusing name?"

That's putting it mildly. We've been horrified by the name .NET ever since we first heard it-- it's one of those marketing-clever punnish plays on Internet terminology; you can just see and hear some drunk Microsoft marketdroid waving his hands in the air, visualizing to his friends over margaritas: "Yeah, see, it's like Microsoft dot net... you know, like the Internet thing? Only it's like Microsoft... DOT NET! Hah ha ha hahh-- y'get it? <hic>" And so we're plunged into an era where people who are already confused about the difference between the Internet and the Web, or who think their e-mail addresses are www.username@aol.com ...are being set up with even more confusing terminology, seemingly positioned so as to trap them into a maze of dialog boxes where they won't know which way to turn to avoid being charged money. To elect not to be given further options to 'opt-out' of special offers and premiums in the future, please uncheck this checkbox!


And now, if this is what it looks like, Apple's jumped onto the Bandwagon O' Stupidity.

As it's unlikely that this month's Macworld Expo would bring a new brand and little else to Apple's set of free tools -- iCards, iDisk, Mac.com email and homepages -- the addition of new ".Mac" services is a very real possibility.

And if that means iTools is about to morph into a Mac-native version of .NET, or the same thing as .NET but for Mac users, I am going to be sorely disappointed.

Maybe they can "do it right". I don't know. I will hold out hope that they can, that whatever-it-is will turn out to be something in the tradition of Apple-- free, genuinely valuable services presented in a non-intrusive and entirely optional manner.

But...

There's so much that can go wrong... so many potential traps to lure Apple into doing what Microsoft's already doing.

My fingers are indeed crossed.

11:32 - Why do we evangelize Apple?

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Just look at some of the things they're doing in Jaguar (Mac OS X 10.2). Just look at them.

Who can sit there and be unmoved by the sight of someone writing text into Microsoft Word-- with a pen?

Label text that can be placed below or to the right of icons, at the user's request. Secondary data displayed under the icon's name, for disks and folders and files. A totally redone Mac Help application, that includes tutorials for people used to Windows or to Mac OS 9. Different levels of font antialiasing, tunable to be optimized for CRT or LCD displays-- and which will no doubt auto-detect the kind of display you have upon installation and set itself accordingly. And that's just the new stuff we've recently found out about, above and beyond all the stuff like Rendezvous, Zoom, Ink, minimize-in-place, spring-loaded folders, Quartz Extreme, and so on.

Apple doesn't have to do these things. But they do them.

This goes back throughout Apple's history. They designed all their cables so they would be physically different in shape, so you'd never have to worry about confusing your VGA port with your serial port. They made the mouse hang off the keyboard instead of the machine's case, so the cable wouldn't drag it off the back of your desk. They wrote 24-bit color support into the OS when PCs only had EGA graphics-- even though costs prohibited true-color video cards at the time for either platform, Apple made sure right then and there that the OS would fully support them when they were ready. And they've put things like AirPort, FireWire, DVD burners, and a million other little details into their systems over the years. They made CRT monitors that would automatically recalibrate themselves over time as they aged, and they developed ColorSync to ensure color-matching from machine to machine in a way that it simply does not exist on Windows. They put CD and DVD burning into the OS itself. They made it so you can select any System Folder on your computer to boot from. They designed tower cases that open with a pull of a ring, and mice where you can lock the ball inside so schoolkids can't throw them at each other. They made a flat-panel all-in-one machine with an adjustable screen. They've put ungodly amounts of effort into making Mac OS X a thing of such beauty that-- well, for God's sake, just look at it. They did countless little things that are hard as hell-- they cost tons of money and require huge amounts of development and testing, all so they could deliver a new ability to the customer-- not just a new feature. They did this not because they had to-- but because of the pursuit of a vague chimaeric goal of "being easy to use". They didn't have to do any of these things.

But they did.

Though they keep getting kicked in the face, though they have tears in their eyes and their teeth are clenched so hard they're cracking, they're still doing these things that they don't have to do-- but that they know brings them closer to their ideal and keeps them in the race. They're one of the most underappreciated companies ever seen on this earth, and yet somehow it doesn't discourage them. They're still pressing on.

It's like seeing a Stuart Little car running in the Indianapolis 500-- and, astonishingly, it's keeping up with the big cars. In fact, it's holding out a pretty consistent lead.

Who is so stone-hearted as to kick that underdog out of the way? Who would ban it from the race, just because the competitors can carry more fuel and would suffer less if they crashed?

This is what makes Mac enthusiasts so furiously and doggedly dedicated to Apple. We see people dismissing Apple's accomplishments every day, and it tears us up inside. We want to see Apple's efforts recognized. We see them as a lone guy bailing out the Titanic with a bucket-- no matter how hopeless it may look, he's still pumping away, jaw set, teeth clenched, ignoring the jeering lifeboats full of people who just want to feel more secure in the choice they've made.

You want to know what it's like to be a Mac user? Watch some guys drinking Budweiser and marveling to each other in hushed tones about its bouquet and its body and bite. Or listen to someone who drives a Civic, gushing in rapture at its horsepower and its handling.

Better yet, listen to someone ascribing "moral equivalence" to the Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli forces bulldozing the homes of terrorism suspects, or claiming that 9/11 is no more reprehensible than the bombing of Afghanistan, because such a position is more comfortable for someone trying to fit in with the International Community™, regardless of how such a view might clash with our most deeply-held ideals.

Can you possibly stand by and not comment?

As an engineer who loves elegant solutions to problems, it infuriates me to see Apple's efforts go unrewarded, and even ridiculed, when there is so much to recommend them. And even beyond just the quality of their software and hardware-- just the fact that they've managed to stay alive for twenty years, with all the cards stacked against them, with every reason in the world to give up and admit defeat and doom us all to a world of mediocrity-- they've kept on going. They've excelled. They've pushed themselves to achieve more in less time than anybody ever in the computer industry. They didn't have to write software like iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and the like, and give it away free with their computers; they didn't have to create FireWire and the iPod and throw their whole weight behind the digital-media revolution, putting the power of creation into the hands of users. They didn't have to write Mac OS X, taking the best parts of FreeBSD and NeXT and merging them into an operating system that's designed to handle multimedia better than anything else on the market, making even Amiga and Be nostalgists weep for joy.

But they did.

With all the odds against them, they've only pursued their ideals all the more aggressively, and they've survived-- they continue to excel. And yet Microsoft, with all the cards stacked in their favor, consistently fail to produce anything compelling. It's taken them twenty years to catch up to within striking distance of Apple-- and just as they get here, Apple leaps out in front again with OS X.

Windows has pretty much caught up with the Mac in terms of usability-- but it's still just a simulation of a Mac. Microsoft can't do custom per-file icons, like the Mac has always been able to do; so instead, they provide a "thumbnail" view, so images and movie files appear as thumbnails of their contents. This is a lot easier for them to engineer than custom file icons-- which on the Mac can be so much more than simple automatic thumbnails of the files' contents. But for most Windows users' purposes, it's good enough. Most users won't feel constrained by the limitations of that solution, half-assed though it is. And that's just one example. Windows can't operate without filename extensions, so they just hide them all globally. Windows can't operate without a Registry, or allow you to place programs anywhere in your filesystem with just a drag-and-drop-- so they've worked on hiding applications in the filesystem entirely, and guided users into the registered Start-menu launch mechanism all the more vehemently. And most Windows users don't care.

Indeed, many engineers who value only efficiency over elegance, or practicality over ideals, will see this as the way it should be. Never look back, these people say. Never redesign anything from the ground up-- if there's a design flaw, just compensate for it and press forward. There's no time to do it right, and you can just as well as make up for it with spackle and grease. That's good enough.

But as an engineer who values ideals of design, such pansy-ass hackery makes my eyes fill with tears.

What infuriates me about Microsoft, and the mentality that they've instilled throughout the software industry, is that "good enough is". They're not motivated to excel, just to satisfy. All that it's in their interests as the monopoly incumbent to do is to provide the bare-bones basic functionality to support the tasks that users demand of it, and that's what they do-- admirably well. But they're under no economic or ideological pressure to innovate, to come up with new functionality for users-- especially not new functionality that doesn't directly benefit the Company. Hence the fact that 99% of Windows XP's material advancements are in the areas of .NET, Passport, ad placement, information gathering, Smart Tags, and the like-- all features designed to further entrench Microsoft's hold on people's identities and wallets, another step towards their becoming the de jure gatekeeper for all our world's digital existence, not just de facto.

"Oh, just give up already," some shout. "Microsoft has won. There's no fighting it. Better just cooperate now, or else it'll go that much harder for you later."

I refuse. I have seen a better way. We have an existence proof, right here in front of us, of how a computer company can do so much better, and can act in the interests of enabling people to do more, not just to pay more. Apple truly cares about innovation, in a way that Microsoft only knows how to crow about it. This may not be a model that can survive in a true laissez-faire economy, but... well, I'm not one of those who believes that laissez-faire is the most admirable of all economic policies.

Those who do promote such a policy look at Microsoft, using its monopoly power to increase its hold on the world, not innovating in any way other than to institutionalize itself into the fabric of our lives, and say that Microsoft deserves to win purely because it has all the resources and the means to do so. By definition, that's what makes a winner. The freedom we give up and the innovation we forgo is immaterial compared to the incrementally-lower crossing-point of the supply and demand curves.

But we've seen, in stark detail, that just because a company has a monopoly share of the market does not mean that it is the company most motivated or best equipped to act in the consumer's interest.

I'm the type of guy who thinks that if a company like Apple is able to keep up for twenty years, with underdog status and no popular respect and all the reasons in the world to fail, and still somehow manages to keep ahead of the pack-- and even to present itself as a powerful ally of the consumer's interest in the face of overwhelming opposition-- then that company is something I'm willing to lay down in front of a train for.

It's not about calling Windows users morons or sheep; it's not about being a rebel; it's not about inventing a new kind of sexual favor called a Steve Job.

This is about a fundamental difference in how Apple and Microsoft are run. Laissez-faire says that companies are just machines, that they will respond to stimuli in the market in a more or less equivalent fashion; that any company in a particular position will act the same as any other company in that position, and if it doesn't, then its stockholders and its board of directors will elect executives who will. By that model, Microsoft is behaving exactly as a company of its assets and position should, and for that matter so is Apple. Such a model predicts that Apple will become increasingly irrelevant, as well it should-- because Microsoft, the incumbent, will do whatever it can to win. There's no such thing as immoral actions in laissez-faire-- there's no way to cheat. The very fact that a company has the resources with which to "cheat" means that it's entitled to the benefits such cheating would earn it.

But I don't believe that. Not entirely. I believe that different companies do have different characters; that Microsoft's actions deserve punishment, and that Apple's deserve reward. I do believe that if their positions were reversed, Apple would behave more like Microsoft does today, and vice versa; but not entirely the way it is today. I believe that the vision driving Apple arms it uniquely with the capacity to innovate like nobody else can, to bring more benefit to the world of the consumer; whereas the vision that drives Microsoft benefits only Microsoft, and would continue to do so even if Microsoft were the underdog.

I believe companies have free will and choice, just like individual humans do. And I believe the respective actions of Microsoft and Apple are not irrelevant side-effects of their positions in the market. I believe their respective actions speak volumes about the companies themselves and their visions. I believe there is such a thing as "good" and "evil", for companies as well as for people; and I believe that for all intents and purposes, without any maudlin or hackneyed posturing, without any juvenile whining or aggrandizement-- that Microsoft is evil, and Apple is good. I feel no shame in that statement, I feel it's backed up with demonstrable fact, and I believe I can prove my case to anybody willing to listen with an open mind. These aren't absolutes-- both companies have mitigating elements that push them away from the poles. But to see Apple working as hard as it does, pursuing such patently admirable goals, adhering to such compelling ideals, consistently going well beyond what any customer would ask them to do in creating new technology, and responding to adversity not by backing down and vanishing, but by pursuing those goals harder than ever-- and to see the vast majority of Windows users dismiss Apple with a sneer and a guffaw... well, that's the picture they put next to "tragedy" in the dictionary, right after the classic Shakespearean citations of the genre.

Almost nobody who has anything bad to say about Apple has any facts to back it up. It's all just paranoia and ignorant sloganeering, and just as we refuse to buy it when protesters burn American flags in Gaza and publish Jew-killing tracts for the exhortation of their neighbors, we Mac fans refuse to sit down and shut up and let it go unchecked.

The sloganeers seldom are interested in facts; but we're going to present those facts anyway, and Apple's tirelessness is the model for our own. If they haven't given up after all this time and after all that's happened, then neither will we. It's the very least we can do.

It's easy to look at that guy determinedly bailing out the Titanic, and call him a fool. Hell, you may be right-- he would be one, except for one tiny little thing: it's working. He's kept this sinking ship afloat for over twenty years, and somehow he's even been making headway at it. That's a superhuman achievement, and it's more than enough to inspire me and a whole lot of other seemingly brainwashed and deluded idealists like me to grab a bucket and chip in.

Wouldn't you have saved the Titanic if you could?

This isn't a fair world. (Indeed, it would be a pretty frightening place if it were.) But if there were some inkling of fairness in the computer industry, we'd see Apple offered a whole helluva lot more respect for what they've done and what they continue to do, than what they get now. All we want is for that to be recognized. All we want is some justice in the world. Just a little.

And that's what goes on in the mind of a Mac evangelist. Or at least one of them.

09:17 - Rowr.
http://ecart.macdock.com/macsurfshop02/details.mhtml?mgiToken=7AKAD052FDE40N3HEN&id=

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Wow, Jaguar's got quite a grass-roots following already... just look at this t-shirt design. Who can possibly resist something like this?

...Well, okay, perhaps among people I know, then. But doesn't this rock? I just may have to get one of these...


Meanwhile, Think Secret has another set of screenshots and answers about Jaguar-- including the multiple antialiasing levels and the crisper, redesigned Aqua interface widgets.

How is Nick DePlume getting away with all this? I don't understand. Why isn't he being slapped with NDAs left and right?

I wonder if he's the reason Apple has taken the draconian measure of denying press passes to "rumor sites" for this year's MacWorld-- a move that's infuriated all kinds of online Mac news sites, such as AppleLust, who refuse to be tarred with the "rumor site" brush. Clearly someone at Apple's got a bug up their butt... but what variety?
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© Brian Tiemann