g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, July 28, 2002
01:47 - ...But it's really not about speed

I've sneered a couple of times already at how when Microsoft showed off their Tablet PC to various journalists-- they first touted it as having "the best handwriting recognition in the industry", but then, when it became clear that under serious scrutiny it wouldn't hold up to such a claim, they held propaganda sessions to convince journalists and reviewers that "well, handwriting recognition doesn't actually matter". In other words, a particularly weaselly form of sour grapes. You can't prove superiority in some field, so you downplay the importance of that field.

It's at the risk of sounding as though I'm committing exactly that rhetorical crime by saying this; but while it can certainly be shown that the Mac's performance at various tasks is not only not "faster than any PC" (as the marketing PR would have it), but is not really in the same ballpark-- I must posit that the efficiency of computing does not, in fact, depend directly upon the speed of the CPU and chipset. It's not about speed. Not in the way we usually think of it.

A little background. When I first became interested in the Mac, it was not because I was under any impression that it was faster than Windows PCs. In fact, I was pretty well convinced that Macs were unquestionably slower at almost anything you might ask of them. This was the age of word processing and Photoshop and telnetting to UNIX servers to write rudimentary web pages without <BODY> tags; but even then, what attracted me to the Mac was not its speed. It was the user experience and the philosophy of design. It was a technology that was exciting. And that's the same feeling I have today.

I think it's great that Macs can be used to do high-end vector processing and rendering in workstation-class environments these days. I think it's great that the G4 has gotten to more than 1GHz, and that there are more improvements on the way. But raw speed isn't everything. No-- no way am I going to claim something stupid like "close the microprocessor R&D plants; there's no further use to be had from faster CPUs"; but I will say, however, that there's such a thing as greater efficiency in the use of the resources that are available to an operating system, in the way that that OS enables a user to do things.

The Mac is optimized, for instance, for tasks like video editing and image manipulation and audio mixing. Not optimized for raw CPU execution speed-- optimized for efficiency in the user experience, efficiency in getting things done. That's why pros use Macs for those things-- not because X processing task will complete 10% faster than on a different rig, but because of much more fundamental issues. Audio pros use Macs because the Mac is designed for low-latency, high-bandwidth audio throughput in the CoreAudio subsystem, something that Windows utterly lacks-- as well as built-in sophisticated MIDI support. Graphics and prepress pros use Macs because of ColorSync, a feature that Windows utterly lacks (and is incapable of incorporating because Microsoft can't guarantee standardization of its display hardware components). And casual consumers like me use Macs because of the way iTunes seamlessly integrates with the iPod, and the way iMovie plays with DV camcorders as though they were favorite puppies, or the way iPhoto knows how to do magic with images from just about any kind of digital camera without having to load drivers. Not because of how fast those things occur, but because of how well they work. It doesn't matter in the slightest to me how much slower or faster it is to rip a CD to MP3 in iTunes versus on a PC; what matters to me is that I can do it by putting in a CD and pressing a single obvious button.

We like how Apple has a Feedback page online where they solicit bug reports and new-feature suggestions for OS X, and that they listen to things we send them through it. We like how Apple actively wants us to rip/mix/burn our CDs and take our music wherever we go, with good ol' MP3 files instead of digital-rights-managed proprietary formats with RIAA-approved back-doors. We like how Apple thinks of little details like making it easy to install and deinstall applications by dragging-and-dropping them in any folder or the Trash, and how they've managed to take UNIX and make it into something so easy-to-use that one's grandma can mount someone's shared folder from across the Internet and file-share in a way that PC users have to use third-party P2P apps for. We like watching DVDs on wide-screen LCD monitors. We like being able to put custom icons on individual files and to specify per-file opener apps. We like the thought that our convenience and our creativity is the utmost goal of our computer company, rather than just more numbers inching upward.

Companies like Dell and Compaq don't have Macworld-style keynote events when they unveil each year's new product line. Why? Because it's boring. There's nothing new they ever have to show anybody that anyone wants to see in person or get a scoop on. It's just more of the same old same old, but <gasp> faster. Whereas Apple, two or more times a year, will announce a speed-bump in some machine or other-- but it's always in tandem with some major new thing they've just developed. "Look, it's got DVD burning now!" Or "Hey, an adjustable flat-panel all-in-one G4 machine!" or "Here's what OS X can do!" or "Hey, here's iPhoto!"

Journalists love Apple because they never have to muckrake in order to get a story out of them. Apple makes news.

More and more incremental speed in a rickety hunk of baling wire and bubble-gum doesn't excite me. But new technology that pushes the boundaries of what I can do, by putting entire new classes of abilities in my hands rather than just another boost to the speed of all the old ones, excites me. A 10% faster CPU doesn't make my heart beat 10% faster when I use it. But a feature like Sound Check or "Keep Music Folder Organized" or Smart Playlists makes it start to skip beats here and there.

When Jaguar gets here, it will bring speed improvements to the OS X user-interface. Welcome, indeed, it will be. But you know, I'm not looking forward to that speed increase anywhere near as much as I'm looking forward to Rendezvous, and sitting on the couch downstairs with my iBook on AirPort listening to Lance's Lord of the Rings recording streaming from the iTunes on his iMac upstairs. And when iSync is ready to go, and I can use it to convey all my schedules and contacts to my iPod with one button (or to a cellphone over Bluetooth), I won't care how fast it goes. This isn't so much the "it's amazing that the bear dances at all" argument as it is one of "my God, that bear's doing cold fusion".

Sure, frame rate is a fine goal for gamers. But that's probably why the Mac hasn't been a great gaming platform, historically: games, uniquely among software genres, benefit very concretely from the min-maxing of system speed; something that Apple has never considered to be of paramount importance, never more so than an efficient user experience and technology that's exciting.

I first got into Macs because Apple's technology excited me; I remain fascinated by Apple today for the same reason. The same goes for just about every engineer in the tech industry who has found himself magnetically drawn toward OS X lately. Speed has never been something that's inspired me. It's just another number-- and I suspect I'm not alone in thinking that. When a piece of revolutionary technology is dismissed because of the lack of luster on the speed statistic, such dismissal looks short-sighted and petty to us, and catches us by surprise. We're too busy being excited and inspired by the possibilities we see before us to be bogged down in such inane details. Having to wait an extra three or four seconds for a web page to render or to see the spinning cursor for a few moments while the OS resolves a blocking behavior is something we're willing to put up with, for the sake of the benefit of what that blocking behavior will reveal once it's resolved. And speed will always improve in the future. That's one thing we can always count on.

This may sound like lame rationalization for an undeniable handicap we can do nothing about (or maybe it sounds like Roger Meyers Jr. backpedaling in the courtroom, saying "Okay, so maybe my dad did steal Itchy-- but come on, the animation industry is built on plagiarism!"); but to call it that is to fail to "get" the Mac, as so frequently happens in the tech press and in society at large. Computing on the Mac really is a different thing. It operates by different rules. Different things are important. It's one of those things that one just has to experience, in a head-smacking moment of clarity, to fully appreciate.

A sufficiently souped-up Ford Escort, with all the ingenious tweaks and mods and decals in the world, can beat a Ferrari F355 down the track. But only one of those two cars excites me, and I'll tell you it ain't the Escort.

00:42 - Malaysia to condone the use of pirated software in schools

Oh, this just warms my heart's cockles.

The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry may consider allowing schools and social organisations to use pirated computer software for educational purposes. 

Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the exemption for such institutions and organisations was to encourage usage among Malaysians and speed up computer literacy among students. 

Yeah, brilliant idea. The students are going to be using pirated software on their own computers at home anyway; so since it's obviously more important to try to teach them how to use the same software that they're probably already more proficient at using than the teachers will be than to convey to the impressionable kids the concept that software theft is as wrong as any other kind of theft, they may as well just bite the bullet. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Raise a fine upstanding generation of ... yeah. Rrgh.

However, he stressed that other sectors, especially the commercial sector like companies and factories, would be booked if they were found to be using pirated software. 

“We are concerned over the rampant sale and use of pirated computer software in the country and will continue to conduct raids to curb it. 

“But for educational purposes and to encourage computer usage, we may consider allowing schools and social organisations to use pirated software,” he said after opening a state-level National Day poetry-reading contest in Pagoh yesterday.

Yeah, be sure to make it a double standard while you're at it. It wouldn't be an intellectual-property debate without one.

Has the entire world lost its ability to distinguish right from wrong in the presence of a copy of Photoshop?

11:12 - Well, that bloody figures.

MuslimPundit is idle for over three months; we all hold our breaths, hoping for Adil's glorious return, any day now-- but it looks more and more unlikely as time goes on.

And the day after I remove his link from my blogroll, he returns.


Anyway, he's leading off his new stint of being-there-hood with a long essay on the nature of jihad, in which he deflates the new-age redefinition of the word from "moderate Muslims" who have been trying to tell us that the proper meaning of jihad, the one that the Koran commands all Muslims to embrace, is an internal or spiritual struggle rather than armed aggression against the infidels.

What the Qur’an does say, however, is very interesting: not only does it subscribe to a warfare-approach to “jihad”, but what comes across also as increasingly clear is the fact that by far the most instances where Muslims are prompted to carry out jihad in the Qur’an, refer to acts of aggressive instigation rather than that of defensive warfare (just examine the subject index in any good copy of the Qur’an). Not only is it permitted, but the Qur’an orders that it be waged till the cause of God prevails. This flies in the face of Armstrong’s blind belief that Muslims “…may never initiate hostilities… and aggressive warfare is always forbidden. The only permissible war, therefore, is a war of self-defense…”. Such injunctions heavily tend towards being exceptions rather than instances of a general rule. Thus, Muslims, as well as some non-Muslim “experts”, who propound this version of “self-defence-only jihad” subscribe to a notion that, with respect to the classical Islamic doctrine, is palpably false. Some modernist Muslims, like the late Fazlur Rahman of Chicago University, have rejected this view owing to its gross misuse of history. As they point out, this notion of “jihad”, as a strategy only for self-defence, is a myth.

Yeah. This is why I had that link there in the first place. Back it goes.
Saturday, July 27, 2002
19:29 - Okay, these people so suck. (And I mean that in the best possible way.)

Speaking of O'Reilly, here's proof that they're irredeemably hepped-up on goofballs. At the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, they got a bunch of ham-boned geeks together and filmed some "Switch" ads of their own. You know, like switching from Emacs to vi. Or switching from Perl to Python, or Python to Perl, or briefs to boxers.

It's pretty funny. Though I think if they had some larger point they were trying to make, it's been rendered largely forfeit...

16:57 - And in today's Office news...

Wow, I almost slept through the big Office-ish announcement that seems to have broken like the wind over the wires today.

(First of all, though-- I have to comment on this URL. Okay, so CNet got the "news.com" domain-- that's fine, good for them. But they also apparently acquired "com.com", just so they could do all their internal linking in the form "news.com.com". Why the hell? This makes no sense to me. What, the more "coms", the more credible the news source? I can't help but think of that Jack Handey quote:

If you want to impress someone with your computer knowledge, just add "dot com" to the end of everything you say, dot com.

...Dot com.)

So on with the show. Apparently, Sun has found a friend in Apple, and the common ground is StarOffice (or, more specifically, OpenOffice-- the open-source version of it). Though there had already been a version of OpenOffice for OS X in the works, now apparently Apple and Sun will both be working on it.

The partnership is expected to produce a Java-based version of OpenOffice by the end of the year, followed by a commercial StarOffice release sometime in 2003.

"I think you can see OpenOffice running solid on OS X by the end of this calendar year," said Tony Siress, Sun's senior director of desktop marketing solutions.

Until now, Sun did not plan a version of StarOffice for OS X, although the Microsoft Office competitor is available for Linux, Solaris and Windows. An open-source version of the software, called OpenOffice, had already been planned for OS X. OpenOffice.org released a developer build of the product on Thursday.

Java would seem to be bad news. It's my understanding that you can write Cocoa apps in Java, and even compile them into fast-opening standalone executables as with any other langauge (technically, you can compile Perl code into a platform-dependent executable; it'll no longer be cross-platform, but it will run faster and won't require the Perl interpreter). And there's been all kinds of hype over the past year and a half from people like Sun and O'Reilly that the JVM in OS X is faster than on any other platform (and the only Java 2.0 JVM out there), but that seems to ignore the fact that it's faster by a huge margin (at least in my experience) in Windows. Maybe they're shunning it because Windows' JVM, having been privatized and optimized for Windows by Microsoft in what spawned all those inconclusive court battles with Sun, is no longer what they refer to as "Java".

But in any case, Java has always given me bad vibes as an application platform. LimeWire, a Java-based Gnutella client for OS X, is an ugly ugly port that's laid out like a Windows app (with menus in the window instead of in the OS menu bar) and has some of the most sluggish performance and most hideous widgets known to man. ThinkFree Office, the $50 office package mentioned in the story, is (in Marcus' words) "ass"; and OS X's own System Preferences used to be written in Java, but they were terrifically slow until Apple rewrote them in pure Cocoa. So while Java itself doesn't necessarily make for a bad app, it sure seems to pave the way for one. So the "commercial StarOffice release" would probably have to involve some rewriting into pure Cocoa, if just for performance's sake. (Sun won't like that, though. But, you know, tough.)

And besides, the decision to back OpenOffice seems a strange one to me. What does it bring to bear that Apple couldn't just do on its own? It's been three or four years since I used OpenOffice, but at the time it was a UI nightmare; text handling was godawful, the widget set was an unusable monstrosity, and I couldn't find anything in any of the menus (much less explore the feature set to see if it in fact had any equivalence to MS Office). Maybe it's gotten a lot better since then. But still, why?

Apple has AppleWorks. Why couldn't they just dump a bunch of engineers onto it and soup that up? It's not a huge mystery which features need to be added to it to make it into an Office-killer. They can't be that hard to add-- this is a word processing program and a spreadsheet, for God's sake. The oldest applications in home computing. You'd think twenty years of experience would have made such apps second nature to software engineers by now, wouldn't you? Our fifth lab assignment in CS1 was to write a GUI spreadsheet application in C. Mine was pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself. And that with five weeks of C experience to my name.

If Apple is really serious about writing a killer office suite, it seems to me they could stand to act the part. AppleWorks has never seemed much of a showpiece. It's an embarrassment, to be honest. It's clumsy, shoddy, buggy, and they didn't even write it themselves-- they acquired it from Claris (the company Apple had originally spun off as an application-maker) when that company consolidated around FileMaker. And Apple doesn't seem to have done much work on it since then. The vertical scrollbar still doesn't do live scrolling, for crying-out-loud. It gets the fundamentals of typing and calculating done, but it feels like if you scratched the skin off it, there'd be nothing but bone underneath. It has a long way to go to become a full-fledged Office suite.

So is Apple just punting it and throwing in their chips with Sun? The two companies have seemed to have a fairly warm relationship lately-- Xserve competitive marketing notwithstanding, Jobs and McNealy seem to be going into one of those Ellison-esque "enemy of your enemy is my friend" coalitions against Gates. Now that the world has squarely divided into Windows vs. UNIX, all the UNIX vendors seem to be putting aside any differences and scrambling to find common ground and reason to cooperate, because otherwise they read doom in the tea.

It seems clear that Apple definitely wants out from under the Office Sword that has been hanging over them for their entire bloody existence. It's frightening to think just how similar things are today to how they were in 1985, when Microsoft made Apple drop the lawsuit against them (which Apple had brought on charges that Microsoft had reverse-engineered Apple's application development kit, which they'd given Microsoft in order to make Word and Excel for the Mac, and turned it into Windows 1.0-- charges which were turning out to be true, especially looking at the identical function names in the code... but then Microsoft played the we'll-cancel-Mac-Office card, and everything came screeching to a halt). Or to 1997, when Steve Jobs decided to bundle Netscape on the Mac OS desktop instead of IE, and received a phone call from Gates asking politely how they should go about announcing the cancellation of Office for the Mac. Or just a couple of weeks ago, when lackluster sales of Office v.X (which they should have expected, considering that v.X is X-only, and the transition to OS X is far from complete) prompted the MS MacBU to start harrumphing about "reevaluating our future commitment to this project" and for its leader to be sent on a leave of absence, presumably to catalog the mating habits of the nine-spined stickleback off Baffin Island.

So now it's clear that Apple wants a contingency plan, even if the act of creating one means it will immediately become necessary to put it into action.

Granted, it might be refreshing to imagine what life on the Mac would be like without having to worry about Microsoft. Sort of like imagining a world where the US didn't have to depend on Middle Eastern oil. But if MS had no more investment in the Mac platform, can you imagine the FUD campaign they would start? Can you imagine what ads they would run? Is there any hope that Apple would survive against the kinds of nasty tricks Microsoft would be free to pull if they didn't have to share in the consequences?

And besides, what sells Macs right now is the fact that you can buy Microsoft Office for it. Not "some other office program that's almost as good", or even one that's demonstrably better. People don't care. Last weekend, when I was in the Apple Store, a walk-in customer was asking a sales guy whether he could run MS Office on a Mac. The guy mentioned AppleWorks, which he said has Office file-format compatibility, and when the customer looked uncomfortable, he then pointed to the v.X boxes. But I was running through an alternate-reality in my head, one where the salesman shuffled his feet and said, "Well, we have AppleWorks, which has Office file-format compatibility, at least with Office files up to 2002, after which they changed the format... and you can also get this other office package, which is just like MS Office and has all the same feat-- hey! Wait! Come back!"

So I applaud Apple's balls, but something tells me balls aren't going to be enough to see them through this gamble. Apple needs to be able to keep in a handclasp with Microsoft, if only so they can keep MS at arm's length. It's a sucky kind of symbiosis, and it's been an uneasy twenty years, full of tantrums on Microsoft's part and petulant threats to take their ball and go home. But if the Harry Potter books have taught me anything, it's that no matter how much everybody comes to loathe him and how discredited he might become, Draco Malfoy never fucking goes away.

I sure hope they know what they're doing.

Dot com.
Friday, July 26, 2002
22:25 - The Latest on Office


It seems that Microsoft's MacBU, despite recent grousing over whether the size of the OS X market is enough to justify them bothering to sell Office for it at all, is considering some new, more aggressive pricing policies for the package-- Home, Standard, and Pro.

The survey asked users for opinions on three different editions of Office. The first was Office:mac v.X "Home Edition," which would include Word, Excel, and Entourage, but not PowerPoint. The survey suggested a variety of possible price points, ranging from $199 to $349.

The second was named "Standard Edition," and would include all four of the key Office apps, as in the currently available version. Suggested prices ranged from $299 to $499, with upgrade pricing ranging from $149 to $299.

These prices are being quoted from end-user surveys that Microsoft is apparently having conducted. I'm not sure what to make of this development, except to note that if they sell a PowerPoint-less version of Office for 200 bucks, I might even buy it.

If that's useful data to them, they're welcome to incorporate it into their study.

My question is whether they consider this pricing policy to be enough to offset any potential damage from the bloc spoken for by the poster "glitch" at the PowerPoint page at VersionTracker:

Either wake up & smell the coffee and stop supporting the unethical business practices of Microsoft Corporation, or get accustomed to getting abused by them. Microsoft holds the availability of Office and Internet Explorer as a sword over Apple’s head. The only way for Apple to get out from underneath the sword is if people escape their dependence upon MS products. Like a drug dealer, MS will give their product away for free at first. This eliminates competition that is dependent upon sales revenues, enables them to grab market share, creates a dependency upon their product, and makes entry into the market by a new competitor next to impossible. After the competition is gone, they have free reign to charge what they please. Remember Word Perfect? They used to own the word processing market until MS saw it as the “killer app.” So MS changed the code in Windows and didn’t reveal the changes to Word Perfect until the critical mass of users switched to MS Word. Now we’re paying $$$ for a word processing program instead of $45 to $60. Netscape was the next “killer app” that MS blasted. Netscape used to own 90% of the market. What happened? MS drug-dealer marketing tactics. Preserve your right as an American to choose. Don’t use or buy any Microsoft products. If you bought Office, return it. Don’t use Internet Explorer. Lastly, as for the review, MS Office is buggy, incomplete, proprietary bloatware with serious security flaws.

I certainly know which concern is cheaper for them to address. Those who care this much about corporate ethics have a lamentably low radar profile, and once their cause becomes small enough, this attitude is just another reason for the company to dismiss it as comprising a bunch of loonies.

18:11 - Microsoft R&D South

Here's a Slashdot thread about Bill Gates' recent feet-shuffling attempts to apologize for .NET not really catching on or anything, which is summarized neatly thus:

AdamBa writes "Speaking to financial analysts and reporters, Bill Gates admitted that .NET hadn't caught on as quickly as he had hoped. The headline ('Gates admits .NET a "misstep"') is a bit misleading; he doesn't think all of .NET was a misstep, just the My Services part (aka Hailstorm). He also said that labelling the current generation of enterprise products as .NET might have been 'premature.' Summary: Microsoft got too excited about locking in users via Hailstorm and botched the overall .NET message." There's also a Reuters report and a NYTimes story on the same subject, which includes the interesting line: "Microsoft also warned today that the era of "open computing," the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending." It isn't clear if Microsoft is talking about something happening beyond their control, or if they're boasting about ending it.

But what I really wanted to call attention to was the response by one commenter, who noted:
Shouldn't the company care about its customers' vision?

Some columnist recently pointed out that Apple achieved in one stroke everything MS is trying to achieve with .NET, by announcing iCal [apple.com] and iSync [apple.com] last week at MacWorld. Those two programs allow users of Mac OS X Jaguar to connect their PDAs, cell phones and desktop PIM software to a single database and publish them on the Internet, connect with the calendars of others, and resolve conflicts between the two.

In other words, while Microsoft spent two years talking about Web services and technologies, Apple quietly went about actually building them into a program its users will want to use. MS has been announcing and releasing software for other people to build these Web applications, but Apple decided to lead by example instead.

No doubt the next release of Windows will include similar features, and of course they'll be more widely used than Apple's. But just think what might be happening right now if Microsoft had spent as much time creating Web applications for Windows XP as they did promoting them.

If a person could synchronize their PocketPC to their MSN account and Outlook at the same time, then reconcile with all their coworkers' calendars and documents, without having to do anything more than press a button, Microsoft wouldn't need subscriptions to sell the next version of Office or Windows. Instead they settled for getting halfway there so that they could sell more copies of Exchange Server and keep PocketPCs as expensive as humanly possible.

One wonders whether this wasn't in fact their plan all along. It's been joked for years and years that within Microsoft, Apple is known as "R&D South"-- all Microsoft has to do is wait for Apple to design something and bring it to its own limited-interest market, and then Microsoft can develop their own (subtly incompatible) version of it and unleash it upon the rest of the world with a minimum of effort and no vision required.

In this case, though, it's even worse: Microsoft knows how to play Apple like an organ. All they have to do is come up with some vague, grandiose idea (nothing particularly insightful or revolutionary-- just hard to implement), go on stage and crow about it, take out lots of magazine ads... and then Apple will get to work on it, do all the insanely heavy lifting, and bring it to market, without Microsoft having to lift a finger. Then they get instant vindication, and they don't have to share in the fall if it fails.

I don't think it's that sinister, though. I think Microsoft just couldn't figure out how to pull it off. All Microsoft's brilliant engineers knew how to do was go onto websites that were polling visitors as to which they preferred, Java or .NET, and set up automated scripts and multiple-voting rallies to try to tilt the numbers in their favor. As I said then, it takes a special kind of person to work for Microsoft.

Incompetent, unethical, and wildly successful. Ah, to live the American Dream.

15:45 - Why can't Yanks do humor like this?


Is "humor" really inherently so much less funny than "humour"?

This is "Sniff Petrol", an online British car/motorcycle satire rag that's like what would happen if Douglas Adams and Monty Python wrote a cross between "Car Talk" and The Onion.

I'm gonna have to bookmark this and keep an eye on it. Anybody who's this deftly brutal to the BMW Z4's styling needs to be watched carefully.

Oh, and Paul, see if you can figure out what it is they're saying about the Supra. It might be derogatory, but for the life of me I can't tell.

14:49 - Burn Down the Bandwagon

It's all sweetness and light over at Fuzzy Fuzzy Kittens today, where the Plaintiff is Always Right, where the Evil Corporate Greed-Monster is always looking for a way to put more of its customers in the hospital, and where there is no cause so ludicrous that a lawyer is not willing to make his name for the ages as the Man who Took Down Big [Product], standing in proud honest defense of the sobbing victim of inexorable mind-control who might just be able to get ever so slight an amount of solace from a huge cash windfall. Just a slight one. Well, maybe just a little more.

(Hint: not really.)

It's about the recent "fast-food liability" case, where people have evidently taken the successes against the tobacco industry to mean that the same convictions of wrongdoing in those cases obviously mean that any purveyor of widely-enjoyed products is doing exactly the same thing. Ronald McDonald is just like Joe Camel, you see. KFC is an addictive drug. Chalupas are infused with "deliciousness crystals" which force kids to go back to Taco Bell day after day after day, against their wills, poor dears. Of course it's not their fault that they're fat and unhealthy. It's the evil fast-food corporations, the ones who must market their deadly wares to kids because their older customers keep dying.

This culture of "no free will" is getting way out of hand. I'll say it again: Ever since they forced Beavis to stop saying "Fire" because some kid burned down his house, I've been extremely cynical about cases like this. I'm no friend of cigarettes (particularly in public), but nobody has to start smoking, particularly not in this country, not in this day and age. (Heaven help you if you go to France or Russia, though.) I wish people wouldn't do it, but it's not the government's job to force people to quit; that's what families are for. And if people imitate what they see on TV or eat fast food, it is their own bloody decision. Once upon a time, people had to face the consequences for what they chose to do, and it wasn't society's fault or some corporation's fault or their parents' fault. It was their fault. They didn't get to sue somebody and go home with millions and wreck everything for the responsible rest of the world just because they felt they got a raw deal or spilled their damn coffee in their lap.

I hold on to the vain hope that one day the pendulum will swing back around, and people will start taking responsibility for their own actions once again instead of casting about for someone to sue when things go wrong. Parents will once again take an active hand in raising (and disciplining) their kids, and they will be held responsible if the kid goes nuts-- up to a certain age, after which the kid himself is held responsible. Double standards, where football players get diplomatic schoolyard immunity and the persecution of nerds is condoned, will be done away with and will no longer lead to Columbines. And we'll all grow up to be responsible adults who understand that what we do has real consequences, instead of there always being someone to blame if we screw up.

Sure, it's easy for me to say this, since I'm not at some kind of societal disadvantage like these plaintiffs are. But, well, I've got my own things to deal with, and I'll address them in my own life, on my own terms, thank you very much.

Because if my failures aren't my fault, then neither are my successes my own achievements. And I'm not giving those up, dammit.

13:36 - All I know is it's not in my pocket...

Courtesy of Corsair the Rational Pirate, "Where's George?" is like a useless but lots-more-fun version of SETI@Home; you get to register the serial numbers of your dollar bills, then spend them and watch the site as it tracks their progress around the country.

Wouldn't this just be the greatest thing for those people who like to write silly or inspirational little messages on their bills and release them into the financial jetstream, carrying their sentiments of love and brotherhood and death-to-the-heathens or whatever it is to all corners of the world? Now they can know for sure just how far afield their message is traveling.

Ahh, the Internet.

Anyway, Corsair looks like a linkworthy guy-- he's got an expansion up now on den Beste's recent comments on religion, marriage, atheism, and children, and it's a good read.

Singing and playing instruments and being all happy-happy-joy-joy with people you despise on Earth. Eww.

Anyway. The "why don't you just kill yourself" argument is backwards when pointed at the atheist. Atheists have every reason to want to live as long as they can and experience as much joy (which can be defined as making others happy despite what the religious think) as possible while he is on earth. Since there is nothing else after death you have to have your fun now!

Yeah. Frankly (and I've mentioned this before), who would you rather live with-- the person who is nice to others because it makes him happy and fulfilled to do it, or the person who is nice to others because it means he gets to go to Heaven as long as he doesn't screw up?

It's a variation on that same debate about theft, which I've applied to software piracy: Do you not steal because stealing is wrong, or do you not steal because you fear getting caught? If it's the latter, I'm less likely to trust you than if it were the former. And if a person needs an external set of rules to follow in order to keep on an ethical path, then that person's innate ethics are a lot more suspect to me than someone who is able to demonstrate good ethics derived purely from his own life experience and what makes him happy.

Besides, as I've also said-- pushing one's belief system on others for the sake of reward in Heaven is a little something I refer to as selfishness. An atheist's desire to make others happy is a selfless motivation, and only indirectly does it benefit or gratify the atheist. But the religious person's ethical system, because it is fueled by the desire to go to Heaven, is inherently based on self-interest.

For those religious people who are able to lift their own ethical systems above what their religion teaches, and to act upon them in a way that's independent of how it will be judged by a third party after death, kudos from me. But some people just don't need that substrate. And their lack of it doesn't make them bad people, nor does it make them inherently hedonistic. Quite the contrary.

Anyway, go read it, and don't miss the Twain quote.

11:01 - De Ads

Forum this morning on NPR was all about "Advertising in a down economy"-- patriotic Americana-style ads and the like-- and one of the panelists casually mentioned Apple's "Switch" ads while making a point about testimonials. That casual mention resulted, when the phones were opened up later, in a storm of people who evidently were just itching for a chance to weigh in about those ads, and to make the entire discussion be about them if possible. And it worked, or at least it was working by the time I parked and turned off the radio.

One guy called in and talked about how the "Switch" ads are the first time Apple has really tackled the angle that stands a chance of growing their market share-- namely, that people see the Mac as a vulnerable outlier that you have to swim upstream to use, and that the only way they're going to be convinced to make that effort is to see other people who have done so telling their stories (rather than, say, the "artsy-fartsy" ads they've always done in the past that win Clios but don't convince anybody to buy Macs).

The panelists responded with vague analysis-ese, and then the host threw open the question of specific targeted technology to the whole panel. She asked about the Ellen Feiss ad, the stoned-looking high-school girl. This ad is apparently not going to air on TV, according to Apple-- but it's featured prominently on the website. Now, all the "stoner" jokes have been made already... but to the panel, the girl doesn't just look like a stoner-- she is a stoner. She's meant to look as wasted as possible. Not just clueless, but vacuous, red-eyed, intoxicated, missing any and all grip on reality. And the host's proposal was that Apple's showing this ad in an online-only format was a means of specifically targeting the disenfranchised socially-inept technophile crowd, rather than whoever is watching TV. "Guerrilla advertising", they were calling it when I rolled into the parking lot.

From the sound of it, the entire rest of the show was going to be about the Apple ads unless someone physically stopped it. I wonder whether that means simply that rabid Mac people are overrepresented among NPR listeners, or something...

As for the efficacy of the ads themselves, though, as I was just now saying to someone in e-mail, by way of answering the seemingly common charge that they present a message of "Hi, I'm too stupid to use a PC, so I bought a Mac":

Some of the ads are in fact targeted that way (to people who honestly feel threatened by the complexity of their PCs-- who do in fact make up a large proportion of society, larger than most techie types realize); others of them feature people who are very techno-savvy, like the IT administrators and programmers and so on, who are trying to explain that the Mac has benefits for the intelligent as well.

It depends on which ones you remember best, I guess. I would imagine that in a broad-based ad campaign like this, in which they try to address all facets of society, people will remember the ads that speak directly to them least well, and instead remember the ones that seem to be making inaccurate assumptions about the viewer-- and that may be a hidden flaw in the campaign.

Personally I think the ads are very risky, but potentially have a lot of payoff. They're already by far the most parodied ad campaign Apple has ever done, both in funny ways and in very mean ways. Most of the tech punditry has reviled them (cf. John Dvorak's comments in PC Magazine). But for the everyday people watching TV, who don't follow blogs or read tech magazines, they might do pretty well. And in any case, what's that they say about there being no such thing as bad press? At least they wouldn't be able to make a Simpsons episode today in which Homer mentions Apple Computers-- and is rebuffed by a clerk who says, "What Computers?"

If the numbers Apple quotes are accurate at all (over 1.7 million hits on the Switch site since the campaign started, 60% of which are from PC users), it seems to be off to a good start.

And the sooner they air the Will Farrell one, the better...
Thursday, July 25, 2002
01:58 - Those Poor Sods at VA

Just a couple of thoughts regarding Steven den Beste's latest post on VA Linux (or "VA Research/Linux/Software", or whatever they're officially called these days):

VA Software (no longer "VA Linux" although embarrassingly their stock symbol remains LNUX)...

This drew a cruel laugh from me. Remember, back in 1999, how proud VA was to get the "LNUX" stock symbol? Remember how very very proud? Remember how much of a coup it was-- how many different Linux upstarts had tried for it in their IPOs, and how much of the hype over VA stemmed specifically from the fact that they won the ticker race?

And now it's an embarrassment. Boy.

Which leads, inevitably, to the question: what effect would it have on the Open Source Movement if SourceForge shut down? Will a sugar-daddy step in to pick up the expenses? IBM could pay for it out of pocket-change, but does IBM care enough to do so?

And how will geeks survive without SlashDot?

No, I don't think that progress and development would stop if SourceForge shuts down. But OSS would surely be seriously inconvenienced without that service.

Inconvenienced-- possibly. I'm not so sure about it, really. SourceForge has the advantage of centralization, and that most of the organizational work is already done for the members. Open-source software development has never really had those things as its Achilles' heel, though. The Apache Project has successfully operated for many, many years without SourceForge; so has FreeBSD, and so in fact have most of the OSS projects that matter. The guys who develop such things tend to have no problem with tacking together their own source-control back-ends and distribution systems, and they tend to have ways of financing such ventures. SourceForge serves a fairly limited purpose, and if it were to vanish, I don't think too many people would really notice.

Same with Slashdot. Slashdot operated just fine for years before they were part of VA. It's just a website; it could be successfully run from any reasonable co-lo facility with pretty modest funding. It's just a matter of infrastructure ownership; to the users, it's all the same stuff. Who provides the bandwidth doesn't tend to matter much.

SourceForge and Slashdot are about as important to the OSS community as BlogSpot is to the blogosphere. It's a nice thing to have around, and it's certainly played its part in helping the phenomenon rise. But if it were to vanish, it wouldn't destroy the blogging movement. Someone else would rise to provide the same service, or the bloggers would just find or create alternative solutions. Just as destroying the WTC is not the same thing as destroying America-- or, for that matter, just as killing bin Laden is not the same thing as destroying militant Islam-- it's just a visible manifestation of the phenomenon. It has no significance in and of itself, beyond some legacy emotional attachments.

VA Linux was a poster-boy for the dot-com bubble; but the open-source movement predates the bubble and exists outside it. Linux didn't have to grow up during the period of unbridled optimism in technology-- it could have happened during any point in history. The goals are far different. The dot-coms wanted money, whether the services they offered made any sense or not. The open-source guys just want to create free functionality, which means that what they do has to be useful or else it has no point in existing.

It's just that when the twain doth meet that an unholy, unclassifiable, inherently unprofitable beast is created.

Note, by the way, the interesting way Apple has blended open-source and commercial development-- fostering free/shareware OSS development by third parties by distributing the dev tools and Darwin, but keeping the "secret sauce" by selling the computers and controlling the APIs. As Paul says, "Geeks might not be entirely happy with it, and vendors might not be entirely happy with it, but everyone gets SOMEthing the apple way."

11:28 - Hardware Choice

There's something else that I'm afraid escapes me about the usual anti-Mac propaganda. It's this thing about "limited hardware vendors".

What exactly are people complaining about? What choice are they missing?

First of all, you're buying a computer from Apple. That means they have a motherboard, case, and power supply that they make; it's no different from Dell or HP, who use certain standardized components. And don't argue that Apple should be more flexible in hardware choice than Dell or HP. That's insane.

Okay, so beyond those: What's to choose between?

(Let's get one ground rule taken care of: we're not talking about iMacs or laptops. Those are single packages. They're whole-widgets. Especially for the consumer machines-- they're specifically being targeted toward people who won't ever want to tweak their hardware. Computers for getting stuff done, not for tinkering with and loading up with game after game. Lack of confusing choices is a selling point for those machines. No, we need to make one thing quite clear: if you want hardware choice in a Mac, that's what the Pro towers are for. They're specifically designed for expandability. That's their whole point. Start with a Pro tower if you want hardware choice, and we'll continue.)

So: What hardware choice do people want?

Let's see: Uh, the video card. And... well... hmm. Yeah, let's start with the video card.

Dude? What more choice are you looking for in a video card? The towers give you options for RADEON or GeForce3/4 cards that you can BTO, just like in the PC world. What other chipset makers are there these days? What are you missing-- the on-board Intel video that PC motherboards come with? Is that the "hardware choice" that you have in mind? Something "default" that you can upgrade from and feel all superior about? Or maybe it's those super-high-end 3D cards for rendering, or video capture cards from Matrox, or those $15K ones that drive SGI monitors. Dude, if you're in that narrow a market segment, you're not in any position to make fun of Apple. Even if the card you want isn't supported on the Mac, which it probably will be.

Oh-- oh, wait, I know. People want choice between individual video card manufacturers. They want to make sure their GeForce4 Ti is the best GeForce4 Ti on the market, and if it isn't, upgrade it. They want to prowl AnandTech and compare the ABIT card, the Inno3D card, the Gainward card, the Prolink card, the Visiontek card, and whatever other dozen Taiwanese OEM card makers are represented on the shelves at Fry's in their boxes with pictures of Porsches and spaceships on them. They'll all turn out to be almost identical in performance, but hey, that choice is all-important, right? Computing just isn't computing without an incomprehensible Engrish manual and drivers that won't load. It's all about that extra four frames per second.

Well, all right then, Mr. Hardware Geek. So how come you're not building your own video card from off-the-shelf components and a soldering iron and a breadboard? Huh? Huh? After all, that's what a real computer person would do.

Okay, so that's the video card. What else is there that people want? Let's see now... hmmm. There's-- er, no. There's SCSI-- er, no, not anymore. Uh... Oh! Wait-- sound cards! Yeah, that's right! Sound cards!

<yawn> Give me a break. Sound cards have become so commoditized that there isn't even any competition in the PC world anymore-- not that there ever was since the AdLib/Sound Blaster wars. Everybody's got a Sound Blaster 64AWE Live! 1394 Handjob Portblast 128 or whatever the hell these days, and everybody's machine sounds the same. Who is going to claim that choice in sound cards is essential to the computing experience? Again, the only choice involved comes down to whether you stick with whatever crappy anonymous on-board sound chipset your motherboard has, or whether you got the Sound Blaster of the day and plugged it in. And when it comes to sound quality and features, the Mac has always had it all over the PC-- to such an extent that nobody's even tried to debate it. And if it's a question of whether the card has FireWire on it, all Macs have had FireWire for like two years now-- three in some cases. Next.

Okay, so what else is there? Well... hmm. Ethernet cards! Oh, come the hell on. Anybody who is enough of a tweaker to take issue with the on-board Ethernet in a Mac has bigger problems than network throughput. Okay, what about... FireWire cards?! Oh, shut up. Ooh-ooh! I know! Mice, and trackballs, and keyboards! And monitors! Dude, those things work with Macs just as easily as they do with PCs. Well, what about CD-RW drives and DVD/DVD-R/DVD-RAM and so on? The Mac supports almost all of those out of the box too. You really want to add a third-party one or replace whatever the Mac comes with? Well, you can, but I for one don't consider it unreasonable of Apple not to offer such an option in their BTO catalog.

Peripherals? Like what-- digital cameras, scanners, DV camcorders, scanners? They're all supported natively in OS X, no drivers required.

What does this really come down to? Are people still just bitter about having to spend an extra fifty bucks to add a USB floppy drive, so they can feel like they're looking at a "real computer"?

No, really it's just the video card, if anybody will admit to it. People say they want hardware choice, but what they really want is the ability to swap out their video card when it becomes too decrepit; and they have the impression that that's not possible on the Mac. People want to buy a low-end computer and then soup it up with their own off-the-shelf video card and RAM, and Apple's low-end machines aren't designed for that kind of upgradeability. Everyone wants to build a gaming rig that they can keep current with a new video card every few months, and maybe a new mobo every other year or so, instead of buying a whole new machine. Sort of a pathological mindset we've gotten into, if you think about it. And naturally, because the Mac doesn't pander to that mindset, it's not worth taking seriously.

At least Apple realizes that the Mac isn't a good gaming platform, if purely because of the lack of titles. But what they have to combat is the fact that the entire industry thinks like gamers.

UPDATE from Steven den Beste. Though I must clarify that I do believe competition is a good thing, and it wouldn't displease me if there were more of it on the Mac side natively. But my point was that the average user, who mocks the Mac for its lack of hardware choice, isn't thinking about the good of the free market. He's thinking about Warcraft.

I'm not arguing against competition; I'm arguing that Apple does in fact support the kinds of competition that people want, and the kinds of competition that they don't support aren't important.

That said, competition isn't everything. Lack of competition doesn't seem to have prevented Apple from developing AirPort and putting it in all its laptops over a year before Dell claimed to be the first to do so, or from creating FireWire and putting it on all its machines by default (and with actual powered ports, too, not those twinky little non-powered ones that can't charge a connected device), or from making laptops with trackpads and with the keyboard toward the back of the base instead of right up front where it gives you RSI, or from being the first computer maker to build-in 24-bit color support or self-calibrating monitors with OS-level out-of-band controls or on-mobo video capture or multiple monitor recognition, or from creating zero-latency CoreAudio or flippin' ColorSync, or from bundling free applications for DV editing and DVD burning. Lack of competition doesn't seem to have hindered these developments, except in the sense that they're under pressure to keep the entire PC world guessing and two steps behind. Yeah, I like having cool toys first too. That's why I got a Mac.

All I had to get past was that there didn't seem to be any competition challenging Apple in these areas. They came along later. Aw, shucks.

Genuine innovation over petty scrabbling for supremacy I'll take any day.

Oh-- and I can't speak to the DDR issue (and I'm sure we've covered it before anyway), but... on a machine where the video is AGP and the sound, modem, Ethernet, and FireWire are all built-in, why on earth would you need six PCI slots?

Another UPDATE-- Marcus reminds me that while the Mac's built-in audio is very nice, to a level that the PC's sound subsystem honestly doesn't come close (it's really not "almost as good" at all), it doesn't support five-channel output like the top-end PC sound cards-- and there isn't a Mac solution for that. So, well, I'm bollixed on that count.

10:04 - Think Bigly


Here's a Fark thread that's worth a few minutes of gigglage. The theme is "Photoshopped 'Think Different' Ads", and it's not as painful as I initially thought it would be.

A lot of the entries, granted, are simply ignorant and/or mean, as one might expect. Many are perspicacious and incisive, like the "Think Bait-&-Switch" one about .Mac. But a lot of them are in fact genuinely funny, and worth waiting for the page to load. John Cleese in "Walk Different", for example, and the George Bush one with "Think Differentably"-- brilliant. And I just about blew chunks all over my monitor when I saw the Newton one.

There are the to-be-expected jabs about Apple stealing the GUI from Xerox PARC, and later on there are petulant postings of desparate myth-debunking from people explaining for the nth time how Apple legally acquired the rights to the concepts they saw and hired the engineers to develop them from Xerox, while Microsoft reverse-engineered the whole thing from Apple code (as I've discussed here over and over again).

But there are a couple of things that I really wish these people would understand... namely, 1) Get with the times-- the "Think Different" ad campaign hasn't been actively used for almost two years now; and 2) "Think Different" is not ungrammatical, you pinheads. Haven't you ever heard or used a phrase like "Think Big"? It's an adjective. The form of the phrase is "Think in terms of something which is [adjective]". Think Big. Think Green. Think Cool. Think Different.

One other thing, though, of which I must make mention is the people whe are making fun of Ellen Feiss, the vacuous high-school girl from the Switch ads. She is a very easy target... but you know what? That's on purpose! Why would Apple make an ad that deliberately plays up her stoned, clueless appearance? If they considered this to be an embarrassing face for the company, why would they be airing it instead of filming a bunch of prettyboys? Clue time: It's self-effacing humor. It's irony. It's acknowledgment of the realities of the world. And when people make fun of it, they're entirely missing the point. Such mockery comes across to me like this:

Sheri/Terri: Look at Missus Potato Head! She has a head made out of
lettuce. [Giggles.]
Ralph: I can't believe I used to go out with you.
Janie: Are you going to marry a carrot, Lisa?
Lisa: [Rolling her eyes.] Yes, I'm going to marry a carrot.
Sherri/Terri: Ohh! She admitted it. She's going to marry a carrot!

Give it a rest, guys. All you're doing is making yourselves appear as though your own brains are mounted on rather soft suspension points.

Ah well. At least there are some pro-Mac guys in the thread, which would have been ridiculous in Fark a year or two ago.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
23:57 - True Confessions

You know what's really frustrating? Waking up in the morning, sitting down to blog some really thought-provoking topic that you'd recently heard about, and... partway into your entry, realizing that maybe said topic wasn't in fact real at all, but something you'd dreamed.

Don't you hate that? Well, not the "blogging" part specifically-- but do you ever have a dream where something momentous but entirely plausible happens, and then in that all-important five minutes after waking up, it's not at all clear whether or not it actually happened? You know, like finding out you're past due for filing your taxes, or that you've just been drafted, or that some major bill is due, or that you've got some bizarre disease, or that your car has been stolen. I've had it happen to me multiple times with jury duty-- to the extent that I'm to this day positive that the jury-duty summons that I received one day in fact existed only in a nocturnal hallucination. And numerous times I've had to roll over in bed, without having managed yet to open more than one eye, to verify that my car is in fact still in the driveway.

These things are often extremely detailed, you see. When it's happened to me, I remember being very conscious while it was happening-- I remember thinking, "Hey, if this is a dream, then I shouldn't be able to... flip this piece of paper over and read the fine print on the back! ...And look-- fine print! I can't seem to read it, but... it's here just the same!" So bizarreness doesn't seem to become an important factor here.

And in the freakish case of blogging, just as an example, last night I dreamed that I'd heard or read somewhere that the Mac OS installer was the only legal installer in the world. Now, yes, this sounds entirely stupid at any time after five minutes past waking up-- but during that alarm-clock-blaring haze, it seems as though the most important thing in the world is getting to the blog page, finding that URL you were sure you saw, and writing up something compelling and amusing about it.

How wrenching is that bewildering instant when you realize that it was all just something your brain made up.

As Johnny the Homicidal Maniac put it, how do we know that anything prior to our last waking-up is real? The past is a fiction created to account for the discrepancy between our physical circumstances and our state of mind, or whatever the Douglas Adams quote was. Couldn't they all just be dreams?

I don't know why I'm putting this here; I'm sure it makes me sound like a crackpot. All I know, though, is that I have to get every nagging thought out of my head and into a permanent medium before going to bed each night just in case my brain decides to tease it into some inexplicable hallucinatory conspiracy before I've had a chance to think it through in a wakeful manner.

The only legal installer. Gawd, what was I thinking?

17:43 - This ain't too good.

I think it's come time for Apple to realize that the tech industry has pretty much caught on to where the CPU wars have really ended up these days.

While the "megahertz myth" has not been a big marketing point in this whole past year, it's true in a lot of ways. Now, I'm not going to claim that a 1GHZ G4 is faster at all things than a 2.2GHz P4. I think we've seen from enough real-world benchmarks, like this one (which, from the perspective of a reviewer who had given a "glowing" appraisal of the Power Mac G4, showed that machine failing pretty heinously against top-end P4 and Athlon machines in Photoshop tests), that the everyday consumer just isn't going to buy it. But the principles behind what they say when explaining what the megahertz myth is are sound-- pipeline depth is a serious problem, with branch mispredictions utterly destroying the performance of anything with a huge long pipe, when those mispredictions become common. Just look at these numbers for RC5 keypair crunching, which show a dual 1GHz G4 beating an 8-way DEC Alpha, a dual Thunderbird, and two other chipsets before even reaching the P4 and its catastrophically (in this case) long pipeline. Similarly, the SPEC2000 benchmarks produced by c't magazine some time ago (which showed the P4 trouncing the G4 by some whopping margin) were widely discredited by virtue of the SPEC2000 tests being based on very uniform, consistent operations that introduce no branch misprediction bubbles-- in other words, a test that long-pipeline CPUs like the P4 can run extremely efficiently.

But... that still doesn't help us much in the real world. Altivec instructions are in fact awesomely cool, and most of the CPU world acknowledges them as one of the best things in CPU design today-- something that Intel and Athlon processors simply can't match. It's a very elegant solution, like so many things Apple-- elegant, idealistic, and impractical when placed up against brute-force. After all, while the G4's vector-math performance can be shown to be double or triple that of an equivalently-clocked Pentium (given proper Altivec optimization), the G4's integer math unit is nothing special-- and its performance is about clock-for-clock with those of Intel and AMD, which means it goes about half as fast when you compare today's processors. Everyday computing involves a whole lot of integer math, and vector operations only show up in intense audio/video processing-- and at that, it's far from guaranteed that Altivec optimizations will be present. So it's a pretty unattractive proposition, even if the chip design itself is in fact pretty sweet.

So the word for a couple of weeks now has been that Apple plans to release a new series of Pro towers in mid-August, like on the 13th. We've seen spy photos of a new case design, which were promptly Cease & Desisted by Apple's legal sharks (and we can presume that that means something pretty serious, considering how lenient they're being on Jaguar leaks:

Though there have been few official Jaguar builds given to the majority of developers, Apple has not been particularly stringent with its handling of the seeding program for v10.2. With the 10.1 "Puma" update last year, the company took extraordinary efforts to track down leaks, and was embarassed at the reports from CNET News.com and other sites that mentioned how many pre-release builds were out in the open. For Jaguar, Apple is taking more easygoing approach, benefiting all developers.

Indeed. The 17" iMacs on display in the Apple Stores are running a pre-release seed build of Jaguar-- which when you think about it is a pretty damned unusual thing for Apple to do. Show off a piece of software in a hands-on, public place before it's even done? Why, I never!

So we can pretty safely assume, I think, that new towers are coming in August-- and judging by the interior photos we saw before the leaked threads got Slashdotted and C&D'd, something big has been redesigned. The riser cards look huge, for instance. The CPU ZIF unit is at a 45-degree angle. The Motorola logo appears to be visible on it, but it's hard to tell anything for sure.

Whatever is going into these boxes, it had better be big. Apple knows it can't squeeze the G4 in its current state into any further speed competitions. They need to release something that leapfrogs the field, not something that involves more compromises and more shepherding of public opinion. Stretching the truth won't fly. The G4 has some nice things going for it, but... as a top-end contender against the best DV-editing rigs from Dell and friends, it's at the end of its track.

The good news, though, is that it's looking to me as though Apple does have a plan. They haven't said a word about pro performance in months. They haven't been crowing about the megahertz myth; they haven't been scoffing at potential competition from Intel. They've just been focusing on the consumer end and the software front, and biding their time. They've done this before. The pendulum always swings. (This has benefits and drawbacks-- among the latter, the tendency for people to ignore whatever they are unveiling at a given time and bark about the conspicuous absence of what they're not showing off.) And this time, the pro towers are where everybody's attention-- including Apple's-- is going to be focused.

And not a moment too soon.

16:07 - Creative Inventory Practices

This is one of those stories that gets tossed around at group meetings, told by smirking team-leads who have seen it all over and over again. I can't find a reference to this one on Google as an urban legend, so maybe it's for real and close to home.

Evidently, some networking hardware company not so long ago was shipping bricks to customers. Bricks. They would take a cardboard shipping box, drop in a cinderblock cement brick, package it up nicely, and send it off to the customer. The customer would open it up, go "Huh?", call the company asking what the hell was going on, and then they'd get the real unit they'd ordered promptly in the mail, as a cheerful replacement.

The company, you see, couldn't produce its inventory fast enough to fill orders. So in order to keep their revenue stream such that receivable sales figures (which are counted at the time of shipment) could be applied to the current quarter, they simply shipped bricks instead of the real thing, and tallied up the money.

Presumably, the way this tended to work would be that the customer would call it in as an RMA. I can't help but relish how it must have gone:

COMPANY: "Hello, how can I help you?"
CUSTOMER: "Uh... well, I just got my new NetBlaster 2100 today. And, well... there's something wrong with it."
COMPANY: "Oh? What's the problem?"
CUSTOMER: "... It's a brick".
COMPANY: "Ah! Right, I'll just mark that up as 'manufacturing defect'... we'll have a new one shipped out to you immediately, sir."
CUSTOMER: "...A new brick?"

It's like Penny Arcade does the Dead Parrot Sketch, or something...

UPDATE: Robert Lloyd e-mails to inform me that the company in question was MiniScribe, a large and influential manufacturer of disk drives back in the late 80s. Here's a Google link full of articles pertaining to the incident-- which, while good enough to have been a dot-com-bubble story, now turns out to be a Reagan-era tech folly. Ah well-- it's still awfully funny.

14:22 - A happy hour or two of info-tainment

"True Porn Clerk Stories", it's called.

It's a journal/blog sort of a thing written by a woman named Ali Davis, who is a clerk at a porn video store. She has a collection of long, well-written, involving and hilarious tales that are unmatched in the ring-of-tired-truth department by anything since Acts of Gord. And naturally, in keeping with the premise, this one's rather on the risqué side, so beware if you're the sensitive type.

I just want him to know that I am not impressed. I want him to know that his cellphone and pile of bags do not make him impressive, they make him a human log jam. I want him to know that renting a stack of 6 porn movies a day tends to undercut his intended dashing, man-about-town effect. I want him to know that true big-shots do not try to screw small locally-owned businesses out of petty amounts of cash. I want to have the pleasure of publicly deflating him.

There is no earthly reason I should care so much, and it drives me nuts that I do. I am a pacifist. I like to think of myself as a nonviolent and gentle person. I have actually fantasized about knocking Mr. Pig to the ground and kicking him. Once, when he was being particularly obnoxious, I had a flash of an image: Me putting a foot on Mr. Pig's chest, shoving a gun in his mouth, and blowing his brains across the New For Sale section. It frightened me, but I enjoyed it.

My only question is, why is this person still only making $6.50 an hour? This is excellent writing.

I used to hate opening on weekends because the early morning customers scared the shit out of me. The store opens at 9. I usually do about 20 mintues of set-up and hit the front door at 9 on the dot by the store clock. There is always someone waiting to get to the porn. Once or twice I have had a problem - a register came up short or a circuit breaker was blown - and I've opened the door at, say, 9:01 and 52 seconds. In both cases, a guy was actually pounding at the door when I got to it. Not the same guy - I'm not sure whether that's scarier or not. Both guys almost flipped out when I took the time to slide the sign from "closed" to "open" before turning the lock.

It gets pretty full at 9am on Saturdays and Sundays. I don't know if people are just getting up or if they stayed up or what. I just know they've been waiting for porn until they almost can't stand it.

...And eye-opening. I love seeing these jaded, seen-it-all perspectives on subjects like this that still are able to discern a great deal of mystery and magic in the world, despite the aggressive de-romanticization of it all that you get from a job like "porn store clerk". It really gives the mind a tick-over or two, to see what kinds of damage our social mores do to people's psychology, and yet how healthful and strengthening and non-damaging it can be for a person to be exposed to all levels of something supposedly "desensitizing". To be desensitized doesn't mean to be rendered incapable of enjoyment or taste. Quite, indeed, the opposite.

Great stuff. I'm not done with it yet myself.

11:11 - I knew you were gonna do that!

I was second in line at the stop light this morning at Silver Creek and Capitol; the minivan in front of me had been caught by the red a little off-guard, and had gone several feet over the line. As I came up behind her, she was backing slowly into position. I gave her a goodly amount of space, and when she came to a stop, there were some two feet of padding area between us.

But then, a few moments later, I notice that her reverse lights are still on. Ahhh... hah. Let me just... a little... yeah. Behind me there's a good half a car length in front of the next car, so I put it into reverse and back up another two or three feet.

The minivan's reverse lights are still on. I've got my eyes fixed on them. I know, I just know what's going to happen... I can't peel my eyes away. And sure enough, the left-turn light goes green, the cars in the lane on my left start moving, and... the minivan in front of me barrels about two or three feet in reverse straight towards me before lurching to a flustered, fluttery stop, shifting, and staggering off in a forwardly direction.

All I could do was glare, as I pulled away myself. I knew you were going to do that. And for the sake of my front bumper, I'm glad.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
13:36 - At least they didn't call it "iPodyssey" or something...


Good gawd.

According to Jim Collier, president of e.Digital, "The Odyssey 1000 sets the standard by which all other portable entertainment products will now be judged ... It combines an elegant, world class industrial design from Digitalway’s award-winning engineering team with e.Digital’s state-of-the-art, patented audio technology. There is nothing else available that matches its elegant looks, full range of features, and cutting-edge Drag ‘n RipTM technology."

Apple's lawyers have set sail over much less blatant rip-offs than this. I mean, for crying-out-loud-- the screen interface is so identical to that of the iPod you'd think the whole unit had been reverse-engineered.

To those who call Apple or its innovations "irrelevant", all I can say is that I know which side of this fence I'd rather be on.

13:30 - MacBlog

There's a new Mac blog that's just recently come online, and it looks like it could be entertaining.

Welcome to the fray, Anonymous Ranter.
Monday, July 22, 2002
17:43 - The cult thing again

Brad Wardell has an article in which he explores the ever-so-original observation that Mac users fit every definition of "cult".

He uses OS/2 as the historical parallel for what course the Mac will inevitably follow. I've mostly tended to use Amiga in my own explorations of this very selfsame topic, but the meat of the matter is here:

The phases these OS cults go through from an outsider’s point of view is something like this:
  1. Infuriating.  These people just won’t accept that they’ve fallen behind. There’s enough of them out there that you have to deal with them.  This is where I’d say where the Mac users as MacWorld fit in.
  2. Amusing. This is where OS/2 users were shortly after Windows 2000 shipped (2 years ago). There aren’t that many of them and they continue to hold out that things may change or that the new features found in other operating systems don’t matter.
  3. Creepy. This is where the OS/2 users are today. Now you just feel sorry for them. These are people who have essentially wasted years of their lives holding on to a futile dream that is completely pointless in the first place (it’s just software! Not the cure for cancer!). Reading their posts just becomes unnerving because you get an idea that mental illness must not be lurking too far away.

Now, see, I'm not even going to try to argue against this sort of thing, because it's impossible to do so without playing perfectly into the profile of the cultist. If I refute the accusation that the Mac is irrelevant, then I'm in phase 1. If I do comparative analysis and point out what things on the Mac are superior to the same sorts of features on Windows, that the Mac is taking strides for usability where Microsoft is working only to solidify the status quo-- then I'm in phase 2. If I say "You're all fools!" and blather about engineering elegance and idealism of design and wonder how any conscious geek can fail to have his pulse quickened by the technological beauty underlying the Mac, then I'm in phase 3.

The trouble is that there are two ways to argue about this sort of stuff. One school of thought is to disallow evidence like societal momentum, the path of least resistance, the irresistible flow of AOL CDs and corporate Windows standardizations, and to compare the Mac and the PC upon their own merits. And the other perspective is to treat those things as all there is-- momentum is everything. There's no fighting it, and to try is not just silly, but lunatic.

It's so very easy to do it the latter way. There are so many ways to write off Apple. Where does one begin? The market share figure is a common favorite. How can anyone be anything but deluded to choose a platform that only 3% of the world uses? Then there's the slower CPUs, the lack of software, the cultish fans-- each of these claims has mitigating factors and is not baldly true, but they're not deniable either. By this time, the impression of a life with a Mac is one of constant coping, settling, futzing, compromising, tweaking, cajoling, and paying more and more for the privilege to do so.

Momentum is so powerful a force that it's impossible to argue with and not appear a fool. Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft, so goes the quip-- and it's true. Windows may get in your way, but it'll get the job done. It's the default; it's the standard; it's what people assume you have. Why consciously invite more stress into your life by using what (in today's world) is an emulation of Windows?

I said I wasn't going to try to argue against this viewpoint, because those who make it are sure the argument is over. It would bring no joy to either side to continue it further. I'm not going to change anybody's mind who has written-off the Mac, and to such a person I would appear to be a zealot and a cultist anyway. So it's not worth the effort. It would just bolster the thesis.

But I just wonder... at what point did Apple stop innovating? At what point did it become clear that Mac OS X was as stillborn a project as OS/2 was in the year 2000? At what point did all those UNIX-loving geeks, who had been Linux fanboys for most of their adult lives until rapturously discovering OS X, realize that buying those TiBooks was actually a bad move and a waste of time and money? At what point did Apple run out of cash, its last competitive acquisition in the long-distant past, and sell itself to some German investor group who planned to sell off the patents and license the logo to make a Web portal service? At what point did Apple become Amiga?

At what point does an engineer who has discovered a fresh, vibrant, richly funded, innovative, idealistic, user-committed, and cutting-edge computing environment full of unique opportunities for creating new abilities and bringing them concretely to market... become a pitiful, propeller-beanie-wearing, muttering greybeard locked in a basement, fiddling with a Rubik's Cube and cackling through his scraggly teeth about the glorious return to power that some day surely must be?

Here's a hint: in the observer's mind.

It's a matter of perspective; that's all it is. It's all about what you want to see. If you don your bifocals and peer at Apple with words like "cult" and "MacWorld" and "Amiga" floating through your head, you're going to see a company that by all rights should be long dead already-- why it isn't is anybody's frickin' guess.

But Apple has lasted a whole lot longer than Amiga and OS/2. Mac OS X is still being developed, faster than ever, with more major new features in a shorter period of time than anywhere else in operating system history. (Really.) Apple has more money than it's had in years. They're opening more retail stores, moving into new buildings, rolling out new products. They're running prime-time TV ads. They're getting unsolicited celebrity endorsements (from people like Shaquille O'Neill). They're buying up the entire digital-film industry left and right. They have their potential problems, ranging from CPU uncertainty to application availability to user price-gouging concerns, but these are pretty goddamned small nits to pick if you come right down to it. If, that is, your perspective is one that hasn't written Apple out of the picture before consideration began.

Apple is an extremely easy target, if one is interested in attacking it. The very same Apple we know today is an innovative market leader in some eyes, and a ridiculous pariah in others. There's not a single difference between the Apple of Earth and the Apple of Bizarro World except the contact lens of the beholder, and that will not cease to be the case until Apple does go out of business.

When that happens, we'll talk.

13:22 - Not surprising, but...

The JPEG group says Forgent's patent claim on the algorithm is full of snouts and entrails:

The JPEG committee does not believe there is any foundation to Forgent's claim, which relates to US patent 4,698,672. In a posting on the JPEG site, committee member Richard Clarke said the committee has examined the claim "briefly", and believes the prior art exists in areas where the patent might overlap with the JPEG algorithm.

Clarke said that in response to this latest claim, in addition to the possibility of two similar claims from Philips and Lucent, the committee is to launch a new Web site to collect "a substantial repository of prior art and it invites submissions, particularly where the content may be applied to claims of intellectual property." The JPEG committee hopes to launch the Web site before its next meeting in Shanghai in October 2002.

So there.
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© Brian Tiemann