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
Friday, August 16, 2002
17:57 - Vacation

I'm outta here, folks. I'll be up roaming the wilds of Ontario for the coming week, and I won't be back in blogging range until Tuesday the 27th. (Sure seems to be the weekend for it.)

I won't even be in news-watching range, either, so if the world blows up I probably won't know.

I'm a simple man. All I ask is that United Airlines stays in business long enough for me to get back home.

See you all later...

16:03 - A Self-Made Country

I wonder if the recent (and historic) alarm that the European nations have about successful countries like America and Israel has something to do with a general pandemic mistrust of earned wealth as opposed to inheritance.

In reading the "All Creatures Great and Small" books by James Herriot as a kid, one of the lines that really stuck with me was an observation Herriot made about the Yorkshire attitude about this subject, as sharply contrasted against that of his native Glasgow. He said that Yorkshiremen treated the self-made man with deep suspicion; as he put it, "Nothing was more damning than the darkly-muttered comment, He had nowt when he fust got 'ere."

I wonder how far across Europe that sentiment stretches. After all, the European powers all came from monarchies, with systems of lordships and hereditary fortunes and powerful houses who kept control banking on the strength of a name. The rich and powerful were always the rich and powerful, because the present generation was always seen as the living embodiment of the ancestral generation. You were supposed to see King Arthur in a portrait of Charles the First, or Charlemagne in Louis XVI, or Siegfried in Kaiser Wilhelm. Likewise, if you're a blacksmith in a small country hamlet, the implicit assumption is that you inherited the job from your father, and he from his great-grandfather. For it to be otherwise would mean a noble family had somehow fallen, or that a ruling lord had come from a house of cowhands. While that might have made for good Dickensian fiction, it wasn't something one wanted to see in the real, live Europe.

America is the national-scale equivalent of the self-made man. With rights and power given to the individual and equal opportunity for all, the catchphrase of being a kid in America is "Even you might grow up to be President someday." There are no hereditary lords; there is no implicit glass ceiling for advancement if someone came across the Atlantic on a tramp steamer in steerage. Sure, it took time; and sure, there were (and are) economic dynasties. But the noveau riche-- or what I liked to call the technoveau riche until a couple of years ago-- never were treated with suspicion. Quite the contrary; they were seen as heroes, embodiments of the American Dream. it was a matter of pride to be at the head of a successful company and look back with wistful fondness at an apartment in the inner city or an immigrant grandfather cast off with the wretched refuse from some distant teeming shore. That's America.

Likewise Israel. They went from a nation of victims, just out from the worst cultural disaster ever to befall a people in history, to a thriving democratic exporter of goods and technology in what? Thirty years? Twenty? Who knew that would have happened? They were supposed to go hack at the desert in the miserable sun and be a poor beggar nation, dependent upon handouts from the UN, like the other countries in the area. What went wrong? How dare they succeed! Damn this self-made-man mentality!

What Hitler had correctly guessed was that the German people still had enough respect left over for hereditary entitlements that he could parlay it into the basis for a revolution: sanctified Teutonic blood, the rightful heirs to the Holy Roman Empire, the long-haired square-jawed musclebound Viking supermen whose spears turned back the Roman legions at the height of their power. World domination was their birthright as Germans, just for being Germans. For the Americans to claim that throne-- with their grass-deep roots and their brand-new country devoid of history and their willingness to accept any old people from any old where into their melting pot-- must have seemed ludicrous.

And yet here we are. It would seem that inherited entitlement as a concept upon which to build a nation is discredited by history. This must annoy the hell out of the Europeans. If they've got any of that attitude left, leveled against the self-made man who usurps power from those who currently have it, purely through the use of something so grubby as his hands and mind-- then it would certainly help to explain the transnational progressivist mentality, the victimhood=entitlement reaction, the complete failure to understand that equal opportunity does not lead to equal results.

We would seem to have figured out stuff like that a long time ago. We realized that strength lies in diversity (call it "hybrid vigor" if you want), of the "melting pot" type rather than the "multiculturalist" type. We realized that genius makes successes of those worthy, and that wealth passes from the hands of those who can't handle it to the hands of those who can. And we realized that these things happen of their own accord-- just leave everybody alone and it all works out like magic. To force things into a different kind of structure requires constantly applied effort. It's artificial, it's wasteful, and it breaks the backs of otherwise vibrant nations with superstar potential.

Just another reason, I suppose, why we don't feel particularly inclined to take advice from people whose countries have repeatedly proven to be failures, while ours has repeatedly proven to succeed.

How did Tom Lehrer put it? "He specialized in giving helpful advice to people who were happier than he was..."

12:45 - Gateway Profile 4X


Well, it's here-- and what's funny is that ZDNet's reviewers are apparently unable to review it on its own merits without comparing it to the flat-screen iMac, to which it owes a good deal of its design aesthetic. (Well, I guess.)

Actually, what's really funny is that the article which links to the review calls it "Not as cute as an iMac, but a lot cheaper"... and then says that it starts at "(gasp) $999".

I guess the fact that it's only three digits is the real selling point here. After all, the iMac starts at $1299. That's well under the median 150% price premium that I've noticed on most Mac models these days.

Consider a Profile if you're seeking a space-saving, high-style design that doesn't come from Apple, but look elsewhere for high-end graphics or maximum configuration options.

I'd consider that a pretty ringing endorsement of the iMac, but that's probably just me.
Thursday, August 15, 2002
22:50 - Seanbaby the Sorcerer's Advocate

Huzzah! Seanbaby is back, this time with a new article in The Wave about a truly inspired piece of moronicity: a low-budget video warning Christian parents about how evil the Harry Potter books are.

Seanbaby is great at reviewing stupid videos (of which many more such articles can be found at seanbaby.com); and this one proves he's no different even when he has to hold to some level of decorum because he's being published in a Bay Area lifestyle rag. It's all so good, I had a hard time picking a paragraph to quote.

The thing that makes fundamental Christianity special is that it’s the only religion that runs smear campaigns. No voodoo witch doctors have ever put together a home video warning voodoo parents of the seductive danger of Christian rock. HP...WR:MELI takes its outrage an extra step into crazy by actually inventing most of the things they hate about Harry Potter. Of course, as the video warns, if you say witchcraft has no power, you have two problems in your line of reasoning. One: you’re ignoring all the people that do have magic powers, and two: you’re saying that God’s warning in the Bible against sorcery is actually worthless. That means that the people who made this video have set it up so that in order for them NOT to be crazy, children need to be flying on brooms and raising bodies from the dead. So say what you want about their book-burning crusade, these people have balls.


The people we have to share our air with...

21:43 - Well, maybe...

Posters on MaCNN are responding to the Bare Feats benchmarks by noticing that the four tests that were performed were largely pure CPU-speed tests, which would not have shown an increase in the new machines with the same speed CPU anyway.

Unfortunately, the 4 tests that he did aren't going to show an increase in performance due to the newer bus/memory at all.

PS7 MP Action File: This one is probably memory/cpu intensive, and so will only show raw bandwidth between CPU and RAM, which we know hasn't changed (since the bus from the controller to the CPU hasn't gotten significantly faster compared to the bus between the controller and RAM). Since it only involves those two components, I wouldn't expect any speed gains without a CPU speed increase.

Bryce 5 Render: Same comments as the PS7 test. Since Bryce is doing the rendering and not the video card, it's pure CPU/RAM

iTunes MP3 Convert: Bottleneck is CD-ROM to CPU to HD. Of the 3 only the CPU is actually faster than the system bus.

Altivec Fractal: This is just testing gigaflops. Would you really expect this to change? At all? The CPU hasn't after all...

As someone else said, if you get a test that more evenly balances system performance (like Quartz Extreme, a high power 3D application/game, or a network app) then you'll definately see an improvement, because the controller can basically talk to TWO devices that want to access memory at a time. non-DDR machines can't do that. None of the barefeats tests seemed to put that to it's fullest either.


DMA tasks will be significantly faster. I bet your Quake 3 frame rates will be 1.5 times what they were! Also, look at how OS 10.2 uses video acceleration. Those kinds of operations will be much faster than before.

So, some more testing would appear to be in order here-- like a simple Quake fps test.

Still, this means the kinds of things they did test-- which aren't trivial in their real-world significance-- won't be faster than in the older machine. But at least it might mean there's some benefit to the new boxes after all...

19:51 - First the Earth cooled...

When the New World was discovered, it changed everything. ("Well, duh," you say.) Not in any concretely tangible way on the popular level, though, or even in a way that the leaders of the various nations in power at the time could really sense. It was an asteroid strike, a cataclysm in history that sent shock waves around the planet and back numerous times, and we're still feeling the tremors today.

There it was-- a huge landmass full of natural resources, whose only inhabitants were so primitive technologically compared to the Europeans that they may as well have not been there, for all the global importance anybody was willing to ascribe to them-- to any extent beyond trying to get control of the natural resources from them by words rather than by swords. Every seafaring nation struck out and planted its flags, from the jungles of Brazil and Central America to the ice-bound shores of Newfoundland; and by the luck of the draw, the ships from England managed to land on the part of the Americas that happened to be the best and most livable. This ensured that the people who would come to inhabit that region would be predominantly English-speaking WASPs, if you didn't count the slaves in the southern colonies.

Maybe it was something about the fact that the English colonies were among the first to be founded by corporations-- privately held companies under contract from the Crown to settle the land, raise crops, harvest natural resources, and make products to ship back to the mother country-- instead of by military force or bodies directly under the control of the monarchy. But there was something in the political climate of England at the time, and in its colonies, that made it so that when it came time to break free of the control of the monarchy of the mother country, as every colony in the Americas eventually did, it was a group of intellectuals with some freaky ideas about how government should work that happened to lead the charge. These people were highly placed in their various jobs and political connections, and whatever they'd been reading or smoking, they somehow came to the conclusion that instead of setting up a monarchy of their own after they won independence, the thing to do would be to experiment with federalism. They had the landmass for a distributed method of government to make sense; they had the colonial delineations which they'd inherited from the various colonial contract corporations, which gave them a convenient substrate for "State" governments. And given their recent experiences with the British crown and how it could act when it got its knickers twisted at them, they decided that the answer was to centralize in the federal government only those functions which it was exclusively a central government's business to accomplish. Anything that could be handled by the lower-level and more distributed governmental bodies, would be. States were more important than the federal government, and local jurisdictions were more important than State, and individual people had the most power of all, to the extent that they did not break laws that were universally agreed to by any of the higher levels.

What would it have been like if, instead of trying to wrestle the American colonies back under the control of the British monarchy, England had undergone its own peaceful revolution and adopted a democratic or federal form of government? Monarchies don't like to give up power, and whenever a crown has given way to a democracy in other countries since 1776, it's tended to stick around as a figurehead, clinging to the romance of past glory. It's not an easy thing to give up. Democracy is colder, more clinical. No matter how neoclassical the architecture on the government buildings, it's still a rule by reason, rather than by emotion. In many ways that's a good thing. But for the sake of national pride, it's and ugly, dirty thing. But a democratic England, with its American States across the pond, might well have become an undisputed superpower long before the 20th century.

But as it was, America was out to an early lead. Its form of government encouraged individuality and innovation, and scientific advancements were to be had almost immediately. America began its push westward. It soon became obvious that there was a vast amount of eminently livable land out there, much more temperate and pleasant than anywhere else in the Americas-- one would think it was made to be settled. And it had all kinds of natural resources. Gold and silver and bauxite and iron and everything else started flowing from the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, and immigrants rushed in from all over the world to get in on the ground floor. It was a dot-com boom whose scale dwarfs the one we've just lived through. It changed the face of nations. Not least our own-- after all, we had all that land to settle, but there were all those Indians. We did try to get the land from them as legally and as compassionately as possible; but because of overzealous cavalry, corrupt state and territorial governors, and a federal government run by Presidents like Andrew Jackson who cared little for such pussyfoot concepts as "respect for other cultures, particularly those who are at a disadvantage", it wasn't much use trying to keep things equitable. The technological difference between the two classes of people was just so immense that even if today's EU were doing the colonizing, they'd have been unable to keep themselves from flowing into those wide open spaces and taking home the riches they found there, culturally-different-concepts-of-land-ownership be damned. It was like living next to a house full of gold coins, guarded by a Corgi. Nobody is so idealistic as to just leave it be. Particularly not when you're trying to fight a Civil War and you've just invented the telegraph and the locomotive.

Because it was in America that scientific and technological innovation really took root. Because the original federalists had carefully kept religion out of the laws, they ensured that the land would be ruled in a manner than fostered scientific thought founded on practical principles; and with the best and the brightest of so many countries emigrating to the US, it's small wonder that we produced Edison and then Hollywood in such quick order, or petroleum and then Henry Ford. America was a runaway success; everyone wanted to be an American. And well before World War I, the European nations who had begotten America and given her so many expatriates with which to populate the country realized that they were in no small danger of being eclipsed.

So it was that certain megalomaniacal figures in Europe picked up on the newfound fervor for science that had been propounded by folks like Darwin, and the work of the researchers who had figured out how bacteria multiply, and the idea that nations-- national identities-- would ideally behave just like animals in nature would, obeying rules like survival-of-the-fittest. All they need is "room to grow". And while by this time most of the European nations had had their own revolutions (peaceful and otherwise) to put parliamentary democracies into place, there was still that ever-present romance of the Nation, the People-- the Chosen Land.

So when Hitler began to hitle, he did so with the idea in mind that a nation derives its strength from its national identity (easily fomentable through ideas like "racial purity" and "bloodlines" and convenient ethnic scapegoats to blame for any problems), and a strong nation with lots of room to grow could quickly rise to supremacy. America had the latter, but surely a country built on such a mishmash of different peoples with different languages and different aspirations couldn't be as strong as a people with a pure national identity. (And besides, Germany needed a pick-me-up after the humiliating WWI reparations imposed by the French.) So up comes the Ubermensch, and down go the Jews. Out come the guns, and they're trained eastward on a march toward Russia, and south toward Africa and South America-- "room to grow" indeed.

The trouble with that, naturally, was that Russia-- while it looked like America in a lot of ways, what with its artificial and brand-new-for-the-time political system and its vast spread of wide open spaces full of natural resources-- actually had a terrible climate and a low-tech populace that wasn't growing very much. Germany wouldn't have found Siberia to have made much of an agar tray for the Pure Aryan Nation to prosper, any more than the Soviet Union did.

Incidentally, communism will likely not amount to much in history but a freaky political experiment that failed-- except for a few side effects that have woven themselves into the tapestry of our shared experience. The Soviet Union was founded on the same sort of jealousy that Nazi Germany arose under: that America was successful because it had tried something new, and they'd had the wide open spaces with which to support it. But surely the American federalist/capitalist idea couldn't be the last, right one, could it? Naah. Lenin and Stalin were revolutionary intellectuals trying to reinvent government in the same way that our founding fathers did, only they took it a lot farther down the road of artificial machine-like "empowerment" of the individual-- it empowered them so much they were divested of all ability to act on their own behalf, rather than as part of a group. But they also brought a special kind of pigheadedness to the table-- a grumbling, stomping determination to succeed in spite of the lack of all those natural advantages that those English-derived American colonists had. The Soviets would beat the Americans to the pinnacle of military might, come hell or high water.

(Except that just because a political idea is nearly 200 years old doesn't make it wrong or obsolete. Sometimes the first idea we come up with actually just happens to be right. Just as the Desktop metaphor is still the most widely-used, most intuitive set of paradigms for operating systems that we've come up with-- even in the face of more recent developments that purport to be more post-modern and user-friendly, like Microsoft Bob and the Netscape "Webtop". But people don't like to accept that such an old idea can be the best one for the job, and they keep trying new things-- which is a good thing, indeed. But it reminds me of nothing so much as those cartoons where one character gets hit in the head, and then spends the next 22 minutes having hilarious amnesiac misadventures; finally, someone thinks, "Hey! All we have to do is hit him in the head again, and he'll get his memory back!" And of course it works. But you know, in the real world, lightning rarely strikes twice.)

And the result of all this was that the European, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations, post-WWII, found themselves reduced to the roles of pawns between America and the USSR-- NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The once-proud empires had dwindled to the role of allies who could be bought and sold, who represented the ebb and flow of balanced power. And as America's might continued to grow, following the same old ideals that they'd been following since Andrew Jackson, the USSR ran out of steam and collapsed in on itself. The Warsaw Pact dissolved. NATO lost its common foe and focus. And suddenly the European powers found themselves ready to self-determine again; except that by this time, they didn't have any say in world issues anymore. They'd been defined in opposition to or in alliance with either the Americans or the Russians for so long, and America had been building itself up to match the perceived thread of the USSR for so long, that from a global-influence standpoint the Europeans felt about as confident facing down the juggernaut across the Atlantic as the Indians did when they heard the hoofbeats of the US Cavalry.

So there's that: powerlessness. But there's also the issue of the Jews-- the people who as the war ended had emerged blinking from the concentration camps, those who were left, and were immediately given a homeland by the League of Nations-- soon to become the UN-- as one of their few decisively positive pieces of legislation. Although we can see right there the seeds of today's assumption, in the "transnational progressivism" camp that Steven den Beste has been covering lately with some asperity, that with victimhood comes entitlement. And it's amazing how quickly the UN and the European community changed its tune when Israel stopped being a nation of poor, poor victims and started acting like winners: making the desert bloom, developing a high-tech sector that's the envy even of Silicon Valley in many ways, de-socializing to an amazing degree, and fighting off the repeated attempts by the surrounding Arab nations to drive them into the sea (e.g. in 1967, when Israel foiled a coalition that was revving its engines for war, and responded by taking over the territories in which they're now being blown up in ice-cream parlors and on city buses by people who would far rather die as holy martyrs than live in what they consider "slavery"-- which in reality amounts to "having to live next to a country of Jews and McDonald's and Nikes and MTV"). Now that Israel looks like the oppressor, the poor innocent Palestinians are obviously the victims, and they must be given the same entitlements that the League of Nations felt compelled to give the Holocaust survivors back in 1947.

For a half-century now, Germany has been falling all over itself trying to distance itself from any suggestion that they had once been the instrument of Hitler's grand dreams. For the first few post-war decades, they were humble about it-- they had to be, after all. They were a defeated nation, occupied, divided like spoils of war. But now that they're again the strongest nation in Europe, economically rather than militarily, they're throwing their weight around again-- they have the answer and the solution, and it remains only to convince the rest of the world (read: us) of it. Sure, they decry the actions of Hitler in the strongest possible terms, and they praise the Americans for saving the German people from themselves. But now they're overcompensating. They're overcompensating something fierce.

Now the big fad is to take aim at America and at Israel-- the big winners of history, the ones whose ingenuity and innovation and dumb luck have netted them great individual happiness for all their people, at the perceived expense of billions of downtrodden peasantry worldwide-- and to use whatever words those oppressors use to describe their enemies ("terrorism", "war crimes", "rogue nation", "fascism"), and turn them back against America and Israel themselves. Oh, how delicious the irony! America is a superpower with weapons of mass destruction; they have strong national identity (= Nazi!); they overrun and set up puppet regimes in nations with which they find coexistence to be untenable (Afghanistan); they propose to unleash their arsenal at any nation who appears to be threatening their own hegemony, whether the rest of the world agrees that such action is warranted or even permissible or not (Iraq). Next to such a nation, could a nuke-armed Iraq be so bad?

I've just had the (dis)pleasure of reading a spate of discussion on a Usenet group which I peruse on occasion, one which tends to be inhabited by people whose positions in life would place them firmly on the far left: socially insecure, sexually liberated, racially diverse (indeed, completely abstracted in their own minds from any real-life physical differences between themselves at all), troglodytic, and in constant contact with friends from all over the world-- with whom they're far more familiar than the world outside their own front doors. I've heard the most amazing things come out of these people's fingers. "Iraq armed with a nuke would take out those terrorist thugs in charge of Israel, and maybe the US too-- and then we'd have a real free democracy running things! It certainly can't be any worse than what we have now," said one (though this is a paraphrase). "God bless George Galloway for having the balls to listen to what Saddam Hussein has to say, and to tell the USA that they're going way too far." And "Civilian casualties aren't just 'unavoidable', as Dubya calls them, but they're held up like a trophy by the warmongers in power-- just like at Hiroshima, they live for nothing else but to flatten whole cities full of innocent women and children who want nothing more than to live and work and play like any family man in Minneapolis with a toddler and a dog." And "Considering that Iraq is right at the top of that leaked 'potential nuke targets' list, doesn't it seem as though the 'War on Terror' is more frightening than the Terror itself?"

That last one is in fact a direct quote, more or less. And as hard as it is for me to force myself to remember this, we get so caught up in our blogging that we forget that most people in this country (and in the world-- the people who were spouting the lines I quoted above seemed to be Canadians and Germans) take very little interest in what facts are out there and what dangers the world presents, beyond what their own personal prejudices happen to be and the news items that happen to bolster those prejudices. It's amazing the number of sentiments I read that seemed to amount to little more than "Oh, why can't we all just live in a world where nobody has to raise a weapon in anger?"

Dude, I'd love to live in that kind of world too. But we don't. More's the pity. And even simpering about "root causes" isn't going to turn back the clock and raise the WTC again and turn the Arab world into a land of whimsy and light where women can run free in the streets.

The "root causes" of the situation in which we find ourselves can be traced back as far as you like: not just to Saudi oil, not just to the Gulf War, not just to the foundation of Israel, not just to WWII, not just to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, not just to the end of British colonial rule, not just to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It goes back through direct and indirect causality to the leaders and inhabitants of a monarchial Europe bursting with technological might and a need for hegemony, sending out their ships looking for the means by which to become leaders in the real New World-- the World of Economics. The New World of America was just a discovery along the way to that road-- what was really the killer app of the day was the stock market, speculation, futures trading, promissory notes, short-selling, and bubbles-- all flowing through Antwerp, all creating a new kind of wealth for an empowered middle merchant class. If this is the "root cause" that someone wants to attack, be my guest. But taking on anything that occurred later in history is futile, because there's always something further back to blame for it. You can, if you like, consider the repulsion of Saladin and the Crusades to be germane to today's woes, or the foundations of Islam and Christianity, or the removal of the seat of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, or whatever. None of these events occurred in a vacuum. Everything had consequences that we feel echoing today.

We live in Reality Land here. It would be nice if the only place we saw people who wanted to kill us was in video games, but the real world isn't like that. And yes, America is a powerful behemoth, more powerful than the rest of the former superpowers of the world put together. But you know something? If you look through history, from 1776 on through the present day, do you know the only constant-- the only nation which has not fundamentally altered or reinvented itself, or swung from one end of the pendulum to the other, or had a bloody revolution, or faded into irrelevance, or killed millions of its own people as "dissidents", or indeed violated its own founding principles in any significant way?

I don't feel as though I'm beholden to anybody to feel guilty for being an American. I like this country. I know it has its faults, and I know everybody thinks of us as being the Microsoft of nations-- bulldozing our way through everybody else's culture without so much as a backwards glance. I know the transnational progressivists would like nothing more than to invent its own set of "monopoly crimes" with which to charge us, and perhaps split us up so we don't present so much of a threat to the rest of the world's ability to survive and be happy. But there's a difference here: I'm proud of the achievements of this country, in a way that I can't imagine being proud of being a part of Microsoft. We are what we are because we had a grand vision 226 years ago, and we've innovated our way to the top and vindicated that vision through our own individual accomplishments. We haven't won because we stifled competition from other countries; we've won because we did things right. Sure, I can see why other countries may well dislike or even hate us for that. I can understand what it must be like to be perpetually in someone else's shadow. But I don't buy the proposition that we're subject to punishment for our success.

No, I don't have a grand unified theory for how the world can be united in peace and brotherhood, or how the benefits of life in the USA can be conferred upon the rest of the world. (If I did, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this blog.)

But we've done everything right that I can reasonably see being done right, and history has handed us the laurels of world domination.

I personally think the world could have done far worse.

13:48 - Well, that's an onion in the ointment.

According to Bare Feats, the new dual 1GHz Mac and the previous-generation dual 1GHz Mac are neck-and-neck in performance. As in, almost indistinguishable. Same goes for the dual 1GHz Xserve.

The site concludes, very sensibly (if disappointingly), that while the DDR machines with the faster front-side bus should show at least some marked improvement over the earlier machines, the fact is that the G4 7450 (the "Apollo" chip used in both the old machines and the new) has a very well-documented internal bus-interface limit of 1GBps. Much less than the 2.7Gps of full DDR access speed, which Apple claims the architecture can support.

On the other hand, the PPC 7470 chip-- which in February was being talked about as being slated for release this summer-- does support the full DDR access speed. So does this amount to a last-minute hardware change, a deliberate attempt by Apple to palm off some dead-weight top-end 7450s, a piece of deliberately timed pre-marketing in anticipation of a "silent rev" that puts the 7470 into the new machines, or an outright baldfaced lie?

I don't like any of those options. Unless that silent rev is forthcoming very very soon, like within two or three weeks.


11:18 - The G4's Last Hurrah

...I think he's right. All the signs certainly point to this being the case. The G4 chips in the new Powermacs are 7450s, just like in the previous machines, and it's entirely possible that they've simply been overclocked and rebranded as 1.25GHz chips just for the purpose of this speed-bump.

But I don't buy the "embarrassment of engineering" angle. Depending on what one is trying to see this as, it can be an act of desperation-- or a fairly ingenious strategic interim solution, a very competitive product in a demanding market, ideally positioned for the new POWER4-derived IBM chips (the G5?) which seem to be targeted for consumer availability sometime early next year. It'll be a while in coming, but that just means we'll have to hold our breath for a while. And the current machines are far from useless.

The architecture is, after all, notable. Dual everything. Bridgeless direct PCI. Lots of L3 cache. And there's nothing inherently wrong with overclocking a chip; just ask any gamer. If they can do it and keep the chips stable, more power to 'em.

But this isn't an act of desperation, thrown together in a hasty three weeks of scrambling. This is an architecture that's been in planning for what must have been months. My guess is that as far back as January, or possibly earlier, Apple realized that the G4 was doomed as long as Motorola was so preoccupied with its business woes and seemingly uninterested in making desktop semiconductors. So they started coaxing IBM to develop the new chip as a contingency plan-- to develop the architecture, figure out the backwards-compatibility issue, make it desktop-capable, make it 64-bit Book E-compliant, try to get the power consumption down to a reasonable level, implement something to take the reins of Altivec-- and then, when the time was right, to build their new semiconductor foundry and announce the existence of the new chip. Finalize the design, get it ready to move, and meanwhile Apple would build an architecture that squeezes the last drops of juice out of their existing stock of effectively end-of-lifed G4s-- overclocking them when they run out of top-end chips that can legitimately push the speed barrier-- and put it into a machine that's designed for the new IBM chip rather than for the G4. Den Beste says it himself:

In fact, there's good reason to believe that these new machines are still going to be bottlenecked, because the processors share a single bus to the controller. PC duallies have separate buses for each CPU. Irrespective of how much L3 cache is connected to the controller, or how fast the RAM behind it runs, the data is choked on that FSB which runs 133 MHz for the 1.0GHz duallies, and 167 MHz for the 1.25 GHz duallies. The new "faster" bus merely keeps pace with the degree of choking; it doesn't relieve it. To relieve it, the G4 bus interface would have had to be redesigned, but that would have required Moto to roll the chip design, and it's clear they are not going to be doing that. If Apple was expecting a new G4 with a new FSB architecture, they would never have created these monsters.

Yes, exactly. These machines are architected for the G5, not for the G4. They'll hum along nicely with the G4 for a while, but they're overengineered in their current configuration. Put in G5s, with new memory buses, and they'll come into their own. (Likewise with the Xserve, which many are now considering to be an interim design, anticipatory of the 64-bit G5 as well.) Or that's the hope, anyway.

Some speculation (between myself and Chris, mostly) claims that the 133- and 167-MHz front-side bus speeds in the new Power Macs seem lackluster in comparison to the 266 and 333 MHz of PC motherboards-- but that this is simply because by PC-style accounting, those latter numbers are really 133 and 166, but doubled because of the effective double speed of DDR RAM, which Apple has only now received. The P4-based systems can get away with claiming such numbers because their CPUs have direct access to the RAM at such speeds, whereas Apple's don't-- yet. The front-side bus speed itself isn't crippled compared to that of PC motherboards. It's crippled by the fact that the FSB is designed for a later chip which will take full advantage of this architecture.

Apple has pulled this slow-ramp CPU trick before, incidentally. They've done things like releasing 100MHz machines when the chips could really do 120MHz, or underclocking the RAM or the FSB, often for the purposes of selling pro-vs-consumer targeted products-- but more often than not, to allow themselves a smooth ramp target. If the previous generation of machines were 60MHz, and they now had chips that could do 120, they would first release them at 100-- still a significant speed improvement, and a sales driver, but it also gave them the ability to do another speed bump three months later-- another sales driver, and it kept the speed ramp smooth. Overclockers wishing to void their warranties could often soup up their machines, and when the clone market was in existence companies like Power Computing could blow away Apple's own machines with 150MHz boxes against Apple's machines running at 120MHz and so on, but Apple kept up the smooth and behind-the-curve pace-- so that much like corporate financial officers deferring profits in a successful quarter so the company doesn't totally blow away its numbers and then predispose everybody to the same kind of success the next quarter, setting themselves up for a fall if the results are merely "normal", Apple could always ensure a predictable, on-schedule speed increase. And with a couple of notable exceptions (like the infamous downclocking of the G4s right after they were announced), they've been able to hold to that schedule throughout most of their history.

So now we're beginning to cross a desert, one in which we're unlikely to see any truly new G4 models (there's a possibility of a 7470 appearing later this year, but it's not looking good-- and the 7500, with its RapidIO architecture and longer faster-clockable pipeline, which was the subject of much optimism earlier this year, seems to be a lost dream now). I suspect that there will be room in the schedule for at least one more speed-bump between now and whenever the IBM G5s appear; rumors tell of the current 7450 G4s running at 1.4 or even 1.6GHz, and even if that's a matter of overclocking, it may well be right in with Apple's plans to do just that. It's a gamble, but if timed correctly, we could reach the other side of the sands with water left in our canteens.

As to whether IBM's chips are in fact on the way, we have no facts but a lot of speculation-- though, granted, that speculation is extremely compelling. For instance: is it a coincidence that IBM's chip will not support any 68K emulation code, and that Apple has announced that early next year new Macs will not be able to boot into OS9 at all? I doubt it. (Then again, as Kurt Revis points out, 68K emulation is all software-- it can work just as well on a new CPU as on the old.) The evidence seems to be in pretty strong supply for the idea of Apple being wholly committed to the IBM chips, and engineering around the G4 now rather than specifically for it.

The new Power Macs are very competitive machines, and they're only going to get better. That is, if our speculations pay off. Steve Jobs is rolling the dice in a major way here, but the situation isn't as dire as it can be made out to be. I still would like to see one of these machines in action; it's bound to be a significant leap past the previous generation, and it isn't because of marketing smoke-and-mirrors. There's a plan in place here, and there's good engineering going on. Considering how many rabbits Jobs has pulled out of his butt in the last few years, and how few failures, I'm inclined to put some faith in the man's ability to marshal his resources and strategize with the best of 'em.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
09:49 - PowerMac vs. Dell

Yesterday I compared the prices of the new line of Power Macs to the most comparable Dells I could find-- the P4-based Dimension 8200. I did this because it's what Apple compared its machines to in the MPEG-2 compression bake-off stats; I found that if you configured the Dell to match the Mac feature-for-feature, the Mac turned out to be priced at about 150% of what the Dell cost, from top to bottom.

But I overlooked the higher-end Xeon-based Precision 530 workstation, which might be closer in targeting to Apple's machines. Glenn Fleishman recompares the prices using the Precision instead of the Dimension. And he finds that the Mac is actually significantly cheaper, especially when you go for the lowest-end processors available.

I don't know how an 867-MHz dual G4 would fare against the Precision's dual 1.8GHz Xeons in that bake-off, but at least we now have a high-ball competitor to work against as well as a low-ball one.

Oh, and Marcus points out that the Dimension's 533 MHz system bus is actually due to RAMBUS' super-high clock speed over an 8-bit bus. So it's not as hot as it sounds (not that that matters to the number-munchers on the message boards).

09:33 - Hey, congratulations, Apple! You've made a meme!


Why, look. Ellen Feiss, the "stoned" high-school girl in the online-only Switch ad that was released at MacWorld, has risen above the petty ranks of "Stupid advertising shills" and entered the rarefied stratum of "Web-wide underground obsession". She joins such hallowed figures as "WTC Tourist Man" and "Colin Mochrie" and "Domokun" as preferred clip-art at Fark.com and in the inevitable "animutation" videos that make me giggle so helplessly.

In the last couple of weeks, a number of fan sites have popped up, created by besotted devotees who think she deserves a higher profile in American pop culture.

Feiss is not yet as famous as Mahir or the "all your base" phenomenon, but her fan base is growing -- and not just among Mac users. She has unique appeal to people who use Windows PCs.

There is Ellen Feiss, the fan site and the Ellen Fan Club: beep beep beep, which has set up a Cafépress Web store to sell T-shirts, coffee mugs and flying discs adorned with her image.

The domains ellenfeis.com and ellenfeissfanclub.com have also been registered but are currently empty.

Feiss has been turned into a set of computer icons that, curiously, can be converted to display on machines running Windows XP. She is also the subject of some wallpaper pictures that decorate a computer's desktop.

Isn't advertising weird? You spend millions trying to establish an image in customers' minds, and they filter it out; but do one little throwaway clip like this, only post it online (don't even broadcast it), and suddenly your logo-- for good or for ill-- is in front of millions and millions of potential laughing customers. (After all, whether they start out liking or hating Apple, the people making Ellen Feiss fan sites will have positive thoughts and memories about her meme-- and therefore about Apple.)

Genius, or inscrutable Dame Fortune?
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
11:31 - I didn't want a headache this early.


Well, it seems we can now pretty much count on certain rumor sites to get the facts about upcoming announcements spot-on, even though such rumors might not be as fun to read as the big freaky blue-sky whisperings about Next Big Things or about incinerating the competition or whatever.

New Power Macs today, and the specs are just like what the rumor sites said. Though I have to say those specs are... well, mixed.

They're pumping the "Technology from the Xserve" thing quite a bit, and it's true that they're inheriting a number of advantages from the Xserve's design. Everything's dual now, for instance-- dual optical drives, dual hard-drive ATA channels (supporting up to four drives), dual video out (all digital). But the numbers... well, I'm confused. It's all dual, but it's not very symmetrical. And the specs lack some luster in a few bewildering areas.

Good things:
  • DDR SDRAM (whoopee)
  • Dual digital video out
  • Dual optical drives
  • Dual ATA channels for hard drives (supporting four drives total)
  • Dual CPUs across the board
  • ATI RADEON 9000 (with GeForce4 Ti option)
  • AGP4x

Bad things:
  • 167 MHz system bus (what is up with that? Dell's top-end systems are up to 533.
  • The ATA drive channels are slow and asymmetrical: ATA-100 and ATA-66. Why not ATA-133? It's not like it hasn't been around for years.
  • Video out is asymmetrical (ADC and DVI)-- though that may be a good thing
  • The price.

I mean, what the hell? $3300 for the top-end system? Apple's supposed to be getting its prices down, not inching them back up to where they were in the Apple IIvx days (remember $8000 Macs? Remember?). I just went to Dell's site and priced out a similar system (well, except for that 533MHz system bus); it came out to about $2300, if you subtract the monitor and add the iApp wanna-be programs and a DVD burner. The Dell configuration is still ungainly and sloppy, but it does come to $1000 less than the Mac. And I don't know if the Mac can claim a $1000 premium for what advantages it has.

Sure, we've got DDR now. But what good is that going to do against a system bus over three times as fast? And I don't think you can buy ATA-66 drives anymore. (Though the Dell interestingly doesn't offer ATA-133 drives-- weird.)

It should be telling that Apple is no longer using Photoshop as its acid test for comparative speed analysis against Wintel PCs; it's now using MPEG-2 encoding for DVD burning. And it does show that the new G4 bests the current top-end Dell (the Dimension 8200 with a 2.53-GHz P4) by some 43%. But then again, MPEG-2 encoding is surely a heavily Altivec-optimized vector-op procedure, and it's going to show more of an advantage over the clocked-twice-as-fast Intel chip than other operations will. And besides, the Mac is dual-CPU. I daresay the numbers wouldn't look so rosy with a one-on-one comparison.

Whatever the prospects or artistic merits of this new case, the G4 in its current form isn't going to see the inside of it for terribly long, I daresay.

My reaction to the new case was that it looks like a grinning Cyclops; but jest aside, it's clear that this case is designed to ventilate better and dissipate more heat than the previous generation-- which didn't exactly have heating issues. So I think it's pretty safe to say that this will be the case design for the new CPU as well, whenever that gets here-- because presumably it's going to run hotter than the G4. (Pretty much everything does except the Crusoe.) And the case now has an all-metal latching/locking mechanism. Still no USB/FireWire on the front panel (why the hell not?), and only four PCI slots. But I do have to wonder again why anybody would need more than four-- considering that the video is AGP (in its own slot) and the sound, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, and modem are all on-board.

I dunno. I like a lot of what this system has to offer, but some of the compromises and omissions bewilder me. This is a major rework of the G4 tower configuration, with a new motherboard, system controller, bridgeless direct PCI controller, and so on. I hope there's another rev of this design soon with minor improvements that correct some of the weird imbalances like drive speed, and we gotta get that system bus cranked up as well. I won't be buying a new machine for a while yet; I can wait.

I do wish they could have gotten that price down a little bit, though.
Monday, August 12, 2002
18:30 - Technology built by the lowest bidder

Suddenly, a few minutes ago, my POP mail stopped working. Whenever the mail program checked for new messages, it popped up an error saying "POP user briant unrecognized".

Completely out of the blue. Just started happening. But I'd gotten used to stuff like this ever since we went to an Exchange server a few weeks ago. (Nary a problem beforehand, but since the changeover we've had at least one protracted period of downtime of one sort or another almost every single day.)

Naturally, the purpose of switching to Exchange was that it would be cheaper to implement-- which, one has to understand, has nothing to do with the cost of the equipment or the software. It has to do with the salary of the administrator.

A UNIX guru comes at a price. So does a security officer with real training who knows what he's doing. But Win2K admins who can set up Exchange and IIS-- well, they're a dime a dozen. And what company in its right mind would pay more for what they can get cheap?

Turns out, our Windows administrator had turned on some option in Exchange that makes it reject connections in which the password is being sent in cleartext (which we're all doing, since he'd told us not to use SSL). When Kris and I brought it to his attention that it was now rejecting us, his first reaction was "Well, it's not doing that for me..."

A few minutes later, he came to look at my setup. I showed him the error: Click, then "POP user briant unrecognized". First reaction this time: "Well, you're using a Mac. That's obviously the reason."

I point silently to Kris' NT machine running Outlook, with the same message on-screen.

The admin swears under his breath and stomps off.

I don't know how this is going to work out, but it's just such a perfect little microcosm of life in a Windows world. We refuse to pay more for extra quality, whether in our computers or in the expertise of our administrators. And when this leads us into months-long bouts of sporadic downtime, security breaches, and active attempts to thwart the needs and desires of employees, all in the name of "standardization on the system that everybody else uses", all we can do is drink heavily and escape into sports or fantasy in the miserable hours of evening, before collapsing into the dark respite of slumber with the nagging thought that death, should it visit in the wee hours, would be a welcome relief.

Just got a call: "Okay, could you try it again?"

I try again. No errors. "Yeah, it seems good now."

He seems surprised. "It does?"

"Yeah, no errors now."

His voice is pained and exasperated. "Oh, maan!"

This is going to be a long evening.

16:46 - The Beleaguered Innovator

The year was 1998. The Internet had reached maturity, or at least was progressing well through its awkward adolescence. All the familiar pieces were there: e-commerce, corporate sites with stock quotes, Web-based discussion boards, spam. It was the Internet of today, give or take a few million users-- and a widely-used browser or two.

Netscape was in a bad way. After hurtling to stardom with successive major releases being hustled out the door every few months, each one packed full of brand-new and desperately-needed page layout features such as background colors/images, tables, frames, and the like, the browser-- which had enjoyed almost total penetration across the Internet population-- had been brought to a standstill by Internet Explorer 4. Upon that browser's release, everything changed. The stakes were entirely different. The same old tactics would no longer suffice. Suddenly it was a fight for survival, not a frantic but exhilarating race to get new features into common usage, flinging them out like alms over the piazza. It was now deadly serious. IE4 was the browser world's 9/11.

Almost immediately, Netscape lost its way and began to flounder. As the free IE4 began to take root, and as Windows 98 began to ship with a preinstalled copy of "The Internet" on every desktop (rendering Netscape's $60 price tag ridiculous by comparison), Netscape started to stagger and crash into walls like a blindfolded dog recovering from surgery. Gone, almost overnight, were the new features that were created as a response to overwhelming clamor from the users, features with a massive popular mandate for existence. Now the key was not functionality, but survival-- and so Netscape started to cast about.

Remember the whole "Push" campaign? How browsers would integrate with your desktop and send you data unbidden, so that your entire machine would turn into a giant interactive web page-- or, more accurately, a giant interactive billboard? It would be like computing inside an ad. Your desktop wouldn't be a static picture of flowers or your car or whatever-- it would be a live Web document with links, ad banners, little games to play, everything. Microsoft's version was called Active Desktop. Netscape partnered with Marimba for theirs.

It was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, as revolutionary as tables or frames, or indeed as the browser was in the first place. But everybody looked at it, raised their eyebrows, and yawned. Push fell flat; neither company won. Active Desktop still exists in Windows, but I don't know a single person who uses it.

At the same time, there was the big DHTML/Layers thing. Layers were supposed to be the other Next Big Thing; they would make pages come alive, with dynamic in-frame content that could turn websites into fully functional applications. (Sort of like what we can do today in Flash.) It was a bold idea, but the implementations were far too cumbersome for anybody to get their minds around-- Netscape's and Microsoft's implementations of DHTML were incompatible and had complementary shortcomings, and nobody could code to a fully working standard. Besides, there just wasn't a public mandate for it, not like there was for tables or for background colors or for CSS. And DHTML died the same death as VRML: it seemed like a good idea at the time, but all it did was to send Netscape on a wild goose chase while they tried to head off Microsoft. And they succeeded. They kept Microsoft from winning in the DHTML or VRML or Push battles. Huzzah.

But the damage had been done. The vision that drove the creation of the Internet had been destroyed, taken corporate. It was now about marketing, about demographics, about product placement, about mindshare, about market penetration, about brand loyalty. It was no longer about creating functionality and features to empower wide-eyed Web geeks creating their first tentative pages about skateboarding or their favorite movies. That was all over. Because while Microsoft had led Netscape on with the illusion that what the public wanted was more new features that were as exciting as in the early days of the Web, what they were slyly doing in the background was to integrate the browser into Windows.

Netscape released a new major version about every six months, from 1995 through 1998, until version 4.0 came out. and now, in 2002, four years later, we barely have anything that can be called a successor to it.

And neither does Microsoft.

What major new empowering features has Microsoft added into IE since it became the de facto standard? Some vaguely improved CSS handling, sure; maybe some speed enhancements. But what has changed since IE4 that honestly gives us new abilities in our use of the Web as a publishing medium?

As if. IE still doesn't even have a "Show Page Info" equivalent or a JavaScript debugger. (How the hell are you supposed to write JavaScript without a JavaScript debugger, anyway?) It doesn't even have cookie management.

Which brings me to the crux of this diatribe, the feature that I just remembered suddenly last night, and which seemed now so disheartening in its tragic optimism, its violins-on-the-deck-of-the-Titanic unquenchable hopefulness that kept Netscape's vision alive right up to the very end, not unlike Bill Biggart and his D30, knowing he was doomed, but doggedly doing what he believed in anyway, right up until the masonry started crashing down.

That feature was a new technology whose name I forget-- LiveFace or RealFont or Dynamic Fonts or something-- that enabled Web developers to embed their own custom fonts into their web pages. It would be included as just another binary file to download-- a font doesn't take up much more than 50K or so, no more than your typical image file; and once it was downloaded, the browser would integrate it in-place and apply it to the text in the page. The author could include and refer to as many of these fonts as he wanted, in the same kind of structure as CSS. You wouldn't have to install the fonts in question onto your computer; you wouldn't even have to know the fonts were even there. They would be contained entirely within the browser's run-time space, and unloaded when the browser quit.

The way I remember seeing the demo page at Netscape's site working, it would lay out the entire site, and all the text would be shown in the default browser font; but then, as soon as the new font was fully downloaded, suddenly all the text would re-render smoothly into the new font, gorgeously reflowed with full kerning and leading and everything, just the way the author intended it.

This was all part of a thrust by Netscape to turn the Web into a legitimate publishing medium with real page-layout control, so people could be sure that the pages they presented would be viewed by everybody exactly the same way-- fonts and all. It was a fairly wide-reaching initiative; it wasn't just the dynamic fonts thing. It also included stuff like a "columns" specification, so you could write a big block of text and have the browser automatically render it into two or three or n columns for you, across the page, without having to worry about creating tables and splitting the text manually between the cells. (It would have been a godsend for text-heavy content that would normally get laid out in multi-column formats in print; instead, what we have now in online news services and journals and blogs are gigantic narrow single-column articles that thread their way downward between columns full of ads and links.) The new initiative also included tags to specify gutter spacing, margins, headers and footers, text wrapping around images-- in short, it would have turned the Web into a full-fledged deterministic page-layout medium. The demo page showed a newsletter-style page with two columns, ornate graphics in the gutters, a beautiful headline block, bylines, headings, initial-caps, the whole nine yards. It looked like the future, in a way that crap like Push or VRML never looked like anything remotely compellling. And it would have been available to everybody. I believe they even included a free tool which would convert any TrueType font into the format needed by the dynamic-fonts engine.

But it didn't catch on, because by the time it appeared, Netscape was irrelevant. And Microsoft has celebrated their victory over this kind of innovation by... making sure that four years later, we have no such functionality available to us.

Think of what it could have meant. Lileks could whip up a gorgeous new layout format for his Bleats, and by tagging on the fonts he used in the new dynamic-font format, he could be sure that every one of his readers would see it as he himself saw it, unless they'd specifically set their browsers to override with their own custom fonts. USS Clueless could ensure that all the relevant header text would appear in the Trekkish "Handel Gothic" font, without Steven having to link separately to the TrueType editions of that font that people currenly have to download, install, restart their browsers, and return to the site in order to see it the way the author intended. It would all "just work".

But that dream is gone now, and we're unlikely to see anything like it again, or at least not for years. The Web has matured in an environment patently unfriendly to such innovation. The time for empowerment ended with Netscape still giddily pulling rabbits out of its hat, on a crumbling stage in a theater burning to the ground.

As I've said before, innovation is the enemy of Microsoft-- it's not just that Redmond is incapable of innovating, it's that innovation is patently bad for business. They have to be able to appease their stockholders with a product that they can get away with changing and improving as little as possible, as little as they can get away with. Why should they innovate? Innovation costs money. If they could sell the same product, materially unchanged, for thirty years-- they would. That's business. And when you're a monopoly, and when innovation is seen as irrelevant as far as the public is concerned, coming up with new capabilities to deliver into your customers' hands-- new things to go wrong, new things to have to support, new complexities to add to your software-- is the last thing you want to do.

When an industry like technology solidifies, it becomes a lot more friendly to investment and to traditional business that expects the products to behave like corn flakes and detergent. Computers don't do that yet. But browsers are starting to, and that's why now that the frivolous dot-coms are gone, we've winnowed the field down to e-commerce companies that have genuinely viable business plans in a traditional sense. They can expect browsers to behave a certain way, because for some four years now there's only been one browser of note, and it's been effectively unchanged in all that time.

But because Netscape was willfully destroyed before their web-publishing initiative was fully realized, an entire arm of that potential business has been lost to us. Imagine what blogging could have been like in a world where we had that kind of layout control. Imagine what e-zines would have been like. Imagine what new fields would have been opened up by enterprising pioneers who saw an opportunity afforded by this new technological foundation, picked it up, and ran with it.

That's the kind of crime for which I will never forgive Microsoft. They are actively hostile to innovation, purely because of what they are. It is in their interest to stifle innovation. It is their goal to own an industry-- to buy up or smother the companies competing in that field, become a monopoly, and then never innovate again. The money doth flow like never before-- but progress ceases.

But because this leaves a niche open, it's up to the beleaguered underdogs with the small market shares to do the inventing. Innovation always happens first and best with companies like Apple, because they have to innovate in order to survive.

The problem is that such a position is untenable from a business standpoint. Success and failure are separated by a day's worth of work or sales or product announcements, and failure is forever.

I know it makes me old-fashioned and unrealistic to be rooting for the innovative underdog in a given field; they're bound to become irrelevant and die, and we may as well just get with the program and accept the realities of the monopoly-controlled industry. Sure, it won't ever innovate again in that field, but at least investors can make some money off it.

Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic. Maybe I'm an idealistic dunderhead. Maybe I just can't bear the thought that the ultimate fate of any scrappy entrepreneur, ingeniously inventing, following the American Dream, is to become agglomerated into a monolithic and ossified industry, devoid of personality or energy, focused only upon market share and revenue, rather than on serving-- and delighting-- the customer.

Whatever the case, I'll keep waving the flag as high as I can-- lest it drop from people's sight and we lose yet more of the magical world of invention.

12:10 - Bill Biggart


We've all seen Bill Biggart's last few photos in Newsweek and elsewhere; he's the guy who stayed under the WTC towers on 9/11, snapping pictures on his D30 right up until the buildings fell on him.

I don't know if this page is new or what, but it's worth some perusal either way. If just to refresh the imagery in our minds now that the one-year anniversary is coming up. It's not like it's that easy to forget, especially for New Yorkers. But still-- sometimes seeing something that makes us grit our teeth is more useful than reading a ten-page screed on why George Galloway is an anti-American, terrorist-supporting bogocrat and the quicker we take Baghdad the less chance we stand of getting ourselves nuked. Sometimes we just need a few photos-- and a few extraordinary circumstances under which they were taken-- to remind us what's at stake here.

11:54 - iRresistible

I think I just saw another iPod sell itself. And it didn't even have to show its face.

Our IT guy came into the break room where I was toasting a bagel with my iPod earbuds disappearing into my shirt. (He knew, just from the color of the wires evidently, what it was-- even though the iPod was hidden in my shirt pocket.) With a vague smirk and just a hint of a sneer, he asked me if there was any way to use those things with anything other than a Mac yet?

"Well, yeah," I told him. "You always could."

I explained about XPlay and EphPod, which he apparently hadn't heard of. "And anyway, there's now a real native Windows version available."

But, of course, he balked again at the fact that it was FireWire, which means that he'd have to get a FireWire card to use it. "I just haven't had anything yet that needs one," he said.

"What-- not a camcorder, even?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that." (This from a cutting-edge techy-geek type. I always have to remind myself that just because we've had FireWire for like three years now, and been making DV movies for about that long, it's still the realm of the idle rich on the Windows side.)

"But," he continued, "an iPod might just be reason enough for me to get one."

The peer pressure is impossible to withstand...

11:35 - That's that good ol' entrepreneurial spirit...


A few days ago, Corsair the Rational Pirate pointed me towards this site, which in the grand old tradition of Ninja Burger and the "totally sweet" Real Ultimate Power Ninja site, sticks a shuriken in the eye of the reverent mystique of Japanese art and tradition.

It does a damned fine job of it, too. I may have to buy one of these, just to exhibit my support for this guy's spirit.

Site is beautiful
Sekimori would be proud
But-- the content? Naaah.

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© Brian Tiemann