g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, October 5, 2002
02:23 - I am sooo saving this...
http://home.attbi.com/~bhayes82/fark/l33t_cereal.jpg

(top)


I don't know where this came from, but it's going into my file-away-for-future-laughage folder.

Oh, and it's Emotion Eric! Excellent! He's become a meme.

The Fark goons strike again...

04:02 - Macs Inordinately Popular among Vikings
http://www.runegame.com/news.php?page=2

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I got a new ATI Radeon 8500 card for my machine today; it's the result of their nifty trade-in program, in which they'll take pretty much any old video card in exchange for a deep discount on one of their current lineup. My original Rage 128 card was getting so it was starting to trip over its own feet (besides which, the fan was becoming so noisy that it was waking me up in the middle of the night); so I figured, hey-- new Radeon 8500 for $150? I'm sold.

It arrived this morning, and I installed it. OpenGL stuff like the "Flurry" screen saver now look oh-so-nice even on my nearly three-year-old 450MHz G4. This will make a nice stopgap until I'm in the market for a completely new machine, probably sometime next year. (Like when the GPUL machines start shipping. Heh... yeah, we'll see.)

It's hard to tell what's improved, generally, except that my mouse pointer has that subtle little drop-shadow now that's indicative of a card that supports Quartz Extreme. A few little things here and there seem snappier, but I suppose I can't expect the card to instantly hurl my aging machine three years hence in overall performance. Fly!II now behaves acceptably well (it was completely unplayable before-- we're talking like 1 frame per second), but it's still not like buttah. That'll take a whole new machine, I suspect. Ah well.

Or maybe just a patch. I found that the game has had a number of patches released since I bought it last year; maybe if I download the latest one, it'll address some of the performance woes. I'm currently #390 out of 519 in line at FilePlanet waiting to get the 33MB file. We shall see.

While I'm at it, queueing up massive downloads to occur in the wee hours whilst I slumber, I figured I'd do well to go stop by the site for Rune and get what similar patches might exist for it. (I really enjoyed Rune. And it performed extremely snappily on my machine; I'm just hoping the new patch makes it work nicely with OS X.) So as I set myself up for another waiting-in-line-for-files session, like some kind of Soviet city-dweller queueing for bread or underwear or whatever it is-- we'll find out when we get to the front of the line-- I poked through the News section of the site. And I ran across this little gem:
Voting Poll Results


posted: 07:05 pm by: Kazi Wren
We asked (quite some time ago): Who would win: Mac or PC Runers?

The results are as follow:
PC Warriors OWNZ YOU! 65.4%
Mac Warriors RULE! 24.3%
Um...I use Linux. 10.3%
For a total of 1,751 votes.

24.3%, huh? That's a pretty significant percentage, if you ask me. Certainly the contrary of what I'd been expecting (wouldn't Macs be even more of a minority in the gaming world than at large?). Considering that the usual market-share figure we hear quoted is in the 3-5% neighborhood, this figure must have some kind of deep cosmic significance.

Maybe Rune is really an awful game, and no self-respecting PC gamer would be caught dead playing it; but Mac gamers are desperate and will take whatever they can get, hence their overabundance among the game's players.

Maybe the PC Rune players secretly harbor admiration for Macs (or Mac users) and voted accordingly, in honest response to the question.

Maybe there actually are more Mac gamers out there in the world than I'd realized.


(Naaaaah.)

Although Johnnie at work has been expressing Apple Lust more and more lately, and his recent forays into the Apple Stores to drool over the various pieces of equipment have resulted in pronouncements that now more than ever in recent history, the library of Mac games is getting more and more equivalent to that of the PC. Two years ago, the new titles published dual-platform weren't even within a power of ten of the PC-only titles. But today... as he was startled to note, suddenly all the game companies seem to have leapt onto the OS X bandwagon, and a search for Mac games will turn up a wealth of treasure where before were only rusty nails and iron filings to set off the metal detector.

We saw a lot of encouraging punditry from within the developer community early on in the OS X lifecycle, to the effect that while developing games on the Mac has traditionally been an infuriating enterprise-- system crashes during debug coding being among the most obvious-- now that we have OS X, with its almost infinitely better stability and its much more usable APIs for OpenGL and the like, it's suddenly a much more attractive proposition to do Mac ports than it was before. Couple that with a growing market, and cha-ching.

It sounded like propaganda and hype at the time; but now the new titles are here. You can't argue against an existence proof.

Now here's hoping it lasts...
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
21:34 - Windows Sleeps With Da Fishes
http://www.apple.com/switch/ads/

(top)

Another wave of Switchers is out. They're really cranking the handle these days. And the ads are getting better and better, too.

Last time, about a week ago, they played to the down-home crowd: a cop, a lawyer, a vet, a truck driver. But this time it's the EXTREEEEME angle. Go check these out; I'm serious. We've got:
  • Gianni Jacklone, an Eye-talian IT manager who used to hate Macs with a passion until they brought out OS X-- which he now uses for all his IT needs (why am I reminded of Tony Danza on "Taxi"? My OS X has never crashed once. What, because it's up on its payments?)
  • Richard Ziskin, owner of an umbrella factory whose dream is "for it to rain every day"
  • Kelly Slater, a professional surfer who uses iMovie to edit movies of surfing
  • DJ Qbert, a scratch DJ who likes to groove with his Mac (this guy's a riot, though not quite as much so as Jacklone)
  • Tony Hawk, who does skateboarding or something

There's video interspersed throughout a couple of these ads, like of the surfing video and of the skateboarding movies that Tony Hawk edits in FCP. They're slowly sprucing up, with people getting creative with the ending stinger (now that they know how the format's going to go). Apparently people are lining up to get a shot on camera now; it's like the celebrities who had to be conned to appear on the first season of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, who had no idea what the hell they were getting into because the show hadn't aired yet. But the people in the later seasons all seemed too well-prepared, too willing to mess with the interviewers-- which is why the show itself had to get wackier and wackier to try to keep ahead of the guests. (I'll always treasure the look on Jerry Springer's face when he realized that the extent of his interview time was as a haughty ten-second segment at the beginning of the episode, after which SG and the rest turned away from the TV and just ignored him.)

Apple's having fun with this.

20:06 - Oh, I nearly forgot...
http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/4193839.htm

(top)
The iPod also continues to represent Apple's commitment to thumbing its nose at the cabal of corporations who find it more in their interest to imbue their software with Digital Rights Management than to serve customers' needs. Unlike Microsoft and its newfound symbiosis with the very record companies who would dearly love to make it so we can't ever use MP3 players or device-shift our music or even install software without networkable centralized keying, Apple keeps reaffirming the importance of the consumer and the good things technology can do for us. Microsoft and the record companies are trying to stamp out technologies that enable this kind of freedom; Apple wants to fan the flames.

As Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer notes:

Someone in the mainstream world has had the courage to say something that needed to be said: Apple's approach to digital media is not only very consumer friendly, the Wintel hegemony's approach is not. Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News has fired a shot across the bow of the entertainment industry, Intel/AMD, and Microsoft, and I personally hope it is a shot heard loud and clear. Mr. Gillmor charges that while the Wintel companies are busily building Digital Rights Management controls into their respective chips and software, Apple is building its machines in a way that leaves consumers free to use their digital media as they see fit.

If you are not concerned about this area, you should be, and quick. The media companies are working overtime to control the way you use every song, every movie, and every electronic book, whether or not you legally own it. They want to control when you use it, where you use it, how use it, and if possible, make you pay for each and every time you do so. The cover is the threat of piracy, but what's truly at stake is that absolute control over your content. Dan Gillmor, a syndicated technology columnist for the Mercury News, has a far broader reach than a Mac editor ever will, and his message is not only good for Apple and the Mac platform, it is also good for consumers everywhere.

Something I'd forgot to mention about iChat, incidentally-- and it's not a non-sequitur-- is that it's totally free of ads. None. Unless you count the very presence of something called ".Mac" sitting in your machine somewhere, with the knowledge that if you sign up for it you get more cool stuff to use, there's nothing in the Mac-using experience to coerce you into buying stuff. On my brief and occasional forays into the Windows side, I undergo a culture shock that must not affect most of the world so much, because they're used to it by now: Ad-ware. Spyware. Bonzi Buddies. Pop-up ads in the Windows Update mechanism (Jeezum Crow). Exhortations to get a Passport account. Banner ads embedded in programs like ICQ and AIM. Registry pollution (that can't ever really be undone). E-mail spam and viruses that actually present a danger to your computer, of injecting it with more such malware. Life on Windows is fraught with peril from all directions, and being on a Mac tends to make one forget what being under that kind of assault is like. Especially for the bewildered majority of users who don't know what they properly should do to protect themselves from it. Their computers are strung throughout with months' and years' worth of the detritus of online life, a minefield of X10 camera ads and porn billboards. Nobody can bring themselves to care whether their address is getting sent off to some company-- most people figure it's a losing battle anyway, so why bother fighting?

But it's hard to express how much calmer it is over on this side, without first-hand demonstrations and the experience of immersion. Most people probably don't realize that what they have to put up with on a daily basis isn't universal. It doesn't have to be this way, y'know.

I am not naive enough to think that Apple is on a one-company crusade against the evil media companies, but Apple's public statements jive well with my own thoughts. The company has said that it feels that people ought to be trusted to use their legally bought music where they want to. In other words, it is not Apple's job to police us, and it is not right to assume we are pirates before we even get the opportunity to use our digital media. That's an approach, however, that is directly contrary to groups like the RIAA and the MPAA, which says we are not to be trusted, and must have our rights dictated to us, and controlled by them. Which approach do you prefer?

Me, I've already made my decision. And it has the added bonus that it feels right.

13:39 - Urban Iconography

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There's a new building going up in downtown San Jose. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it's been under construction now for about a year, and it's almost done.

San Jose is sort of a poor excuse for a city. The largest buildings in the downtown area are no taller than about 15 stories; this is largely because the approach path to the airport comes in right over the middle of downtown. Skyscrapers wouldn't be a good thing to have there. And in any case, San Jose is a strange beast-- a theme park of a city. It's a thing of wide palm-lined boulevards, broad sidewalks, shining modern-art buildings intermingled with Conquistador architecture-- ancient arched hotels from the glory days right next to buildings like the Adobe headquarters. There are little courtyards everywhere with fun little restaurants, there are easily accessible opera houses and stage theaters, and a surface-street trolley floats along a smoothly paved side arcade where the street level is an unbroken, polished interlock of cement and brick, into which the rails seem to magically vanish once the train has passed. When leaves fall from the trees and litter the pavement, you expect a uniformed man with a nametag to scurry out from an alcove and whisk them away before the visitors have a chance to see.

And yet it almost always somehow seems deserted. Even when there's traffic on Almaden Boulevard, right down through the heart of downtown toward this new building (to which I am, by degrees, coming), it seems hushed and respectful somehow. The wide sidewalks always seem empty. Whenever I've been downtown, I've felt like I should be stopping by an information booth to see where the concession stands are, only to find it unexpectedly boarded up-- or maybe to be greeted by a grinning and cackling evil clown face, or Yubaba come to steal my name and put me to work in the spirit baths.

So I'm surprised at the amount of new construction that's going on in San Jose these days. Maybe it's still all residual fundage from dot-com fortunes that went into real estate before they shriveled up and blew away; but the cranes have been popping up to raise new edifices one after another, just in the past couple of years. To me it's felt as though it's a band of traveling construction companies, setting up shop wherever they feel like building something, hoisting up their cranes and planting jugglers and ticket-takers outside. I've felt like taking them aside and saying, "No, see, look-- this is San Jose. You want San Francisco, further up the bay." See, even the most midtown city-dwellers in Silicon Valley use the term The City-- and by it they mean San Francisco. San Jose's just an overgrown suburb, and we're still startled to find it there over our shoulders.


So there's this new building, and I'm not sure what it's for. It's butted right up against the San Jose Convention Center, a cavernous hall that hosts car shows and high-tech symposia, but whose corridors have always seemed-- surprise-- curiously empty of people, even during the most intense periods of activity. It's like everything was built about six times too large, but there was always plenty of money so nobody minded.

Approaching the building from the east, as I do every morning, it doesn't look like much. It's kind of beige, kind of drab; it looks like it can't decide whether to be a hotel or some kind of warren for bureaucrats.


But when you pass it edge-on, you notice that the westward-facing side-- the side that fronts on Almaden Boulevard-- is gently curved. And the front is completely faced with glass. The beige stonework that makes up the back face and part of the sides is wrapped around it like a cloak; from the front, this building has a symmetrical grace that looks rather bleak and dingy in the eastern light of morning, but that flares into life at sunset, when the sun ducks behind the fog rolling over the Peninsula mountains and flickers across that curved facade. I wish I had a picture of it, but we're past the season now when I'm driving home during sunset.


Fortunately, I do get to see it at night now, and what strikes me about it-- even now, before it's been opened, or even filled full of walls-- is that big three-story colonnade at the top. Four shiny pillars, fronting what appears to be a tall atrium right at the top of the building-- that's lit from within at night. I'll definitely have to get a picture of it at some point. The columns are back-lit by a soft white glow after dark; I just have to imagine what kind of palatial Monty Burns penthouse is back there, what kind of throne room someone has planted at the top of one of the tallest buildings in the capital of an empire that's in retreat.

No, I don't expect that Silicon Valley will wither and die as the entire world forsakes all technology investment and anything with the word "dot com" in it as a foolhardy fad, akin to betting corporate fortunes on the future of pet rocks. As someone said on the radio the other day, this is a New Economy-- not quite as new as we thought it was, but new nonetheless. The Internet has changed everything, but in more subtle ways than we were willing to believe-- the old rules do in fact still apply. We're just a lot freer in how we get to set up the subjects to which those rules apply.

San Jose doesn't feel deserted because everybody's leaving. It feels deserted because it's less a city than a monument, built by people who wanted to create-- who had learned how to do so under the rules of software. Put all the pieces in place and watch the program run itself. It's SimCity writ large. People go into the city and do city things, but it doesn't feel like it has any history, really. No personality. Even though San Jose as a community has existed as long as the country has, founded in the 1770s, it hasn't been until just recently that it's been built up-- and the result is artificial, like Orange County. It has no expression on its face. Not the tired grin Los Angeles flashes at visitors, not the casual wave you get from San Francisco, not the curt businesslike nod of Chicago, not the self-consciously guilty shrug of well-dressed Boston. San Jose is a lovely place to visit, a great place to relax. But it's no New York.

It takes some getting used to. But I'm liking it more and more, just for what it is, the more I see it. After all, its clean wide streets and its palm colonnades and its gleaming new buildings do make for a personality of sorts-- and the longer it's there, the richer a tradition it becomes... until San Jose ceases to be a thing of business parks and electronics superstores, and becomes a City.
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
02:46 - Your iPod just became a PDA

(top)

So now iCal and iSync are out, and .Mac is in place, and Jaguar is on everyone's desks... and without really so much as a press release, iPod owners everywhere may well be startled to realize that they suddenly have PDAs in their pockets where they thought they'd only had a few hundred CDs' worth of music.

All the functions of a PDA that don't involve live input-- address listings and schedulers, most importantly, plus the ability to sync those things back and forth-- are now built into the iPod. Ever since it was released a year ago, people have been speculating about the potential it holds as a more-than-just-an-MP3-player platform. It has a nice screen-- just fine for browsing songs, but a bit small for PDA functionality. It has a great physical interface, but no real input mechanism. It has an extensible OS in firmware and an immense hard drive, and it has FireWire and a rechargeable battery that's supposed to last up to six or nine years depending on how heavily you use it.

Plus sides and minus sides. Some have said Apple should redesign the interface to have a real input mechanism. Some have said a color screen would make it an ideal portable movie player. Some have said that all it needs is for Apple to open up the APIs that they've so selfishly tuned to the Mac OS, so Linux users can partition the drive with Ext2FS and drop their MP3s and DiVX movies in via the command line (damn that crApple! What kind of arrogance is it that concentrates on "ease of use" for one particular platform instead of pushing for the obviously more lucrative and honorable market of the h4xX0r community!).

But I think that within Apple, it's no secret how people use their PDAs. Nobody really enjoys writing with a stylus. Back when Palms were new, everybody bought one, whipped it out visibly during meetings, scribbled notes in Graffiti, kept the alarm volume up on high so they could flip it open with a smirk when some event came to pass, and beamed stuff back and forth like it was the Next Big Thing to trade the latest adapted video game or little software trinket while they were supposed to be paying attention to the guy with the agenda at the end of the table. This went on for like two months... and then, by the end of that period, you never saw the PDA again. Why? Carrying it around was a pain. It was nice to have those phone numbers and appointments handy all the time, but... mobile e-mail? Pocket web-surfing? Writing notes on the little tappity-keyboard? After two months, a given PDA was more likely to sit unused inside someone's belt-holster in a drawer with its batteries drained than to get whipped out in a meeting.

And meanwhile, everybody's been continually harping on how Apple should have capitalized on the Newton-- Doonesbury mockery of its handwriting-recognition system notwithstanding-- and captured the nascent PDA market when it was still malleable and Microsoft hadn't decided to own that too, like an afterthought to the desktop, like Monty Burns buying the left-handed sports car on his way to the cash register in the Leftorium. Nah, never mind how the PDA market is in the crapper and Palm's market dominance is slipping by whole percentage points each week. This is a perfect market for Apple to get into!

Nah. Apple is smarter than that. Or so said most people... except for one thing. This weird little wild-card called the iPod.

It wasn't the iWalk that was unveiled last November-- not the long-rumored "Apple PDA" that people had sworn they'd seen floating around the skunkworks labs in One Infinite Loop. It was something smaller, something heavier, something with a weird disc for an input device and a small squarish screen. Something with a hard drive. An MP3 player? Ah haaahhh... Apple's throwing in its lot with the music-swappers, instead of the corporate PDA toters. So that's their little game, is it?

After selling literally millions of the little boxes, within a month Apple released Jaguar, .Mac, iCal, and iSync-- and with the wave of a hand transformed each one of them into a device that incorporates all the genuinely useful features of PDAs as well as steadily augmenting how much of an MP3 player it is.

So was it part of the original game plan to gradually add PDA-like functionality to the iPod over the subsequent year-- or was it in deference to massive public demand? Is this the fruition of a long-term goal, or an admission of defeat?


iSync is the key to that. How long was it in planning? How much was involved in its production? As an application, there's not much to it. It's just a little palette that you call up either by running the app itself, or by plugging in your iPod or pressing the cradle button on your Palm. It has a .Mac button, an iPod button, a Palm button, and a Bluetooth cellphone button-- each of which only appears if you have such a device. All of those devices can support iCal calendars and contact info out of Address Book, and pressing what Lance calls the "big greasy button" on the right side of the palette synchronizes those databases from your computer to the .Mac server and all the devices at once. It merges conflicts like a champ, presenting you with a rather smart-looking "Safeguard" dialog letting you know what changes will be made. And the real icing is that it's written with owners of multiple Macs in mind-- you can register all your machines under your account on .Mac, and use that as the central repository for your address books and calendars. Changes from any machine get published to the others any time you sync.

Pretty simple in concept, really. But it depends on a great deal of infrastructure and territorial cooperation with other companies. First of all, iTools-- now .Mac-- had to get put in front of a critical mass of users. (Then it had to be converted to a pay service, which appears to be going well-- Apple just announced another 80,000 .Mac subscribers that had signed up in the last 2 weeks alone, adding to the 100,000 that had signed up immediately following the July MacWorld announcement.) Then Apple had to get a critical mass of iPods sold, then strike up a cooperative relationship with Sony-Ericsson and other companies making Bluetooth-enabled phones that can do calendaring and address-books. To say nothing of interlocking into the Palm HotSync software to bring PalmOS devices into the fold.

It's a tiny little application, but it's the capstone on a very large infrastructure that's been all but invisible until now. It's the proverbial mushroom that pops up above the forest floor, betraying existence of the fungal mass below. A metaphor most frequently used to refer to al Qaeda recently, I know, but it's still the visual I get.

And the upshot is that now, for the first time, Mac users are equally capable in their contact listings and their appointments whether they're at home, at work, on a plane with a laptop, or in a gym with an iPod. They're all part of the same store of data now.

Naturally, this again vaults the iPod to a new level of usefulness for Mac users only, which may be why Apple felt it was safe to make a Windows-branded iPod to sell to the other side. They'd reaped the profits from the first nine months of iPod sales to Mac users and to Windows users willing to put up with some inconvenience (or buy a Mac, as many ended up doing); now, they could let the Windows side in on the music-player fun, while at the same time turning it into an extension of each Mac-using owner's online life. They've retained the Mac's premium while keeping the Windows olive branch nice and green. Neat trick.

iSync is just a beta right now, by the way. (A good thing, too, because I've found a few minor bugs that I've already submitted through the handy feedback mechanism-- something Apple has been incorporating into all their applications lately.) But they don't release betas that often. This means they really wanted to get people using it as quickly as possible; maybe they wanted a clear benefit of paying for .Mac to be thrust into people's sight. Maybe they've got a bigger plan in store-- something they plan to make more public within a month or two, or in the MWSF timeframe. Or maybe they just really wanted to let people start synchronizing everything.

Whatever. These things tend to have the effect of being cool enough to be useful individually, but all the more so cumulatively. I'll enjoy the benefits of it even if this is as far as it goes. Somehow I doubt it will be, but there's no way I can speculate about where it will all end up.

Jaguar was where OS X really came of age; we came out of the period of painful transition, and began to really reap the rewards of the new platform. Apple isn't writing tools to help people cope with upgrading anymore. Now they're writing new stuff. And there's more new accessory software coming out of Cupertino now than there ever has been before. It's no longer just about the OS. And looking back on the past twenty years, I can hardly see why anybody in the Mac camp thought the OS alone made such a strong case for computing philosophy.

And now we have iApps, iPods, FireWire, and a world of peripherals that work seamlessly with OS X without any need for drivers. Everything's networked, everything's synchronized... and even the game developer world is coming online with OS X titles where they'd all but abandoned the Mac two years ago.

It just keeps getting better and better.

00:33 - <blinks audibly>
http://counterspin.blogspot.com/

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Okay-- forgive me for being buried under a rock lately with nothing to keep me company but chapter upon chapter of author review, but just what in the hell is up with this Hesiod Theogeny guy?

I just skimmed the posts on his page going back through about 9/19, and almost all the content consists of him pointing a shaking finger at other bloggers and shrieking, "Look! Look at him-- he's an idiot! And this guy is stupid! And this one stopped linking to me-- what an asshole! And her-- I've never heard of her, but she must be a moron too!" He seems to spend all his time inventing imaginary grassroots Silent Majorities for the purpose of overruling opinions like Den Beste's and Lileks' and Reynolds'-- if you removed all the posts that refer to Den Beste, you'd be left with a couple of sneering references to the quote-unquote-Axis-of-Evil and the quote-unquote-War-on-Terror and an animated GIF of a candy bar wrapper fluttering in the breeze.

I mean, I don't agree with everything Den Beste says... but when he writes a researched thesis that runs to ten monospaced printed pages, I consider that a point worth respecting, if not responding to in kind, not ridiculing. Especially if the best response I could come up with to an invocation of Godwin's Law is a spurious reference to the other guy's reasoned mention of Nazi Germany as a genuine salient contention.

Why is everybody suddenly wasting valuable electrons linking to this guy?

And why are the intro sentences to his posts in a smaller font than the rest of the text?


22:56 - Come in, Falcon Seven.
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/10/Unrestrictedrestrictions.shtml

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Via Den Beste:

Dr Blix said the inspectors would have unconditional access to all sites - but not to eight presidential palaces which are covered under a separate agreement between Iraq and UN.

All I've got to say about all this, is, doesn't Dr. Blix sound like some evil villain out of an old "Birdman" cartoon or something?

I guess it was only a matter of time before the players in this war "crossed the line from average everyday villainy to cartoonish super-villainy", as Smithers put it.

22:42 - Nucularity
http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~nunberg/nucular.html

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As an off-and-on student of linguistics and English, I find it the highlight of my week to hear another of Jeff Nunberg's editorials on Fresh Air on NPR. Almost without exception, each one is focused on some foible of the English language that he reveals to have a fascinating history, which he covers in a few concise paragraphs' worth of compelling pop-cultural references and leaves the listener feeling startled to have become so much more practically educated in just a few minutes.

Tonight was a treatise on the word nucular, particularly its popularity with Presidents dating back to Eisenhower-- though naturally it's Dubya who bears the brunt of popular derision for it these days. Nunberg starts off by making the distinction between verbal "typos" and the more psychologically interesting "thinkos", and covers pretty much the whole gamut of speculation about what goes on behind that weird word.

On the face of things, "nucular" is a typo par excellence. People sometimes talk about Bush "stumbling" over the word, as if this were the same kind of articulatory problem that turns February into "febyooary." But nuclear isn't a hard word to pronounce the way February is -- try saying each of them three times fast. Phonetically, in fact, nuclear is pretty much the same as likelier, and nobody's ever gets that one wrong. ("The first outcome was likular than the second"? ) That "nucular" pronunciation is really what linguists call a folk etymology, where the unfamiliar word nuclear is treated as if it had the same suffix as words like molecular and particular. It's the same sort of process that turns lackadaisical into "laxadaisical" and chaise longue into chaise lounge.

That accounts for Eisenhower's mispronunciation of nuclear, back at a time when the word was a new addition to ordinary people's vocabularies. And it's why Homer Simpson says it as "nucular" even today. But it doesn't explain why you still hear "nucular" from people like politicians, military people, and weapons specialists, most of whom obviously know better and have been reminded repeatedly what the correct pronunciation is. The interesting thing is that these people are perfectly capable of saying "nuclear families" or "nuclear medicine." I once asked a weapons specialist at a federal agency about this, and he told me, "Oh, I only say 'nucular' when I'm talking about nukes."

In the mouths of those people, "nucular" is a choice, not an inadvertent mistake -- a thinko, not a typo. I'm not sure exactly what they have in mind by it. Maybe it appeals to them to refer to the weapons in what seems like a folksy and familiar way, or maybe it's a question of asserting their authority -- as if to say, "We're the ones with our fingers on the button, and we'll pronounce the word however we damn well please."

This stuff is great. (I'd love to hear him take on heighth at some point.) While you're at it, if you're so inclined, read the rest of his radio columns. I'm already poking through to see which ones I've missed. This guy's every bit as educational as Bill Bryson, and almost as funny.

12:06 - The Real Trailer
http://www.apple.com/trailers/newline/the_two_towers/

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Incidentally, the real full-size version of the trailer has now been posted; it's at apple.com and lordoftherings.net in shiny happy QuickTime.



Sorry I didn't get to posting this link last night; I was too busy watching it.
Monday, September 30, 2002
03:21 - Why We All Link to Lileks
http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/1002/100201.html#100102

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It's because this is the kind of thing he writes on his so-called "off days", framed in apology for it not making sense or being Deep and/or Insightful:

This is a bipartisan delusion. Let’s play partisan ping-pong:

Liberals are socialists.
Conservatives want to ruin the earth and poison the water.
Liberals are baby-killers.
Conservatives only care about rich CEO fatcats.
Liberals hate America.
Conservatives think the free market smiles on slavery.
Liberals believe all criminals should go free.
Conservatives want to put all black people in jail.
Liberals are godless atheists.
Conservatives want to make everyone handle snakes for Jeebus.

I’m not trotting out the Shades of Gray line of which the morally irresolute are fond; there are issues that require moral rigor, a willingness to say yes and no and right and wrong. But while those issues often cohere along party lines, the people who hold these various positions are often on different sides of political spectrum. And if you think that’s codswaddle, then you’ve never talked to an anti-death penality Republican or a pro-life Democrat. Push comes to shove, people retreat to the comforting bunkers of their party, but outside of an election or a great sweeping national issue, push just usually comes to push. Cliches are fun for screeds, but man does not live or govern or coexist by screed alone.

I hope this is as obvious to you as it seems to me.

This is by way of endorsement of the two-party system, particularly the kind that involves lots of filler-material extra parties like the Greens and the Communists and the Natural Law people who have particular individual mandates to thrust with, but none of whom have (thank goodness) enough of a consistent and comprehensive plan for the world to amass any kind of meaningful constituency. The real political spectrum that makes any sense is linear, and the outlier groups inform points along the line, rather than representing axes all their own in multidimensional space.

Which isn't to say, of course, that a given person fits at one point along the spectrum line. It just means that when you shake everybody out, there are poles that develop. It's not really a line, it's more like a cross-section of a galaxy. There's a big round wide blur in the middle, but the two long spiky endpoints are distinct. Every nation has these two poles, in one form or another, under one name or another. Certain predilections tend to hang together at those endpoints.

But in that big blur in the middle, anything goes. We get attracted one way or another, moving differently in reaction to different issues, but almost nobody actually plants themselves out there in one or the other of the thin pointy parts.

Whether the political spectrum is a 2-D plane like Eric S. Raymond illustrates it, or a big undefinable blob where nobody can be pinned down at a particular spot with a thumbtack on all the issues at once, it's still important to remember how few people there actually are out at the edges.

18:09 - The Two Trailers
http://www.aintitcoolnews.com/display.cgi?id=13411

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Well, it's out: the full-length Two Towers trailer. And man, does it ever rock.

This link goes to AintItCoolNews.com and their link to a couple of Real versions (advertised there in some quite amusing editorializing as being of fairly poor quality) and a low-res QuickTime version that's purportedly still better than the Real ones.

Having watched the QT version, I can definitely say that my fannish interest is thoroughly piqued. The new characters (Éomer, Théoden, the Wargs, the Oliphaunt, and so on) are spot-on. The scenery is if anything more true to the books than the scenery in the first movie. And the plot, which we've all been speculating will contain a lot more love-interest stuff between Aragorn, Éowyn, and Arwen, appears to be bearing out that speculation just fine-- a bunch of shots in the trailer keep jumping back to Elrond and how he's emptying Rivendell as the end of the Age draws near, and he's admonishing Arwen that her time in Middle-Earth is limited as well. None of this stuff was in the book, but its inclusion here is going to flesh out the human (as it were) aspects of the story so much better than even Tolkien had in mind. (Aragorn's sword, Andúril, was reforged in Rivendell at the setting-out of the Fellowship in the book, but that plot point never appeared in the movie-- presumably because it's all going to be integrated into the newly enriched Arwen subplot in the second movie.)

I continue to marvel at how Peter Jackson is able to construct completely new dialogue that, while it never appeared in Tolkien's text, manages to perfectly complement the story and the characters who speak it. Éomer's "Look for your friends, but trust not to hope-- it has forsaken these lands" is as gold as Gandalf's first line in the first movie ("A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins-- nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to"). Same with the exchange in the Emyn Muil in the trailer: "I don't think Gandalf meant for us to come this way." "Gandalf didn't mean for a lot of things to happen."

This is a movie about a world gathering for war, and naturally it's plenty applicable to these times. I don't know if anybody will be able to do much in the way of plausible allegory when analyzing the movie in the context of the WOT, as they no doubt will in the academic review circles. This story was written when the world was at war, but at a time when the "enemy" was all too domestic-- it was Europeans, the ancient near-relations of Tolkien's British heritage, who were suddenly locked into a terrifying battle for supremacy that sucked in the entire world. The spectre of "evil" had settled in to roost right there in the most "civilized" part of the world-- the richest countries, the proudest peoples, the teeth-gritted remnants of the 19th-century empires that had inherited the reverberations from the discovery of the New World and never yet seen them fully settle down. It wasn't until after WWII that the world fully moved past the Era of Discovery and took stock of the new nature of things.

But today's war is just as much fundamentally different as it is the same old damn thing. This time it's with a people and a mindset that we just don't seem able to relate to in anything like the same way as the British could see themselves relating to the Germans. They were old rivals, old friends, old enemies. They'd shared a common history. They'd all come from Rome and from the Teutons and from the Vikings. It was all the same people, and suddenly they'd found the pendulum of swaying popular thought had swung so far to the side that they couldn't get things back in order without war. I suspect that to the British, while they saw it as their duty to defeat the Germans for their clear transgressions of the limits of human decency, the act wasn't without its tragic pity-- how shameful that it's come to this. Why, Germany, I knew ya back in the day. This is what you've become, is it? Right, old boy-- for old time's sake. Have at ya, then.

If that's what Tolkien had in mind when he wrote of the Orcs and Mordor, it's all the more bracing to consider his concept of the Orcs and the Elves being congenitally related. If he was thinking of Hitler when he wrote of Sauron, he clearly did have a concept of "evil" as a floating black cloud that-- as Spalding Gray said-- moves slowly around the world, from time to time coming to rest in Japan... Vietnam... Cambodia... Indonesia... North Korea... Russia... Afghanistan... Saudi Arabia... Iran... Iraq... Germany... America.

Will it be applicable? Will people find it so? Very possibly. Maybe it's not so far-fetched as all that, to think that people will be able to apply TTT any way they like to the current situation in the world. Some will treat it as Gray did, in which any good people can go bad, and any good leader can become Hitler. But others will see it as pure Good and Evil, the righteous versus the profane, God versus the Devil. As with most fantasy, LotR's world is only "religious" in the sense that the supernatural is an everyday matter-- there's no "believers" and "nonbelievers". There are the cynical, and there are wrong sides to choose, and there is the motivation of power as well as that of righteous defense. But the issues we face today-- secularity vs. theocracy, and the racial-purity question that was so central to WWII but which gets mercifully little attention paid to its centrality to Middle-Earth-- just don't work in the context of Tolkien's world.

But this is going to be a movie about war, nonetheless; and righteous war, at that, a war that no viewers are going to step back and clear their throats at, saying, "Hey, wait a minute, we have no proof that Sauron actually has weapons of mass destruction. Can't we just impose some sanctions on Mordor or something?" Ain't gonna happen. Maybe seeing TTT will shock the public into a different mindset, one in which war doesn't seem so much like a political maneuver, but rather a duty necessary for survival. Or maybe the public will dismiss it as pap that distracts us from the real multifaceted issues of the real-life prospects that we face.

All things considered, TTT (and LotR as a whole) speak to the rebel: the righteous warrior with a few staunch friends who stand against an impossibly huge, anonymous tide. Al Qaeda and Arafat might well watch TTT with glee, identifying themselves with Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli. It would certainly fit the model better than us in our comfortable theaters, using the movie as escapism not from mortars and car bombs, but from drudgerous work and onerous school and nagging spouses.

But we're the target audience anyway: the literate Western thinkers who love Teutonic and Greek and English mythology, who find joy in a pun or a linguistic joke, who find Thor and Odin more romantic than Jesus and the Pope. This is our mythology, the story that defines our world. Even if its ideals can't be made to fit our own worldview, it's still a beloved story.

It's fantasy. It's not allegory. Any attempt to make it so will ruin it. Or at least, that's what I think.

I can't wait.
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© Brian Tiemann