g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
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12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
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 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
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 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
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 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
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 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, October 27, 2002
22:59 - Ow... I hurt...
http://216.136.200.194/auction/Oct/200210263376895213102630.jpg

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I'm not at all sure what the context of this is-- all I was sent was the URL. But regardless, a hearty belly laugh to whoever is responsible.



I know it's easy to want to mock the wannabe terrorist guys who have popped up in the past year, from Richard Reid to John Mohammed. But... they kinda seem to be setting themselves up for it, don't they? Not exactly XXX-style supersoldiers, are they?


UPDATE: Here's the context.


07:02 - Superman gets the coolest cartoons

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For animation fans, one of the best pieces of classical revelry in the art for its own sake-- much more so than the self-conscious Warner stuff of the era, which is valuable for entirely different reasons-- is the wartime Superman series by Dave Fleischer.

Fleischer's early Popeye cartoons (which Cartoon Network trots out with nostalgic glee every Sunday night, accompanied by informative and often snidely geeky commentary by the narrator) are themselves immensely good fun; the color Paramount Popeyes are episodic nonsense in the vein of modern Saturday-morning dreck, but the Fleischer stuff was art. Deliciously quirky (and very human) animation and engaging original music accompanied lavish background art and very clever songs to create a tapestry with rhythm, art with a beat. I love it when the "I'll do anything that you do" episode comes on, or the classically giggle-inducing "Goonland" one, or the lavish "Sindbad the Sailor" featurette with the full-multiplane backgrounds, or the "Beware of Barnacle Bill" one with its delicious song-and-dance complete with sneering volta at the end: Just like you just did to that poor Barnacle Bill the Sailor! The love for the craft that is evident in these shows raises them to a level of enjoyability well beyond what was evident in animation through the "Golden Age" of the 50s, the experimental floundering of the 60s, the dark, dark Scooby-Doo-dominated valley of the 70s, and the directionless 80s. It wasn't until the animation industry was kick-started in the 90s by The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, Animaniacs, and (yes) even Beavis & Butt-head that TV animation started being respectable again, drawing out of the woodwork the fans of the medium who were no longer ashamed to say they grew up watching The Superfriends. And it raised to power giants like Genndy Tartakovsky and Jhonen Vasquez, for which I'll forever be grateful.

But anyway-- I was talking about Superman, wasn't I?

Right: They just showed a set of the old 40s shorts tonight, the usual all-too-brief list of outings that survives the era (the one with the giant gorilla is in pretty sorry shape). If you aren't familiar with these, you really ought to track them down and give them a look: they're astonishingly well animated, with every frame lovingly detailed, and cels painted with the same depth as the backgrounds on which they were placed-- an extremely expensive process indeed, and the reason why the shorts bankrupted the Fleischer studio and forced them to give the Popeye property over to Paramount afterwards (much to the series' detriment). But the quality they paid for is up on the screen.

Watch these shorts for the visual language in which the plot points are conveyed: the transmitter on the volcano failing to transmit its SOS message because the line has been severed. The Moderne-as-hell levers and dials on the machine the Mad Scientist has aimed at the city's bridge, as he cranks up the dial. Superman's quick but human leaps down the staircase to safety as the observatory collapses around him. The postures of the flying robots as they snap to attention. The frame-for-frame correctness of the silhouette on the wall each time Clark Kent slips aside to don his costume.

If there's any one filmmaking nit I would pick with the series, it's that all too often, there's far too much good animation and even dialogue that's tucked away into a too-long fadeout at the end of a scene. Modern shows, when they do a fade-to-black, make sure to have the on-screen characters at rest, in a static position, and finished with all their dialogue and useful facial expressions before the fade begins. But in the "mad scientist" episode, for instance, Clark's wink to the audience at the end (and that bright, conspiratorial grin that belies the starkness of his usual facial construction) are all but lost in the ponderous gradient.

But no matter. This stuff is gold, and we're unlikely to see anything with its depth of production quality in anything short of feature films again. Sure, modern TV looks better still than the Superman shorts-- but they benefit from computer coloring/modeling and cartoony senses of timing, both of which allow animators to create stuff that represents a lot less pain and effort than ever before for the sake of something so fleeting as a seven-minute short.

Fast-forward to 1996 or so, when the new post-Bruce-Timm Superman series appears. This stuff follows the success of Batman: The Animated Series, which made waves (and rightly so) with its innovative use of black-paper backgrounds, nostalgic Golden Age of Comics art style, and unflinching willingness to tackle big issues with real adult characters. (I love that Mad Hatter episode, with the little Carroll lines tossed in willy-nilly, almost offhand in their appropriateness to each scene.) But Superman, which now shows after the anime chunk on Saturday's "Adult Swim" lineup, is bigger and jollier, more smirky and fun. And yet it has moments of great, honest beauty.

Last week they showed the "Apokolips... Now!" duet, the two-parter in which Superman leads the defense of the Earth against Darkseid... except in the end, it isn't him who leads the resistance, but the gruff Dan Turpin-- sort of the Detective Bullock of the Superman world, except that he uses his big bushy eyebrows for a determined, no-nonsense good when it comes down to brass tacks, instead of bitterly getting in the hero's way. He's a recurring character for the first two seasons. And then, in "Apokolips... Now!", he incites the people of Metropolis to defend their planet, even with Superman displayed in front of them, helpless and bound. Turpin frees Superman with a spear to the manacles, and a deus ex machina in the form of forces from New Genesis appears in order to force Darkseid back from his conquest. As Darkseid retreats, Turpin taunts him, getting in that one last barb. And Darkseid turns, scowls, and with a gesture strikes Turpin dead.

Cut to the funeral, in which the eulogy is being read and sung... in Hebrew. Which makes a startled kind of sense, considering the deeply Jewish conception of Superman in the first place. But I was quite surprised, and pleasantly so, to see the show's producers take such an active and sincere role in paying homage to that. Just as one of the Batman episodes consisted of three featurettes done in the respective styles of the 50s pulp stuff (the ones with the BIFF! POW! SOK! and all that), Frank Miller's tank-like black-on-red, and another style that I can't recall at the moment: these guys know and love their stuff, and it shows.

Superman stands by Turpin's gravestone, and says over it: "Earth didn't need a super man. Just a brave one."

From TV Tome:

NOTE: This episode is dedicated to the memory of Jack Kirby (1917-1994). The dedication appears at the end of the episode and reads as follows: "This episode is dedicated to the memory of Jack Kirby/ Long Live The King". Jack Kirby was one of the most influential and respected illustrator and creator of comic books. Amoung the characters he created or co-created are Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Boy Commandos, Challengers of the Unknown, The New Gods, Kamandi, Darkseid, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Captain Victory, The Silver Surfer, The Mighty Thor and many others.
* Continuing character Dan Turpin dies in this episode. His gravestone reads "Daniel Turpin/ Earth's Greatest/ Hero".

That visual has stuck with me all week, and I've been trying to figure out how to approach it. Now that I've seen afresh the original material as well as the modern incarnation, and been able to appreciate how much love went into each one respectively, it does me good to realize that Golden Ages do cycle back around so we can enjoy them again.

Lileks said at one point that while most of the world probably thinks Americans relate best to Superman, we probably actually find Spider-man-- with his smirky smartass teenager humor and his do-the-right-thing-because-that's-what-good-people-do mentality-- to be a better fit for us. I think there's a lot to be said for that. I do feel it's probably true; we certainly don't individually feel like a bunch of Colossi striding the earth, knocking down evil with a single blow of our jutting lantern-like chins. But Superman is a paragon of something else to us: not something to aspire to, but a personification in human form of moral rightness and strength, something free of religious affiliation but unambiguous in what it stands for. It's a rock upon which the waves can dash themselves in vain. It's the prototypical Superhero, the concept that The Right Thing will be done, in the long run-- taking, if necessary, the metaphorical form of a punch in the mouth. It's a way of reducing Roosevelt and Hitler to political cartoons, caricature heads on Mr. Universe bodies, putting them in the ring and sounding the bell, and watching the inevitable result ensue.

Superheroes of this model are deeply ingrained into our consciousness by now, and they're one of the first metaphors that leaps to mind in a time of crisis, when we need to reduce the world to a context our minds can manage. And now that metaphor has some very real people, lives, stories, and national identities tied up into it. It keeps reinventing itself, and just as with the Santa Claus lexicon, it survives on self-referential nostalgia as much as on new angles on new material.

How lucky we are that in this day and age, we have Justice League instead of The Superfriends.
Saturday, October 26, 2002
01:24 - Ach-bar

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Just watching tonight's "History of Britain" episode on the History channel over burgers... it was the one that centered around Bonny Prince Charlie, the Jacobites, and the end of the Scottish warrior tradition at the hands of the British army in the mid-18th century.

It was the usual battles-and-dates-and-all-that-rot for most of the sequence. But the final few minutes were extremely eye-opening. After the Prince was exiled, the British government went about destroying Scottish nationalist culture. They forbade Scots from wearing tartans and clan colors, and from creating nationalistic art (such as portraits of the Prince-- an example of which, created after the ban, was painted in such a way that it was unrecognizable as art unless you viewed it reflected in a candlestick-- ingenious). Scottish warriors were given the opportunity to enlist in the British army and fight for the Empire.

And how did the Scots react to this heavy-handed and stifling treatment? Why, by changing the world, that's how. The Scottish warriors underwent a sudden change-- and transformed themselves into great academics and revolutionary thinkers. We got David Hume's philosophy. We got William Adam's architecture, which helped usher in the dignified austerity of classical forms. And we got Adam Smith's invisible hand-- a distinctly non-spiritual idea that uplifted personal accomplishment and innovation above the "romantic self-destruction" that Scotland had been indulging until their tartans were stripped from them. It's to this revolution that we owe everything we have in the modern world, from a government in which church is separated from state to an economic system where genius, like that of the post-warrior-culture Scotland, is rewarded.

It wasn't much of a stretch, but I couldn't help but consider these lessons as an example of what might become of the Muslim world in the aftermath of a firm and heavy takedown of Islamic fundamentalist nationalism. If Muslims long for the age when they led the world in innovation and genius, maybe they've got an opportunity coming up.

I know this is just another iteration of the "It worked in Japan" theory as propounded by Den Beste, among others; but it seemed just too clear an example to skip, and one that I don't think I've seen cited in among the invocation of Japan and Germany as examples of post-destruction-by-America success stories.
Friday, October 25, 2002
23:22 - Hey, c'mere-- wanna see a Michael Moore takedown?
http://www.rachellucas.com/archives/000102.html

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A really good one, too. I hadn't heard much about the man outside a Lileks screed and some gushing from various acolytes of his at work over Bowling for Columbine, but the letter that gets Fisked all to hell here by Rachel Lucas so richly deserves it.

Maybe because it manages to cover so many angles of the leftist landscape today, and is antibodied so efficiently by so much ready-to-hand reason and fact. Whatever the reason, I greatly enjoyed it.

22:56 - Albus Saavik
http://www.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/Movies/10/25/harris.obit/index.html

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Hmm. It seems Richard Harris, aka (among many other things) Dumbledore, has died. That's gonna suck...

It hasn't been a very cheerful news day, has it?

16:49 - Makes me wanna buy more hard drives

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Kris' new G4 tower arrived today. After the usual crowd of gawkers stopped draping themselves over it, as they'd done the other day with his new Cinema Display, like a bunch of marionette spiders dangled by a puppeteer, we took a closer look at the hard drive carriers. I'd thought the (single) carrier in my old 450 was well designed; but whatever else one might say about this current form factor (does anybody know what the real code name for this iteration is? I'm sure it can't be "Wind Tunnel"), it's one of their better designs.

Both carriers have space for two disks. The main carrier, on the ATA-100 bus, is vertically positioned against the inner wall; it's not screwed down (though there's a hole for a screw if you choose to put one in). Instead, there's a white clip that you can pull back with a finger, and lift the carrier up and out:



The carrier has extra screws in it for the second disk, if and when you install one. To reinstall the carrier, just snap it back into place.



Then there's the second carrier, on the ATA-66 bus. The connector cables are positioned right where you would need them to go, and the carrier (which is the same unit as the primary one) is mounted horizontally below the optical drives. It too has a white finger clip, and slides out from a couple of rail tabs that hold it in place (you have to slide it back in along the tabs). The screw hole on this one which corresponds to the one on the primary carrier would be unreachable except by a trained rat; so there's a second screw lug which you can reach, on the left.



These may not be the fastest disk buses on the planet, but the machine itself is certainly expansion-friendly. More so than any Mac in recent memory, I believe.

15:46 - Non-Joke
http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/4365595.htm

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Regarding the Moscow theater hostage situation:

The rebels have killed one hostage, a 20-year-old woman, and her body was dragged from the theater Thursday, wrapped in a black blanket. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service said she had been shot through the chest and her fingers were broken. A radio report said a female rebel killed her after she refused to stop talking on her cell phone.

This would be the perfect setup for an extremely tasteless joke, if I were willing to make it. But I'm not, so I won't.

11:49 - It takes Porsche...
http://www.cnet.com/techtrends/0-6014-7-20573465.html

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Porsche Design GmbH has been responsible for a lot of funky niche products over the years-- bicycles, coffee makers, that sort of thing. They all look good, I'll give 'em that.

Now they've done a TiBook-alike. It matches the PowerBook in just about every dimension and spec, right down to the slot-loading drive and the positioning of the power button, and I have to admit it looks pretty good indeed. The sound system sounds quite cool to boot.

Of course, the TiBook design is approaching its third birthday; when it rolls around in a couple of months, it'll be right about ripe for an overhaul. These designs tend to last about three years. I'm not at all sure what direction they'll go in next. (That's part of the fun.)

But in the meantime-- nice work, Best Buy.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
13:20 - I used to be with it...

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"...But then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me!"

Remember a few years ago, how it seemed that the bright new future of the Internet would involve seamless heterogeneity-- every computing platform would have roughly the same functionality and could interoperate natively on open standards? No matter what your OS of choice, you could plug the machine into the wall in your dorm room or cubicle and it would "just work"?

Well, technologically that's happened. But sociologically, we're moving backwards. And you can thank the hackers for that.

UC Santa Barbara, for instance, has recently instituted a new policy whereby Windows 2000 and NT are banned from the student ResNet. (A peek at the site reveals that they've already taken a lot of heat for this, and they've gamely explained the reasoning behind it as stemming from the fact that nobody administers the network but the students themselves, most of whom are no better equipped or prepared to de-Code-Red-ify and de-Nimda-ify their computers than the average home users is. Though this won't help much when the next such attack, to which XP is vulnerable, rolls around.)

Quoting Jeremy Epstein, from the RISKS digest where this was brought up:

BTW, students have to pay for a copy of WinXP. Maybe this is a fundraising effort by Microsoft... put out products that are so vulnerable that users have to spend more money to buy a less vulnerable version. "I'm sorry ma'am, but the wheels frequently fall off the 1998 model cars. We have no intention of fixing the problem. Would you like to buy a 2002 model for $20,000? By the way, you'll also need to build a new garage on your house to park it in, and a new driver's license, because the old ones aren't compatible."

So, nothing but XP for UCSB students. And meanwhile, many companies-- including my own, and Cisco (whose network was brought to a standstill by the networking stuff in XP during a beta), still prohibit XP within the corporate network. Anything but XP for such people.

And to add another bubble to the Venn diagram of platforms whose interoperability overlaps are rapidly retreating from each other like grease spots when you dump in the detergent, King's College of London University has banned UNIX and Linux from their network. In the interest of security and "network integrity".

> You may not run any Unix operating system since they can represent a serious
> risk to network integrity. Any student found running a Unix system (e.g.
> Linux) connected to the College network will have that system disconnected.

Because, see, all hackers use Linux; everybody knows that. Windows users, however, are to the last man pure as the driven snow. And all viruses and Trojans are really spread by UNIX. Never did trust them UNIX blokes, me. No balls at all.

(I suppose it goes without saying that Macs are banned too, because they're UNIX. Can't have them screwing up KCL's perfect and pure network integrity.)

Hybrid vigor, they called it. Free-enterprise competition. Survival of the fittest. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The "mutts" live the longest.

Whatever became of that grand vision?

12:52 - Better update my resume...

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...Because evidently someone's trying to prepare me for being Laid Off.



(Go to the site, by the way-- Odd Todd has posted a new Halloween Special. And if you haven't been following the "Laid Off" series to date, you ought to check out all four episodes that are available. Isn't it amazing how something so deliberately crude in its execution (it's clear that the guy can draw better than this if he so chooses) can be such a rich and fertile ground for new memes?)

Mep!

12:49 - The World Must Know!

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On the way in to work this morning, I saw a big pickup truck in the next lane over. In the rear window of the cab, there were some decals: "COWBOY" on the driver's side, and "COWBOY'S GIRL" on the passenger side. Aaaww, isn't that sweet.

In the center was one of those ubiquitous "Calvin pissing on some logo" stickers. He was wearing a cowboy hat. What was the object of his derision and urine? TERRORISM.

Boy, I'm sure glad we know what side of the issue COWBOY and COWBOY'S GIRL come down on.

Hmm. I wonder if the fact that I'm reacting like this means that the bumper-sticker phase of the post-9/11 era is more or less over?

12:45 - Hot Tub Weather

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For about six months of the year, Silicon Valley doesn't really have weather. From May through October, and most especially right during those endpoint months, it's hot and dry and still here in the inland valley where the onshore flow can't reach us (but where it keeps the air cool throughout the latter part of the summer). No bugs, either; so nighttimes are spent with the window standing wide open and my arm hanging down the outside wall.

Then there comes a day, usually in late October, when suddenly-- like the sudden palpable flow of cold air that rolls over you when you're camping out, late in the evening, that says "Hi, I'm the air. Nighttime tickover has occurred; I'm going to be cold now"--suddenly the whole region freezes right up. The windows close; the waterbed heater comes on; and I have to stop wearing shorts to work.

That day was yesterday. It was chilly again this morning, so it looks like we're in for the season of interesting cloud patterns and rain sculptures in the skies, and ski season will be upon us soon.

God, I love this place.
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
22:39 - Slow and fugly wins the race
http://www.xbitlabs.com/storage/usb20-fw/

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Marcus points me to this bake-off at X-bit Labs between external FireWire and USB 2.0 drives. USB 2.0, you'll recall, is the 480MBps version of USB that's supposed to beat the tar out of the 400MBps FireWire, just as the latter has become established as the interface of choice for A/V and other media transfer type stuff.

I've talked before about the technical merits of FireWire vs. USB 2.0 (namely, the six-pin noiseless differential design versus the four-pin noisy design that must be shielded, as well as other things like FireWire's peer-to-peer symmetry). I had to come to the conclusion, though, that it's another case of "good enough"-- all USB 2.0 has to do in order to become dominant is to come within barking distance of FireWire, and for most people it'll serve whatever purpose they'd had in mind.

(Never mind that FireWire at 2x and 4x speeds is already in the spec, and ready to be rolled out at any time, using more efficient utilization of the available pins and cycles, as with gigabit Ethernet; whereas USB can only be enhanced further by bumping the clock speed still higher.)

Apple did charge royalties for FireWire during its formative period, which I'm sure the stockholders found to be a good decision when it was the fastest thing on toast; then they stopped charging when USB2 became a legitimate competitor. I don't think FireWire's adoption by videocameras and mass-storage devices was hampered much by the fee. (The little 1394 port on my cheapass camcorder says otherwise, at least.) Either way, that isn't what's fueling the current gravitation toward USB 2.0 these days.

But at any rate, these benchmarks show the USB 2.0 drive lagging pretty severely behind both FireWire and ATA-100 (which run pretty much neck-in-neck for most of the operations, and track the same curve patterns, whereas the USB drive hits internal bottlenecks).

Even so, the site concludes with a sigh,

So, let's take the results into consideration and wait for future USB 2.0 tests.

It's important as this interface is becoming a standard de-facto and we all will have to put up and work with itů

'Twas always thus, and always thus shall be.

Ah well. Maybe at least some of the real speed tweakers will see reports like this and conclude that FireWire is in fact something worth supporting. After all, they're the ones who direct the course of the whole rest of the tech industry...



UPDATE: Den Beste has his own results, using a test rig that was manufactured this century. Yes, it did raise an eyebrow or two when I saw XBit's "Coppermine" platform...



20:47 - Flame Warriors Roster
http://www.winternet.com/~mikelr/flame1.html

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I don't know if this is something that's been around forever and I only just now stumbled across it, but it seems to be one of those rare memes that betrays a true, deep, genuine talent behind it. Mike Reed, the guy behind this exhaustive listing of characters we all know and loathe, has as much skill with caricature as with humor.

I sort of suspect this project has been a long time a-building, but that's one of the things about the Net-- whether you're talking about Usenet, IRC, web-based forums, or comment boards attached to blogs or news sites, the sociology of the participants is pretty much a constant.

It's a great piece of work to self-consciously click through if you've got about an hour to fling to the wind.

18:56 - Nice try, I guess...
http://capitalistlion.com/article.cgi?81

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CapLion has the scoop on a breakthrough new MP3 player device from Creative, launched in the hopes of eclipsing the iPod.

Unfortunately, it's physically bigger, has a smaller screen, doesn't get power through FireWire, and uses filenames to sort MP3s rather than an ID3-tag database. Plus the interface, such as it is, involves little ridge buttons instead of anything halfway intuitive (like many other iPod-wannabes have gamely incorporated in recent months).

But hey, it's cheaper.

15:37 - I Can See For Miles...

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Kris decided to splurge a bit and kick up his home computing horsepower a bit (he's stitching together some 2.5GB (in 170 separate panoramas) of contiguous photos into a series of linked, navigable QuickTime VR movies of our building, and the old 450 is blowing hard under the load); yesterday, he ordered one of the current "Wind Tunnel" G4 towers, the dual-gigahertz kind, which came to a nicely reasonable price via a friend's employee discount.

He also ordered this, which arrived today (!):



Hey, what the hell, right? Three side-by-side code pages, or every palette in the world open at once, eh? He and I both have 22" Cinema Displays from our initial purchase back in early 2000; they're still extremely fine monitors, but this new HD one will make it look primitive by comparison. (No, I'm not getting one for myself. Yet.)

Unfortunately we can't set it up here at work to test it out, because we don't have any ADC-equipped machines handy. Except one guy upstairs with a new tower; we cornered him in the parking lot and asked if he would let us set up the monitor to see how it looked. Sure, he said-- he'll throw himself on that particular grenade. Oh, the hardship...

So what's Kris going to do with his old 22" Cinema Display? Why, dual-monitor, of course. Over 3500 pixels of wide-wide-wide-screen goodness.

Hey, conspicuous consumption isn't dead...!
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
03:49 - Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead
http://talg.blogspot.com/2002_10_20_talg_archive.html#83300848

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You know, for all the coverage that this stuff gets in the blogosphere these days, it's fairly easy to forget that Israelis are still getting blown up by the dozen in buses.

How did this kind of thing stop being newsworthy?

00:53 - And so it goes...
http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,642737,00.asp

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Here's an eWeek story, along with links to screenshots, of the "Longhorn" project-- Microsoft's successor to WinXP, due out in 2005 (last I heard). And surprise surprise, among its features it counts:

One third-party developer, who requested anonymity, said the Longhorn shell, or user interface, is taking shape quite nicely. Microsoft is developing a Longhorn compositing video application-programming interface for apps written with .NET that is similar to Apple's Quartz on Mac OS X, he says.

Yeah, we didn't see that one coming. Hey, you know, that kind of compositing-engine technology actually is useful, guys; you don't have to put it in just because Apple did it already.

(Sorry, that just sorta slipped out.)

It'll also have the new "Yukon" filesystem, which is presumably that SQL-based thing we've been hearing whispers about for a while now; if there's any sanity in Redmond at all, this will finally bring to Windows the unique-file-ID functionality that the Mac has had since day one, enabling people to write Windows software that keeps track of files no matter where you move them-- the lack of which functionality is the primary reason why Windows doesn't have an MP3 player that works as well as iTunes. (Though it's maddening when even Mac software is written by people without a clue how to take advantage of this obvious superior technique and instead use hard-coded paths for components. Like the RealOne player, which installed itself onto my Desktop, and registered itself into my IE; but then, when I moved the player into my Applications folder, IE lost track of it and was unable to play back Real streams, because it was stupidly coded to look for it on the Desktop. Hello! McFly! Mac applications are all registered into the Desktop database by their IDs; you don't have to solder them into the walls by referring to them by the blinkin' filesystem paths!)

Also:

Previously, members of the Windows community had speculated that this dockable pane was based on a Microsoft-Research-developed technology, code-named Sideshow. It still is not clear how and even if Sidebar and Sideshow are related.
Newsweek just had a story about how Microsoft is sending its human-interface psych-gestapo into volunteer Nielsen families' households, setting up camera crews and watching the family members poke at an MSN/Longhorn beta. It told the heart-rending story of how the eldest daughter saw the new "Sidebar" shelf on the side of the screen, and spent a determined five-to-ten minutes trying to get rid of it. "This will break the heart of some engineer back at the base," sighed the Marty Stouffer of the GUI from his blind.

At least they're trying, though. Whether they have the slightest clue what to do or not, at least they're being kept nervous and active by the presence of a competitor.

00:15 - Looks like it's working
http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/2202

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The "Switch" campaign is having an impact as a cultural meme, evidently-- or at least if you're willing to believe the word of one of the Kool-Aid-soaked brethren.

It seems to me that any marketing campaign has a critical period of a couple of months, in which it's just getting off the ground, where the company just has to weather whatever criticism the press heaps on it. If they can keep it up through that period, then the people who have actual opinions about the campaign will have tired themselves out talking about it, and then the 98% of the public who takes only a passive interest in the miasma of advertising that is the modern TV landscape... will have absorbed it. People can quote one-liners from the ads, and their friends will laugh. Penetration will have occurred.

And once penetration is complete, there's an unspoken assumption in people's minds: The company that made the ads that that one-liner came from is cool.


It worked for the Dell Dude. It worked for the "Can you hear me now?" guy. It worked for that damn Taco Bell dog. It worked for the Jack in the Box ads-- to this day I can't stand their food, but I still keep going in there once every couple of months, just because the ads are so cool, just to reaffirm the sad truth of the burgers' stubborn uninspiredness.

Something tells me that the Apple marketeers knew that the intelligentsia of the tech world would sneer at the "Switch" ads, particularly the first wave of them; the refrain would waver between What kind of moron can't figure out how to use his computer? and Who wants to take computer advice from these clowns? But that would only last a month or two, and by then the damage would be done. The tech pundits might guffaw and jeer and cast dark aspersions upon the parentage of whoever plays that maddening balalaika tune. But the average Joe Computer User will be imbued with the thought: Macs are real computers that people actually buy and enjoy. And the slightly more astute will think: Apple is a strong enough company to run prime-time ads.


I don't know how many computers the Switchers campaign will ultimately sell, but I do believe that Apple will continue to be a very recognizable brand. And from what I know about business, that's half the battle.

Apple's advertising has most frequently centered around artistic and abstract concepts, rather than the typical price-and-performance focus you get with Gateway and Dell. But currently, it seems they've hit upon the idea that brand recognition, especially if done in such a way as to play off the anecdotal and human strength of the products, is way more important than dickering around with statistics and details and the benchmarks of cold little pieces of plastic and silicon. Hell, I never would have known the name Enron until the meltdown, if it hadn't been for those incomprehensible ads with the guy shuffling around in the metal suit.

There's a reason why most arguments in favor of the Mac are anecdotal, while most arguments in favor of the PC are numerical.

And there's a reason why I (and others like me) continue to use Macs, regardless of how many gigaflops the CPUs can or can't pull. It's that anecdotes-- and, in particular, first-person anecdotes-- speak more loudly than numbers on a page.

Like this one: Today in a meeting with a colleague on speakerphone, Kris and I were outlining the schedule for our testing of the current project. I had my iBook open, with NotePod running, and the little calendar date-picker activated so we could pin down days of the week. I had turned the laptop around so we both could see the screen. Kris, speaking into the mike to the other guy but peering at the screen, said sidelong to me, "That's too small; I can't read it." So I reached over, pressed Option-Command-+, and the screen went whooOOOOOOSSSSSHH! and zoomed in smoothly onto the calendar. I'm not sure if he actually jumped, or laughed, or what, but he did lose his footing in the sentence he was working on.

(Okay-- so maybe you had to be there. That's the damnable thing about anecdotes.)

The gamble is that enough people will discover what it's like to use a computer made by a company with a vested interest in making the user's experience a happy one. That, I think, is the big distinction, and the big secret to Apple's remaining flush with cash: a certain, stable percentage of the world's people are willing to pay more for a higher-quality experience. And, as the anecdotes and the statistics bear out, that's what they get.
Monday, October 21, 2002
22:41 - That's what I was looking for...
http://cgi.argusleader.com/cgi-bin/techwrapper.pl?URL=http://www.gannettonline.com/e

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I said I had no flippin' clue what to say about Steel Battalion; fortunately, though, Marcus is better equipped:

The top 5 things to say about "Steel Battalion"

5) We didn't think the system pack-in controller was big enough.
4) And you thought Dance Dance Revolution had a weird controller.
3) Think of all the money you save not having a game library like the PS2's!
2) If some of the buttons aren't working right, we'll have a patch out quickly.

1) A fool and his money are soon parted.


21:35 - Pretty good day for comics
http://www.herdthinners.com/2002/1021.html

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21:24 - It's like he looked right into my liiiife!
http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.cfm?uc_full_date=20021021&uc_daction

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20:53 - Midnight in the garden
http://www.grotto11.com/blog/?+1026153129

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I'm not in the habit of re-posting stuff I've written in the past; but just for those curious, here's something I wrote a few months back on the subject of "good" and "evil" corporations, and what each respectively does for its customers.

Why? No reason.

13:25 - Sorry, I've sort of been out of the loop.
http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1105-962483.html

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I missed this the first time around. It's certainly worth pointing out, though, especially if people have been hit with it (as one of the machines in my house was, this weekend) and have no idea what it was all about.

"The feature can be used to notify a user when a printer job fails," said Lawrence Baldwin, president of myNetWatchman.com, a company that monitors incidents on the Internet through a network of sensors set up by volunteers. "It was never the intention to let someone halfway across the world send messages that pop up on your screen."

Granted, the messenger service can be turned off. And conceptually, this is no worse a case of "trusting in infrastructure" than Apple's fiasco a while back in which its Software Update mechanism was found not to have any form of authentication, and to depend entirely on the proper resolution of a central server's DNS name. But still, this has the potential to become a major problem-- how many millions of Windows users don't have the slightest clue how to turn off the messenger service? How many will think that these "admin messages" are in fact authoritative missives from Microsoft that they'd better heed or else? Worst of all, this feature can't really be "fixed" except by shutting it off by default, which is what's apparently being done in the XP firewall. But that means IT managers are going to have to make sure employees turn it on (and can't turn it off)...

What surprises me is that it's taken this long for someone to exploit this.

DirectAdvertiser.com, a U.S.-based firm registered in Romania, has created an application that lets users send advertisements via the messenger channel to anyone whose computer is set up to receive messenger-service notes. The program costs $700 and has, in two months, already sold more than 200 copies, company founder Zoltan Kovacs said in an interview.

"You always get some people who don't like the product," Kovacs said, referring to the moderate amount of critical mail he has received. "But many more are interested in the product."

Kovacs stressed in the interview and on his Web site that the application is not for sending spam. However, a testimonial on the Web site says, "If you've been a bulk e-mailer like myself, you owe it to yourself to try DirectAdvertiser."

Why is killing these people still considered murder?

Ah well; now that the genie's out, we can expect this brave new form of technology to ramp up exponentially.

"This is just going to be a whole other delivery vehicle for spam," Baldwin said, adding that the fact the service is turned on by default is another indication that Windows security has a way to go. "But welcome to Microsoft," he said.



11:30 - Stop me before I blog again
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/10/Acompulsiontorevisionism.shtml

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I really should let Den Beste have the last word in this; but I can't bring myself to do it. I don't have the willpower. Sorry about that.

It turns out that Apple has been lagging PCs in hard disk technology, too, but I've already gone into this enough. It's exactly the same story. The reality is that on the hardware level, Apple has been a follower in nearly every regard, adopting many technologies only after they're considered obsolescent in the PC world. Apple has been between one and three generations behind in RAM, in graphics chips, and in hard disk interfaces for years now, and it still is.

So tell me, what brand of 802.11 cards were the computer manufacturers putting into their laptops in 1999? Oh wait, sorry-- only Apple was doing that, weren't they? Okay, how about flat-panel monitors? What superior supplier fueled everybody else's push toward an all-LCD lineup in 2000? Oh wait, never mind-- seems Apple's monitors still keep winning top marks from the reviewers even today. USB? Who was using USB before the iMac popularized it? Lemme get back to you.

Remember when Apple was criticized for continuing to use SCSI disks, when everybody else had gone to the cheaper and crappier IDE? Now they're "behind the curve". Great.

The technology that Apple adopts early in the curve is the technology that creates new capabilities. If it's something completely new, they're right in the forefront. Whereas technologies that just make existing tasks faster (RAM, disks, video)-- yes, they stagnate, because making existing capabilities faster isn't what Apple's about. It isn't where they've chosen to stack their chips.

I want to see an ad campaign that goes: Still using a Mac? Get with the program! Buy a PC! Free yourself from those DVD burners with their one-click operation. Trash those FireWire-driven music players and video editors. Break the cycle of creativity! Succumb to the siren song of the Registry! Throw your built-in wireless Ethernet and widescreen displays out the window; you won't need those anymore, because your computer will be faster!


Oh, and note that not a single one of the "Switch" ads says a word about the Mac being faster at anything.

I despise Jobs for lying like this, for doing so repeatedly and shamelessly. And I find myself revisiting the subject time after time because I'm astounded that otherwise rational people can drink the kool-aid and not realize that they're being conned.

...And yet, somehow, the stunts Microsoft pulls are just peachy-keen.

Somehow I get the feeling that if the two debators on this topic want opposite futures for Apple and its market share, then it's sort of pointless to debate the finer points of how the company's marketing works.

I've been treating as axiomatic the "Apple is a force of good in the industry" line; I've used that as the basis for both my cheerleading and my criticism of Apple here. (If they do something that I find worrisome or disagreeable, I point it out, in the hopes that they'll fix it, in the interest of being a better and more successful company.) But if we can't agree on that-- if we can't agree that having Apple around is good for technology as a whole-- then there's very little common ground to be reached.
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