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
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Friday, December 13, 2002
18:07 - What makes IE so fast?

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Internet Explorer on Windows always seems either to run impossibly fast (page requests are fulfilled almost before the mouse button has returned to its original unclicked position), or ridiculously slow (as with the weird stalling-on-connect problem that many people, including myself, have noticed).

One possible explanation is something that my team and I noticed a couple of years ago, in analyzing packet traces of IE's connection setup procedure. Microsoft might have fixed this since then; I'm not sure. But it's a possible culprit.

First of all, for those rusty on their TCP/IP-- here's how a normal HTTP request over TCP should work:

Client Server
1. SYN ->
2. <- SYN/ACK
3. ACK ->
4. Request ->



This is how the client and server synchronize their sequence numbers, which is how a connection gets established. The client sends a synchronization request, the server acknowledges it and sends a synchronization request of its own, and the client acknowledges that. Only then can the HTTP request proceed reliably.

The server's SYN (synchronize) and ACK (acknowledgement) packets are combined for speed; there's no reason to send two separate packets, when you're trying to get a connection established as quickly as possible. Another speed enhancement that Mac OS 9's stack uses, by the way, is to combine the client's ACK and the HTTP request into a single packet; this is legal, but not frequently done. The idea is that within the structure of TCP/IP, you want to minimize the number of transactions that need to take place in setting up the two-way handshake necessary before you can send the HTTP request.

When tearing down a connection, it looks like this:

Client Server
1. <- FIN
2. ACK ->
3. FIN ->
4. <- ACK



This generally takes four steps, and the FIN/ACK packets are usually not consolidated because connection teardown is nowhere near as speed-sensitive as startup is. (The FIN sequence can be initiated either by the client or the server.)

Many very stupid companies have tried to come up with overly clever ways to speed up TCP/IP. TCP, by its nature, is a stateful and bidirectional protocol that requires all data packets to be acknowledged; this makes the data flow reliable, by providing a mechanism for dropped packets to be retransmitted; but this also makes for a more strictly regimented flow structure involving more packets transmitted over the wire than in simpler, non-reliable protocols like UDP-- and therefore it's slower. One company that thought itself a lot smarter than it really was, called RunTCP, came up with the idea of "pre-acking" TCP packets; it would send out the acknowledgments for a whole pile of data packets in advance, thus freeing them from the onerous necessity of double-checking that each packet actually got there properly. And it worked great, speeding up TCP flows by a significant margin-- in the lab, under ideal test conditions. The minute you put RunTCP's products out onto the real Internet, everything stopped working. Which stands to reason-- their "solution" was to tear out all the infrastructure that made TCP work reliably, under competing load and in adverse conditions, in the first place. Dumbasses.

So then there's this thing we discovered in the lab. We noticed that when you entered a URL in Internet Explorer 5, its sequence of startup packets didn't look like the one shown above. Instead, it looked like this:

Client Server
1. Request ->
Uh... what? Dunno what the hell this is. I'll ignore it, or RST.
2. Oh, you're a standard server. Okay: SYN ->
3. <- SYN/ACK
4. ACK ->
5. Request ->



In other words, instead of sending a SYN packet like every other TCP/IP application in the world, IE would send out the request packet first of all. Just to check. Just in case the HTTP server was, oh, say, a Microsoft IIS server. Because IIS' HTTP teardown sequence looked like this:

Client Server
1. <- FIN
2. ACK ->


...And that's it. The client doesn't FIN, and the server doesn't ACK. In other words, the connection is kept "half-open" on the server end. The reason for this? Why, to make subsequent connections from IE clients faster. If the connection isn't torn down all the way, all IE has to do is send an HTTP request, with no preamble-- and the server will immediately respond. Ingenious!

They probably called it "Microsoft Active Web AccelerationX™®" or something.

(I may be remembering this incorrectly; it might be that the client does FIN, and the server simply keeps the connection around after it ACKs it. Instead of shutting down the connection entirely, it just waits to see if that client will come back, so it can open the connection back up immediately instead of having to go through that whole onerous SYN-SYN/ACK procedure. Damn rules!)

Now, what does this mean for non-IIS servers? It means that if you use IE to connect to them, it first tries to send that initial request packet, without any SYNs-- and then it only proceeds with the standard TCP connection setup procedure if the request packet gets a RST or no response (either of which is a valid way for a legal stack to deal with an unsynchronized packet). But IIS, playing by its own rules, would respond to that packet with an HTTP response right away, without bothering to complete the handshake. So IE to IIS servers will be nice and snappy, especially on subsequent connections after the first one. But IE to non-IIS servers waste a packet at the beginning of each request-- and depending on how the server handles that illegal request, it might immediately RST it, or it might just time out... which would make the browser seem infuriatingly slow to connect to new websites.

This is only marginally less stupid than RunTCP's "solution"-- and I say "marginally" only because in the grand scheme of things, this probably makes sense to Microsoft's network engineers. After all, eventually all clients will be Windows platforms running IE, and all servers will be Windows platforms running IIS. And then we can break all kinds of rules! Rules are only there to hold us back and force us to play nice with other vendors. Well, once the other vendors are all gone, who cares about some stupid RFC?

I have to admire their arrogance and their confidence. But it'll be some time before I can bring myself to admire their technical integrity.



UPDATE: Since this post got Slashdotted, I've been getting a pretty fair amount of e-mail, suggesting that the behavior we observed here might be anything from T/TCP to HTTP/1.1 pipelining to delirium tremens. Well, I should point out that this phenomenon was something we observed in 1997, before HTTP/1.1 was in wide use; both the client and server were using vanilla HTTP/1.0. As it turned out, it was actually the NT stack that was causing this to happen-- it didn't matter what client or server software you used. It even happened with our home-grown network test tools.

It's entirely possible that Microsoft has changed the NT stack in recent iterations so that this doesn't happen anymore. But if you're trying to reproduce the behavior, use NT 4.0 machines for worst results.


09:50 - Well, at least that's honest...

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09:47 - Storm's a-comin'

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The news services are reporting that the Bay Area will be getting two fairly large storms this weekend-- one starting tonight, the other on Monday-- which will result in a weekend of six inches of rain and 50-mph surface winds.

Greg Kihn, on the radio, just talked about having read newspaper reports calling it a "Super-typhoon", whatever sense that makes.

I dunno. But it means the skiing will be outstanding next weekend...

09:42 - Perspective

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Post-9/11 discussions about how to deal with rising Islamic terrorism-- as well as arguments over how to deal with our own domestic religious fundamentalism, including the usual evolution-vs-creationism debates-- seem to comprise opposing sides whose world views are so fundamentally incompatible that no common ground can ever be reached.

To the non-religious, all these arguments about religious freedom, secular government, and scientific exploration of the natural world all seem perfectly natural. We are willing to tolerate all religions, because to us, religions are about the equivalent of what TV shows a person likes to watch. "Do whatever you like in your personal life," we say. "However you choose to spend your private time, however you intend to relate yourself to the universe, is fine with us. It's none of our business." It fits in perfectly with the arguments for self-determination, privacy, freedom of expression, and protection against "thought crime" police.

But this isn't the argument embraced by the religious, to whom religion isn't just a diversion, it's truth. And that truth must apply to all people equally, because, well, it's truth. From that perspective, it's futile to argue against truth, just as it's self-destructive to live life in a way not in accordance with that truth. So our arguments in favor of freedom of religion must appear to the religious to be more or less similar to the arguments in favor of legalization of drugs: if some people want to pursue a self-destructive act, which will only result in them ending up in Hell, that's fine. (Or, as the other side of the argument from that perspective would posit, such people need to be protected from themselves-- prevented from making such self-destructive choices-- forcibly if need be.)

One group sees it as an argument about art, expression, and freedom. The other group sees it as an argument about the containment of an epidemic of criminal self-abuse.

How can these arguments be reconciled? Unless we figure that out, I doubt there'll be an intellectual solution to the current global clash between religious tolerance and fundamentalist theocracy, which can only become more immediate a concern as time goes on.
Thursday, December 12, 2002
00:13 - Longhorn Goes Maverick
http://slate.msn.com/?id=2075219

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I've been mulling over this Slate article by Steven Johnson for a couple of days now. It's about OS X, Microsoft's "Longhorn" initiative, and the "media-based interface" metaphor that I've been talking about for a while now, here in this blog, and in earlier articles written before iPhoto and other iApps cemented the idea as the real direction that Apple's UI design philosophy is taking.

Put simply, the idea of what I'm calling the media-based interface is one in which every different kind of data-- each of which is inherently different from the rest, be it MP3s, photos, movie clips, documents, etc-- is handled by a specialized interface that allows the user to work with the data using the data's own intrinsic metaphors, rather than the artificial metaphors imposed on it by computers. For instance, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record ('scuse me-- sounding like, uh, an MP3 player with an obscure software bug that makes it skip backward and play the same ten seconds over and over again), instead of having to think about your music and photos as "files" and "folders", you think about your music as songs and artists and albums, and your photos as rolls and albums and direct visual thumbnail representations. It's my belief that Apple intends iTunes to be the standard interface for listening to digital music, rather than navigating through the filesystem and juggling folder paths and long filenames with ".mp3" at the end. You can still drill down and use that more austere and ill-suited metaphor to deal with the song files, but it's far more efficient and intuitive to work with the data through a software layer that gives you a different, more well-defined and natural set of grips to hold on to.

Now, what I didn't realize, though, was that according to Bill Gates, Microsoft knows about the media-based interface idea, but wants no part of it. In developing Longhorn, their new upcoming SQL-based filesystem, their design goal will be to dispense with all the different ways of handling different kinds of data. It's in the interest of simplicity, says Bill.

The ultimate goal is to prevent you from having to learn entire new programs to interact with your mail messages, your contacts, and your home movies—to ensure that each data type doesn't become the exclusive province of a specific application. (To take an example from the iApps, iPhoto is great at organizing your photos, but it's useless if you're trying to figure out which snapshot you e-mailed to your mother last week.) Think about searching for text strings in four different contexts: in a Word document, in your inbox, on the Web, and in your hard drive. There are four distinct search tools for those four tasks, each with its own interface, each "belonging" to a different application. But in each case, you're just searching for text. Why use a Swiss army knife when one blade will do? As Bill Gates put it on Charlie Rose last month, "Right now when you use Windows, the way that you step through your photos, the way you step through your music, the way you step through e-mail or files, they're all different. You have to learn different user interfaces, different search commands. ... The idea of Longhorn is to have one approach, one set of commands that work for everything, including all of those things. And so the number of concepts you have to learn is dramatically less."

Johnson approaches Longhorn from a skeptical angle, and frames it with analysis of OS X and the iApps, of which he is clearly a fan. The way he talks about it, he's unconvinced that this is a good move for Microsoft, and as it's described here, I'd have to agree. I don't doubt that there's more to Longhorn than we're seeing here, and I'd want to see a more finished prototype of it before I passed judgment. (I might be misunderstanding the whole thing; the examples Gates cites talk more about a unified text-search function than a genericized navigation metaphor.)

But from what I can see here, it seems almost as though Microsoft wants quite consciously to be seen doing something "un-Apple"-- making a decision on one of the most interesting philosophical design choices to come along in a decade, and taking the opposite tack to what Apple does. If Apple thinks people are going to want to manage each kind of data in a way that's native to that kind of data, Microsoft is betting that that will end up being too complex for users to want to deal with. They're gambling on what amounts to a reversion to DOS, then-- a more advanced iteration, yes, but something very similar to the DOS mentality: a unified and undifferentiated interface layer through which you can access every kind of data using the same filesystem tools. The contention is that the fewer steps the user has to memorize to access "data" of any kind, the easier it will be to handle specific data, from a common underlying access method.

What I think this decision lacks is an understanding of the fact that some steps toward a goal are more intuitive than others. It can indeed be more difficult for someone to understand three steps toward a goal if each of those steps makes him think about an unfamiliar, unnatural metaphor, than for him to internalize ten steps which make themselves obvious from the intrinsic nature of the data you're working with.

In Windows, to play MP3s, you navigate through folders, find the files you want to listen to (however you've chosen to organize them), and double-click to open them in your MP3 player, which immediately plays them. On the Mac, you first have to find and open iTunes; thereafter, you work with the music on the music's own terms, using the music's own intrinsic attributes, which are intuitively obvious within minutes of a user seeing the program for the first time.

The difference lies in the same distinction behind learning your times tables by rote, and figuring out in that flash of fifth-grade insight just what multiplication is.

If you have to think about files and folders, or whatever other interface layer Longhorn puts up in front of them, in order to get to your music or e-mail or photos... then at best it's going to be something learned by rote, a procedure that people will have to write down on yellow sticky notes and attach to their monitors so they don't forget exactly where and how to move the mouse each time they want to look at the pictures from summer vacation.


Whereas in a media-based interface, there is no unnatural metaphor to remember. The steps toward an organizational or operational goal require no memorization and no abstraction. The idea is that the only big step the user has to remember is the step that opens up the specific interface in question for each type of data. Hence the unmistakable "music" icon of iTunes. It draws the eye, and conveys the idea that "To listen to music, click on me. After that, controlling music will be intuitive, using the metaphors that are familiar to anybody who has CDs."

Now, I'm not advocating the media-based metaphor for everything; I suspect that in the future there will be a mix of objects presented in their native filesystem structure and objects viewed through a specialized interface, as there is today. Windows, for instance, groups its applications into a specialized interface-- the Start menu; whereas the Mac, while it has the Dock for shortcuts, primarily uses the filesystem itself for accessing applications, which are just objects you can freely move about the system. In that respect, Windows and the Mac have what seem to be the opposite roles from what you'd expect, given their present attitudes toward multimedia data. It's anybody's guess where these trends will lead those aspects of the respective platforms.

But more interesting to me is that if I'm reading Gates' intentions the way Johnson is, this represents the first major occasion in a long time that Microsoft has chosen to diverge from the Mac in UI philosophy. For the past two decades the two companies' platforms have been converging; Windows has been getting more and more Mac-like, and Apple's OS has been changing only incrementally, OS X notwithstanding. But now Apple is embracing the media-based metaphor, and Microsoft is actively committing to the idea that for everyday browsing of data, focusing on individual media types is the wrong way to go; they think people will benefit more from a unified multi-function browser that collapses the differences between data types and allows them all to be viewed in the same context. That's one of the benefits an SQL-based filesystem can bring. (It isn't a new idea, by the way; Linux users have been employing MySQL as a filesystem for years now.) Files can be tracked by unique IDs as well as having arbitrary amounts of associated meta-data which need not be displayed when all you're doing is browsing. From a technical standpoint, Longhorn would probably be a pretty neat idea.

But I'm not convinced. Experience has made me a believer in the media-based interface, and if nothing else, I find it fun to be able to work with my data in a way that doesn't require me to think about ill-suited software metaphors that fit the data about as well as Cinderella's glass slipper would fit on my size-12 pseudopods. I don't have to fight the data; I don't have to memorize metaphorical tricks or shift my brain's gears to adjust to the way the software thinks I should be treating my media files. I don't have to deal with wizards or think about the Web. I don't have to wonder why my favorite songs or last week's movie clips are being represented as little pieces of dog-eared paper stuffed into yellow poster-board folders. All I have to think about are those attributes that make sense in the context of the data itself.

It could well be that Longhorn will be just a substrate, allowing more filesystem flexibility while "media-based" apps like iTunes sit on top of it and filter the data for more intuitive presentation; though from Gates' comments, it appears that it won't be Microsoft providing that functionality. I suspect that Gates might honestly think Longhorn would be a benefit to consumers and a boon to usability; I think it would be a mistake. But I'm honestly excited to think that for the first time in a long while, there may in fact be a new fundamental philosophical differentiating point between Windows and the Mac, something new to base discussions of the truth-and-beauty of usability upon. If Longhorn makes Windows harder to use, and people start relying on third-party apps to provide basic data-browsing functionality, then the Mac will have had a nice new advantage handed to it on a silver platter-- after years of Windows becoming more and more "good enough" and nullifying the major reasons to use a Mac, suddenly a whole lot more people will be a whole lot more frustrated with their PCs and in need of a better solution. On the other hand, if Longhorn's metaphors turn out to make computing easier than it is today, even more so than the Mac would-- then it will have been the first insightful, original UI initiative Microsoft has come up with on their own since... well, since Microsoft Bob.

And I'd say it does stand a better chance of success than Bob ever did. (Well, duh.) But I still think Apple is closer to having the right idea.

20:58 - Who said the command line can't be user-friendly?

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Kris and I have always found the quaint, right-hand-doesn't-know-what-the-left-is-doing way that Windows machines handle removable disks to be vaguely ridiculous. To wit: You're trying to install a program or something; it pops up a dialog box, saying "Please insert disk 2 of 4. Press any key when ready." But that's not really what it means. It means you have to lean back, peer at the floppy drive, and wait for the little amber light to stop blinking. That means the drive has stopped reading and writing data, see; you don't want to push that chunky hardware eject button while it's busy, or else you'll wreck the disk. (That's called "standard workflow", you understand, in the PC world.) When the light goes off, you press the button, and the disk pops out. Put in the new disk. But you're not done yet; you have to press a key, or click OK, to tell the dialog box that you put the disk in. Got that? You have to tell the computer that you have put a disk into the computer.

My ass has a better feedback mechanism than that.

CD-ROMs complicated matters. They had the ability to auto-run; but they had to spin up. They had soft eject buttons, so you couldn't remove a disc while it was busy. But now, when a program asked you to insert disc 2, you put the disc in, then had to wait-- staring at the little amber light while the disc squeakily spun up and mounted itself-- before you clicked OK to tell the program that it's okay, the disc is in the computer and mounted now. The human is the operational link in the programmatic script. Spin up and mount inserted disc, then have the human tell me my disc is mounted. That's how they keep computers from taking over the world, you see; they have to be kept subservient somehow.

Whereas for us, it was always piercingly easy. There would never have been an "I can't find the any key!" joke if all computers were Macs, because Macs never ask you to "press any key to continue". Nor did you ever have to click the OK button once you'd determined that the disk was ready to read from. The computer, miracle O miracle, somehow knew the status of its own disks, and hung its events upon them. Whether it was a floppy or a CD or a DVD, the soft eject mechanisms and OS-integrated mounting and unmounting, accessible through all levels of software, meant that the computer would simply stick out its tray at you, while a dialog prompted you as to which disc it wanted. You'd push the tray back in, and sit back as the software watched the disc spin up, took a deep breath, said "Right!" and continued with the procedure.

You mean this isn't the way all computers work?

Now, Windows is getting to the point where many applications can understand when you've put a disc in, and key their events off of that advanced feature so you don't have to be the caretaker of spin-up speed, waving your lightsticks only when you're sure the runway is cleared for the software to barrel its way past, its windshield painted over. Things are gradually getting better. Computers are starting to act like they have some clue about how their own hardware works.

But it's been fairly commonly accepted that even worse than Windows or DOS was UNIX. Command-line utilities, designed to run across VT100 terminals and teletype machines, relied on highly trained and savvy users to input commands that were only guaranteed to work if all the details of circumstance were right, if the disks were ready, if the network was up, if virtual memory was configured. Error trapping was minimal. If the user is sufficiently capable, there's no need to hold his hand or clean up after him.

So it stands to reason, doesn't it, that UNIX command-line CD-burning utilities would be horribly abstruse? You'd have to type in a myriad of obscure commands and options, and if you get any of them wrong, you'd end up with little shiny coasters and a seriously pissed-off Colonel Panic shouting at you and waving his riding crop under your chin?

And so it is, as a matter of fact. In most UNIXes, that is.

Not Mac OS X, though.



That "Please insert a disc:" prompt blinks at you. It sticks out the CD tray. When you put the disc in, it automatically knows when the drive is ready, and it proceeds with the burn.

And the icing on the cake?

That progress bar of centered dots reaches 100% at the right edge of the 80-column terminal window.

That's what happens when UNIX gets human-interface engineers.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
02:34 - C'mon, guys-- you can do better'n that...

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Posted to the Ar-Rahman list, with many a snort and chuckle, by one of the regulars:



What's funny about this is that it's actually not all that incisive, or even that far from the truth. I've seen variations on this same theme that have been far more sarcastic.

Are the propagandists losing their touch?

19:34 - Damn playwrights
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/12/Shrillandfrustrated.shtml

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As long as Morally Concerned Public Figures keep making moronic statements about how war is bad for children and other living things, people like Den Beste will keep pounding at them, holding them out over the assembled throngs like Conan with Thulsa Doom, the better to drive home the point when he hacks off the guy's head and hurls it down the torchlit steps. This is the role the majority of the bloggers have been playing ever since 9/11: through force of facts and persuasion and charisma and common sense, to demolish the arguments of those who insist that this is the time to second-guess the most clear and obvious ideological threat the world has ever had to face, to simultaneously assuage our collective guilt for our success and satisfy our inner need for clever and ironic logical leaps by finding anything to blame for 9/11 and its related events except the painfully obvious cause. It can't simply be that fundamentalist theocracy has no place in the modern world and is doomed to die; that would be way too simple. No-- surely it's our fault somehow. ...And that's the mentality that deserves a sound thrashing if expressed while the bullets are flying.

Fortunately, it can be assured of getting it these days. This is a good and refreshing article, particularly if Mr. Pinter's statements seem to the reader to be in any way... disingenuous or wrong, not to say contemptible. But there's one thought of which I wanted to make quick mention:

This particular rhetorical point, that the US claims to be trying to prevent Iraq from getting what the US already has, ignores the critical difference between capabilities and intentions. It is true that the US has the capabilities he claims, but there's no indication that we intend to do what he fears we will, and unleash WMDs out of spite. Saddam, on the other hand, has actually used chemical weapons in large quantities, and in fact is responsible for virtually every death caused with such weapons that have taken place in the entire world since the armistice was signed in Europe in 1919. So far as we know, in the last 80 years only one nation has ever used chemical weapons on the battlefield, and that's Iraq.

And though the Germans developed nerve gas in World War II, and many nations since then have also developed them (including more advanced forms) there is only one nation which has actually used them, and that is Iraq. It's not just that Iraq is the only nation in recent memory to use chemical weapons, the ones it used are far more deadly than the ones which caused so much death and destruction in Europe during the Great War.

A rifle is a deadly weapon, but it's a lot more deadly in the hands of a lunatic than in the hands of a police officer. You have to consider not just what the weapons can do, but also who is holding it.

This is a nice microcosm of the whole liberal-vs-conservative attitude dichotomy toward individual power and weapons, a very fundamental argument. One school of thought holds that all people are fundamentally untrustworthy, that power corrupts inevitably, and that the best goal for public (and global) safety is to disempower everybody-- by suppressing all weapons, because if nobody has weapons, then nobody can cause trouble, right?

The other school of thought says that some people (or nations) are better equipped, morally or financially, to responsibly handle weapons for their own benefit and for the benefit of the community at large. Some people are not trustworthy with weapons, either because of criminal pasts or demonstrated desire to cause harm with them. This school of thought stands for empowering those who deserve to be empowered, and for judging harshly those who have proven themselves unworthy of such trust.

It's the gun-control debate cast onto a global scale. One side thinks we should be disarmed en masse in the interest of public protection; the other thinks some level of risk of abuse is acceptable in order to secure freedom and privilege for those who have proven themselves worthy of it. One side thinks that it doesn't matter if people want to kill each other, as long as the state somehow denies them the means to do so; the other side thinks it's better to figure out who doesn't want to kill each other, and give them control of the power to kill, and the authority to judge and punish people who do have murderous intent.

The side in favor of equitable disarmament ignores the whole "criminals will exist outside the system and acquire weapons and powers denied to the law-abiding" argument, while at the same time constructing the machinery for a police state full of anonymous and forcibly "equalized" citizens who are discouraged from individual achievement.

Whereas the side in favor of justified empowerment assumes the risk of rogue players seizing power through legal channels, asserting that such a risk is mitigated by the very same individual empowerment that would enable the rogues to rise. A justly armed citizenry will be its own best defense against insurgency-- better than any state police force or government agency. Mega Man had it right after all: these people like peace and harmony, and they'll fight to the death to defend it.

Furthermore, the former camp is founded on the idea that all people are not only equal but the same-- differences in ambition or ethical standards arise only from circumstances, not from anything innate or personal. Thus you can prevent unrest by making everybody's circumstances the same; sure, you'll also prevent innovation and entrepreneurship. But that's an acceptable compromise.

But the latter camp presumes to judge individuals and groups by moral and ethical standards; it rewards good people by giving them power and responsibility, and it punishes bad people by taking away power and responsibility. It runs the risk of the wrong people getting the wrong amount of power; it's a very real risk, one that the disarmament camp finds unacceptable.

But history has shown us that this latter philosophy has paid off well. The current most powerful nation on earth, founded on the principle of justified empowerment, has weapons but no desire to use them. The US could have Taken Over The World, like any evil supervillain, hundreds of times over. Why didn't we? Because we're not like that. Who decided we should have this kind of power? We did. Why do we get to dictate who else gets power? Because we've proven ourselves trustworthy.

It's because the American people are a benign democracy, who decided that weapons are good things for responsible people and nations to have, that people like Pinter are free to express opinions like his, and that people like Den Beste are free to rhetorically behead them in a public forum of unprecedented technological grandeur.

The world might not be so lucky twice.

17:37 - Windows Moment of Zen

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In Internet Explorer, if you try to go to a site but the network is down, you'll get the handy full-page in-browser error screen that tells you it can't find the server. It even helpfully changes the window's title bar to "Cannot find server".

So then the network comes back up. You refresh the page, and it comes up just fine. ... But the title of the page is still "Cannot find server". And it sticks, even if you refresh the page again. The button in the taskbar also retains this title.



Surely a minor annoyance; but a disappointing one, I must say, for software on its sixth major release.

16:23 - Celebrity Signed iPods
http://www.macrumors.com/pages/2002/12/20021210231921.shtml

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Okay, that's an interesting idea...

Apparently, Apple is now selling iPods custom-engraved with the autographs of various pop artists. The pages for each of the "signature" iPods aren't linked from anywhere on the Apple site, but astute followers of various artists' websites (some of which now feature pop-ups and banners selling these iPods) have detected models signed by Madonna, Beck, musical legend Tony Hawk, and No Doubt. (As in, No Doubt there are more artists represented in this promo-- they just haven't been discovered yet.) The custom iPods go for $50 more than their normal, unengraved price.

Perhaps this is part of the next phase of iPod marketing, the one we know they'll have to make in order to keep ahead of the (rickety) competition from SonicBlue and Creative?

Now, if I had my way, they'd offer these things signed by celebrities of the buyer's choice-- they'd line up a roster of potential autograph-givers, and assign various price premiums according to how much of a butt each celebrity is or is not willing to be.

Personally, I'm of a mind to get one signed by Al Roker. (And I'll bet CapLion would provide the necessary backup pledge.)

11:01 - The argument is obsolete. How about moving on?
http://www.moveon.org/inspections/Inspections4.pdf

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The latest move from MoveOn.org is to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times, supported by 175,000 contributors to the website's fund. This ad takes the form of a letter to President Bush, pleading with him to open the White House windows and look outside and see the birds singing and the trees dancing and Iraq cooperating in good faith with the inspections-- not to just sit in the Oval Office polishing his guns and muttering about gettin' some oil for Daddy-- Daddy will be proud!


There's only one minor problem: we already know they're lying.

The ad takes the paternalistic approach, operating under the assumption that Bush Wants War, as a foregone conclusion, just for his own petty interests (or for oil, or the gun manufacturers, or whatever evil must-be-just-like-Vietnam special-interest they think this is about today-- anything, of course, except for Saddam). It gives the impression that the White House is full of those generals from Dr. Strangelove, covered from head to toe in chicken-guts, fidgeting in their chairs for the chance to blow sump'm up. It doesn't consider even for an instant, it seems, that the administration might just have some slight inkling about what's going on in Iraq-- that we don't.

When did it become common knowledge that crowds of students and aging hippies, gathering together and waving cookie-cutter signboards with tired and/or ludicrous slogans, become better authorities upon how to fight the war on terrorism than the people whose jobs it is to actually infiltrate the Middle East, find out what the score is, and develop long-term tactics and strategy based on a thousand different scenarios and contingencies?

The longer these guys persist in their axioms of "Bush is an illiterate gun-toting clear-cutting oil-drilling chimpanzee" and "Gore rightfully won the election", and the more the events of reality fall into place to debunk their claims and prove the administration to have a brain in its head after all-- and a very capable one at that-- the sillier they're going to look. About as silly as the ones who persist in ranting that capitalism and free markets don't work, that the US is a clear example of the world's worst economic system on its decadent way straight to hell. (Never mind taking a step back and noticing just how much better we have it here than in so much else of the world, and how hard our former communist foes are trying to become like us, and how much better countries like China and Russia are already doing because of it. Never mind existence proofs. The idea is the important thing.)

The only way this NYT ad could have been a more perfect illustration of this mentality is if it were published on the day the inspectors announced Iraq completely clear of weapons, followed within hours by a report from our coalition deep operatives showing exactly where the poison-tipped nuclear SCUDs are.

No, no. On the day after that.

09:41 - Photoshop and Puns: a winning combination
http://www.somethingawful.com/articles.php?a=452

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Photoshop Phriday isn't the only reason to keep an eye on Something Awful. On Tuesdays, they have these "Comedy Goldmine" contests things, which are just as funny, if this one example is any indication. I haven't been paying attention like I should. Fortunately, Marcus was, and so I didn't miss this.

So far I'm a big fan of "Muslim Extremist" (right) and "Affirmative Action". And I find the prevalence of Apple-related gags to be refreshing, especially since so few of them are derogatory. "iRack Inspector", featuring Xserves? Cute... very cute.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
03:02 - Oblio in the Pointless Forest

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Okay... so I've been doing this blogging thing now for about a year now (on the 18th), and in all this time I haven't come up with a title for the page, or any kind of visual theme. Part of the reason for this was the same kind of self-effacing, purposefully unassuming humor that informs all those clever and abstract bylines that identify blogs to their readers; taking it to an extreme, I insisted on leaving the page as boring as possible, and letting readers (if any) make their own decisions about what to call it. And part of the reason was that I didn't exactly expect that I'd have kept at it for a year; I figured, why waste a precious cutesy name, of which there can only be a finite number, on a blog that isn't even going to last?

But it's still here, unaccountably; and if I'm going to mark my "blogiversary" with anything, hey-- I figure I may as well at least take the opportunity to pretend like this page is a significant part of my life, which it has indeed become, and give it some kind of personality.

The idea came up yesterday, when Chris and I were sitting around my cubicle with various other engineers discussing global issues like whether The Two Towers, the movie, will completely follow the Merry/Pippin/Aragorn et al storyline before turning back to Frodo and Sam, the way the book does it-- or if it will interleave them together throughout the movie. (I suspect the latter.) During the discussion, though, I glanced over at my e-mail, and noticing in a passing message one of the modern language quirks nearest my heart, I suddenly burst out, Why is it so difficult to understand-- OOPS is not spelled OPPS! You've got your double vowels, and you've got your double consonants. It's not a difficult concept to understand! (I mean, I swear-- I knew more kids in Mrs. Muñoz' third-grade class with a firm grasp of this rule of English than I meet in a given day, it seems.)

The discussion halted; pairs of eyes focused on me as I hyperventilated, glowering, glancing huntedly between the iMac screen and the faces of my sardonic co-workers.

This wasn't just a pet peeve, Chris and I agreed. This was a free-range peeve. This was a peeve that had been ranched.

So anyway, the previous byline (Irony, Adjectives, and Eyebrows) was fun, but probably just a little too obscure. (Kudos to all those throngs of readers who correctly identified the reference but didn't mail me to say so, as I'm assuming is what typically has been happening.) I'm hoping that this one will work out; I keep giggling at it, but perhaps that's just me. In any case, I'll at least leave it up as an experiment for a while.

And if you don't think it works, well-- in that case, it's just a silly prank I'm pulling, and I never intended it to be permanent. Yeah.

13:29 - They just don't get it
http://www.dvineducation.org.uk/imovie2vmoviemaker2/index.html

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There's been a lot of talk lately about Microsoft's new Windows Movie Maker 2, currently out in beta. This version improves over the ghastly (and that's not just my opinion, here) first release by adding features that iMovie users have been taking for granted forever, but which Microsoft inexplicably showed themselves completely clueless about. For instance, WMM1 was a lossy editor-- any DV clips that you chopped up and sequenced were chopped up in the filesystem, and effects and transitions that were applied to the video stream were not rendered as separate DV clips and catalogued internally, but were applied directly to the DV media and non-reversible. This meant you also couldn't output pristine media back out to the camera. They treated it though it were an image editing program, not a digital video studio. In other words, "MS Paint for Movies". Pretty hideous, by all accounts.

But WMM2 aims to change all that, and now it purports (with a lot of confrontational fanfare) to be more than a match for iMovie, both in terms of feature set and of ease-of-use.

I've been seeing some rapturous reviews of WMM2 lately, some from tech-pundits who had previously been enamored of iMovie, but who now were firm converts to the world of XP Green and Orange and Beige and Dark Blue. They lauded the fact that you could now publish movies to the Web or burn to DVD; that it supported analog as well as digital video input; that it came with tons and tons of transitions and effects; that it explicitly touted the "task-based interface" as a big usability advantage. And of course they lauded its use of Windows Media Player format, which everybody knows is better than anything else.

Well, naturally I found this all pretty dreary and bleak. Having no machine around here on which I was willing or eager to try out WMM2, I figured I'd just sit back and wait. And it turns out sanity has begun to reassert itself, now that more adventuresome hands than mine have given WMM2 a long hard look.

It turns out that these reviewers I mentioned, who made such a big deal out of WMM2's wizard-heavy task-based interface, were missing one key, crucial component of what would make them good reviewers of a piece of software of this sort: They were not creative people. The reviews I've seen have all been from techno-columnists, people accustomed to evaluating products on the basis of feature-set checklists and price rather than on how well they actually work.

And now we have the other side of the coin. David Baugh has put up a site which examines Microsoft's side-by-side comparison of WMM2-vs-iMovie features (a favorite Microsoft tactic, which we all remember from back when they used it to trash Apache, by including patently asymmetrical, irrelevant line-items like "Integrated SMTP server" and "Microsoft® Active Scripting™®" to pad out their column of checkmarks)-- and deconstructs the underlying insidiousness and weaselry of the associated marketing-speak.

Baugh, you see, is a creative professional-- in fact, he runs a site called Digital Video in Education, and he teaches courses in how DV can be used to enhance creative learning. He can fairly be considered more of an authority on the subject of making digital movies than some ZDnet columnist, it seems to me.

And his insights are worth noting. The site is pretty sparse, but the kernels of the comparative virtues of the two programs are sensible and valuable. For one thing, WMM2 represents just how clearly Microsoft continues not to understand how to write software that can integrate into a creative person's workflow. The "task-based interface" that makes up so much of Windows XP's ease-of-use hype-- with "wizards" that guide you through prepackaged task lists with minimal and constrained user input, and with lots of transitions and effects offered but no way to control or tweak them-- seems like a good thing, and for a reviewer interested only in checkboxes, it is. It means Microsoft gets to claim superiority in moviemaking products, and people using WMM under XP can feel nice and secure that they don't have to get a big bad Mac in order to make DVDs of little Billy's third birthday party.

But this doesn't help people who actually want to create their movies.

The strongest testimonials Apple has been broadcasting about iMovie over the past three years center around the idea that once you start playing with it, it's fun. It's about shuffling your clips around, snipping them up, joining them together, trying different effects, tweaking transition times, dropping in soundtracks and playing with the fade in/out speeds, applying various kinds of color-correction tweaks to the video, and then, finally, after several hours of honest and exhilarating work, you get to press a button and save the movie for the Web or e-mail or DVD, and sit back and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

Microsoft thinks that instead, people are going to want to plug in their cameras, put all the clips in order, select a few prepackaged effects (that can't be tweaked for speed or direction or delay), and then go through a wizard and let the software tell you what your options are so it can do all the editing. It takes the "creative" part out of the creative process. It exemplifies Microsoft's desire to internalize functionality into the software back-end, while minimizing the input of the user, and giving back something that most users will consider "good enough". But will they find the process fun?

I can tell you right now that if I had to edit my movies in a piece of software that made me have to think about software, or about tasks, rather than about video clips-- I'd pack up my DV camera and never dig it out of my closet again.

Apple gets it. They know what users want; if a user wants to do something creative, something that involves putting a piece of himself into the content the software creates, Apple realizes that the software must allow the user to do whatever he wants toward that end. It must allow experimentation, mistakes, do-overs. It must give the user complete control over the media, while hiding the esoteric details of what files and folders and functions and formats are being used, far into the background. It must present the content in as raw a form as possible, letting the user interact with it on its own terms. This is art, after all, and no artist wants to be constrained by artificial limitations on his tools. Instead, he wants to think only of his media and his vision of the final product. iTunes exemplifies this: rather than making users think about "MP3 files" and folders and long multi-word filenames, iTunes organizes music based on artists and albums and titles and genres. It doesn't invent any metaphors; it lets the user use the metaphors he's already familiar with, metaphors that are patently appropriate to the media in question. iPhoto does the same, letting the user think in terms of pictures and rolls and albums. This isn't a "task-based" interface, it's media-based-- and that means that a person can figure out how it works by sitting down and playing with it for a few minutes. And he'll have fun doing it, too, because without any wizards or menus to contend with, it won't seem like he's working with software. It'll seem like he's working with his media.

Programming is an art. Would you want to program in a "task-based" Visual C++ environment, one that led you through wizards and asked you what kind of program you wanted to make, and then wrote all your code for you? ...Okay, bad example. Some programmers probably would; heh. But any self-respecting coder who takes any personal pride in the code he writes would simply not trust such a tool. For formulaic tasks that involve no creativity or flexibility, like setting up TCP/IP, the task-based interface metaphor is fine. But for anything that involves creativity, innovation, experimentation, or the imagination of the user-- the task-based interface is quite possibly the worst possible metaphor to employ.

iMovie could in fact stand to be made easier; and it will be, as soon as iMovie 3 comes out, which should be within a few weeks, if the rumors are true. But one thing I know for darn sure: Apple isn't going to make it "easier" through the use of wizards and non-tweakable pre-packaged effects and a "task-based interface". They're going to focus on what makes iMovie so much fun in the first place: the ability to plug in your DV camera, press Import, let all the clips roll into your on-screen palette, and then sit down for a couple hours of focused, zoned-out, dead-to-all-outside-stimuli creativity.

And even though they might control all the software development resources in the known universe, Microsoft just can't seem to grasp that small, simple kernel of truth about software design: software that you have to think about is software that fails.

11:13 - The Future's Still the Future
http://www.star.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/projects/MEDIA/xv/oc.html

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James Bond technology is still a bit further out of our reach than I think we've cynically grown to believe. (Isn't that a weird idea-- we've grown cynical of progress, enough so that intelligent people tell me quite seriously that nobody actually works on animated movies anymore, because "they're all done with computers nowadays"-- and people in France and Muslim nations believe the US fabricated all those videos of planes crashing on 9/11 and OBL gloating about it afterwards?)

Some researchers in Japan, in a site forwarded to me by Judson, are working on "optical camouflage"-- which, if I'm reading the site correctly, amounts to placing cameras and partial mirrors in a room such that a projector can "paint" an object with the image of whatever's behind it, regardless of how the object is positioned. (The site is precious sparse in explanatory text, so I can't tell if the object has to be coated in a special reflective substance, or what. Either way, the projection doesn't override the object's natural colors or lighting or anything.)

The "Die Another Day" car is still at least a few months away, it seems.
Monday, December 9, 2002
16:27 - I believe it's known as a Torog-hai
http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/film/50reasons.html

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Fifty Reasons why Lord of the Rings Sucks!

I tell you, I am soooo pissed at this! I mean, it's like he knows nothing about teh story, or the books, or even about the movie he must of watched a hundred times in order to get all these little details to complain about... and he has the audacity to put up these 50 spiteful ranting points that don't make any sense, and anybody can defend each and every one-- in fact, I'm going to go e-mail him about it right now!!!


...No I'm not. It's a joke, for God's sake. And a thumpin' good one, too.

Well, perhaps it isn't the pinnacle of satiric comedy. But it's worth a giggle, anyway-- particularly the "message boards" that the site's author manufactured at the end of his Two Towers "review". (Don't believe me? Try to post to it. And no, that was not the point at which I discovered it was a gag.)

LotR has been prime material for fun-loving trolls ever since it started getting popular again. This is cute, but not the best example of it I've seen to date.
Sunday, December 8, 2002
16:55 - Libertarianism Uplifted
http://www.davidbrin.com/libertarianarticle1.html

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A lot of Libertarians are fans of famed sci-fi author David Brin, apparently; enough so that they invited him to give the keynote speech at the Libertarian Party National Convention in July 2002.

What they didn't count on, though, was that Brin would take the stage, peer deeply into all their souls, and deliver an hour-long monologue that systematically deconstructed all the dysfunctionality of traditional Ayn Rand-ish Libertarianism-- everything that's dismal and unbendingly idealistic about it-- and through exorcising these demons of hypocrisy and misguidedness one by one from the audience, he sets up in their place something he calls "Cheerful Libertarianism"-- a new way of looking at everything.

My friend who pointed this article out to me-- the five-page transcription of the keynote speech, which contains links to the questionnaires and references Brin distributed to his audience-- said that by the time he was ten minutes into this speech, the audience was grumbling and making petulant noises. But by the time the hour was up, he'd earned from them a standing ovation.

The gist is that we in the US today are really a whole helluva lot better off than any society ever has been before in the past-- and rather than looking backward at some mythical Golden Age of Enlightenment in framing our vision of the ideal state, we can reassure ourselves that we're actually on our way to a better time in the future, and preaching doom-and-gloom isn't going to help. And the way we can help bring it about is by accepting compromise and applying steady pressure, rather than by demanding to turn this festering decadent cesspool of a society on its head.

I can't pick out a single bit to quote. It's all a tremendous amount of fun, a startlingly good read. (Hell, it's David Brin. He uses the word freeping in front of the national convention of a major political party.) I think anybody with a passing interest in Libertarianism, or in politics of any kind, will find it fascinating-- and will be just as glad to discover all the little gems embedded in it as I was, without having to be guided to them by a <BLOCKQUOTE> in some weirdo's blog.

One thing I will say, though, is that when it comes to incisively searing through the layers of irony and nomenclature that obscure true meaning in ideology today, I haven't seen much that's been this effective. And considering the reaction it evidently got from its audience, I suspect that goes for many others too.
Saturday, December 7, 2002
20:59 - Titan T.P.

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Well, I just saw Treasure Planet.

They say that in sci-fi stories, you get to break one rule-- and the rest of the universe has to be internally consistent. That works really well, under most circumstances. Some of the best sci-fi can get away with that kind of world-building by making sure the rest of the tech is either absolutely impeccable in its design, or never mentioned.

But Treasure Planet isn't sci-fi, really-- it's more fantasy than sci-fi, and the big space rule they break-- "don't worry about whether there's air to breathe"-- lends more to the animators' ability to turn the movie into an unapologetic style piece than to allow writers with a sci-fi bent to go nuts with the world design. Instead of trying to rationalize how wooden ships and 17th-century dress blend in with insterstellar solar-sail-based FTL technology, or why Silver's arm can do all that kickass neuro-integrated stuff but they have to drag in the solar sails by hand-- the furthest they take the explicit sci-fi infrastructure is artificial gravity, which is crucial to a plot point. Other than that, they simply don't worry about it-- they take old-world architecture and speech and dress for granted, and the result must have been very liberating for the animators.

That said, the story wasn't fantastic. I found myself silently predicting all the plot jinks before they happened; it wasn't the most convoluted thing I've ever seen, and parts of it were unbearably saccharine. There were some moments of brilliance in the dialogue (Doppler's crack about doctorates, incomprehensible to the younger audience, I found immensely gratifying), and there was genuine character development that sticks to your ribs after you leave the theater, unlike Atlantis. There's a lot to like.

But overall the impression I get is that someone in Disney has been living in the cave of the animation industry a bit too long, where actual feedback from the box office and the social currents about which way the pop-cultural winds are blowing have no effect; it seems like someone saw Titan A.E. and saw in it The Future of Animation, failing to notice that no matter how good it looked, that movie flopped. And-- surprise-- Treasure Planet appears to be doing just about as well in the box office, meaning that Disney has had to release an earnings warning for the current quarter.

Disney is thrashing these days, as is the whole animation industry; but Disney is the biggest bellwether, obviously, and they're not sure where to take things. The formulaic song-medleys of the 60s and 70s gave way suddenly in 1989 to The Little Mermaid, sending animated features into a new rarefied stratum of Broadway-musical structure, a genre with astounding new possibilities-- but they got stuck in another formula, which was only solidified by the unexpected gold vein of The Lion King, a success that Disney has been desperately trying to recapture. The subsequent few films were huge-budget mega-projects that met with limited meme penetration, and when things like The Iron Giant and Shrek (and Disney's own CG experimental branch, Pixar, with its series of mega-hits) started to do better than the big formulaic super-productions, they started to flounder.

First, Empire of the Sun-- another mega-production-- got slashed very late in the process from a big-budget but soulless behemoth into a light-hearted, edge-pushing, injokey romp, The Emperor's New Groove. Then, Lilo & Stitch took the NASA "smaller, cheaper, better" route still further and brought out a small-budget but big-scope breath of fresh air. But while both of these have been modest successes, they haven't been Lion King-like gold-mines; and DVD sales have been such as to reinforce Disney's core target market of parents with small children, who want bare-bones videos to pop into the player and entertain the little ones, not the big 2-disc Special Editions. Which is why Disney has just announced that they won't be releasing any more of the big 2-disc Special Editions, after The Lion King comes out next year. None after that, unless their fortunes change.

But anyway. Treasure Planet, like Atlantis, also betrays that Disney is terrified of the anime revolution, and they're desperately trying to integrate some of the appeal into their movies that will attract anime fans-- but it's not working very well. They still don't understand what it is about anime that anime fans like. (Hey, I'm not saying I understand that, myself-- this is hard stuff to get a handle on.) And besides, many anime fans refuse to watch Disney movies out of principle; anime, to them, is the "un-Disney"-- like using a Mac or Linux as a form of protest against Microsoft. Any attempt Disney makes to court these people will just breed more resentment. If Disney wants a slice of the anime pie, they may have to settle for distribution rights to things like Spirited Away. That works best for everybody, instead of trying to force both Miyazaki and Disney to try to be something they're not.

But Treasure Planet is a great style piece, if you like style pieces; it's a visual feast, and it does stimulate the imagination and spirit to about the same extent that Titan A.E. did, which (to me, at least) is not an insignificant amount. I think they may be getting a handle on this new genre of animated feature.

I just hope each baby step toward that understanding and expertise doesn't keep costing them an unrequited $140 million.

17:21 - Evil will always triumph, because Good is dumb
http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=217

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It seems Steven Den Beste need not be worried that the UNMOVIC position of having their findings subject to censorship and weeks of vetting through Officious Channels will derail the US from getting the real answers (and fast!), because we've been doing a little inspectoring of our own.

It's like a well-written spy-movie misdirection plot: seventy-five minutes into the story, it looks like the bad guy has outsmarted the hero, who is now at his mercy, trapped, tied up, with a gun to his head... and then he looks up, grins, and delivers a smug and devastating line as the plot takes a second sharp left turn, revealing that everything is going according to his plan, that the bad guy walked into a trap just as carefully crafted as the one that it had seemed the hero had been caught by.

Running circles around the UN arms inspection headed by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, the Iraqi government dropped a massive pile of documents – its reply to the UN Security Council demand for a full accounting of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – in the laps of the international media Saturday, December 7, before allowing Blix a peek. The presentation was accompanied by yet another formal denial that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

The 11,880 pages on CD-Rom, landing with a thud in Baghdad, will not reach UN Headquarters in New York before late Sunday, exactly on the dot of the Security Council deadline.

Washington in any case had no expectation of substance from the UN inspectors.
Thursday, December 5, the White House declared it already had “solid evidence” that Iraq does indeed have weapons of mass destruction. Where did that evidence come from?

. . .

This project is in the hands of a special multinational task force made up of special elite units and armed with combat helicopters and aircraft, spy-planes and satellites. Unlike the Blix outfit, which is based in Baghdad, the alternative investigators are fanned out across the country. One well-placed source disclosed: “Our men in the field know where 90 percent of Saddam’s missiles and unconventional weapons systems are located, even the mobile ones that are moved from place to place every hour. We are keeping them under tight, on-site observation because when the war begins we want to be there before Saddam orders his men to hit the triggers.”

According to our sources, this highly sensitive, elaborate and secret inspection project has been going for more than three months. Its success could pre-determine the course of the war before it begins. Its members are drawn from the United States, Britain, Jordan and Turkey and possibly Israel. They operate under the Special Forces command at Al Udeid in Qatar and its sub-command in the Jordanian base of Mafraq.

For the purpose of the search, Iraq has been divided into 16 squares, each the province of an elite unit for a set period. The Talil air base complex in north Iraq, for instance, with its air fields, missile bases and air defense batteries, was assigned for the first three weeks of December to US special forces.

And in contrast, gallingly:

The story going around the Gulf, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, is that in the week since the UN inspection team started work, it has been well penetrated by Iraqi agents.The most disturbing aspect of this - and the reason for the sharp responses coming from the White House - is that the spies have managed to fit "electronic jackets" on the UN measuring instruments, which throw them off and make them emit false data. The technical assistants, some from Arab countries, are also thoroughly infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence.

But it's okay, because we knew that would happen all along.

It's looking to me as though there are these special teams of multinational operatives who know what job needs to be done and do it, implicitly trusting each other as partners in a "special relationship" between nations... while the top-level, internationally visible US bickering in the UN and the press has simply been a set of opinion probes to see who's willing to be an ally when crunch time comes, and who would rather stand in the way. None of it affects the evidence-gathering or the war effort, but it will affect how friendly and open and cooperative we're going to be with certain other nations in the future.

As CapLion puts it:

Looks like this is shaping up to happen rather quickly, and it also looks like we'll have bombs for Christmas, but the troops will be back for New Years.

Once again, Dubya has been underestimated and will probably pull another of his trademark I'm a lot smarter than that, stupid moments soon. I love when that happens.

This is another one of those things that, when flung into the winds of the blogosphere, will catch and gain runaway attention in no time. Spread the word, eh?

16:45 - Aw, that's no fun...
http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/wire/sns-ap-china-bad-signs1206dec06,0

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China is starting a concerted campaign against signs and other literature written in badly translated English:

"There are many 'Chinglish' words on road signs, public notices, menus and signs describing scenic spots, which often puzzle foreigners," Xiong Yumei, vice director of the Beijing Tourism Bureau, was quoted as saying.

The signs feature misspellings, obscure abbreviations and jarring word-for-word translations of Chinese characters into English.
Some examples: "Collecting Money Toilet" for a public toilet, and "To take notice of safe, the slippery are very crafty" on a sign warning that roads are slippery.

And thus dies a great and cherished art form. Well, I guess it's a bit much to expect that this initiative will have much effect; but even so.

Ah well... Japan has always had a much better sense of style with their Engrish-- instead of just simple misspellings and grammatical errors, it's a joyously vacuous need to attach random, meaningless English sentences to completely unrelated contexts-- often containing bizarre and obtuse "informative" factoids. Like shopping bags and restaurant signs that say "Elephant family are happy with us. Their dancing makes us feel happy", or "Switzerland: Seaside City", or "Greenwood: 'To go to greenwood' means 'to become an outlaw' in English". Oh really?

Long live Engrish!
Friday, December 6, 2002
18:07 - clickety-clickety d-e-l-b-a-s-i-c-.-e-x-e
http://www.ibiblio.org/harris/500milemail.html

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Now that the venerable BOFH-style stories have lost much of their cachet, the culture of propeller-beanied metaphysical UNIX gurus lurking in darkened basement server rooms having given way to today's brightly-lit corporate certified IT Professional landscape, it's given to us to assuage our longing for vicarious tales of times gone by with stories like this one: "The Case of the 500-Mile E-mail".

Geeky, yes. Funny, yes. Oddly poignant-- yes, that too.

17:54 - Get Out Your Irony Board
http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson120602.asp

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Victor David Hanson has evidenly worked awfully hard on this piece, "America Upside Down". So go give it a read.

In contrast, a group of Islamic academics recently met at a conference in Cairo entitled "Why do they hate us?" The symposium sought to examine Muslim culpability for the latest outbreak of Western terrorism against Islam.

"One could argue that we simply asked for it," the chairperson of the American Studies Department of Cairo University remarked. "I can envision a scenario in which we deserve all we get from America. In some sense, I'm ashamed to be from the Middle East. It is humiliating really. And unless we go to the root causes of Western hostility, there may well never be peace. We should examine very carefully our construction of the Western "other," and our culpability for the attendant frustration and sense of helplessness that drives an angry young L.A. surfer dude, a Texas ranch-hand, or a bare-naveled Miami skateboarder to blow themselves up along with Middle Easterners across the globe — and then rethink what the Egyptian or Saudi regime really stands for in the world today. They see our gender apartheid, our religious discrimination, our racial castes, tribalism, and autocracy — and then all that sexism, racism, and homophobia just overwhelms these idealistic-but-impotent American kids, causing them to strap on some bombs and strike a blow in anguish, as it were, against the patriarchy of imams, mullahs, and sheiks."

The sad part, however, is that he had to explicitly state that this was a parody (in the title bar). The fact that this is likely to be less than obvious to some readers makes me shiver.

15:28 - That's very silly.
http://www.aerostich.com/riderwearhouse.store

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...Which means, of course, that it'll probably sell.
Helmet Ears

Yes we’re completely serious. These have been tested to 175mph and will allow you to appear silly whenever you feel like it. The idea of being pulled over and lectured/screamed at by an agitated officer while glumly sitting on your red-hot Blackbird/Hayabusa/ZX12 with droopy bunny ears does admittedly have a sort of humor potential.

(Go to the site and search on item number 3350.)

14:08 - How easily we forget...
http://www.pvponline.com/archive.php3?archive=20021205

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Those of us who are proficient with computers seldom are reminded of just how needlessly baffling they are to those who aren't-- and more importantly, how many more there are of them than of us.

What's funny, of course, is that while Scott Kurtz is a Mac guy, or at least posts the occasional Apple-positive strip-- if he'd had these characters talking about a Mac, there'd hardly have been an opportunity for a joke.



(Apologies to Scott.)

13:24 - Of Mistake Is You

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You know, I'm getting really, really sick of hearing the words "Make no mistake".

Politicians have been saying "Make no mistake" ever since 9/11, as though it were coined on that day: "Make no mistake-- we will hunt down and destroy the perpetrators." "Make no mistake-- terrorists will have no place to hide." "Make no mistake-- we will make no mistakes." Give it a rest already!

It's another of those phrases that stops making sense at all if you think about it too long, like "all in all" or "by and large". What, are they honestly trying to prevent us from making mistakes? If so, is it Engrish? I can picture sitting down in class to take an exam, and the professor at the front of the room says: "You are have one hours for complete of test. Make no mistake!"

I wonder what the phrase sounds like in other countries where people are supposed to interpret it as a warning. Does it sound determined, or just dorky? How does Al-Jazeera translate it? "If you make no errors, we will destroy you." Huh?

Maybe it's al-Qaeda-esque code language, designed to awaken CIA sleeper agents like the Mossad agents recently redeployed undercover by Sharon in response to the Kenya attacks. Every "make no mistake", coupled with the sentence that follows it, is really an encoded message to some deep-cover operative. With the number of times we've heard it from Bush and Rumsfeld and Ashcroft by now, there should be a veritable army out there in the underground, launching secret shadow-war machinations with every televised speech.

Or maybe I've just been reading too much Seanbaby lately.
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© Brian Tiemann