g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
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12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
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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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 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
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  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
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 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 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
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, December 22, 2002
21:00 - Decadent Society Watch

So the local Albertson's where I shop has recently undergone a massive renovation, doubling its floor space, rearranging everything, dramatically improving its produce section and the selection of products across the board (I can reliably get those dill-pickle-flavored potato chips now).

One of the new features that I just noticed was a drink kiosk near the entrance, under a big sign that says "Enjoy a cold drink while you shop! (Inform the checker of your selection.)"

In other words, you can grab a drink of your choice-- under the honor system-- and tell the checker at the end what you had. This says something about the cheapness of soft drinks these days, if nothing else.

The shopping carts have drink holders too, formed as part of the wire frame of the toddler basket. Ye gods. Whatta country, eh?

17:38 - Rohirric Revisionism

Bruce Baugh has a thought about the portrayal of Gondor, the Ents, and other "political" entities in The Two Towers-- an observation which may explain the unkind treatment Faramir gets.

What we have here is the Rohanian version of Books 3 and 4.

Faramir loses his nobility because, well, he's Gondorian, and even the best of them isn't entirely right, is he?

The Ents are removed from Helm's Deep and reduced elsewhere to a reactive role because, well, having the battle decided by big walking trees would undercut the glory of the Rohirrim.

There's more, too, including stuff on Gimli as comic relief and how it fits into this model. Give it a look. (I'm going to need to write something on how comic relief should be used in stressful battle scenes-- something Peter Jackson has shown himself to understand quite well indeed, but that George Lucas seems to have completely lost track of.)

17:25 - The Missing Voices

Aziz Poonawalla took exception to my uncharitable reaction to the PBS documentary on Muhammad.

I can understand why he's upset and frustrated at my lack of ability to see Islam for the peaceful and tolerant religion that it is. It's a thankless struggle, trying to convince people like me, one by one, that the voices of the imams of Mecca, Riyadh, and Baghdad-- who every Friday call for Allah to shake the earth under the Americans' and Jews' feet and freeze the blood in their veins-- are the freakish statistical outliers and that the vast majority of Muslims are nothing like that at all. Because even when it seems the convincing is done and won, along comes another terrorist attack or another fresh wave of al-Qaeda rhetoric, and then we're back to square one.

I wish it weren't like that. I wish I could simply shut my ears to those imams' threats, and in so doing, cause them to cease to exist. But you know-- even if the American media is biased toward them for shock value, and even if we see more of it than is reflected by reality just because LGF gets crosslinked more than places like Aziz' site do, the unfortunate fact is that for those same reasons, more Muslims are going to hear that rhetoric than would have been the case if people just followed the numbers and percentages. The media isn't the only entity lured by shock value.

In the comments on the post in question, I gave my responses to its charges; I think it's just as tasteless and tactically unsound to have a show on Muhammad on PBS during Christmas as it was for the NRA to go and hold rallies in Littleton and Flint after the shootings that took place there. (I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that Islam had at least as much to do with 9/11 as the NRA had to do with Columbine, which is why I'm comfortable so far with that analogy.) And while I'm all for seeing a more widespread acceptance of peaceful, coexistent Islam shoving the rhetoric of al Qaeda and the Wahhabist imams aside into the shadows, that's not what this PBS show is about: it's not a distant, respectful historical account of Muhammad, with opposing viewpoints and evidence at odds, as are most PBS shows that focus on religious figures. It's also not a "fireside chat" from prominent Muslim leaders driving home the point, to an audience of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that they condemn the terrorist attacks of al Qaeda and the Palestinians, in clear and honest terms and not followed by any "but..." that renders the condemnation toothless. What it is, instead, is about the equivalent of PBS running a breathlessly positive series on Marxism, in 1962. How well would that have gone over?

I'd love to believe that Islam poses no threat to my life and my way of living it. Nothing would make me happier. But closing my eyes and going "la-la-la-la" doesn't make al Qaeda go away, and we learned last September the price of thinking it would. And much as I wish this weren't the case, to attack the extremists on the far side of Islam from where we stand right now is going to mean causing some incidental damage to the moderate middle ground. There's no way for that region of thought to remain an innocent bystander, to borrow another set of metaphors from Jeffrey.

It's no more than I would be prepared to have expected of me if, for instance, fanatical Mac users started blowing up Redmond city buses and issuing anti-Windows diatribes. I would bear some responsibility for such a thing, for helping bring it under control, and for absorbing some suspicion and loss of my own freedom due to my incidental association with the same kinds of values. I would reject those acts outright, without attaching a "But these guys do have a point" rider. And I wouldn't post sycophantic articles about Steve Jobs while the victims' families were still mourning.

We have a responsibility to preserve the freedoms of everybody in this country, whether Mayflower-derived WASP or recent immigrant. We must remain vigilant that we're not causing any more dishonor or pain to innocent citizens than we absolutely have to, even under the most extreme circumstances. But just as they say on one side of the debate that "9/11 did not occur in a vacuum", neither was it perpetrated by skateboarder kids or little old ladies, by Buddhists or Christians or Jews. It was done by a specific group of people from a particular region, defined by a certain religious fervor fomented by a particular brand of Islam. We can either accept the damage to American freedom caused by keeping a suspicious eyeball peeled in the general direction of Islam, if just to reassure ourselves that those South-Park-watching Muslims we all know personally aren't going to turn out to be Mohammad Attas; or we can dismiss all these very real terrorist attacks and social trends as so much regrettable noise on the fringes, and do nothing to prevent more of them lest we offend somebody.

No, I don't like what bin Laden has made of me. I don't like having to think in these terms. But just knowing the psychology of my own mind under these circumstances isn't enough to make me undo those changes. Things will have to happen in the world before everything can go back to the way it was before the towers fell. If I were a Muslim, I wouldn't like this situation any more than Aziz does, and I hope he can forgive me what my mind considers its rational need to keep an eye out in the direction from which danger has proven likely to come.

If my facial expression Islam-ward is an ugly one, it's because it's focused on what's in the distance, not on what's close to me.

Anyway, Aziz has four articles in a series which are worth reading on this subject, especially for the comments on each one, which address many of my concerns:


Saturday, December 21, 2002
01:07 - Better post this before it's too late

Ravi Pandya pointed me to a little gadget he's been working on. "Little gadget" in that sense of "insanely cool technological thing that the developer treats with an offhand "Aww, 'tweren't nothin'", even though it's the kind of thing that deserves all kinds of kudos". You know-- that kind of thing.

"Shop with Sherlock". This is far too cool-- and it integrates into your Sherlock by just clicking a link in the distribution website. You get to search products of all types from books to DVDs to electronics, and add them to any of several "shopping lists"-- including your Amazon.com "wish list". It tallies up prices, lets you compare products from one retailer to another... ahh, the XML/SOAP vibe is strong. You even get to search other people's wish lists. (Wow, lots of Tiemanns are registered.)

It's still very new, and only Amazon.com is supported as yet... but even though just about all my Christmas shopping is taken care of by now, I might well use this instead of Amazon's normal (comparatively cumbersome) interface, next time I have occasion to pick up some CDs or movies...

Without really having had a chance to play with it yet, I can at least say it looks like a kickin' idea. And it seems fast and smooth so far.

I'm liking this...
Friday, December 20, 2002
22:58 - Movie Thoughts

Okay-- my reaction to The Two Towers, which I saw today, is likely to be a complex one. I'm still digesting it. This isn't the euphoric rush of relief after the first one, where all the fans realized that Peter Jackson was taking on the story in a totally unprecedented style and making extensive modifications, and yet that was okay, because it worked. By now, Jackson's style is something we've gotten used to; it's its own animal now, and TTT is going to be judged on a different set of criteria than FotR was. Just as the second film now has the strength of all the fans of the first one, who only discovered the series during the past year (and many of whom haven't read the books), it also has the peril of following in its predecessor's deep footprints. Which means the popular reaction-- including from the fans-- is bound to be considerably different in tone.

It's just such a big movie, such a vast and rich story, with so many intricate twists and textural details in each scene, that I can't offer a cohesive "review". Rather, I'll just list a whole bunch of observations, things I noticed and thought were worth remembering.

This means there will be spoilers below, if you're the sort to whom that's important to know.

So, here goes:
  • As many have noted, Jackson has taken many more liberties with the storyline in TTT than he did in FotR. This one is definitely his own story, rather than the one in the book; it follows the same framework, but so many of the little events that flesh out that framework are different-- even radically so-- that the movie and the book, this time, won't in any way each spoil the other. Most of Jackson's changes I think are positive ones, but many I'm ambivalent about-- they're things I'll grant him in the interest of understanding what kind of story he wants to tell, but I don't necessarily think they improve the story per se.

    As a friend notes, however, the changes in this movie seem designed more for storytelling purposes and pacing than for expedience and time-saving, as was a sporadic issue with the first movie; so in many ways this movie is more successful, even with all the extreme changes.

  • Whereas the book was divided into "Book III" (with Merry and Pippin and the Rohan story) and "Book IV" (with Frodo and Sam), the movie interleaves them together, as I suspected it would. This is definitely more successful from a moviemaking standpoint than it would have been if this had really been "two movies in one", back-to-back.

  • Even so, it looks as though Jackson intends to cover less story in Return of the King overall than is in the book, because TTT cuts off well before the book version does, in both storylines. No Shelob, no Minas Morgul, no confrontation at Isengard. These things will presumably be moved forward into RotK, which-- if it's as long a movie as this one is-- certainly won't feel lacking in material (even if they skip the Scouring of the Shire, as it has been suggested that it will).

  • Starting the movie with Gandalf's battle with the Balrog-- and framing it as a dream Frodo is having-- does a good job of reintroducing the previous movie's salient plot point, without a cheesy Trekkish "summary" run-through at the beginning. Plus it did an excellent job of realizing the otherwise difficult-to-picture "Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him" narrative.

  • "Well, we have lembas bread. ...Oh, and look! more lembas bread." Cute. Likewise with Sam's crack about "foreign food".

  • Gollum's design was jarring at first, but grew on me. Especially the face. Very expressive... and even lovable, in the "Slinker" mode. Speaking of which-- the scene in which he argues with himself, which Jackson has treated as the occasion where he quite literally banishes the "Stinker" side of himself from his psyche (not exactly permanently, though), was an unexpected comedic gem. The way Jackson jumped the camera back and forth was certainly something I didn't expect in this kind of movie; it's a very comedy-film kind of trick, and it reminded me very strongly of the Pixar short "Geri's Game", which I suspect was among Jackson's inspirations for the scene. I half expected one of the Stinker jump-cuts to consist entirely of him leering at Slinker, before jumping back-- which in itself is one of the best bits of physical and situational humor in "Geri's Game", and the basis for the gag. Nice homage, Peter, if that's what it was.

  • The Dead Marshes worked well. Especially the close-up on the Nazgûl, and the pull-back to show the whole winged creature-- I saw it coming, but it worked well.

  • When Saruman was rallying the Dunlendings-- his language: "The Rohirrim drove you out from their lands, forcing you to scratch out a living in the mountains. Now those dirty peasants are living in your country-- it is now time to fight to take it back!" Hmm... where have we heard this before?

    Also, I just remembered-- in his first scene, Gríma maintains that Saruman is a friend of Rohan, that he'd never do anything to hurt his neighbors-- but then he's caught in a lie outright by Éomer's report of the skirmish on the outskirts. Gríma then changes his tactic, accusing Éomer of "warmongering". Hmmmmm.

  • One of the women in Rohan was named Haleth. That's a name out of The Silmarillion. Good research-- it's even appropriate.

  • Gandalf's wink when he's allowed to keep his staff as they enter Meduseld-- great. Gríma was extremely effective, as were all his extra oily lines that were added in order to intensify how gross a guy he is, and the terrifying implications of the importance of his position. (The decayed, desiccated old Théoden under Saruman's spell-- wow, what a mess. Almost as impressive as the subtlety of the transformation after Gandalf exorcises him.) But one thing I thought was missing was any of the "mystery story" about Gríma-- whether he was an agent of Saruman was never in any doubt; Éomer called him out in the very first scene. Not a bad omission, but it seemed a bit rushed.

  • There was one weird moment of directorial bobbling that confused me: right at the moment when Gandalf drives out Saruman's spell from Théoden and is knocked headlong on the floor in reaction. Now, maybe it's just me, but... my interpretation, for several weird seconds, was that Gandalf had quite literally driven out Saruman from Théoden's body, and that was Saruman that got flung on the floor. I half expected him to jump up, look around wildly, hiss, and raise his arms and go flying out the window, wailing and screeching his way back to Isengard. And of course the guards would all yell, "Quick-- he's getting away!"

  • Treebeard and the Ents work, I think. I buy it. Certainly a better interpretation of Ents than I've seen before.

  • Speaking of which, good misdirection on the "white wizard" bit-- though the explicitude of Merry and Pippin meeting Gandalf the White before he reveals himself to the other three is an interesting plot simplification. Not sure if it'll have repercussions later.

  • And speaking of relevant-to-these-times dialogue, how about Éowyn when she's practicing with her sword? "The women of this land learned long ago that even those who do not live by the sword can still die upon them." As good a literary distillation of the Rachel Lucas/Bill Whittle gun-rights argument as I've seen.

  • Gandalf, when describing his battle with the Balrog, said he "smote his ruin upon the mountain", instead of the original implication (perpetuated by Bakshi) that casting down the Balrog onto the side of Caradhras caused the mountain to collapse or something ("broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin"). A little verbal massaging that did wonders for plausibility.

  • Random note: This movie wasn't very green, was it? Especially compared to the first movie, and especially compared to how I expected places like Rohan to look. I was thinking "Irish countryside" or "Dances With Wolves". Instead we get this rocky, hillocky wasteland that I can't imagine would be a good place to run horses; can you imagine how many wombat holes there would be to trip them up and break their legs? On the plus side, though, beautiful cinematography, especially in those long, wide pans across the White Mountains with Edoras in the foreground and the peaks off the top of the screen. Fantastic use of telephoto.

  • Something odd I noticed: Jackson seems to be deliberately setting up the entire bloody world to be unhelpful, cynical, disinterested, provincial... first Rivendell, then Lórien, now Théoden, Gondor, and even the Ents. Merry and Pippin have to trick Treebeard into attacking Isengard. World in decay, indeed...

  • After the Entmoot, when Merry says "How can that be your decision?", the camera does this weird jump-cut-- from behind Merry, to close-up on his face, then straight back to the aerial shot behind Treebeard, all before he's done with the sentence. Looks like a sloppy editing job to me; here's hoping it looks better on the DVD.

  • Jackson combined Dunharrow and Helm's Deep in this movie-- probably a good move, for simplification purposes, and it was one of the things that I thought was a little needlessly confusing about the book: if the Orcs were interested in attacking the women and children and destroying Rohan through that ruthless route (as was indicated by the Warg-riders' attack on the refugee train), they could have simply ridden on by the warriors in Helm's Deep, waved, and gone on to slaughter. This way is more direct and understandable, and concentrates all the more urgency into Helm's Deep itself. (I wonder how much screen-time the Paths of the Dead thing will get; in the book it's all handled in a very offhand, high-style aside, with some of the book's most Biblical language; it's a confusing plot point to all but the most hard-core fans.)

  • Speaking of Helm's Deep-- all I'm going to say about it is that it's one helluva battle. Someone was really doing his homework about how a siege of this type would work. Beautiful work.

  • Still no mention of Andúril, even though there was a prime opportunity for it that was added explicitly-- Haldir's robot archers. (Seriously-- robots or Vulcans. Jeebus.) Haldir specifically said he'd come from Elrond; and Elrond, in the preceding Arwen scene, had flashbacked to the painting on the wall of the chamber in Rivendell where the shards of Narsil were. It seems the time was ripe for Elrond to have had the sword reforged and sent to Aragorn as a token. But then, this whole new subplot with Aragorn's near-death after the Warg attack seemed designed to show that Elrond is still one tight-assed, bitter old Half-Elf, and Arwen isn't improving his mood any. My suspicion is that he'll eventually come around, in RotK, and Andúril will appear then, on the Pelennor, or in front of the Morannon, or somewhere-- or not at all. (Or maybe at the coronation. Elrond will come riding up, panting: "Aragorn! Your Majesty! Here you go-- I believed in you all along! Good on ya, kid!")

  • That whole "Aragorn fake death" sequence... it seemed awfully weird, and the Elvish platitudes between him and Arwen were meaningless, saccharine, and took too long, giving the audience time to lose interest, giggle and talk amongst themselves, and call each other on their %^$#%$@#@%@ cellphones-- but it did give Jackson an opportunity to cover a number of things about Rohan-- for instance, how "special" the horses are. The horse that comes to rescue Aragorn, that turns him over and bends down to let Aragorn hoist himself up... very cool scene, but at first I couldn't tell if Jackson was actually going to play it bizarrely comedic-- I was all set up to laugh my ass off as his imagined kiss with Arwen melted into a tongue-wrestling match with the horse, his hands in the horse's mane accompanied by an "Ohhh... Arwen..."

  • Gimli was certainly converted into this movie's comic relief, instead of Merry and Pippin-- and I think that's fine, considering how much fun we know John Rhys-Davies has been having with the role. It was cool to see the "dwarf-tossing" joke come back around again; that was one I'd never expected to see again. But Gimli and Legolas are what adds a "buddy movie" line to the story, even in the book; and the whole "kill tally" business, which is the source of a lot of the book's humor, is only part of the set of gags Gimli gets this time. (The riffs on his height, especially right before the Orcs attack Helm's Deep, were like arrows to the mark: "Shall I get you a box?") However, I'm bummed that the "kill tally" line never really had a resolution, like in the book; it just sort of petered out. Perhaps in the long-version DVD...

  • The arrival-of-the-cavalry at the end-- damn, those are some good horses, if they can come down that steep-ass mountainside under control and at a run.

  • Throughout the movie-- the orcs get a whole lot more lines and interaction with the regular characters than I expected. Makes them seem more real and "human"... but it was surprising how it worked, the texture it added. They aren't monsters, anymore-- just really ugly dudes. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

  • So, then, turning to Frodo and Sam... I thought the Black Gate scene was outstanding. Great tech on the gate, with the trolls and the machinery (fits in nicely with Saruman's crack about the old order "burning in the fires of industry"-- and McDonald's, and Levi's, and Barbie, and Coca-Cola, right?). Excellent armor design on those Easterlings or Southrons or whoever that army was that was entering via the gate. And the bit with the cloak, and the pretending to be a rock-- that worked surprisingly well, especially with the whipping it off at the end. Except it would have been nice if they'd foreshadowed what the cloaks could do, a little bit, beforehand. Otherwise this looks like just a stupid happy accident.

  • So then there's this whole side story with Faramir and Osgiliath. Frodo gives him the by-now-familiar "Here's the Ring; what are you gonna do about it?" temptation, but Faramir actually says I'm taking it. It's like I was watching some kind of Choose Your Own Adventure, and I'd taken a wrong turn here. What, Peter, did you get hold of the infamous "alternate ending" version of the book, where Faramir took the ring and used it to defend Gondor? But it did eventually resolve itself fairly well, with the battle in Osgiliath and Frodo's attacking Sam, which were pretty cool; still, the movie wasn't kind to Faramir at all. Which I didn't like very much. Faramir was always one of my favorite characters-- the put-upon "wussy younger brother" who did everything right and made all the honorable choices, but was still spat on by Denethor, who could never see beyond his love for Boromir. Faramir was the Harry Potter to Boromir's Dudley Dursley. So far, Boromir's come off as a much cooler character-- much more of a badass, looks better in armor, has a better beard, has a much more direct and convincing redemption scene. There's plenty of time left for Faramir, yes, but... so far I don't like him one bit. Pity.

  • Much less "mysticism" about the Ring this time around; it didn't seem to be "calling out" to Faramir, the way it did to everybody in the first movie.

  • Gollum gets an overall thumbs-up. Great animation, especially on his face. I was a little worried at first, having seen only the trailers, that he'd look too jerky and crude. But now that I've seen the whole thing, it all looked very convincing. And the Ents, by the way-- their smooth movements from stock-still to stock-still worked extremely well. Cool... very good job by all the animators.

  • Interesting how they spent a fair amount of time poring over a map on-screen this time. It was one thing I think the first movie was lacking, and could have benefited from; this time, the geography of Rohan and Gondor is much more clear. And that's all to the good. It even worked as a plot point.

  • Good choice of where to end the two storylines; the Rohan story ends right where Bakshi ended it ("The forces of evil were banished forever from Middle-Earth"-- oh really?), and Frodo and Sam's story ends right after the Osgiliath thing. I guess Jackson wanted to end both storylines right after a big decisive battle scene; putting in Shelob or Isengard would have been very anticlimactic places to end. This works, I think-- though RotK will be the touchstone for the success of that move.

  • By the same token, one friend noted that one purpose of the Osgiliath subplot might have been to keep the movie from being four separate plotlines: two big army ones, and two with a couple of hobbits sneaking around in the background. This way, the hobbits-sneaking-around storylines get interwoven with the big-army storylines, which keeps the audience interested.

  • "The Two Towers" was supposed to refer to Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul, according to the original punditry on the book. But in the movie's interpretation, the "two towers" are Isengard and Barad-dûr, with the explicit "alliance of evil industry" between Saruman and Sauron. Interesting twist, but it works.

  • The destruction of Isengard: excellent. Especially that one Ent, on fire, ducking into the water.

Whew... so now for another year of waiting and speculating. Lots of people are completely hooked now, people who had never read the books and haven't yet started... it's shaping up to be a fantastic trilogy. With a lot of original creativity imposed by Jackson-- not just a blind posting of the books up onto the screen. Definitely a monumental three years for all of us Tolkien fans.

21:23 - Now that's cute

From the "They didn't have to do that" file, brought to my attention by Marcus:

Drag a file into a Finder window that's mostly off-screen; hold it there, and the window will slide smoothly out to meet you.

The heated seats massage your buttocks, too.

17:49 - You're not as happy as you think you are!

(...To borrow a line from a comedian who was trying to capture Bob Dole's 1996 campaign attitude.)

Tom Lehrer, too, once had a line about a friend who "specialized in giving helpful advice to people who were happier than he was."

That's what I feel like sometimes, when explaining what it is about the Mac and about Apple that I think is worth writing as many megabytes about them that I have over the past year. I find myself in the position where for all intents and purposes I'm trying to convince people who are perfectly happy with their computers that they shouldn't be... or that there are things about their computers that they don't even realize are sucky.

I'm reminded of this every time I have to explain ColorSync to a PC person, or give reasons why Macs are so preferred in professional video editing, or graphics, or audio, or prepress. I explain the technical reasons why Windows is inherently ill-equipped for these tasks, and they don't believe me-- because how can Windows be so dominant if it's that deficient?

Well, it's because for 95% of the uses for computers, the advantages of the Mac are invisible. A school might buy Macs for their maintainability, but students-- who have PCs at home-- merely find them unfamiliar and weird. And they're usually ill-maintained, used as scanner machines or Photoshop stations, and the students come away thinking that Macs are the retarded uncle of the computer world, rather than considering why a Mac was being used for scanning and Photoshop in the first place.

There are problems Windows is trying to solve nowadays that people don't even consider "problems" most of the time, because they've figured out a way to cope with Windows' deficiencies in those areas. But what galls me so much is that Apple solved so many of those problems years ago, through lots of research and development, and that's why Macs cost more. Reward for effort. It's only fair, right? And for those industries that depend on Apple's solutions for the survival of their business model, Macs are indispensable. Mention Windows in such an environment and you'll get laughs.

Macs have things like ColorSync, WYSIWYG dpi-based monitors, FireWire (and SCSI before that), and peer-to-peer zero-configuration IP-routable file-sharing. Each of these things helped to define an industry, but there were always cheaper solutions on the Wintel side that satisfied the average, everyday consumer, even if they were sorely insufficient for those industries that depended upon those solutions being done the right way. For most of those computer users, the Mac solutions are things they've never heard of-- things they can't imagine are really that worthwhile, because they've figured out ways to cope with not having them... or because they don't have a need for a better solution that the ones they have under Windows.

PC users without ColorSync learn to deal with the fact that the colors in their images never quite match up, that one user can't send an image to another and be assured that it will appear the same on the recipient's screen as on his own. They grouse and grumble, but they accept it as "one of those computer things". They learn to tweak colors one way or another, fiddling with white-balance and temperature and doing multiple proofs until it comes out right. And that's just the way it is.

PC users with xVGA-based video cards and monitors (which includes Macs these days-- the dpi-based monitor standard has given way to the demand for higher pixel density and large resolutions) have learned to deal with images that aren't exactly the same size on screen as they would print out on paper. Point sizes on fonts have ceased to have any meaning, other than relative to other screen elements, crippling CSS. Images are rendered however the video card and monitor feel like laying them out, eschewing attempts to simulate reality. And that's just the way it is.

PC users without FireWire or SCSI have things like USB2 and IDE. And those things are fine, as long as you don't need to daisy-chain the devices together, offload the processing from the CPU into the devices, or power them through the same cable that carries the data, especially if it's a device that uses a lot of power. But for most PC users, IDE and USB are fine, because they've learned to cope with A/C adapters that take up three slots on a power strip and device channels that can only handle two drives each. That's good enough for most people. If they need more, they just get more power strips and USB hubs. And that's just the way it is.

PC users without AppleTalk get by with Windows' SMB-based file sharing, which is fine on a LAN-- but which isn't routable over IP and never has been. You can't just type in an IP address and mount someone's drive from across the country. But that's fine for most people; they use SMB to pass files around the LAN, but when they encounter the limitations of Windows' file-sharing, they turn to things like e-mail as a means to broadcast their PowerPoint presentations and Word docs. I'm sure I need not explain how ugly an idea this is, but whaddyagonna do? This is Windows. It's just the way it is.

Some of Apple's solutions will eventually make it to the PC world. Apple-style monitor-control software, common on Mac monitors since 1991 or so, is appearing from many third-party companies these days. Windows may one day implement a kind of file-sharing that does everything AppleTalk does. But other solutions, like ColorSync, are unlikely ever to reach the PC world-- not to their full extent and potential-- precisely because of the open nature of the Wintel architecture, the democratization that made Windows so successful against the Mac on the strength of price. When every company has its own idea of how monitors should work, a technology like ColorSync is... shall we say, implausible.

Most people remain blissfully ignorant of just why it is that Apple exists. Because they'll never benefit directly from the solutions Apple has implemented over the years, not being in the industries that demand the "real deal", all they know about Apple is that it's just "some weird computer company that makes expensive machines that don't run Windows". They have no idea why Mac people are so ferociously adamant that Apple not be given short shrift or belittled by sneering wags who would rather see a homogeneously Windows-based world than learn why it is that some industries still insist upon Macs. It's simpler to assume that the graphics world is inhabited by rich snobby art people who are seduced by translucent plastic, right? It can't be that they know something that the hecklers don't.

Because a rant like this is never complete without a metaphor-- it's as though Ferraris or Lamborghinis are being criticized for having insufficient trunk space or seating room or hauling capacity. Of course they suck in those areas. But for the purposes Ferraris or Lamborghinis are targeted towards, there is no substituting them with Fords or Chevys. (And in any case, Macs are a lot more well-rounded than Ferraris. ...I didn't say it was a good metaphor.)

What irks me beyond belief, however, is that eventually the defenders are going to be overwhelmed. There are just too few of them left, and even if everyone in the trenches who understands the issues remains firm in their resolve, there will always be clueless supervisors reading eWeek and Network World and .NET Propagandist Weekly who look around, startled, and realize how much money I could save the company if only we got cheap PCs instead of these stupid Macs. Macs are just slow, incompatible computers with more style than substance, right? And out go the Macs, and if necessary the people who relinquish them only over their own dead bodies; such people are livin' in the past. Windows Is The Future!

And then these supervisors wonder why they can't do certain things the same way anymore, and why there doesn't seem to be a good solution for IP-routable file-sharing or standardized color-matching-- why so much more of the business is based on kludges and assumptions and guesswork, instead of the technology just working and handling all that computer-related crap for people.

We in the trenches see this happening every day. We see Macs dwindle from business, thrust out by standardization in IT (in the name of reduced support costs, not that Macs cause nearly the same number of long-term headaches as computers with Registries do) or by starry-eyed supervisors intent in saving a buck and impressed by the Dell they got for their daughter and how fast it ripped that CD. Out with the old! In with the new! So long, stupid old Macs! Hello, the bright future of Windows!

Now, I really have no problem with people buying PCs because of lower price or higher speed or greater software compatibility. Those are all fine things.

But for me, conscientious design is a real, honest-to-God feature, as are fit-and-finish and corporate integrity and a demonstrated penchant for pandering to consumers' needs.

But even more important to me is that Macs not be dismissed from the niches where they are the only viable solution, just because of some edict from some suit who thinks he's doing his company a favor. I want people to be aware of what makes Macs special, what makes them desirable to the pros who use them. I want to make sure people understand what it is they're mocking before they mock it. Because if they knew, really knew how Windows was lacking and how much better it can be done, they probably wouldn't be quite so dismissive. They might even realize why it is that a company like Apple, which by rights and by all the evidence they can see should have died long ago, is still chugging right along, hanging on to that 5% of the market, and running prime-time TV ads and covering Silicon Valley with billboards.

They're not dying; and that fact is attributable to the many people who do still understand what it was Apple was trying to accomplish, and what they're still doggedly pursuing. They're willing to pay the extra dollar to support uncompromising development of real, top-drawer solutions, even if they themselves won't use them. I don't consciously use ColorSync myself; but Apple gets my dollar because they went the extra mile to create it. That's the kind of company that we need in this world.

Because if Apple were gone, even people who'd never used a Mac in their lives would lack from their lives the things made possible by the people who do.

UPDATE: Robert Lloyd mails to tell me that Windows can do direct IP-based file-sharing now. Well, that's good-- I figured they'd get to it eventually.

Thursday, December 19, 2002
10:10 - New WTC Designs

Okay-- so, various folks have linked to these new WTC designs that have been unveiled. I haven't yet had a chance to register my opinions, but at first blush I'd have to go with the majority and agree that primarily I'm extremely happy that the original blah-fest of proposals were sent summarily back to the drawing board. Clusters of anonymous office buildings isn't any kind of way to mark this set of events in history. Fifty years from now there are going to be thousands and thousands of pilgrims visiting the WTC site, and they're going to want to be able to find the place without a street map. That's the way it should be.

So anyway, CNN has a vote on the various designs. They're all appropriately scaled and free-standing, finally; this time they actually seem to aspire to improve upon the site, rather than to just band-aid the gash in the skyline so nobody notices. Some of the designs I find bizarre and gross, but others definitely have the right idea: huge and imposing, but tasteful.

#1. Studio Libeskind.
Hmm. Four amorphous quartz crystals with a pointy spire reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's Chicago "Mile High Skyscraper" concept? Naaah. We can do better than this.

#2. Foster & Partners.
I could totally go for this one. It's got that whole glass-and-steel Star Trek look to it, but it's extremely evocative of the original WTC, as well as being much taller. I wonder how it would react to wind, what with the venturi-tube effect betwen the towers, though...

#. Meier Eisenman Gwathmey Holl.
Looks like a couple of Rice Chex dropped into the middle of Manhattan, or possibly a giant fence erected to keep out intruders. No stylistic integration with... anything, really. Bleah.

#4. THINK Team.
The idea with the three narrow towers is kinda cool, but I'm less-than-wild about this "World Cultural Center" thing. It looks like a mock-up, like the false fronts on Old West buildings. It looks like the city's saying "We can't put the World Trade Center towers back up, so we'll build a wire-frame model of it so people think the towers are still here." Plus the name "World Cultural Center" sounds like a lame post-modern backlash-against-trade-and-commerce thing-- bets on whether a three-story "9/11 was caused by America's insensitivity to the Palestinian cause and cultural imperialism in oil-rich nations" exhibit is part of the proposal? Oh, and whatever-that-is near the top sorta looks like a plane stuck in the towers, but that's just me.

#5. United Architects.
Nice thought, nice scale and size, but... from the ground, this thing looks like three or four buildings grew together as a result of bad splint-work, or possibly like several buildings fell against each other and got stuck together. I'll pass.

#6. Peterson/Littenberg.
I'm not sure what to make of this. The towers look nice, very Empire State Building-- even the concept art looks like "City Beautiful" stuff. But I can't tell where the buildings are supposed to go, from the artwork. I'd like to see a better skyline shot of this one.

#7. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
The hell is this? Arc de Triomphe in a corset? Looks like a bad optical illusion. No thank you.

As for the voting, it's surprisingly close-- every design has many thousands of votes. But the front-runner, and this doesn't exactly surprise me, is #2-- perhaps because it bears the most resemblance to the original. Somehow I suspect that if one of the proposals were to build 'em back exactly as before, that one would be raking in the votes. As it is, I'm glad to see that the people have taste as well as nostalgia.

This might work out yet.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
02:36 - Busy week

There's not been a whole lot of blogging today (read: none), largely because this week is rapidly barreling toward the Big Move-- in which we pick up our corporate skirts and scuttle down the road a couple of blocks to a new building, a larger one which can accommodate us as we grow. There are three stories altogether, and to start out we'll only be in the first two, with large empty areas that we're not allowed to put permanent furniture into until we decide to add it to the lease; but until then, nobody else can use it either, so we can use it for, say, Ultimate Frisbee or Super Soaker wars.

This does mean, however, that our days are taken up currently with dismantling our labs and cubicles and packing their component parts all up into boxes with little color-coded labels. This takes up a lot of time during the day, and saps me of most of the energy I otherwise would have had at night. So I can't even complain about not having been able to score opening-day tickets for The Two Towers.

Ah well-- Friday will be a bust work-wise, because on noon we all shut down our color-coded machines and go home. And for me (and, likely, most of the rest of the engineering staff), that will mean "go home by way of the movie theater".

I did see Star Trek: Nemesis last night, though. Very good movie, if viewed in a self-contained sort of way. Continuity-wise with respect to the TNG series, though-- well, all I can say is that it stands to reason that Brent Spiner had a hand in writing this one, and it doesn't appear that he stands on much ceremony when it comes to maintaining compatibility with the established storyline.

And what with that Voyager episode with Janeway's ancestor in that snowbound Minnesota town, and now this-- what, is the entire Janeway clan throughout history an unbroken line of clones?

And I didn't buy that one dude as a younger version of Picard, either. Sure, they may have broken his nose, broken his jaw... but surely they didn't break his lips too. Those aren't Picard lips. Plus this would imply that Picard had less hair when he was younger-- male-pattern antibaldness is creeping up onto his head from the back, and when Stewart is 90, he'll have a full luxuriant mop to call his own.

Eminently MST3K'able movie. But good nonetheless.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
02:18 - That's a new one on me...

Hey-- did you know that South Africa is a mortal enemy of ours now? Or at least, they consider us to be an enemy. A bad enough one that they're willing to forgo the funding that would have paid for HIV/AIDS drugs, and instead spend it on submarines to use in the event of an attack by the US.

(Via CapLion.)

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told the Guardian that budgetary priorities meant her department could not provide anti-retrovirals to the estimated 4.5m South Africans with HIV. "We don't have the money for that. Where would it come from?"

Asked if it could come from defence savings from leaving out the submarines which formed part of a £4bn arms deal, the minister said that South Africa needed to deter aggressors: "Look at what Bush is doing. He could invade."

President Bush is expected to visit South Africa in January although only as part of a diplomatic tour of several African countries.

9/11 may have come out of left field, but this is from somewhere up in the nosebleed seats, or maybe out in the parking lot. What mental illness is it that has afflicted the leaders of just about every nation on Earth lately? Why is it so difficult for them to understand what we fight against, when, and why?

How does one argue with people like this? Where does one even begin?

And when did the USA become a bigger menace to the world than AIDS?

01:03 - Right under my nose

My search for pickles has taken me to all corners of the world, throughout my life. I've gone through brand after brand of grocery-store dills trying to find a reasonable approximation of the bright green, humungous deli-style monsters they sell in the fluorescent brine at meat counters in supermarkets and 7-11s. But they never sell those in grocery stores' pickle aisles, nor do they sell the sliced versions. At college, I could have my fill of the green slices of ambrosia, party as they were to the bounty of Sysco. But now those days are gone; and the best I can do is to ask for extra-heavy pickles at burger joints and sandwich places, hoping that one day I can penetrate the perimeter of the Evil Pickle Conspiracy and find out where one can obtain these supreme examples of foodservice pickledom. Even Granzella's, the restaurant/deli/grocery out in Williams where my family stopped on the way back from vacation and I found jars of the whole giant deli dills for $8.95 (and brought one home cradled in my lap), seems not to carry them anymore.

But today I had a revelation-- one that I feel like an idiot for not having before. If I want the kinds of pickles I get in restaurants, why not go to Smart & Final-- the foodservice supply bulk retailer that has outlets all over the Bay Area as well as the whole state?

Of course, they had 'em. Of course, they're exactly what I wanted. And henceforth, my quesadillas shall never go unadorned again.

They're cheap-ass, they're brashly oversalted, they glow in the dark. And that's the stuff of my dreams. Such has it been for nearly twenty-seven years, and now the dream is realized.

Now the only question that remains: who in God's green hell came up with the name Smart & Final?

16:31 - As though we expected any different...

Via LGF. I saw a story in the Mercury News on this PBS series (Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet) during the same Taco Bell lunch when I ran across the ad for Bowling for Columbine. It was a nice full-color feature in the Entertainment section, featuring one of the show's producers, a son of American converts to Islam.

Forget print, go to film. Put together a handsome documentary with an original musical score that presents Islam's prophet Muhammad in the most glowing manner, indeed, as a model of perfection. Round up Muslim and non-Muslim enthusiasts to endorse the nobility and truth of his message. Splice in vignettes of winsome American Muslims testifying to the justice and beauty of their Islamic faith. Then get the U.S. taxpayer to help pay for it.

Show it at prime time on the most high-minded TV network. Oh, and screen it at least once during the holidays, when anyone out of synch with Christmas might be especially susceptible to another religion's appeal.

. . .

* PBS has betrayed its viewers by presenting an airbrushed and uncritical documentary of a topic that has both world historical and contemporary significance. Its patronizing film might be fine for an Islamic Sunday school class, but not for a national audience.

For example, PBS ignores an ongoing scholarly reassessment of Muhammad's life that disputes every detail - down to the century and region Muhammad lived in - of its film. This is especially odd when contrasted with the 1998 PBS documentary, "From Jesus to Christ," which focuses almost exclusively on the work of cutting-edge scholars and presents the latest in critical thinking on Jesus.

* The U.S. government should never fund a documentary whose obvious intent is to glorify a religion and proselytize for it. Doing so flies in the face of American tradition and law. On behalf of taxpayers, a public-interest law firm should bring suit against the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, both to address this week's travesty and to win an injunction against any possible repetitions.

Now, I know this reaction smacks of a fear that this documentary will in fact result in a lot of fresh American converts to Islam-- that we don't trust the nature of secularity, democracy, and our existing traditions to stand up to scrutiny, and that we'd rather suppress "dangerous" viewpoints rather than risk them gaining a following.

And maybe there is in fact some of that. The disaffected youth of today crave a non-American role model. They sneer when they see the Stars and Stripes on TV, even (and sometimes especially) after 9/11. It's cool to be non-American, even anti-American. Why watch Disney movies when you can take that beginning Japanese 101 for Anime-Watching course and pepper your speech with kawaii and gaijin and otaku? Why eat at McDonald's when you can eat take-out Thai? Why go to church with your clueless parents when you can go to a mosque?

It takes a supreme effort of will not to feel threatened by this, especially knowing that there is another side to Islam as it is practiced elsewhere in the world-- and that as long as it's kept far away, even that seems romantic and cool to some. No doubt most would change their minds if they had to experience it first-hand, or if they stopped reacting out of rebelliousness and actually thought about what they were doing. (Ar-Rahman abounds every day with women living in England or the US rhapsodizing about what a paradise for women an Islamic world would be, as though everything we know about life in Saudi Arabia or Taliban Afghanistan is wrong, or if it's right, that those are regrettable exceptions that no true Muslim would actually want.) But for someone wishing to make his fiery teenaged mark on the world, perhaps the most rebellious and self-righteous and purposefully inscrutable thing he can do-- the thing most surely guaranteed to piss off his parents, far more so than listening to Eminem or smoking-- would be to cheer 9/11 and/or convert to Islam.

Look, I don't care at all whether someone chooses for his or her own personal reasons to adopt some particular religion. I have friends who have gone Mormon and JW and 7DA. I don't have the slightest problem with it; if it makes them happy, that's great. Frabjous day.

But I'm not about to tolerate my tax money being used to fund positively-biased proselytizing films for those religions, to be shown on PBS right in the middle of a period when we're trying to find solace in our cherished traditions while so much of the world we grew up with changes right out from under us. Now's a time when we need the facts, and the other facts that back them up-- not propaganda designed to be divisive and to further an agenda which is profoundly counter to the spirit upon which this country was founded.

Unless PBS is planning a follow-up special that encompasses the whole picture of Islam in the modern world and complete coverage of the loudly spoken aims of its highest imams-- I can see it now, Ken Burns' Islam-- I'd say PBS has reached the end of its usefulness to me.

11:23 - John Poindexter, This Is Your Life

I'm lifting this title from the e-mail from Matt Eric who responded to my plea for help in tracking down this source. (I knew I'd seen it on InstaPundit, but oddly enough my searches on "poindexter" had turned up squat. I was beginning to wonder whether the reason I couldn't find any info on this new eyes-that-never-sleep system was that it was already working, or something.)

"Why, for example, is their $269,700 Rockville, Md., house covered with artificial siding, according to Maryland tax records? Shouldn't a Reagan conspirator be able to afford repainting every seven years? Is the Donald Douglas Poindexter listed in Maryland sex-offender records any relation to the good admiral? What do Tom Maxwell, at 8 Barrington Fare, and James Galvin, at 12 Barrington Fare, think of their spooky neighbor?"

. . .

What Smith didn't realize was that Poindexter's phone number and other information would end up on more than 100 Web pages a week later as others took up the cause.

Phone-phreaking hackers supplied details on the Verizon switch serving the admiral's home. The popular Cryptome privacy-issues website posted satellite photos of the house.

Poindexter could not be reached for comment for this story, and calls to his home phone now reach a recording: "The party you are calling is not available at this time."

Left wing... right wing... we're the ones with the Internet.

Matt adds:

This ought to be made into a major project. We should all get some dirt on him,his extended family, reading habits, and post it all to the Internet. Let's see how *he* likes it.

P.S. And maybe also do the same for whoever came up with that creepy-ass logo.

Yeah, I'm all for that.

11:04 - I love this place


I just drove through what seemed like three entirely different biomes on my way to work this morning.

When I left my house, it was in bright sunlight, under the bluest sky I've seen in weeks. The East Bay Hills were lit up in clear, 19th-century-painting-of-Ireland-looking greens and browns. There were big billowy clouds all around, ringing the view, blinding white on top and dark, heavy gray underneath.

On the high overpass from 101 onto 280, I could see the downtown San Jose skyline, lit by direct sunlight, looking like a World's Fair model... but behind it, in that contrast I love so very very much, was that dark curtain of cloud that sets off so perfectly any brightly-lit foreground scenery.

There was this huge raincloud squatting right in the middle of the valley, you see. Most of San Jose is in clear blue sunlight, but the center of the lowland area is home to this giant brooding mass of water. As I passed through the downtown area and the 880/17 intersection zone, the rain suddenly rushed onto the scene, taking me from the lowest notch on my intermittent wipers to the highest-speed continuous, for the space of about twenty seconds. Then I was back out in the barest of sprinkles.

And when I came into Cupertino and passed Apple's overseer-of-all-it-surveys headquarters on the left, the clouds' ragged western edges were giving way to that bluest sky in weeks, the western Peninsula mountains illuminated, the colors stark and bold. There was a light, crisp breeze blowing back the sunlit palm fronds against the dark, brooding, retreating cloud bank. The traffic light on the off-ramp stayed red extra-long just for me, so I could enjoy it.

(Yesterday, the clouds were bursting right over Apple, and the ever-popular "God Rays" were streaming out of a break in the cloud bank right down onto the Infinite Loop campus. But the clouds were moving way too fast for me to get a picture.)

I grabbed my camera and raced out for a quick circuit of the last couple of exits, but photos taken from a moving car never do the visuals justice. Plus I ran out of battery after about the second shot, and I had to trick the camera into letting me take a few more pictures, turning it off for a few seconds, then back on, then snapping the photo before it had time to realize what was going on and bark sternly at me. I'll pay for this eventually, I know. I'm sorry, camera.

There'll be more rain all this week, though, including another big storm on Thursday. I'll be ready for those God Rays this time.

UPDATE: And now it's hailing.

Good thing we're moving out of this building with its glass roof...

09:58 - Oh, now that's good.

Marcus points me to this:

09:24 - Meme Penetration

Just now on KFOX, Greg Kihn was asking listeners for ideas for "what kind of gift to get your honey". A woman called in to suggest an iPod. Get it engraved with her name, and fill it full of love songs.

Nice free ad for all listeners. I think this Christmas is going to be a pretty green one for Apple, now that they can count on iPod income at this kind of level.

09:15 - I'm sure I wasn't dreaming...

Does anybody remember what blog or site it was that had the scoop on the grass-roots civil-disobedience movement against John Poindexter and the Total Personal Information Transparency Database, where people were looking up all of his personal information and his family's and posting it all over the net?

I was sure I'd see it picked up everywhere, but now I can't seem to find it again...
Monday, December 16, 2002
11:53 - It's not stupid. It's advaaaanced!


This boggles my mind. Doesn't Windows have the concept of primary display and secondary displays, so it can show its dialogs and toolbars and everything centered on the primary one, instead of splitting them moronically across the gutter?

Silly me, for being used to an OS where there's never been this whole retarded EGA/VGA/SVGA litany, with preconceived standardized resolutions. Silly me for being used to an OS where screen resolution is based on actual, physical dots-per-inch, so WYSIWYG actually means WYSIWYG, and that has had 24-bit color support since the days of EGA. Silly me for being used to an OS where you simply specify an arbitrary geometry and color depth appropriate to your monitor, and if you have multiple monitors, drag the shapes around in the virtual desktop space until they're positioned how you want, and drag the menu bar from one to the other to specify where it should appear and which should be the primary display-- and the software just makes it happen.

When I was taking this picture, the SE guy who likes to heckle me because of my Macs said, "Why would you take a picture of a PC, when you could be taking one of a Mac?" I said, "Because taking a picture of a Mac would be boring. This is funny."

UPDATE: John Poole provides evidence that this particular specimen is not, in fact, the best Windows can do. I kinda figured as much. This is 2002, for crying-out-loud.

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© Brian Tiemann