g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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Sunday, January 5, 2003
01:10 - Shut up, Brian

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You know how they tend to create names for literary genres by taking a word that describes what makes up a genre and adding "a"-- like "erotica", "Americana", "Judaica", and so on?

I think they should have one of those genres for autobiographies, diaries, personal journals, and the like.

They could call it "diarya".

01:03 - Jar Jar Blix
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/01/Negotiations.shtml

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I didn't get a chance to post this brief response to Steven Den Beste's groundwork-laying post regarding the principles of negotiations and deterrence while I was sequestered in the Land of No Blogging, but I'd been reading that post on the plane (having loaded it up while connected via AirPort in the MPLS C terminal), and couldn't keep the following observation out of my head even after a weekend of diversion.

The primary proponents of this new way of doing things are Europeans (and sympathetic academics), who believe that they have now transcended the brutal international order of the past, where all nations were armed to the teeth and where negotiations often involved the threat of war, or happened over the sound of battle. European diplomats believe that there should be an international court where nations could take their grievances for binding arbitration, and hope to institute an international system where all nations feel as if they should actually concede their grievances if arbitration goes against them. The idea is that nations would cede considerable amounts of sovereignty to some international authority, and live as "citizens of the world".

It is a worthwhile dream. It represents a better way. If it were in effect, far fewer people would suffer. Unfortunately, though I wish it could be made to happen, I don't believe it can be. It is inherently unstable; even if it could be instituted, it would fall apart.

It discounts the possibility of bad faith; it ignores both the "Prisoner's dilemma" and "the Tragedy of the Commons". If a cheater ends up in conflict with an honorable nation, the cheater may agree to arbitration. If the arbitrator rules in favor of the cheater, the honorable nation will concede and the cheater wins. But if the arbitrator rules the other way, the cheater can ignore him and continue to pursue the point. There's everything to be gained from arbitration, but nothing whatever to lose. And thus cheating is an advantage when most of the world is honorable, leading directly to the tragedy of the commons. Even if such a system could be established, there would be an incentive for at least some to break the rules, for doing so would be to their advantage.

Europe has been trying to set an example by being internationally active in diplomacy, while at the same time having no ability to project military force. And it hasn't been working at all well. As a general principle, if all you have are carrots, or only feeble and laughable sticks, then you don't have any way to make "reject" unpalatable, so the only way you can make "accept" more palatable is to pile lots more carrots on the scale than you would really like to, and in fact in some cases the Europeans have found themselves having to give away the farm in order to get an agreement.

Worse, they're finding that in some cases they have no carrots to offer, and also have no sticks, and as a result their intended negotiating partner refuses to even talk to them. (EU's Solana believes he knows how to settle the problem between the Israelis and Palestinians, but the solution he proposes involves major concessions by Israel. Solana has nothing to offer Israel which it thinks would offset that cost, so quite naturally Israel refuses to deal with him.)

When Europe has faced cases where it has no adequate carrots with which it is willing to part, and no sticks to apply, and wants an agreement anyway, the only remaining solution is whining, which has been notably unsuccessful.

It sounds to me as though the only way for the UN to achieve its goals would be for someone to build them a Grand Clone Army.

Whatever else may be true about the new Star Wars prequels, George Lucas does seem to have hit on a very realistic simulation of what would happen under a centralized, hierarchical governmental system that attempts to overarch many widely disparate cultures and political systems. The only way it possibly can work is for the governing power to actually be "world government", not just some kind of "advisory body" or a roomful of representatives who glower at each other and dicker over semantics. More particularly, they'd need real power... and not just a token army, but a power which dwarfed the individual power of any member body. Rather than the "peacekeeping forces" that the UN seems to have at its disposal today, it would have to attain absolute supremacy-- in terms of technology, ability to produce, and sheer numbers of troops-- over all member states' armies, including our own.

Because, as Den Beste illustrates, any governing power that doesn't actually have the "ultimate stick" to wield, in actuality has no power to impose its will on any member body.

As the Star Wars movies are illustrating in so timely a manner, with such pretty and chewy and spoon-fed parables, any centralized "world government" would have to be something with the power to crush organized separatism. Which means, naturally, that it would have to be something with the means and the penchant to become the Empire.

Is that what we want? Is that the only way this can go? I certainly don't see how the UN as it currently exists can keep up its charade of potency much longer, with each new week bringing another example of some nation invoking the UN with one hand as a shield against other nations' aggression, while with the other hand blatantly ignoring the rules of the selfsame UN. Right now the UN is serving only as a political Dremel tool-- adaptable to any political purpose you choose, but you can always turn it off and put it back in the drawer when you have no more use for it.

Maybe the coexistence of individual nations, as we have now, is something that can last. I don't know. But it's a question that will have to be addressed in short order, because it's likely to become the Next Big Question, in clear need of answering after all the dust has finally cleared over the War on Terror.

00:41 - The story behind that enigmatic half-joke after these messages...
http://slashdot.org/articles/03/01/05/2025254.shtml?tid=113

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It seems I've been Slashdotted.

A real, honest-to-goodness Slashdotting of one of my posts from a couple of weeks ago-- the one about MSIE and TCP/IP. As I type this, it's up to 759 comments, which CapLion assures me is on the high side.

I fear to read them; that's why I don't know whether the comments are positive or negative. The very first comment, however, makes note of the fact that having the post linked at Slashdot brought this server to its knees almost instantly. Which I believe means I'd better hop right on the task of making it a non-CPU/database-intensive procedure to link to an individual post, rather than the load-the-post-and-the-entire-prior-week that it does now. I'd never really thought that it would be tested to quite this level of acidity; silly security-through-obscurity me.

Anyway, the overload has been temporarily taken care of with a static page for the article and an Apache redirect. But that won't scale. Either I've got to stop posting things that people on Slashdot might find interesting, or... hmm.

...But at any rate. Several people have sent me (encouraging, to my pleasant surprise) e-mails to the effect that they'd found their way here via the Slashdotting, and might well stay if I remain halfway interesting. So, to any and all newcomers, welcome! I still feel like a guy trying to host an impromptu state dinner in a two-room apartment, but that's nothing new, so I'd better learn to cope...

00:30 - I'm back

(top)
Well, that weekend went pretty well. A few random notes...

Because of the recent weird weather patterns we've been having around here, planes taking off from San Jose International have been taking a southerly flight path rather than the usual northerly one. This means that when we took off on Thursday, on the steep power-climb out of the airport, we banked almost directly over my South San Jose neighborhood. From what must have been about 4,000 feet, I could clearly see my little circular street-- and not only could I make out my house, I could make out my car. Quite an unexpected treat.

On both legs of the journey eastward, there were what I believe to have been federal air marshals. I don't know what I was expecting-- presumably some guys in white shirts, pressed slacks, and dark glasses with those little curly wires coming out from behind their ears. But these guys on the flights I was on looked distinctly... military. Shaved heads. Green uniforms with large gold "US" lapel pins. No more than about 19 years of age, from the look of them. And considering that the guy on the second leg (MPLS to Atlanta), who sat next to me, spent the flight time writing love notes to his girlfriend and sleeping, I'd say that they're still working out the kinks in the system. (In addition to the guy next to me, there were two others who sat further up the plane, on opposite sides of the aisle, and looked decidedly more alert.)

So then there was Atlanta, which was a lot of fun. Friday morning I dropped off my brother Mike at his job at 7:30 (a part of the clock I haven't seen in years, in any time zone), and took his car off east of the city, parked it, and went bounding up Stone Mountain to catch the tail-end of a protracted overcast-baffled sunrise. Quite a place, that-- it's the "Mount Rushmore of the South", with images of all the Confederate heroes carved into the granite rock face. There's a gondola to the top, where ATLA is painted in huge yellow letters along with a giant yellow arrow pointing in the direction of the Atlanta skyline. (It must have been put there like in the 30s; it's not exactly a mystery to pilots today where Atlanta might be.)

Saturday we (Mike, his wife Julie, and I) went up to Tallulah Gorge, where they filmed the sniper scene from Deliverance. It had what has to have been the most studly trail I've ever been on: the top part is edged with boards, and the actual trail surface is made of a rubber mat recycled from old tires and molded to look sort of like pine needles. The result is a surface that's springy to walk on, and very clean-looking. Then, below one of the upper overlooks, there's a huge long staircase section-- some 1500 steps or so-- down to the bottom of the gorge. (There's a massively overengineered suspension footbridge in the middle, which I'll post some pictures of as soon as Mike gets them developed; more fool me for forgetting my digital camera!) The stairs are all very new and sturdy; the only problem is getting back up them after you've descended the thousand feet into the gorge...

Then we went to the Mall of Georgia (not really competition for the Mall of America, don't worry-- pretty cool nonetheless) to see The Lion King in IMAX. Not much to say here, except that... well, you know. Maybe I'll expand further on that subject at some other date.

And today we spent some time driving around downtown Atlanta, Piedmont Park, and related environs (where for the price of a run-down Sunnyvale bungalow, one can buy the biggest mansion in Mansionland); the flight home was air-marshal-less, but it did get me stuck in Detroit where it was freezing-rain conditions and we had to trudge thr plane through the de-icing pad, where they doused us with detergent, making us an hour late getting back into San Jose. But hey, I'm not complaining, right? I'm back home now, and all's well again.

...OR IS IT?

Thursday, January 2, 2003
16:00 - <clap clap clap>

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Just bloggin' from the Minneapolis airport, because I had to make a note of the fact that the connecting Northwest flight to Columbus, Ohio has flight number... 1492.

Cute... very cute.

Oh, and the airport has an observation deck tower. Yeah, this place is pretty nice indeed.
Wednesday, January 1, 2003
03:45 - Back on Sunday

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I'll be flying to Georgia tomorrow morning to visit my brother and his wife, conveying the last straggling remnants of Christmas that keep me from being able to pack up the wrapping paper for another year into the Deep South. I understand they have electricity and telly-o-phone down there these days; however, I don't foresee that I'll have any ability to blog until I'm back on Sunday.

(Ow! Ow! Sorry! I was kidding!)


Anyway, see y'all then.

03:39 - A little EyeTV Notable

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This kind of thing gives me warm fuzzies:



If you minimize one of EyeTV's viewer windows into the Dock, it keeps playing. Magnify it to watch interesting bits. Keep it small so you can leave it in the corner of your eye while you do other stuff that uses up desktop space.

Ah, the World of Tomorrow™.

16:36 - De Beers Summarized in 29 Kilobytes

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(Originally posted on Fark, sent via Marcus.)



Lance says this needs to be made into a poster.



Now do pardon me; there's a sunset to go and watch.

04:10 - Good night, moon; good night, stars; good night, police sirens

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Well, once more the big shiny ball has dropped more or less without incident; no terrorist attacks, no massive computer glitches, no ball getting stuck, and certainly no actual dropping of the ball from the specified height at the precise moment when gravity would cause it to reach bottom in free-fall right at the tickover point. (Didn't they used to do it that way? What happened, did someone sue Discover and the Times because dropping the ball according to the laws of nature and science was insensitive to the beliefs of the platygaeists, or that the "apple" imagery cruelly drove millions of helpless innocents to gorge themselves on fast food and become enormous flesh-bags, or to buy computers they didn't need and couldn't afford but looked cool in the den?)


Yeah, pretty low-key New Year's, overall-- maybe it's because I spent the four-hour time chunk straddling midnight watching the Adult Swim marathon and playing with my new EyeTV. (Think TiVo for the Mac; it's a soft DTR system, of which I'm sure there are examples for the PC. A little plastic box takes RF or RCA input from cable or antenna, encodes it to MPEG on the fly, and streams it over USB to the machine's hard drive, where it can be accessed directly and interacted with via actual integrated software, instead of having to deal with the set-top middleman. Seems to work pretty well, barring a few glitches-- not least of which is the moronicity of MPEG and its inability to be properly demuxed for editing, like any sane movie format would be. But the whole direct-control-of-live-TV-through-an-onscreen-floater-remote thing is pretty neato.)

Incidentally, on an unrelated note, it's been "Encore Week" on Fresh Air on NPR, and the other day they re-aired the infamous Gene Simmons interview in which the tongue man cut loose with all his frankness on Terry Gross, unleashing both barrels of his I-slept-with-4,600-women-and-you-too-could-be-one-of-them, in which Terry came off as a good deal less sure of herself and capable of handling the reins of the interview than Gene did. But one thing I thought was interesting was that Gene, for all his Howard Stern-esque lewdness and arrogance, has some very strict personal observances and limits, and they're self-imposed rather than derived from some non-corporeal power (which would have been a good excuse, considering that he had attended Yeshiva as a kid and was well on his way to becoming a rabbi). He's so vehemently anti-drug and anti-smoking that, as he said, the most beautiful and seductive woman in the world could be lying right on his bed-- but if he smelled that dirt-under-the-bleachers smell on her breath, she'd find herself chucked right out the door, if not the window. Gene said he's never been drunk-- and with the exception of a few valiant attempts at taking a sip here and there during toasts (in order to be polite), he's never been capable of drinking alcohol. "I might be cursed with some kind of freakish one-in-a-million defect," he said, "but the very smell of alcohol makes me gag. And I'd say that makes me very, very lucky." So whatever else might be true about the guy, I guess I can say that at least he's not the only one to "suffer" from that particular malady.

So while I listen to the police chase down late-night carousers out in the neighborhood at the edge of hearing, I'll take my leave of the good blog-posting page and curl up with my new "The Art of Spirited Away" book and be glad I'm not out in it.

Happy New Year, and to all a good night.
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
09:42 - Random thought

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You know, under most circumstances I really like classic rock. It's what I have on my radio every morning to get me out of bed.

But I've just got to say this: I am really sick of songs whose choruses consist solely of the same line (usually the title of the song) repeated four times.

Thirty days in the hole
Thirty days in the hole
Thirty days in the hole
Thirty days in the hole

Sheer genius, man. Seriously, have a little bit of imagination. I guess I could understand if the music on this kind of chorus was something to get excited about, but it's not-- it's just a plodding workmanlike chord progression. It's like the chorus is just a placeholder to stick in between verses, and the less interesting you make it, the fewer neurons you waste on what could be a good song you might eventually squeeze out.

Okay, I'm done now.
Monday, December 30, 2002
20:21 - Apple's Own Pet Dot-Bomb
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/powerschoolanalysis.html

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I had thought that Think Secret was just a Mac rumor site-- one of the better and more reliable ones, granted, but just another rumor site nonetheless. But not so; a couple of weeks ago, it became news that PowerSchool-- an Apple property since sometime in 2000-- was being massively pared down and its major products axed. And now there's a "Special Analysis" article up, a long hard look at just what went wrong with PowerSchool. (Hint: "everything".)

It's a fascinating story, actually. It's very archetypically the tale of a thousand dot-bomb companies, cases where there was the kernel of something good-- a brilliant idea, a capable bunch of minds, a whole lot of enthusiasm and zeal-- and all those seemingly solid ingredients combined to make-- to everyone's surprise-- a deadly stew. There's cautionary material here, stuff that any engineer should take to heart; I've written stuff that sounds very, very similar to the original PowerSchool software as it's described here, and I feel myself guilty of exactly the same kind of mentality that evidently gripped its author in the early days. He marshaled it into a high-flying company, whose engines abruptly failed at 30,000 feet. Under other circumstances, it might well have been me.

The fact that Apple got involved in this story at all is more or less an accident; Apple's no dot-com, but they did feel the fever when the seduction was at its strongest-- and PowerSchool is the lingering symptom of that tryst.

There's a saying, "Failure: Perhaps your only purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others." It seems that has been PowerSchool's purpose. There are many roads to success, and while a single thing can lead to failure, usually it requires many things coming together to fail spectacularly. Every company has elements of PowerSchool's failure in them, PowerSchool just managed to bring them all together in one place. But even in failure, there were many "how not to" lessons that can be learned. PowerSchool showed us all how not to put marketing and sales above sanity and engineering, how not to over-hire and over-fire, how not to treat people or customers, how not to manage an organization or people, how not to act in an irresponsible manner to your investors or employees, and how not to finance or run a business.

It's a shame; PowerSchool really did have a lot going for it, and it was in fact a great product. But that's not all it takes to make a successful company, as this article so plainly illustrates. The long-term loser, more's the pity, is the schools who will now never have the chance to use the software that's now just a memory and a red blotch in the ledgers.

20:09 - The Web's Year in Review
http://www.shift.com/print/10.5/432/1.html

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Marcus forwards me this compilation at Shift.com of the year's "stupid" and "key" moments-- the Top 15 of each. They're all good, and some are a scream. Though in many cases, I'm not sure why "key" events aren't listed as "stupid", or vice versa.

6. Microsoft donates $2.3 million to Canada's premier Computer Science program at the University of Waterloo. Shortly thereafter, Waterloo announces that it is requiring all students in the engineering program to take a course using Microsoft's propietary .net language, C#.

Which list do you suppose that one was in, hmm?

09:34 - Go to hell, Mikey
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,5763232%5E7583,00.html

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Ah yes-- I've been hoping for a long time to see a definitive list of the blatant factual errors (whether deliberate or negligent) in Bowling for Columbine. Trust Tim Blair to be the one to come up with it.

Blair takes on the sycophantic reviewer community, too, and pretty much constructs the best comprehensive takedown I've seen yet. And there's this one particularly important bit:

Some of his reviewer/fans share Moore's accuracy problems. Bunbury claimed that "he bails up the entire management of Kmart and confronts Charlton Heston on his own front veranda" although he meets only a few Kmart management types and interviews Heston inside his house; and The Australian's Jane Cornwell wrote that Columbine's vile three-minute cartoon history of the US, written by Moore and made by animators FlickerLab, was produced "by the guys from South Park".

I am so glad to find that it wasn't actually Trey and Matt behind that little animated interstitial; until I read this, I had the dark gripping suspicion that it was. After all, Moore interviewed Matt Stone outside an In-N-Out, and heard from The Man from Columbine himself that the NRA's post-disaster publicity stunts were politicaly schtoopid. But somehow I'd never pegged the Guys as being viciously anti-American enough to not only endorse Columbine, but to produce that animated short for it, with its South Park-like movements and its freakish noseless character designs, and its insinuations that America was born in fear, grew out of fear, and now lives in a heavily-armed fear supported by an NRA which is really the same thing as the KKK. The style seemed right, but the message wasn't anything like what I'd come to respect Trey and Matt so deeply for.

Which means that Moore deliberately tried to imply that the short was done by the South Park guys, by having it come so hard on the heels of the Stone interview and his excerpt from Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. It's yet another of the sneaky editing tricks he used in order to make it seem like more respected public figures agree with him and are willing to help him spread his message of peace and love and think-of-the-children than really are.

Trey and Matt are thereby exonerated, and I can once again watch their masterpieces in good conscience.

And Moore gets my biggest demerit of all for trying to cash in on my heroes.
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© Brian Tiemann