g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
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10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
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10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, January 12, 2003
02:29 - Adult Swim is Reborn

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Ahh yes. Tonight begins the new, refreshed, second-generation version of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. And I'm ready to EyeTV it all. (Screenshots! Instant screenshots! They are mine, all mine! Bwa ha haah!)

This is the Adult Swim that has scored Futurama for its lead-off position, and is starting the whole thing tonight-- apparently-- from the premiere episode. Now I'll be able to catch up on all the gems I missed out on while I was so fortuitously at college and away from access to TV.

On top of that, they've launched a whole new look for the block: gone is the familiar "old people in a pool" interstitial-card selection. Now they have newly-done-up "coming up" spots for each individual show, with the characters from that show featured as parts of twisted versions of those emergency-techniques posters you find in public pools. Brak's Heimlich Maneuver rapidly devolves into a "Ride 'em, cowboy!" Ahh, yes. I approve. Life is good! Everybody dance! Yaaay!

And it was a good Sunday overall, too. Saw The Two Towers again; charged up the Silver Creek Valley Road hill with a friend (and gathered me eyes-- or, rather, some sweet landscape photos of the clouds and the sunset); and managed to avoid the day's incessant marathon of football that took over the living room. Hey, escape is wherever you make it.

So, yeah-- there hasn't been much in the way of blogging this weekend, though, and for that I feel that twinge of compulsion to apologize. But, hey-- sometimes we all gotta just kick back and do some serious heavy-duty recharging.

Ooh, Mission Hill. I'll get back to you.

Friday, January 10, 2003
20:49 - Long Overdue Safari Update
http://www.apple.com/safari

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There's a new Safari beta out-- b51. God damn, it took them forever to get this release out the door.

SSL works now, for what I think is the biggest showstopper bug that's fixed. I'm not sure what else has changed, as there doesn't seem to be a changelog in the package anywhere. But the CSS1 test suite problem-- namely, that it doesn't recognize the "text/html" MIME type properly in CSS (something Dave Hyatt knows about), is not fixed yet. So it'll be another agonizing three days before that's fixed, probably.


Anyway-- while downloading the new beta, watch the "Downloads" monitor window. Keep an eye on the status messages, after it finishes transferring the .dmg disk image file. Watch how it displays all the Disk Copy status messages right in the Downloads window, such as "Displaying software license agreement" and "Mounting", after which it mounts the resulting application object on the desktop and replaces the .dmg file in the Downloads window with the final product. So you're left with a single clean entry, and no interim archive file to worry about.

(You can prevent it from doing this, by the way, by turning off the "Open 'safe' files after downloading" option in the General preferences.)

Squeee!

09:51 - Nice little feature

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Make sure to turn on the Status Bar in Safari. It's what gives you visibility into what you mouse-over, but it's off by default.

But I just noticed that it tells you whether the link will open in a new window or not. It changes depending on what the TARGET attribute says, and on what modifier keys you're pressing. How come nobody else has done this?

09:29 - Make no mistake! Okay, maybe a few.
http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current/default.html

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Judson forwards me this list of LSSU's Banished Words for 2003. I'm gonna be looking forward to these every year; last year's were lots of fun as well. Give it a look; I absolutely agree with the nominations of "Make no mistake", as well as "Extreme" (you listening, Apple? Better than Togo's, though, who say "Make your lunch extreeeeeme! ... which means putting avocado on your sandwich), and "as per".

Judson would add "At the end of the day" and "the fact of the matter". Yeah, good call. (Hey, maybe "good call" should be in there too.)

As for myself, I'd love to see a ban on the inappropriate use of "apropos", which outnumbers appropriate usage in the media by about 90/10. But I disagree with the inclusion of "branding"-- while it sounds like a hijacked term being used for a trumped-up purpose, I'd argue that it actually means something concrete these days, a whole branch of business. Someone on NPR yesterday was talking about the difference between a "brand" and a "company"-- the former is fun, hip, and has loyal customers; the latter is work, boring, and has employees and shareholders. Might be the only way to save the New Economy companies from falling prey to a new return to strict control of non-work-related conversation and activities and lax dress codes and work hours, as is already happening in a German design firm, under the tutelage of a woman whose book Fun is Out is apparently taking the business world by storm.

I'll keep my friendly work environment and my "branding", thank you very much.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
03:12 - Next Stop: Premium Blend

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A while back, I noted the marked lack in the Islamic world of that staple of modern society that we take so much for granted here and now, self-effacing humor. I said (or implied) that a social group has only really "arrived" when it produces a universally-known celebrity figure who uses self-referential humor to mock his very group, and thus to validate its strength and resiliency. If you know your group can stand up to the acid test of a home-grown stand-up comic's roasting, then you give it that roasting and let the world see how well it does. I wondered where the Muslim version of Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, and Yakov Smirnoff was.

Well, just now I got an e-mail from Shahed of the alt.muslim newsgroup/website; he passed me two links as evidence of Muslim comics who are gaining an appreciative following. The first one has a number of links to various comics and humor sites, inclding a Muslim version of The Onion. (Really.) And the other one focuses on comedienne Shazia Mirza, whose act evidently is a big hit in Europe (particularly in Germany, where audiences reportedly like her because she reminds them of Hitler; ohh-kay).

Mirza's background necessitates finding new ground - after all, you can't do many gags about being drunk and stoned when your religion demands abstention - and the material based on that culture is easily the strongest. She does have other gags that do not rely on her faith, but these are not always as assured.

Interesting. I'd like to see this.

02:38 - FireWire 800-- more than the sum of two 400's

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CapLion had the following to say about FireWire 800, as included in the new RealUltimatePowerBook:

By the by.. I recall you wondering why firewire 800 needs a different connector. It does because there are nine pins, and it uses an optical interface.

Biggest difference: Cable ranges over 100 meters.

It was designed primarily to fill the need of producers who run digital studios, and need cable runs longer than 5 meters, with no signal degradation.

It also has double the usable bandwidth of USB2, with no cable EM noise. Aaah, elegance.

It's quite surreal to plug a FireWire hard drive into a FireWire video camera and have it download it's data. What computer? :)

He also told me that FireWire 800 can be looped; you can do something like:



So if a cable link goes down somewhere in the loop, you'd still have access to both devices. You can also terminate the loop to a second machine, and share the devices between the machines. (The devices can be FW400 devices too.)

Of like is me.

02:24 - "Missiled about Islam?"

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While I was down in Atlanta over the weekend, I saw that at the LaVista Road exit near where my brother lives, there's a huge billboard towering over the freeway interchange. Against a backdrop of a US flag, it said in enormous letters, "Misled about Islam?" (My brother's wife said she always sees that first word as "Missiled" for some reason.)

The billboard was an ad for the site WhyIslam.org, and purported to present the facts regarding Islam as a countermeasure against the ill-founded rumors and assumptions being spread in the post-9/11 world. This is the kind of thing I've been hoping to see for a long time: an "outreach" site with large, mainstream advertisement, presenting a clear message for average-Joe consumption.

And I checked out the site; as a matter of fact, it does seem to be what it claims to be. It's nice and friendly, speaking to an American non-Muslim audience, and seems to make a game attempt to be fair and balanced in the facts it presents. Certainly the face it puts on Islam is a very smiley one, but I suppose that's par for the course.

I found myself thinking, though: How far would I have to look through the site before I ran into the inevitable moral-equivalence rhetoric? How many clicks does it take to get to the center of an Islamic outreach website? One... two-hoo-hoo... thrrree...

Turns out the answer is one. Click on the "More>>>" link at the bottom of the main page, and you get an essay centered on the following charming sentiment:

The word terrorism came into wide usage only a few decades ago. One of the unfortunate results of this new terminology is that it limits the definition of terrorism to that perpetrated by small groups or individuals. Terrorism, in fact, spans the entire world, and manifests itself in various forms. Its perpetrators do not fit any stereotype. Those who hold human lives cheap, and have the power to expend human lives, appear at different levels in our societies. The frustrated employee who kills his colleagues in cold-blood or the oppressed citizen of an occupied land who vents his anger by blowing up a school bus are terrorists who provoke our anger and revulsion. Ironically however, the politician who uses age-old ethnic animosities between peoples to consolidate his position, the head of state who orders “carpet bombing” of entire cities, the exalted councils that choke millions of civilians to death by wielding the insidious weapon of sanctions, are rarely punished for their crimes against humanity.

Sigh.

But aside from that, the site is pretty even-handed, and in any case I'm glad to see that this kind of outreach is taking place, even though I had to go to Georgia to find it. I wonder why that is? I'm sure it isn't simply that huge billboards are more common down there...

19:47 - Bring On the Cultural Studies

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It was only a matter of time after the hippie movements of the 60s became the subject of master's theses by people who were too young to have lived through it.

Now, it seems, it's become the "in thing" in journalism and academia to latch onto any old phenomenon/fad/movement and elevate it to the level of Transcendentalism or Socratic philosophy.

I refer to the report which was on NPR this afternoon, on All Things Considered, on otaku-- anime fans. It centered on the manga-zine Shonen Jump, which is launching a US-produced, fully English-language edition (though it still reads right-to-left, so as not to offend the purists) to sell to a new generation of anime consumers in the West.

Now, this is fine: I have no problem with anime as a genre or an art form. I myself don't like the art style-- it's a point against any given anime show or movie, not a point in favor of it, and I'll watch a good piece of anime in spite of the art style, as long as the story is good. The anime I enjoy most is the stuff that doesn't look so much like anime: Miyazaki films, Cowboy Bebop, that sort of thing.

But what I don't understand is this: Why is it that what so many people absolutely adore about anime, even among the supposedly intellectual youth who make up the biggest lump in the money-to-be-made distribution curve, is so pathetically insipid?

Maybe the report was focusing on the wrong part of the anime convention it covered; it wouldn't be the first time. But in quoting its financial figures for the mainstreaming of anime, it cited the fact that what we now had was a generation who had spent their pre-teen years watching Pokémon... and now they'd outgrown it, and now were watching Yu-Gi-Oh, which obviously is a much more grown-up show.

Um. 'Scuse me? Do these journalists realize what Yu-Gi-Oh is? It's a show about a bunch of kids who have duels using magical playing cards. Playing cards. As in, cards that you can go and buy and collect. Each episode (though I'll admit only to having seen a brief glimpse) is just another set of duels, with canned power-up sequences and florid taunting language and statistics that make it clear which cards to buy-- no story any deeper than that. No grander vision. It's an even more blatant piece of manufactured merchandising pap than Pokémon was, and that's saying something. Coupled with the report's characterization of the anime convention being filled with 15-to-17-year-olds blowing their life savings on Yu-Gi-Oh stuff, this thing even makes the "Chinpokomon" episode of South Park look like yesterday's news.

And naturally, the whole otaku movement was being presented as the Next Big Thing: in an onrush of sociopolital irony, today's disaffected youth are reaching out for a non-American art form to call their own, a culture that's patently alien to adopt instead of the bland and boring one they were spoon-fed before the Saturday-morning saviors came to call. Now they have a generational identity! They have a language all their own! They have a culture that's defined as a wilful mixture of influences, and isn't that remarkable? Isn't that meaningful? Isn't this somehow a microcosm of our whole lack-of-direction-as-a-people-in-the-world-community thing? Can we write our master theses on this yet?

Now, far be it from me to rag on the devotees of some obsession that I don't understand, nor on their self-fulfilling behavior at conventions full of like-minded souls. Believe me, I understand it all too well.

But I'm just at a loss to understand one little thing: When was it that I became so old and out of touch with the minds of my fellow human beings that I can't even begin to comprehend the attraction of something utterly vapid that makes slobbering acolytes out of otherwise fully functional humans of at least average intelligence? When did Yu-Gi-Oh become a surrogate for C.S. Lewis or Walden?

14:04 - Pilgrim's Progress

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Safari may have a long way to go before it's ready for prime-time, but it's already overcoming its initial limitations by leaps and bounds-- it's only been out for two days, and apparently most of the biggest rendering/CSS issues have already been addressed in the internal builds.

This is largely thanks to the unaccustomed transparency with which Apple has flung itself into the Safari project. (And I'm not talking about the Quartz kind.) Via LGF comes Dave Hyatt's blog-- he's a Safari developer posting the details of the project's progress on his MozillaZine site. He's apparently already found and fixed the primary reason why Safari hasn't been able to run the standard CSS1 test suite; he's also providing an illuminating look into Safari's behavior choices, which seem (as with so many things Apple) to all have some kind of sane reasoning behind them:

A number of people have commented on Safari's UA string, which is as follows:

Netscape 5.0 Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/48 (like Gecko) Safari/48

The portion of the UA string that seems to be stirring up controversy is the portion that says (like Gecko). The reason it is there is that in order to work with real-world DHTML sites you have essentially two options: you can claim to be MSIE or you can claim to be Gecko. We found that any other choice that we tried led to a significant portion of DHTML malfunctioning. You would not believe (well, maybe you would) how much DHTML exists out there that works only with MSIE or Gecko, and that uses proprietary extensions of each to accomplish the DHTML effects.

Had we released a browser with a UA string that did not superficially match either MSIE or Gecko, users would have downloaded Safari and experienced many malfunctioning Web sites. If anyone thinks that would have been a good idea, please step forward in your blog and explain why. I'm willing to listen.

Our solution was a compromise. We produced a user agent string that is different from Gecko's and easily distinguishable if you choose to sniff for it, but that at this time will pass most UA checks that sniff for Gecko. It may be that enough sites will start sniffing directly for our string that we can drop the "(like Gecko)" from our user agent string, but I'm not optimistic.

We chose to be more like Gecko than like MSIE because we wanted to be lumped into the standards compliant category, because fundamentally we are committed to supporting DOM 1&2, CSS1&2, and enough proprietary MSIE extensions and Gecko extensions (innerHTML, createContextualFragment, offsetWidth/Height, etc.) that we could be placed in a similar category.

Now, the fact that Apple has blessed a project with this much transparency represents a major break from tradition-- typically, Apple's software projects have been opaque to the outside world and very secretive. But they've evidently realized that when it comes to web browsers, there's no substitute for the grass-roots input of millions of demanding users with their own stringent standards. This certainly can't hurt Apple's credibility any. After all, what so many engineers (and others) crave-- even above proper immediate functionality-- is transparency into the process. This is something with which we contend daily at work; management looks at our team's products as a rock, and they don't dispute that we deliver a great rock, or that we do so consistently. But the problem is that this rock-- good though it might be-- just seems to drop out of the sky, with no warning, no prior milestones. You can't plan around it. Sure, all the rocks have been good so far, but without the ability to predict from observation how good the next rock will be, how can you risk banking on it following the pattern? Many managers will take a mediocre rock that they can watch being made over a stupendous rock that just falls out of a chute into the Shipping department one fine day.

Part of the mistrust that so much of the computer industry has built up for Apple over the years has to do with Apple's inscrutability and opacity. Sure, they have to keep things secret in order to do all the Insanely Great showmanship and everything; that showmanship is integral to the "style" side of the business, without which Apple wouldn't have the business case it does, like it or not. But there are some projects where they just can't afford to be opaque. Web browsers aren't sexy things; and while Safari is a great-looking piece of work, with a super-cool paint job and awesome handling in the canyon twisties, all that stuff doesn't mean a thing if it can't satisfy the needs of the millions of people for whom web browsers have become indispensable, utilitarian pieces of equipment. Those kinds of products rely critically upon user confidence; and that confidence won't come about, and especially not quickly, if the project is shrouded in secrecy. It's transparency itself, even more so than product quality, that will give people the reassurance they so desperately want.

Hence the almost puppy-like fawning contact with the KDE team two days ago, and the pledges for bidirectional open-source cooperation, and now Hyatt's blog (which I'm sure isn't the only such portal into the development team's brains). It looks to me as though Safari has nowhere to go but up; much of the initial derision of "just another marginal browser" and "another also-ran doohickey from Apple" has faded in favor of genuine well-wishing, for which I think we can credit this conscious public pledge of good faith. It seems that more people are arriving at the opinion that if some browser is going to turn out to be a heavyweight contender against IE, and one with a real chance of gaining some ground, they wouldn't mind it being Safari.

The grass roots are digging ever deeper...


BY THE WAY: Safari is fully AppleScriptable, as J Greely points out.


Wednesday, January 8, 2003
21:57 - Peter Jackson, you are worse than Satan himself

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Okay.


Hang on... lemme catch my breath.

Okay.... okay. Right.

Now: get out your Fellowship of the Ring extended special-edition DVD set.

Take out the first movie disc. Put it in; do scene selection.

Scroll through the pages of scenes until you get to the one with the Council of Elrond scene. Scroll the cursor down the page until you see it "split" and place part of the cursor down at the bottom of the screen.

Hit Play.



Then, after a few minutes, try to regain your sanity. This is the most difficult part.



Seriously. The fact that the man can pull off stuff like this is testimony to his eventual glorious legend. I genuflect in his general direction.



13:48 - Hammer and Tongs
http://diveintomark.org/archives/2003/01/07.html#safari_review

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Aimed at web designers and CSS-heads, Mark Pilgrim has posted a detailed set of observations on Safari and what it does and does not do properly. It looks as though it might become sort of a clearing-house page for these kinds of observations, as it has links to numerous test cases and other sites' reviews, as well as updates from readers (which include Safari developers, who are clearly very interested in following-up on any compliance test cases they can find to work on).

So far, what I've seen encourages me quite a bit. It turns out that most of the bugginess I've seen only occurs on the first run-time; subsequent times you run the program, after it's created its various pref files and things, are much smoother. And I'm seeing mounting evidence that Apple is ravenous about gathering feedback about this thing so they can improve it to prime-time quality before release.

All I really need is some kind of text focus and navigability in drop-down <SELECT> menus, and I'll be able to use it just fine.

Incidentally: it turns out that the problem with my own blog page in Safari was that the <PRE> block up above had the following form:

<FONT SIZE=-2><PRE>
...
</PRE></FONT>



But Safari is more strict about style than IE or other browsers, on this issue; it interprets <PRE> as a complete font override, and so it ignored my <FONT> setting. (This happens in <TT> blocks as well.) I changed it to:

<PRE><FONT SIZE=-2>
...
</FONT></PRE>



...And now it's fine.

09:54 - TrackBack SmackBack

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So here's what Safari's bug-report function looks like:



Checkboxes for automatically including a screenshot of the current page, and/or its source. Categories for different problem areas.

Looks to me like they've got a pretty serious outlook on making this thing shipshape, if the mechanism on the receiving end of these bug reports is anything like as streamlined as this is.

Then again, there's something to be said for the idea that we users shouldn't be the ones doing Apple's beta testing, no matter how nice the tools are. I mean, c'mon-- I get paid for that sort of thing normally.

(On the other other hand, Apple is making all kinds of brand-new software these days, and they depend on user feedback in order to know in which directions to take it, which I applaud wholeheartedly; and web browsers are one of those things that can only really be properly wrung out en masse-- so this whole "Massive Multiplayer Online QA" thing does make a certain kind of sense. It's probably the only way they can do this much development in this little time. It certainly helps that Mac users tend to be forgiving of Apple's controversial moves-- and willing to bend over backward to help Apple succeed...)
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
02:38 - Dooooomed
http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/03/0103/010302.html#010803

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Lileks has a much more entertaining take on the day's Stevenote offerings than I can hope to produce. But it's not as though that should surprise anybody.

Apple came out with a batch of apps today, and they’re all niftily spiffy, but the company is doomed because the computers aren’t fast enough, and people will always prefer PCs which let them do Apple-type things half as well but twice as fast, and besides, there are no games for the Apple, which is why I threw out my camcorder because it couldn’t play chess.

There. I think that covers it.

To a T.

Not that it'll keep me from continuing to harp on the same old blather for the foreseeable future, trying to convey the same familiar thoughts in a different set of words each day until I've worn a trough into the pathways of my brain and convinced the online world that I'm a certifiable loony. I'm kinda stubborn that way.

02:18 - Hi! You don't know me, but...
http://lists.kde.org/?l=kfm-devel&m=104197092318639&w=2

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Hee. Kris forwards me this e-mail, evidently sent to the developers of the KDE/KHTML rendering engine, then reposted to the KDE developer list, by the chief engineer on the Safari project.

I'm the engineering manager of Safari, Apple Computer's new web browser
built upon KHTML and KJS. I'm sending you this email to thank you for
making such a great open source project and introduce myself and my
development team. I also wish to explain why and how we've used your
excellent technology. It's important that you know we're committed to
open source and contributing our changes, now and in the future, back
to you, the original developers. Hopefully this will begin a dialogue
among ourselves for the benefit of both of our projects.

Phew. Imagine getting that in your inbox, eh? Strikes me as a bit presumptuous and weird-- somehow there seems to be something a bit sneaky about waiting until you've released a Public Beta of your product before introducing yourself to the developers whose code you'll be using, even if you're pledging at the same time to re-release the source with its changes and additions back into the community. It's how open-source works (nobody has to disclose any of these projects to anybody else, as long as it's compliant with the license in question); but it must be awkward for the KDE guys to have to live with Apple's strict policy of not releasing any official word about future products until the day they're officially unveiled. (Hence the secrecy, and presumably the reason why the guy chose today to send this e-mail, dispatching it-- as he says-- from the MacWorld Expo show floor; he couldn't even wait until he got back to the campus. Must have been aching to send it...! Or else company policy was to send the message the instant it was NDA-ishly feasible to do so. But if that's the case, I doubt they'd have been relying on the guy to post it from the Expo floor, instead of making sure it went through actual official channels from within the company...)

Ah, speculation. Why is there always so much more of it after the keynote than before?

01:35 - A little something else...

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Something I saw happening with the iSync and iCal updates, and now too with Safari, is that Apple is taking fuller advantage of how Disk Copy can present a user-friendly "installation" procedure.

It used to be the case that disk images were versatile, but unnecessarily esoteric to casual users. You'd download a .dmg file, double-click on it, enter a password if necessary, maybe sign a EULA, and then... you'd have a virtual disk mounted on your desktop, which you then had to open up, drag the contents from it into your Applications folder (or wherever), and then trash the disk and the .dmg file. Lots of functionality, but not a whole lot of sense.

Well, now they're taking a more classy approach. I don't know if this is a new feature in Disk Copy (the current version is 10.2.3, dated 12/17/02, and evidently came with the 10.2.3 OS update)-- but it certainly makes things smoother. Disk Copy prompts you for whatever it's going to prompt you for. Then it "mounts" the disk image, with the progress bar and details and stuff. But then, instead of displaying a virtual disk on the desktop, Disk Copy actually mounts the contents-- or copies the contents off, right onto the desktop-- with the result that you're left with nothing but the application (a single object, as with Safari, or single folder, depending on how it's packaged) and the original archive file (which evidently can be a .dmg.bin file, which StuffIt Expander passes off invisibly to Disk Copy with no interim decoded file). That's just two easily understood items, and people know what to do with both-- if not instinctively, at least a lot more intuitively than with the virtual-disk step.

So you get all the packaging features of Disk Copy, with the straightforwardness of a vanilla archiver. Pretty sweet. Never let it be said that they let "good enough" alone.

Now to hope they're serious enough about Safari to act smartly on all the bug reports and usability feedback that I and others will be sending in over the next few weeks. After all, browsers are perhaps unique in being used universally by everyone from novices to total power users. They can't cater to one without supporting the other, and that's a big hunk of chaw to bite off...

01:15 - Celebrate Midgets
http://www.apple.com/hardware/video/powerbookg4bigandsmall.html

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You know, I've got to say this for Verne Troyer: he's got to be the biggest (one might say) champion for the anti-political-correctness movement that I've seen in a long time.

Five years ago, I daresay an ad like this would never have been feasible. Too many delicate sensibilities would have been hurt. Someone would have accused someone of insensitive exploitation. Someone would have sued. Someone would have paid up.

But Troyer says, "Hey: I'm small, I'm funny-looking... let's have some fun!" And for that I say he deserves every penny he makes, and then some.

As for the ad itself: as Lance said when he first saw it tonight, it's perhaps one of the most effective ones they've done in ages. It's not derisive of any other company or its products, it's not belittling to its potential users. It's just funny and engaging, and by God it gets its point across. And perhaps most importantly, there's not much that can be mocked about it.

(Though I'm sure some enterprising souls will find a way.)

01:04 - The March of Technology

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You know, it wasn't so very long ago that this was absolutely cutting-edge:



Then again, every chunk of parts on the back of this 1992-era HP workstation is a discrete module, and each of the seven modules (power supply, networking, disks, display, etc) un-thumbscrews and slides out. Not a bad design, as these things went...

00:20 - Damn you, Peter Jacksonstein!
http://www.bbspot.com/News/2003/01/jaromir.html

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Perhaps it's best that I say nothing about this one. The damage is too intractable already.

Wellington, New Zealand - A recently leaked trailer for The Return of the King has Tolkien fans outraged over the apparent addition of a new character - Jar-Jaromir. The scene depicted in the trailer shows Jar-Jaromir shouting, "Gondora gonna fallsa";
he then trips over a corpse and knocks down a couple of Uruk-hai.

Ah, good ol' BBspot.

00:17 - Long Day

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Up early this morning to catch the Stevenote, and up to the City this evening for what has to have been the fastest-passing three hours of my life: the dinner with the Bay Area bloggers and others who happen to be in the neighborhood for MacWorld and such.

So I got to meet Mike Silverman, Bill Quick, Stefan Sharkansky, Andrew the Punning Pundit, and a couple of heaping handfuls of other notables whose names eluded me over the course of the steak (which was, by the way, excellent). And it was a blast. The discussions ranged all over, from vegetarianism to Macs to Bush to Simpsons quotes and back. A pretty broad spectrum of opinions were in evidence, and I would have loved to see a transcription of the multitude of threads flowing back and forth across the table, occasionally rising to shrill cries of "That's because you're a fucking socialist!" and "That is the most wrong thing I've ever heard in my entire life!" My most treasusured memory, though, will have to be that whenever one of these good-natured near-explosions about rent control or public transit or welfare or slaughterhouses rocked the table, someone would meekly interject, "So-- how about those Palestinians?" You know, steering it back to a nice safe topic on which we could all agree.

We oughtta do this kind of thing more often.


UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky has posted photos.




13:15 - "This is why we do the things we do"

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Okay-- so. That was a pretty ballsy keynote, all things considered. Steve evidently noticed as well that the rumor sites had gotten the idea that this would be a lackluster and unsurprising address, and he even joked about that toward the end. Good thing he had a lot of stuff with which to counter that claim.


The biggest news, politically, is the new browser-- Safari. Now, it's absolutely a good thing that Apple has thrown its weight behind creating a browsing experience that's undeniably fast; browsing speed is one of the things Apple has been dinged on many times in benchmarks lately, and while part of that is attributable to the CPU speed itself, a lot more of it has to do with the fact that IE on the Mac is sloooow. Microsoft's MacBU did put together a pretty nice package, but it's always been a bit gawky and non-native-feeling, and it was never properly optimized. And it doesn't help matters that the alternative browsers like OmniWeb tend to be even slower (though they do look and feel a whole lot smoother). I've been using Chimera for a while now, and it's actually a good deal faster than IE in a number of key ways (plus it has that tabbed-browsing feature that I've come to enjoy quite a lot), and on top of that it's Gecko/Mozilla-based, which means largely guaranteed compatibility with everything. But it too is buggy and incomplete, and it's not everything I wish it to be.

So now there's Safari, and its big thing is speed. Thus far I'm impressed on that front. It loads fast, renders fast, and even downloads fast (it's a 3MB archive file). Nice and small and efficient. Plus it looks excellent-- very subtle visual look, with unobtrusive buttons that break away from the mold by refusing to be big picture buttons, instead content to be utilitarian but elegant navigational controls that take up very little space. And the whole thing is in the brushed-metal metaphor, which I find lends an interesting "70s" kind of feel to the whole thing.

There are a lot of pleasant surprises. Bookmarks seem to sort themselves intelligently. Popup windows obey the programmatic values I've coded in the server software on my various sites more predictably than most other browsers I've seen (popup windows with images in them look very, very nice). And it's got unrequested-popup-window blocking, much like in Chimera. Interestingly, Safari is open-source (which works both ways-- Apple will be posting its code to the public domain, if I understand what Steve said correctly); but it's not Gecko-based. Instead it's based on KHTML, the KDE rendering engine used in Konqueror. I wonder what prompted that move? It's potentially a politically charged one. KHTML is a very well-organized engine, but it's not too well tested to date, having existed really only for Linux users. (It also hasn't had full coverage on all compatibility areas.) We'll see how well this works in terms of compatibility; Safari has a handy "submit bug" icon in the upper right, though, so you can send non-compliant URLs to Apple to get them to tweak the engine into proper behavior.

But... well, there are a number of things about Safari that tell me immediately that it's not ready for prime time. It's very buggy. Within the first five minutes of use, I'd noticed that a) many pages don't load all the way, leaving the trick blue progress bar (that overlays on top of the URL) unfinished, and there's no visible activity indicator; b) mousing-over the "Bookmark Library" icon makes it disappear, under certain circumstances; c) the Preferences window opened up with no icons, no window contents, and a debug message about "Please select a button first!"; and d) it crashed while I was testing one of my sites. It has no text focus on drop-down menus, so you can't go directly to an item by typing its text partially (something only IE does "correctly" at this point). It doesn't display the contents of non-parsed-header scripts progressively, which is essential for one of my maintenance tools. And the contextual menus are sparse and non-modal, a far cry from the uber-contextuality of OmniWeb's CM's. Plus it makes my own blog page look like ass. (Crank down the text size a whole bunch and it starts to look a little better, but still.)

Something tells me I'll be using the "submit bug to Apple" function a whole lot in the next few days. If Apple is willing to fire this shot across Microsoft's bow-- one more step in the emancipation-from-Microsoft push that's been going on for a couple of years now-- then they'd better be willing to make Safari into a world-class browser that does everything IE does and more. Being fast isn't good enough... particularly when browser speed is one of those things that's only an issue on the Mac. (Saurabh was watching the keynote over my shoulder; his first reaction to the news that Apple was releasing a browser to compete with IE was "They're out of their minds." Because he didn't realize that web browsing on the Mac is slow. On the Windows side, browsing has long since become so well optimized that launch and render times have vanished into the noise, and browsing speed is bottlenecked only by bandwidth.) Safari has great potential to bolster Apple's ability to direct its own future; but this thing has a long way to go yet. Good thing it's just a Public Beta.


But Safari wasn't the centerpiece of the keynote; there wasn't really a single "centerpiece". There were lots of cool things. Chief among the remaining candidates would have to be the new PowerBook-- all 17 inches of PowerBook. They're calling it "the world's first 17-inch notebook"; that'd better be true, because someone here was saying that Sony already had one. (A quick look through Sony's VAIO page doesn't seem to indicate that they have anything bigger than 16", though.) But even if there's a factual bloop there, this is a pretty sweet package. It's even thinner than the current TiBook (1"); it's got rounded edges, like the iBook; it's got a slot-load SuperDrive standard; it's got a GeForce4 with 64MB of RAM; it's even got a trick back-lit keyboard with ambient light detection so the letters light up when it gets dark. The screen is straight out of the 17" iMac (which is not discontinued, much though that might surprise a whole lot of Slashdot readers who were led to believe that the fact that Apple would no longer be buying 17" widescreen LCDs from LG Electronics meant that the 17" iMac was cancelled, rather than that they were simply switching suppliers because LG wasn't going to be making the screens anymore). Oh, and it's got FireWire 800-- quite a silent little rev there. It needs a different connector than FireWire 400 does; I wonder why that is. (More pins?) No USB 2.0, though; it's certainly not lacking in ports, however. Crikey. Everything from on-board BlueTooth to DVI to line-in to S-Video to USB on both sides is in here.

Plus 802.11g-- er, excuse me: AirPort Extreme. They've gone up to the new 54Mbps standard, the one that's backwards-compatible with 802.11b (802.11a is not). It's a bigger card, which is interesting; no more PCMCIA version, at least not yet. But the new 802.11g Base Station has a whole heap of new features, including automatic bridging, USB printing, and 50 simultaneous real users-- for 2/3 the prior price. It's now down to $200. I'd say there's been a major stair-step here in value. I may in fact have to get one of these monster laptops. Steve did say that one of Apple's explicit goals is to get more people off of desktop computers and onto laptops; that does seem a sound plan, since Apple seems to have a knack for producing kickass laptops that don't have as much potential for attendant derision as their desktops do. It's a market they seem to be a bit better in. Aziz Poonawalla suggested to me in e-mail a while back that Apple might do well to stop making desktops-- or at least de-emphasize them-- and focus their efforts on their laptop line, where they seem to have more of a natural advantage these days. I was skeptical, but Steve appears to have the same idea after all.

To say nothing of the new 12-inch PowerBook. Yikes. Okay, at $1799, it's no iBook-killer; but damn, that's small. They had some pro photographers in the promo video who were talking about how this is exactly what they'd been hoping for: a full-featured, top-end laptop that's really damned small. And the contrast in what's now an extremely well-positioned notebook line is quite a kicker; wait'll you see the new TV ad starring NBA star Yao Ming and Verne Troyer (Mini-Me) on an airplane with their respective PowerBooks. There were about three people in my cubicle when the ad came on; by the time it was over, we had a roaring party of six or seven, attracted by the gales of laughter rolling across the floor. The jubilant MacWorld spirit was in high gear by that point, and even the Mac skeptics here at work were really getting into it. Nicely played, Steve.


So then there's the new "iLife" packaging for the iApps, with new major versions of iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD, as well as the unlocking of cool new stuff in iTunes. This won't be ready until later this month, but judging by the demos, it'll all be well worth waiting for. Microsoft has been making great strides trying to catch up with Apple's "digital hub" stuff, and we've been left to speculate about the "media-based interface" metaphors and concepts that seem to be apparent in the various apps. It's all been speculation, though; but now it's clear that this is where Apple wants to go. Until now, each iApp worked independently; you had to know how to get into iTunes for your music, or iPhoto for your pictures, and only then would your media-specific metaphors become useful. But now, each iApp has visibility and interaction into each of the other iApps; iMovie can list and import your songs and photos directly, iPhoto and iMovie can burn straight to DVD, and so on. There's no no longer the need to rely on the old standby "files and folders" metaphors when you have to take your data out of one context and import it into another. Now you can stay within the media-based context of your task and simply do it, without having to export anything to Quicktime files or create folders full of pictures. This was an essential stepping-stone toward the media-based strategy being comprehensive and genuinely useful, and it looks like they've taken it that last mile now. And once again Apple has taken a clear lead in showing where this market ought to go. I can't wait to get my boxed copy ($50 for all four apps, or a free download for everything except iDVD, which has an ass-load of new transitions which now incorporate your own video into their funky artsy effects). Color me impressed, and impatient at that.

Speaking of video, the first thing Jobs (actually, Schiller) showed off was Final Cut Express: a lite version of FCP whose purpose would appear to be to apply a pincers movement to Premiere. Adobe can't be all that happy with Apple right about now; Premiere has the bottom rung at the $600 slot, FCP comes in mid-range at $1000, and Avid fits at the top-end at $1500 and up. But now that FCE will be sitting below Premiere-- with most of the critical FCP features-- Premiere is going to have a hard time making its case. FCP is already fast amassing an industry all its own, and now there's going to be a low-ball $300 version that will eliminate the price-based reasons to go with Premiere instead of FCP. Adobe will have to counter this move with a "Premiere Elements" or something. Ballsy move by Apple here. No way could they have done this before Photoshop 7 was released.

And then there's Keynote, which I can imagine getting a copy of just to screw around with. It looks so fun. The fact that it has import/export compatibility with PowerPoint is the linchpin, but far more important to me is the fact that we finally now have an app that gleefully shows off all those cool Quartz tricks that were part of all the early Mac OS X demos, but that the standard apps never really took advantage of or gave users control over. Now we see why Jobs touted such things so much: he got to use them all the time, considering that this is the very tool that he's apparently been using to put together these keynote presentations. The text and graphics compositing tools alone look like the stuff with which one can waste days on end, and then there are those insane transitions and themes. At $100, this looks like one of those things that they just thought was too much fun not to release and let everybody play with. Considering the unusually long and loud applause Jobs got when he announced that everybody in attendance at the keynote would get their own free copy on their way out the door, it would seem he called that one pretty much on the mark.

So yeah-- it wasn't by any means a downer of a keynote, and I'm feeling that all-too-familiar tug on my wallet. Yeah, I do need a new laptop. I suppose it would make some sense for me to go drop $3K on a laptop with a bigger screen than my desktop machine here at work. Or at least I can convince myself of that, I'm confident.

I'm sure I'll get to discuss all this in person tonight at the blogger bash in San Francisco. I hope to get to match up some faces with well-known opinions; and there'll be plenty to talk about, even without such things as international terrorism to occupy the conversation.

Whew.
Monday, January 6, 2003
20:21 - Open your QuickTime and say your prayers, 'cause Stevie Jobs comes tonight...

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Tomorrow morning's the keynote, and it's anybody's guess what treats it will bring. The rumor sites have been pretty quiet for a while-- well, maybe quiet isn't the word. Perhaps confused. there's nothing substantive to be heard. Whether it's wireless keyboards, new iApps (or new versions of old iApps, some of which are indeed due), new iPod-type stuff, or a revamp of the TiBook (also due), nobody seems to really know.

There are new versions of iCal and iSync posted already, though, so those aren't going to be big keynote surprises. I'm kinda inclined to see this as a good thing; if these are being "silently" released the day before the keynote, then in order for the keynote to have any substance it's going to have to center on other stuff. (It'd have to do so anyway; iCal is much faster now, and iSync is much smoother, but neither of those are keynote material.) So there's likely to be something big on the way. No massive day-by-day appetite-whetting like they gave us last year in anticipation of the iMac's release, but that means nothing historically either. So, we'll see.


In any case, it means I'll be up at 9AM to catch the live feed. Last year, our annual sales conference occurred on Keynote Day, so we could only catch the first half-hour or so (which saw the iMac's unveiling and the first few minutes of iPhoto) before they packed us up onto buses and drove us into the hill resorts to hobnob with the international sales force. But this time, the conference isn't till next week; so we'll get to see the whole thing.

Chances are that it'll be obvious within the first twenty minutes or so whether this will be an upper or a downer of a keynote. (This time around, it's not quite so cut-and-dried; the CPU situation in particular has got a lot of us feeling a bit bleak.) I'll have to come up with some cutesy superstitious things to do in order to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Fingers crossed...
Previous Week...


© Brian Tiemann