g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
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12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
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11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
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12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
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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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, January 19, 2003
04:51 - What a Day

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So I spent the day today out with friends-- hiking and taking photos, seeking out interesting restaurants, and hanging around with the guys while they drew comics and let me write sarcastic commentary in the panel boundaries. The evening's auditory accompaniment was mostly hours of insane laughter.

But it started out not too auspiciously; a peek at one friend's blog (which I won't link here) showed me his ultra-clever juxtaposition of Bush's head with a compost heap ("the only post Bush is fit for"). So I was morose and tight-lipped for a good half an hour, until I managed to put it out of my mind with an effort of will, as well as the thought that in San Francisco and DC and Europe and Iraq and the West Bank and Syria and everywhere, every last gunport of the knee-jerk anti-war, anti-Bush activism machine would today be flung wide open. And yet I somehow knew that it would turn out to be so incoherent, vapid, morally shallow, and generally based on nothing more than inane slogans ("Bush iz st00pid!!!11!``") as to be unlikely to really put forth any real unified platform that meant anything. (Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I was up in San Francisco last night, discovering afresh the hell-for-any-kind-of-motor-vehicle-that-isn't-a-bus that is Market Street, trapped at each no-left-turn-here arrow while trying desperately to find a way to get left, with nothing to do but look at the signs exhorting participants to the coming rally that would convene there in the morning, and to listen to NPR's coverage of the Freedom Riders heading up to DC from Mississippi. They passed the phone around the bus, from a guy who thinks Bush is a shrieking monkey who obviously can't tie his own shoelaces, to a girl who opposes war because violence is bad and stuff, and plus she has a husband in the army, to a 60-year-old lady who is convinced that there are better ways to solve our problems than fisticuffs. The interviewer tried to pose some interesting questions, like why the hell they're riding a bus to the nation's capital to wave signs demanding love and respect for Saddam Hussein and the deposition of our own President, when we know exactly what kind of hell we'd be condeming the Iraqi people to if we did nothing; but their best response was that those kinds of things were best dealt with at the political level, not by blowing up innocent civilians. And then they hung up.)

So I had the feeling that the world would have its little day of insanity, but then it would end, and everything would go back to normal. And I was able to relax and have fun for the remainder of the day.

So it turns out that the protests turned out pretty much as I expected; a bunch of sloganeers out for a good ol' protestin' day like they heard their parents had back in the Sixties, with such oh-so-clever sentiments as GOD BLESS IRAQ and NO BLOOD FOR OIL. The best that can be said for them, apparently, is that some of them pledged to be open to the idea of war if proof of Iraq's threat were produced. That's the most coherent facet of the whole movement, and the whole movement's credibility will hinge on how that facet gleams when it's turned toward the light. Put up or shut up, in other words.

Meanwhile, France appears to have found a new way to surrender-- devoting tons of government money towards subsidies of mosques, trading the separation of church and state for a little bit of appeasement. Oh, how that warms the cockles of my heart.

All this-- the protests everywhere, the slogans, the vitriol, Saddam's speech thanking his friends on Market Street and the Mall, and so on are contingent upon the US being wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and a secret nuclear program. We must be wrong, after all. We in the US have such a terrible track record when it comes to choosing sides on big, world-altering issues. We were wrong about rule by royalty, choosing the losing side of democracy. We were wrong about crushing the Confederacy and ending slavery. We were wrong about fascism, it would seem. We were wrong about communism. We continue to be wrong about global markets, socialism, gun freedom, and all those other little things we continue to be so misguided about, while the rest of the world-- who has country-by country made so many right choices over the years when it came to things like Hitler and Stalinism-- gets to lecture us sternly on our inexperienced, presumptuous ways. We can't possibly know what we're doing. Just because the world has eventually come to agree on our values and decisions in just about every major area doesn't mean a thing, you see; America is still wrong, and the rest of the world is right. Because they said so, that's why.

And they say Iraq is peachy-keen. Saddam doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction, they say; and besides, even if he did, which they're not saying he does, he deserves them! Hey, someone's got to give those Yanks the come-uppance they've been cruising for all these many years? Someone's got to take the wind out of their sails! Who do they think they are, traipsing in here and showing the world how a nation goes about being successful and prosperous without ever having to undergo a violent revolution or reversal of any of the basic principles upon which it was founded, ever since the first President took office? Just because it's unique among nations in being the same sort of country today as it was in 1776, does that mean it's doing anything right? Shyeah. As if.

Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, Cowboy Buddy. Trust us.

Well, we say: No.

I tell ya. If only the world were in more capable hands than ours, huh?

Friday, January 17, 2003
17:59 - Stubbornly San Franciscan

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Well, I'm going to be incommunicado for a few hours-- I'll be up in North Beach for a performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. While the civilized world's opinion of San Francisco crumbles around us, I'll be clinging to one of the most bizarre memes to ever have attempted to define the city experience. Westward ho!

UPDATE: Okay, well, then again... perhaps BBB doesn't so much attempt to define the San Francisco experience as... uh, as just do a bunch of stuff with really huge elaborate hats. Fair enough... now I know better. And I've also got a better idea of the geography of North Beach/Little Italy... which I'm sure will stand me in good stead should I have a need to show someone around.


11:18 - The Fall of iCommunism
http://www.icommune.net/

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The makers of iCommune, an iTunes plug-in which allows users to share music over the network with a group of friends, has just been C&D'ed by Apple Legal.
Uh oh... I just received a "Notice of Breach and Termination of License" letter from Apple, stating that I violated my license to the Device Plug-in API which iCommune uses. For the time being, I'm making the download unavailable, while I try to sort things out with Apple. Sorry about this folks. Any good lawyers in the house?
I have a theory as to what happened, though. I'll echo something I just sent Aziz in e-mail:

What iCommune does is pretty similar to something Apple demoed as part of Jaguar (the ability to auto-discover and share other people's playlists via Rendezvous and stream music over the LAN); but Apple was compelled to back out of it silently under pressure from the RIAA and similar groups. (At least, that's the insinuation that I got out of one of the floor employees at MacWorld.) They called the demo a "technology preview", but I highly suspect that that's not what Jobs and Schiller intended it to be when they showed their playlists popping up on each other's iTunes on stage.

And since iCommune does the same kind of thing, I suspect that maybe Apple is under the same kind of pressure, being made to accept liability for that kind of functionality being added to iTunes. I'll bet the RIAA is already steamed at Apple for banking on the future of MP3s and device-shifting (patently flouting the RIAA's wishes); Jobs came out a while back, while accepting his Grammy for FireWire, firmly on the side of MP3 players and consumer rights. So the RIAA has probably just been waiting for the opportunity to claim that something of Apple's is a music-file-sharing application and put the squeeze on them.

Sure, it's not actually Apple technology that's creating the file-sharing functionality. But I imagine they're worried that if the RIAA were to start poking at them with a sharp stick, what they'd demand would be for iTunes itself to be axed. And that's not a legal battle Apple's interesting in fighting-- not a technological distinction they look forward to proving in court.

It's just speculation, but I think the pieces sorta fit...
Thursday, January 16, 2003
03:53 - Oh, right, it's that time of year again...

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One more thing before I turn in. (Closing time for my inbox just never seems to roll around.)

As most of my friends know, the end of January sees me trying harder than at any other time of the year to dig up pretexts for rebelling against the football-fueled fervor of loud cacophonic whooping caroming its way up the stairs while I hide out in the crawl space. Each year I try a new tack, hoping for better results than last time. Well, here we go-- a little something from a posting on the ever-entertaining Ar-Rahman list:
A Religious Injunction Regarding Football Given by a Particular Jurist

This is an extremely fine matter to comment on. Many jurists, such as Mufti-e-Azam of Pakistan, Moulana Rashid Ahmed Ludhyanwi have gone to the extreme. His point of view is as follows:
Firstly, he defines the words `physical exercise' into two.
a) One which is apparently linked with jihad.
b) And one which has no apparent link.
Mufti Rashid Saheb places football in the latter category. He then goes on to state, "For football to be permissible, due to it being linked with the latter group of physical activities, there are many pre-requital conditions, which need to be studied.
Firstly, there are three conditions:
1. There should be no physical or financial loss.
2. The person who takes part in such activities, himself, should not be encountering any loss, nor those who are participating with him.
3. The aspect of futile entertainment should not be dominant.
For the former two conditions he puts forward two ahaadith from which he puts forward his deductions.
The Holy Prophet has stated:
"Every play from which pleasure is gained is baseless (impermissible) apart from the practicing of bows and the training of horses or playing with his wife. Verily, these are permissible."
I'll be sure to let the guys in the living room know this on Super Bowl Sunday. I'm sure it'll go over real well.

UPDATE: Ayn Rand wouldn't make a very good mufti. (Thanks to Josh Ellison for the link!)


03:35 - Wait a minute

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Curse EyeTV for snagging me a copy of tonight's Home Movies, forcing me to have to watch it time-shifted before collapsing into bed.

And curse Home Movies for having an extra dimension of blinkworthiness, over and beyond the "retro-scripting" ad-lib scene development and the subversiveness of the subtle character interplay for which I'd already come to respect it despite (or perhaps in addition to) the deliberate crudity of the animation and art. I refer to the fact that each of the early episodes, which they're running nightly as part of the across-the-board rollout of the new and massively expanded Adult Swim block, seems to feature a different underground comic as a writer and bit character.

Last night's episode had Shannon, the squeaky-voiced and oddly articulate bully kid with the Dubya-like mind (which I mean in the sense in which Den Beste would mean it-- it's a compliment). That voice definitely sounded familiar, though; sure enough, when the credits rolled, they listed Emo Phillips. Of course! And tonight was the rabid-cat one: So when you're searching for something, don't find it. Because when you find it... it has rabies. And I couldn't help but think that the Rastafarian minister giving the eulogy over Alexandre's funeral in the pet cemetery sounded just like Mitch Hedberg. And lo and behold...

I wonder what other guest-stars I missed noticing the first time around?

02:35 - PunditPundit

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You know all those little questionnaire things you find online that allow you to look up your porn-star name, your Jedi name, your gangsta name, and so on? (According to which I'm respectively known as Christopher Colony, Tiebr Feuki, and Stupid-ass Pond Swimma?)

Well, why not a Blogger Name Generator? You know, like _____Pundit. We'd get such worthy entries as CitricAcidPundit, TartarControlDuffPundit, CrimeanWarPundit, PottedPalmPundit, uh... PakledPundit...

Okay, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. C'mon, gimme a break.

I guess it seems like it's the night for experimentation. Lileks is doing it, at least-- he's Bleating in blog format this time, and if anyone ought to be able to get away with calling himself SpringfieldPundit or something along those lines, it's him.

(Good show, but I think James forgot to note that when you do things in blog format, you can't do things like make sense and have internal consistency and throw and catch your literary devices. This is like watching Jose Canseco get picked for one of the teams in a Little League game. Or something.)

For my part, even with all the world's events, I couldn't work up a head of steam to write anything today; but I did add a link icon to Dave Hyatt's Safari blog (at right) so I can have some thematic baggage to carry around with me. As a gun-rights supporter who can't tell a Glock from a bottle of Smith & Wesson oil, I'm right out of the running for the more popular blog bumper stickers (at least, popular in the linkage circles in which I seem to travel). So I gotta take what opportunities for personality I can get.

Maybe I should try to put up more "grotto 11" stuff, and maybe even elucidate just what the hell it is that means. (Trust me, you wouldn't be any more enlightened if I told you.)

Or maybe I just need some sleep. Yeah. That sounds like one helluvan idea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
20:39 - Lisa, it's your birthday; happy birthday, Lisa
http://204.248.48.2/Main.html

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Thanks to Mike, here's a Lisa fan page. That's the Apple Lisa, the 1983 forerunner of the Mac. The top-end workstation machine to which the original Mac was intended to be the little brother, the entry-level consumer machine.

A fan site for a computer, you say? How far-fetched! Shyeah. Well, okay, how about a 1983 computer that's a fully functional web server?

Lots of cool Lisa info here, showing off the various ways in which the machine can trot along with the computers of today and all their functionality. And this from a computer that's twenty years old this week.

Yeah, but can she get 200 fps on Quake III Arena?

Bahh.

20:17 - What decade is this again?

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Lance and I were down in the Cambrian area of San Jose today over lunch, for reasons which I will probably opt out of clarifying until a little further down the road. This is the area south of I-85, in the Camden Road/Almaden Expwy region. Right up against the southern foothills that rim the Valley. Too far east to be among the artifical yuppie quaintness of Saratoga; too far west to be immersed in the modern sterility of Southeast San Jose, with its wide swathes of recent dot-com-spurred development and its Camazotz of houses trying desperately to look like they have personality.

We stopped by the neighborhood's Round Table Pizza. Now, Round Table is something about which I've rhapsodized numerous times; it's far and away the best chain pizza I've ever had, and it's one of those things the Western US has going for it that even the angriest critics of California must admit are treasures without which the world would be much poorer. If the San Andreas Fault tosses up its hands in surrender and the California coast goes sloughing off into the sea, among all the good-riddance braying from the bloggers we'll see a few discreet tears being shed for In-N-Out, Apple, and Round Table.

One of the things I like best about Round Table, in any case, is the fact that it's in no way a cookie-cutter establishment. Every Round Table is different. Some of them are little holes-in-the-wall in strip malls and downtown urban sidewalk stops; these are often dark inside, like good pizza places in my experience always have been, lit with candles on dark hardwood tables in decaying old booths. Some even have fireplaces. Other Round Tables are newer and less distinctive; they might have free-standing tables or metal chairs, or too much light. It's infinitely variable. And in Southern California, where it's a physical impossibility to get good pizza (I know, I tried for four years), you can find the worst Round Tables ever. Putting lie to the chain's claim to only use fresh ingredients, and to the silly cutesy ads of the 80s with that pallish fat guy with glasses who apparently owned the business, LA's Round Tables tended to have no personality whatsoever and even less quality in the pizza. Dry, poorly spread pepperoni. Brash, stupid sauce. Cheese with that spent-too-much-time-in-the-oven brown blotchiness. Greasy crust.

Pretty much like what you get at most other pizza places, in other words.

Anyway, the Round Table near where I live is one of the less inspired ones. It's in a supermarket/drugstore-type corner strip mall; it's got a fairly sterile interior. The pizza is highly variable. Some days it's excellent (and the best such cases are when I have someone from Boston or elsewhere on the East Coast visiting, and they take a skeptical bite only to be suddenly transported by rapturous waves of spicy sauce and oh-so-perfectly-textured cheese); other days it's uninspired. The place is staffed by high-school kids, mostly.

But this one place off Camden where we spent lunch today... man. I don't know-- it could well be the best one yet. It's not dark like the award-winning one from my youth in Ukiah, with its grinning signed photo of the chain's bespectacled owner behind the bar; instead, the interior is laid out with lots of interesting partitions and wall hangings and other decor. We got a Chicken Rostadoro with a pan crust; I'd never had that one before. It was in the middle of the afternoon, so there weren't any other customers, but when someone-- whose identity I didn't pay any attention to at the time-- came to the table to ask how it was (an unusual event in itself), we fell all over ourselves to tell her how phenomenal it was. I've never had anything quite like it. Hot chunks of roma tomatoes covered with garlic-- mmmh! Yes indeedy.

When we finished, we found ourselves shaking hands with the proprietors: an aged couple with a very thick, indeterminate accent. (They seemed to be from Eastern Europe or somewhere, but there's no telling.) Both were effusive and gushingly friendly. We introduced ourselves and talked about the neighborhood and the pizza and the store. The woman told us they'd just finished remodeling the whole place; I said I'm a fan of Round Table, but that this one really seemed to have something special going for it. She beamed, seemed to be on the verge of tears, and said it's all worth every penny she and her husband have put into it, to keep getting sweet customers like us.

It's a good sign.

19:30 - Someone smell something?

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The other day on NPR I heard a rather odd story. It was a recounting of the events portrayed in a new book out of France, written by (or from the perspective of) someone working with an aid group whose purpose is to find children in Afghanistan who have life-threatening illnesses which can be treated with Western medicine-- such as heart and pulmonary conditions-- and select a few lucky children to be taken to France for the life-saving surgery.

Along the way, though, the kids were to get a taste of good old-fashioned immersive culture-clash. The very kind of traumatic plunge into an utterly alien, painfully decadent and soulless world-- so unlike the honor and purity of the native soil-- that I'd thought had been made to seem so hateful and colonialistic in recent years.

The kids in question, aged 8-12 and thereabouts, obviously had never so much as flown in an airplane. They'd learned some French phrases, which the tale recounts as being the basis of a heartwarming introduction to the kids' new French foster parents. Bonjour, Madame! Merci beaucoup, s'il vous plait! Le plume est sur la table! Precocious, eager to please, obviously intelligent little jewels of human beings. This took place, however, only after the kids had been beseiged by the foster parents advancing on them with open arms, brandishing teddy bears. They'd never seen toys before, let alone adult women wearing t-shirts and jeans. It took ages before they were able to bring themselves to recite their memorized phrases.

Settling in to French life was rocky. The account took pains to point out how the kids refused to eat, pushing away proffered croissants, saying that everything was so strange here-- how could they be sure the food was safe to eat?

The account then shifted to the kids' impressions of urban France. On this front is where the ruminations on culture-clash seemed so surprising. the foster parents took the kids downtown, showed them the crowded plate-glass toy-store display windows, but (the narrator said) the kid in question simply furrowed his brows. This country is so odd, he said. All the houses have roofs. There is no dust, no broken-down buildings. He pondered for a moment; then he brightened. I wonder who built this country? Perhaps whoever it was could help Afghanistan!

Now... I don't know about you, but when I hear stuff like this, I have to wonder just how precocious a kid has to be in order to say the exact things that someone would make up in order to further an agenda of guilt-for-being-Western and shaming-the-rich-West-into-rebuilding-war-torn-bombed-out-Afghanistan. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for doing whatever we can to rehabilitate Afghanistan and any other country where we have had to clean house; it's what we do, and have done, after nearly every war where we've accomplished our aims; besides which, we have a vested interest in making sure the people we've been trying to liberate actually get to keep their newfound opportunity. (We just can't erode their sovereignty in order to do it, or else we'll end up making them feel "occupied", like in South Korea, after the antebellum days have been forgotten.) But-- and maybe I'm just being a cynic here-- it seems just a little too convenient that these sentiments would be falling so irresistibly from the lips of bewildered little heart patients in a land far from home.

I wish I remembered the title of the book in question, so I could get a closer look. Maybe it's entirely legit; I don't know from my offhand recollection. But I'm suspicious of anything that seems to be trying to pluck the strings of the aawwww reflex.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
16:21 - Put On a Happy Face

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Here's the new banner for the freeway-facing side of 3 Infinite Loop, which they just put up yesterday:



15:47 - Stuff like this
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/7/28724.html

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On the other hand, Microsoft seems not to be having any trouble coming up with innovative new ways to show what a collective asshole it's capable of being.

They forged a partnership with Sendo, maker of digital phones; Microsoft promised to provide the StingerOS, Sendo promised to deliver the phones, and they'd go to market in summer 2001.

Summer 2001 rolls around; Sendo has the phones, but Microsoft has no StingerOS. But they keep trickling in the money. Time marches on. Sendo gets hung out to dry, with no product to ship; Microsoft keeps stalling.

Finally, Microsoft declares it's never heard of Sendo, and cuts off Sendo's VC funding, driving them bankrupt. But!

"Under the SDMA, in the event of a Sendo bankruptcy, Microsoft would obtain an irrevocable, royalty free license to use Sendo's Z100 intellectual property, including rights to make, use, or copy the Sendo Smartphone to create other to create other Smartphones and to, most importantly for Microsoft, sublicense those rights to third parties."

So Microsoft now has all of Sendo's IP, for free. Did they ever intend to develop StingerOS? Was there ever even anything coded? Did they keep telling the Sendo reps "Oh, sorry, those engineers are all out at Six Flags today," and "Ooh, no, that wing of the building's been blocked off for fire-code inspection"?

They must have been doing something, because now Microsoft has the Orange SPV to promote. With a mysteriously rich background of technology and IP to bolster it.

How anybody can gaze with reverential awe at this company is utterly beyond me.

15:28 - Browser Detente
http://www.punning_pundit.blogspot.com/2003_01_12_punning_pundit_archive.html#873736

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Who ever said the Browser War was over? Sure, maybe the big Netscape-vs-IE siege broke a long time ago, but somehow that's failed to matter much to the other makers of alternative browsers.

What makes it possible for small-time browser makers like Opera and Mozilla (and on the Mac, OmniWeb, Chimera, iCab, and Safari for that matter) to compete for desktop space? Monopoly power at its finest, I'd say. Once IE had "won", there was no more incentive for it to improve. No need to incorporate new features, even if they were useful. As far as Microsoft was concerned, if they'd developed IE to the point where it could marginalize Netscape out of the picture, then it was good enough forever.

Hence bugs like the "images with XML data in the headers cause the entire rest of the browser's process life to hang" thing, which hasn't been fixed in two major versions and seems to be keeping nobody at Microsoft up at night, despite how widespread images created by modern XML-header-writing Adobe software are getting. As Andrew the Punning Pundit says:

IE sucks. It has none of the standard features that I like (pop-up blockers, for instance), encourages some sort of lame-ass I-can’t-believe-its-not-HTML that other browsers can not learn to read, has 2 settings for cookies (on and off) and seems to just beg for security holes to be exploited. On the other wrist: It does file-management. File management is one of the most unsexy things software can do, and it is only a browser function because MS was trying to evade the law, BUT it is just about the most important thing one can do with one’s computer. IE does it, nothing else does. And for that reason alone, it stays on my hard drive.

Not exactly a strong endorsement. This is the purest case of "good enough" that I've seen in a bloody long time, and the strongest endorsement of marketplace competition-- even at the expense of standardization-- to boot.

Because, you know, browsers have not reached the limit of their potential. Many companies are coming up with plenty of good new features and streamlined behaviors for next-generation browsers, as well as ground-up rethinking of certain metaphors that have been efffectively unchanged since the days of Netscape 2.0. Why does every browser handle bookmarks/favorites exactly the same way, with a drop-down menu? Why does every browser have to have a "throbber" which indicates activity and provides a link back to the browser's home page? These are concepts that date back to the heyday of the Big Blue Breathing N, and the fact that they haven't changed since then is not an indication that they can't be improved. Hence Safari's completely different handling of both of those things-- with resultant behavior that I think is a lot better in many ways.

"Don't rock the boat," says Microsoft. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Well, that doesn't tend to fly on the Mac, where IE is much less tied into the system than on Windows (read: not at all). Pretty much every Mac user I know has at least dabbled in another browser at some time, and most actually use something else, whether OmniWeb, Chimera, Mozilla, or Safari. IE is nice and compatible, but it's slow and ugly. It has some nice features that other browsers lack (type-buffering seeking on drop-down menus, auction tracking, sidebar features), but other browsers bring still more to the table: popup-ad blocking, animated-GIF looping control (nice!), regexp-based content-refusal, deep and detailed cookie management, JavaScript debuggers, helper-app configuration that isn't completely brain-dead. Plus speed. Plus gorgeous text rendering. And on it goes.

(It remains unclear whether Microsoft's MacBU has in fact internally end-of-lifed IE for the Mac, or whether such a decision-- if true-- is the cause or the effect of Apple's development of Safari.)

So at least on the Mac side, the browser sampler platter is still pretty well stocked-- more so than it ever has been in the past, in fact-- and almost all the selections have an appeal all their own. OmniWeb looks gorgeous and has the best OS X-ish design, plus the best debugging and information-discovery and content-control tools. Chimera has (possibly) the best rendering engine and nice convenience/privacy features. IE has a solid rendering engine and good navigational features. Safari has speed, rendering accuracy, slick operational concepts, and great looks. Lots of us use more than one of these, each for when we need to take advantage of a particular strength.

Now that website design has become so broadly standardized, compatibility isn't even so much of a problem anymore-- even when talking about stuff like DHTML and CSS. There's nothing new happening on the HTML side of things, which leaves the alternative browsers free to catch up with what's become standard practice. The marginal benefit of using IE for compatibility's sake is growing thinner and thinner, and there's nothing to hand Microsoft an advantage in that field anytime soon. So for any company or organization willing to put in the effort, there's some market share out there to be had. Browser users (particularly on the Mac) tend to treat browsers like chairs; they'll keep trying new ones, shifting around until the ass-groove is just-so, then getting up and trying the next one, until they find just the right one that suits their posterior. And if Microsoft isn't willing to go the distance and respond to the shapes of people's butts, fine-tuning and tweaking and improving, then other chair makers will rise to the challenge.

This is one of the odd, intangible benefits of using a minority platform. There's always excitement. There's always hope. There's never complacency or resignation. The war never really ended here.



UPDATE: Kris forwards me a CNET story on Safari and the reasoning behind using KHTML instead of Gecko for the rendering engine. It's a great read, full of little details that CNET seems to have done a good job in getting right. Sounds as though Apple's choice of KHTML was the right one, considering the reaction of some of the Gecko team members:

"I guess I'm supposed to be mortally offended--or at least embarrassed--that they went with KHTML instead of our Gecko engine, but I'm having trouble working up the indignation," wrote Mike Shaver in a Web log posting. "We've all known forever that Gecko missed its 'small-and-lean' target by an area code, and we've been slogging back towards the goal, dragging our profilers and benchmarks behind us, for years."

Shaver, who left Netscape three years ago but retained his position on the small Mozilla staff, said that in Apple's shoes he might have made a similar decision.

"If I had to write a new browser, and I was going to have to touch the layout code in a serious way, I would think about Mozilla alternatives," Shaver wrote. "I really, really hope that Mozilla will learn from Safari/KHTML, because they've done a lot of great work in about a tenth of the code."

That's certainly forthright. And it's further proof, to me at least, that Apple has its head screwed on straight when making sure that its technical decisions are the right ones rather than whatever's politically most expedient.



UPDATE: On second thought, maybe the article isn't as responsible a piece of journalism as it seemed; MozillaZine has the scoop on cheesed-off and misquoted developers.


Monday, January 13, 2003
20:24 - Okay, joke's over
http://www.robgalbraith.com/diginews/2003-01/2003_01_07_macpc.html

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Via Den Beste (though it's all over the Mac boards)-- here's a very detailed benchmark test suite done by a professional digital photographer, comparing the fastest Macs available to a couple of top-end PC laptops. He's doing all kinds of conversions and filtering and image manipulations, and the Macs find themselves dressed in shorts and t-shirts at a tuxedo party.

What's more, the author-- Rob Galbraith-- is a Mac-head. He understands all about the Mac mystique, the Megahertz Myth, and all the cultish vibes you get in a crowd with a few hundred other Mac people in line for an Apple Store opening, or with a few thousand other Mac people at a MacWorld. He's no Mac-basher. He's just honest.

Now, I've been saying for quite a while now that speed is not something that Apple can claim as a prime marketing bullet point. They've backed off significantly on the superlatives over the past year; even Jobs apparently realizes that there's not even any vapor in the tank when he stomps on the "Shorter Pipelines is Better" pedal. Hence the 970 project, which had better come to fruition sooner than later. Because we're on the edge of a meltdown here. The new PowerBooks and iLife will tide us over for maybe six months, but beyond that-- it's got to be more megahertz, or Apple gets put back in the pariah box.

What's encouraging is that there's a lot of really good discussion in forums attached to this article, with lots of very techno-savvy people discussing the ramifications of these findings. That in itself isn't what's encouraging; what's good is that so many of the posters are avowed PC people, who nonetheless get the Mac. They cite not only the coolness of the industrial design, but the genuine quality of the LCD screens, the design of the iMac, the indispensability of ColorSync (though many seem to think that similar technology must exist on Windows-- sorry, not the case), and most importantly of all: the importance of software/hardware integration and the UI design on the iApps and other software. They might be PC users tried and true, but not a one of them is derisive of Apple. They see what's good about Apple in the face of doom, rather than seeing only what's bad about Apple in the face of coolness (as is so often lamentably the case).

It's this kind of mutual respect that I think has a chance to hold things together until the 970-based machines get here. People know about the new chips; they realize they're on the way. But more importantly, they understand that Apple's strength is not simply in raw speed and power; it never has been. They understand that what Apple does bring to the table-- a vision for what user-interface should be, and for how to run a company that sacrifices market-share for the sake of deeply felt ideals-- is worth having around. To quote "otto" from the comments:
If Apple is indeed on a backslide, I have to say that it doesn´t amuse me as a pc user, because the tough competition they put up is one reason for the incredible personal computer development we have seen in these past 15 years.
Yeah. And if this is the attitude of respect that Apple's fostered in the PC community through this rather astonishing marathon comeback they've staged in the past five years since Jobs' return, then they can be proud indeed. And it may have been the right decision, too, if Jobs had seen this situation coming years ago, which he may in fact have done. It might all be part of the plan.

Imagine: You're Steve Jobs, and the year is 1998. You know that Motorola is standing on a downward slope, they're falling behind Intel, and you know that they're not going to leapfrog to the fore with no reason to make microprocessors except to power Macs. Apple makes what amount to boring beige boxes, no better outwardly than the PCs they're up against. They cost a lot more, yet their software and hardware hasn't done much that's exciting or revolutionary in years. What do you do?

First things first: You release some computers that make the world trip over their feet and fall flat on their faces. That would be the translucent ("visible") iMac and its candy-colored second-gen iterations. Sure, they aren't all that exciting inside; they even include a few controversial excisions, like the floppy drive. Instead, it's a machine that embraces the Internet and USB; it's a small, feature-lean, almost portable computer that's sexy and cute and has personality; it's no speed demon, but it can be expanded via this new hot-swappable port format, and it looks good enough to appear in every movie that wants to look techno-cool in 1999-2000. Much of the feedback is negative and derisive; but that's par for the course. (Even bad publicity is still publicity.) But still more of the feedback is positive or indirectly bandwagoning; the other manufacturers all take note and start doing translucent and candy-colored equipment, and soon it spreads to non-computer devices too, from lamps to water coolers. And most importantly: Apple is back on the map.

But that's just the first step. While the world is poking and prodding at the honeypot that is the iMac, you get to work on the lifecycle of the new G4 processor: something that you know from Day One will be Motorola's last desktop-computer microprocessor. You map out a four-year period during which you will milk the G4 for all it's worth, and then some. You realize that it will be overextended; but you know this is the price you pay when you're given the hand you're dealt, inheriting a company that never chose to jump ship to a different CPU in the early 90s. So you've got the G4; you deliberately plan out the milestones to be widely spaced and modest, and you send out all the feelers you possibly can. You forge alliances in the shadows. You make appeals and counter-offers. You keep an iron in Motorola's fire, just to keep them aware of the importance to Apple of the lifeline of the G4 that they hold in their corporate hands. And sooner or later, you know, you'll find someone who's willing to play ball. Maybe SGI. Maybe Sun. Maybe IBM. Yeah. IBM; that's the ticket.

The iMac's appeal will wear thin, though, you realize; and so you whip the cover off a much bigger project, one that's designed to restore not so much Apple's presence as the savvy public's respect for Apple: OS X. You know that most people think Macs are toys, and the iMacs didn't help that any. You've played the iMac card, and it did its job. But now your task is to prove that Apple really can set its mind to something that will make everybody from Redmond to Slashdot blink audibly a few times and start to keep a few cycles available each day to pay attention to what Apple's doing.

Out comes OS X, and it's a rocky start in many ways-- but a resounding success in many others. It takes a while to shake off the fetters of the old system, but eventually it happens. And by the time that's done-- only a year or two-- assuming you put all your resources where they need to go, and make all the right decisions with this new OS, you've got yourself a ready-made audience in the computing public: people who respect a well-made UNIX, people who will forgive a company its past role as a doddering also-ran if it actually manages to pull off the impossible: a sneaky stealth end-run that puts a real, live, non-crippled, honest-to-God UNIX on the desks of millions of everyday men and women. To the mind of the idealistic UNIX geek, Apple's balls in slipping UNIX in under the door, there to self-inflate like a punch-clown, are basketball-sized. And that's something they respect. It's a piece of political maneuvering that appeals to anybody who has harbored a secret desire not to see Windows ruling every computer on the planet, and to anybody who has wished to see UNIX get a foothold in corporate America and the chance it deserves to compete against Microsoft in a fair fight. And this isn't just rhetoric, either, or the repackaging of ready-made technology; not just anybody can do this, after all. It takes a company like Apple to turn UNIX into an OS for the masses. It takes years of work, thousands of mythical man-months, and every drop of the intensity with which Apple's visionaries adhere to their ideals about computing in order to pull this off. And pull it off you can.

But that's not all you have to do. You have to make OS X into something that attracts people in a way that Windows doesn't. You need to find an angle, something you can do with your whole-widget engineering approach that Wintel PC makers can't. You need to appeal to a certain kind of "lifestyle", something that will present a genuine value to people browsing casually through malls. Something that nobody's really been able to do before; something that you're in a unique position to tackle. How about, say, for instance... digital media? You've got this FireWire thing kicking around; that can do for high-speed media transfer what USB did for peripherals. You've got Unique File IDs and a robust meta-data-rich filesystem; use that to create a new breed of applications that let people interact with their media without the need for non-intuitive metaphors. Launch Internet services that encourage people to use these new applications to create digital media of their own, and share it with the world. Make an MP3 player that takes advantage of all these things and is cool enough to become an icon in its own right; make it available to Windows users if it gains enough mindshare. Empower people. Give them what they want. Give them more than what they want. Make things possible. Make them want more from their computers. And deliver that too.

Again, all this is still smoke and mirrors. You know the G4 is still sluggish; it's getting passed by on the inside track, first on the merit of raw numbers with their semi-meaningful implications, and then on the merit of actual real-world benchmarks that can't be disputed. But by the time that second black flag gets thrown, you'll have re-established yourself. You'll be a real, valuable brand. You'll be a cool company. You'll be a desirable commodity. You'll be something that people want in order to be seen with it. And if you've got that, you've got the public's forgiveness for that bitterly crucial six-month-to-a-year window during which you have to develop the new hardware platform with which you will save your company's butt.

Now, granted-- that's all in the future. This is 1998, remember? Maybe none of this will ever come about. But you've got to proceed on the gamble that it will, and you have to play on the strengths of your company-- the things it does best-- to develop that goodwill for when you need a cushion of time in order to do the things your company does less well. Want to rehabilitate a run-down section of a city? First gentrify a neighborhood, then another. Get people coming back. Get some funding. Get some face-time. Get some "turnaround" headlines. And then, when you've built up some brownie points, cash 'em in on the dirty work: the real cleanup. The industry. The environmental disasters. The human misery. Those aren't sexy projects that you can undertake when you don't have the people's goodwill behind you; but if you parlay your PR properly, you can do a lot of it on credit after all.

This is all speculation. Maybe it has nothing to do with what's been going on in Jobs' head for the past five years. Maybe he's been sitting in his immaculate office, playing with those little dangly-steel-balls-in-a-row things and thinking the world is beating a path to his door, and wondering why he sees so few mentions of Apple in the Mercury News. But somehow what I've seen lately is a little more encouraging than that.

I think Apple does have a plan. They've pulled off so much cool stuff over the past few years that I simply can't believe it not to be the case. A company with no plan and no direction doesn't make iApps and iPods and 17-inch laptops; it doesn't explicitly set out to piss off Microsoft and Adobe with competitor products; it doesn't push itself beyond the extra mile each time it releases something new. There's a method under all this madness. And I'm not at all prepared to believe that CPU speed is not part of the long-term master plan.

Time will tell, indeed. But it just had better not be much time.

UPDATE: Den Beste has some appropriately depressing facts and figures. I still say they don't tell the whole story, but then, neither does a lit candle outside Infinite Loop.


11:51 - The Future is Already Installed
http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/03/0103/010303.html#011303

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Whoo. Lileks has devoted most of today's Bleatage to detailing his experience with a piece of benighted PC movie-editing software. Usually he seems to try to keep the direct specific software-fisking of post-iApp PC software to oblique sidelong references, and I don't blame him; given his experiences, and those of any Mac user who knows, who knows from first-hand experience that there is a better way than the fighting and swearing and throwing up of hands in frustration reported over drinks by one's dinner partners... and given the all-too common reaction of said dinner partners if you meekly raise your hand and say, "Um... 'scuse me, but... Macs aren't like that," he has every reason to be discreet about it like we've all learned to be in order to maintain mealtime civility and avoid getting a "ETYLOCAM" branding iron in the ass.

But the iMovie-pretender software he talks about, it seems to me, is the kind of thing to bring a guy's defenses down, come hell or derision. Software like this does that to a guy. This is the product of a wasted afternoon devoted to learning useless crap about an application that shouldn't have any such useless crap to learn about it, if it had been designed properly. And yet, it's interesting: so many PC users are so resigned to this kind of wrestling with their software, on a daily basis, that it doesn't make them anywhere near as pissed-off as someone steeped in Mac software gets when venturing into that world, armed with some technical know-how but handicapped by a presumption-- completely flawed in the PC world, it seems-- that the software maker is not malicious, that the app developers aren't trying to take out their own frustrations on the user, that the companies in question actually want to help the user do something.

It's a perfectly reasonable assumption out here in the ghetto, but it leads to nuclear explosions of the head when you cross over. And, oddly, it's the PC users who are afraid of the unaccustomed weirdness of Macs, not the other way around.

Brooks' The Mythical Man-Month talked about how software development flouted the traditional rules of manufacturing and R&D, how if you threw more men at a job, it became more late, not less-- largely because software is something that only highly savvy individuals with an intimate knowledge of other highly savvy individuals' areas of expertise can produce, where cooperation and willingness to code to a standard must wrestle with each engineer's personal flair and cleverness. No semi-skilled labor here. It's a bunch of mavericks all trying to write to their own visions of the future, and the more such people you fling into an already-late project, it'll just make it worse.

Eventually every manager and CS student in the world had read that book, and it became standard operating practice. But it still only addressed the side of developing functionality, shipping on time, that sort of thing. Its lessons-- that software is something inherently different, that has to be developed with priorities that aren't obvious or intuitive to the manager-- haven't been taken to heart yet in so much of the computer industry, in the areas of usability and design. Software makers still seem to assume that focusing on user-interface, writing software that abstracts itself toward enabling an ability rather than on remaining software that the user has to learn, is still a luxury that's unnecessary to invest in. And they're right, really, because the PC market doesn't follow Brooks' observations either: it moves and ebbs and flows based on price and feature set, qualities that seem intuitively obvious to most consumers as being of paramount importance, because they are of paramount importance in every other kind of product. And what that leads to, tragically, is companies that write software toward the goals of price and feature set while shelving the whole making it easy and enjoyable to use and obscuring unnecessary technical esoterica from the user chimaerae. They're not necessary. Customers will learn to cope. They'll buy the software 'cause it's cheaper and has more checkboxes and more function buttons on the main screen; sure, they'll only use the software once and then abandon their digital filmmaking careers. But that's not our concern! We just gotta sell 'em that one boxed copy and make it just useful enough that he'll feel too guilty to return it for a refund.

Computers are something different. They have to be treated differently. Price and checkboxes will only get you a half-solution, and traditional solutions on the R&D end will only solve more price-and-checkboxes problems. Not the usability problem.

In order to create usability, you've got to invest in UI development-- an enterprise that probably won't directly earn you any money, because most of the industry's consumers don't buy software based on usability, much though they might caw about wanting software to be "easy". (People get software with their scanners or cameras, and that's what they learn to use. Or don't.) You've got to make the decision to write not to the known money-making goals of price and checkbox items, but instead to the intagible goal of making the software do stuff intuitively and correctly. Now, this won't necessarily make your company any more money, and it'll cost a lot. It's not necessarily good business. But it is what serves the customer, whether it be good business or not. To put it into "prisoner's dilemma" terms, you've got to "collaborate" in order to serve the customer; you've got to take a hit for the team. You've got to invest in an area where it's not intuitively beneficial to the company to invest. And if all the companies in the world did that, they'd be subject to being undercut by one company that "cheated"-- selling software that it chose to write toward price and checkboxes. Guess which product customers will buy?

A company that chooses to stick to the intangibles and make products that only 5% of the public can properly appreciate is "collaborating" even when the whole rest of the world is "cheating"; they know they're dooming themselves to a tiny sliver of the market. But they do have the right idea, and as long as they continue to exist, there's some reason to believe there's hope for the industry-- that some people, some engineers and managers and designers in the field, do care enough about usability and serving the consumer as to forgo large market share and profits in favor of those elusive ideals.

People wonder why we Mac users are so obnoxiously self-satisfied and smug when we talk about this sort of thing. Well, I'm sure everybody's been in some position or other at some point in life where you see that Hey! Everybody's doing everything all wrong! Can't they see that?! -- and yet you can't wave your arms and yell enough to get anybody's attention. The best you can hope for is to be called a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser, a malcontent, some snobby geek who's living in a dream world.

But you can't just remain silent, knowing what you know, can you?
I'll say this for his machine, though: if he ever wants to back up that 3.3 GB movie file on floppy disks, he's all set.
Yep. It's sure got that checkbox nailed.

04:29 - 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.

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© Brian Tiemann