g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

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

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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, February 9, 2003
13:08 - Throwing stones in Plexiglas houses

There's been a bit of a flap this past week over the news (reported on CNet News) that Opera, the big "alternative" browser maker that prides itself on being fast, full-featured, and cross-platform, is all miffed over Apple's release of Safari. Opera has apparently reacted by planning to cancel the Mac version of their browser.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has a good response to Opera's take-their-ball-and-go-home whining. It's more lengthy, anyway, than Dave Hyatt's response, which (at the time) was simply "Wah".

Gruber makes the point that Apple's releasing home-grown offerings to compete with third-party products is a wholly defensible policy from a business standpoint, and IE (their previously bundled browser) just wasn't cutting it; Apple had to jump ship and get into the browser business, or be forever relegated to second-class status on the Internet. That's what happens when your flagship software is produced by a company who has a business incentive to make it suck.

Apple's been taking heat for its decision to release Sherlock as part of Jaguar, effectively stealing the steam from Watson (of which it is effectively a clone, in functionality and architecture). No matter how sound a business case Apple may have had for such a move, it still wasn't very nice; Karelia had every right to get pissed at Apple, accuse them of Microsofting themselves, and make noises about taking Watson to Windows. But in the end, they did what I think is right: they've forged ahead and set to work making Watson more than it was before, keeping it ahead of the Sherlock curve. That's how you stay in business, if your business case is founded on providing a product which adds functionality to a platform whose maker is totally free to add that functionality itself.

But as far as web browsers go, Opera doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Hyatt says:
Did Opera expect some sort of prize just for showing up? Any Mac user could tell you that just showing up is not enough. Nobody wants an afterthought for a browser, or a second-rate knockoff of your shining Windows star.
Indeed. I've never used Opera on the Mac; I only briefly used it on Windows, back when it had a horrifying MDI interface and no Java. They were small and scrappy then, and Opera looked like the pure and noble alternative to both the IE juggernaut and the Netscape mutant-beast. But it didn't last long; I couldn't sustain my patience, and Opera has been doing its developing without my attention. I hadn't in fact realized that there was a Mac version.

I really like Apple's response to Opera's jab:
"We think Safari is one of the best and most innovative browsers in the world, and it seems our customers do too," the Mac maker said in a statement. "No one is making Mac users choose Safari over Opera--they're doing it of their own free will--and Opera's trashing of Safari sounds like sour grapes to us."
Phew. Who put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of Apple PR?

Anyway, Gruber then makes an interesting point about Apple and success, and how Apple can get away with acting like a bastard toward third-party developers-- indeed, how it can continue to act as though it's a success, dictating business on its own terms, rather than desperately taking whatever it can get as cast-offs from the big-boys' table. It's because they are successful.
"Computer industry experts" (where by "computer industry" I mean "Wintel", and by "experts" I mean tech journalists and industry analysts) seldom understand the reason for the Mac's success. In fact, they don't even see the Macintosh as a successful platform, because they approach it from a Microsoft/Intel perspective.

But it is successful. It's been around for nearly 20 years, and it is going strong. Millions of happy, devoted customers. And Apple has been largely profitable. The only way to see the Mac as unsuccessful is to compare it to Windows on Microsoft's terms -- market share and raw profit. And that's exactly how analysts and the PC press cover the Mac.

What they miss is that the Mac's primary purpose is to be better. Windows's primary purpose is to be ubiquitous. Both platforms have been successful in achieving these goals. That's not to say they're mutually exclusive. Apple would of course love to achieve higher market share. Love love love. And Microsoft doesn't purposely make Windows uninintuitive. Well, maybe they do. But it's not as bad as it used to be.

Apple's problem is that it's hard to be better. As it stands now, being "better" clearly means "better than Windows". When the same software exists for both Mac and Windows, Apple has no advantage. When Photoshop was Mac-only, this was a huge advantage for Apple.

To be better requires Mac-only software that works better than its Windows counterparts. Thus, Mozilla offers no advantage whatsoever to Apple. Chimera offers some. But Safari offers quite a bit, and has the potential for even more.
Apple's lost a lot of the bullet points that we used to use to list what made the Mac superior; I can't help but be wistful when I look back on the days of the Mac-only Photoshop. It's nowhere near as easy to convince people of the Mac's advantages by pointing out the ugliness of Photoshop's MDI box as it was to point out the abject lack of Photoshop's existence on Windows.

So they've had to keep reinventing the Mac; lately it's been the whole digital media "thing", and for a while Apple was far-and-away the leader with that. They've still got a massive entrenched base in film and A/V, and iLife (iMovie 3's bugginess notwithstanding) is a solid offering-- and combined with guaranteed built-in FireWire and the iPod, it's a Complete Lifestyle Solution-- but that's not going to last forever. Microsoft has very nearly pulled all the pieces together so as to make the same stuff available on Windows; and what Microsoft doesn't provide, HP and Sony and Intel and Creative and the rest provide in their own third-party way. Apple's going to have to branch out again.

They sort of missed the "integrated web services" boat, back in 1998 when it was really taking off. With Microsoft's relationship with the Mac sort of up in the air, with the now-infamous deal-with-the-devil by which Jobs would accept $150 million and a guarantee to keep Mac Office in production, in exchange for the promise to bundle IE-- Microsoft's second-rate Mac version of IE-- instead of Netscape... it meant that the Mac would never have the whole browser-centric OS interface that Windows has now, whether Apple wanted it or not. It's still arguable whether it was a good idea in the long run. But whether it was or not, the Mac is still much less "webby" than Windows is. And perhaps that's what Safari and WebCore are all about.

If so, it means they're playing catch-up, not striking out into new territory. I don't quite know what Jobs has in mind for the Safari team. I'm sure there's some master plan, and I'm sure it'll turn into something massively cool sooner or later. I just don't know what.

But what all this proves, and what Hyatt (speaking for himself, not as an Apple employee) and Gruber have elucidated, is that Apple has breathing room. They can afford to throw their weight around a bit. They're not hanging on by their fingernails; they're healthy enough to experiment. Their risk-taking isn't out of desperation; it's still out of the genuine desire to innovate; and as long as they're a minority, that desire to innovate can't reasonably be mistaken for cold-hearted selfishness and monopolistic paranoia, which is the usual assumption with Microsoft.

Saturday, February 8, 2003
00:37 - For God's sake, take cover

It may be time to panic. I just heard on the radio-- the regional weather service has just issued a stern, sweeping warning; it applies to all residents of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Sonoma counties. That includes a whole lotta people. I'm fearful of what this means for the millions in the area.

The warning?

Temperatures may drop below freezing tonight. So, uh, reserve some attention for the well-being of outdoor plants and pets.

...Just thought that was so cute. Oh, incidentally, the air was excellently clear today. Too bad I had to spend most of it indoors; bleah.

Friday, February 7, 2003
18:44 - So is anybody doing anything right?

Salon has this article (forwarded by Judson) which consists of a recent interview with Camille Paglia, self-styled "libertarian Democrat". I wasn't sure what to expect; and having read it, I'm not sure I know what I've just witnessed.

I almost stopped reading it halfway through, as a matter of fact. The article starts out reading like your typical anti-war, anti-Bush, ratty-old-car-covered-with-bumper-stickers diatribe:
But how are we going to counter that threat? Are we going to bomb laboratories and facilities storing dangerous chemicals and release them in the air near population centers? Are we going to poison Baghdad? This is as barbarous as what we're opposing in Saddam. We need to be going in the opposite direction -- to lower global tensions. This constant uncertainty is bad for everyone. It's bad for the economy, it's bad for people's psychic health, and it's going to endanger Americans around the world. How are we ever going to do business around the world and function in a global market, when any American traveling abroad is subject to assassination?
But Paglia then goes on to express disdain for Clinton, support for Israel (especially since the last couple of years), rejection of the Democratic party as a "bunch of weasels", a trepidation toward radical Islam as an analog to early Christianity and its own improbable rise to prominence (she's a scholar of ancient history), scorn for entertainment pinheads like Sean Penn, and disgust with today's anti-war movement and its "Bush is a poop-throwing monkey" sloganeering-based incoherence. She wants no part of Sontag or Chomsky and their reflexive anti-Americanism. She would like to see Condi Rice as Bush's 2004 running mate, apparently so as to stick it to Hillary.

Paglia doesn't like the idea of war, and she's very nervous about how our occupying Iraq is just as likely to inflame further Islamic radicals (as did our military presence in Saudi Arabia) as it is to put the fear of God into would-be terrorists. She understands the power of the latter approach-- she's an unabashed fan of bolts-from-heaven like the Predator that took out the jeep in Yemen-- but she doesn't like the idea of big old-fashioned war. And that's fine; I can understand that. Paglia's anti-war objections are something I'm fully willing to listen to because her overall political picture shows someone who's intellectually honest, unwilling to subscribe to shallow popular opinion or to paint things with the moral-equivalence brush, and equally critical of the moronic things she sees on both sides. She doesn't appear to be a big fan of Bush or Rumsfeld, but it seems she'd take them any day over Clinton.

But what I don't get is how she manages to very nearly undermine her whole argument and platform by starting out the interview with stuff like this:
As we speak, I have a terrible sense of foreboding, because last weekend a stunning omen occurred in this country. Anyone who thinks symbolically had to be shocked by the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, disintegrating in the air and strewing its parts and human remains over Texas -- the president's home state! So many times in antiquity, the emperors of Persia or other proud empires went to the oracles to ask for advice about going to war. Roman generals summoned soothsayers to read the entrails before a battle. If there was ever a sign for a president and his administration to rethink what they're doing, this was it. I mean, no sooner had Bush announced that the war was "weeks, not months" away and gone off for a peaceful weekend at Camp David than this catastrophe occurred in the skies over Texas.

From the point of view of the Muslim streets, surely it looks like the hand of Allah has intervened, as with the attack on the World Trade Center. No one in the Western world would have believed that those mighty towers could fall within an hour and a half -- two of the proudest constructions in American history. And neither would anyone have predicted this eerie coincidence -- that the president's own state would become the burial ground for the Columbia mission.

Including one small town where the debris fell called Palestine, Texas.

Yes, exactly! What weird irony with an Israeli astronaut onboard who had bombed Iraq 20 years ago. To me this dreadful accident is a graphic illustration of the limitations of modern technology -- of the smallest detail that can go wrong and end up thwarting the most fail-safe plan. So I think that history will look back on this as a key moment. Kings throughout history have been shaken by signals like this from beyond: Think twice about what you're doing. If a Roman general tripped on the threshold before a battle, he'd call it off.
And then she goes on to talk about how attacking Iraq will play havoc with people's "psychic health". Who is this person? Is she serious? What kind of time is this, to talk about "omens" when such self-parodying superstition is exactly what fuels our enemies? She makes such a strong case, but then spreads credibility-solvents on top with a mortar trowel.

What I come away with, ultimately, is an impression that she thinks nobody's doing the right thing-- not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the Islamists, not the anti-war people, not the French, not Saddam, not anybody. We're all going about everything the wrong way. And it's not that she's just raving, either; many of her points are valid through completely understandable intellectual processes. It's just a very dismal picture she paints; it's hard to tell what she's asking anybody to do.

I think our prospects in Iraq have a better chance of success than Paglia thinks. I know she's an expert on Mesopotamia and all, but this is the modern world, and nodding knowingly about "tribal grudges" and "long memory" doesn't really get us anywhere. All it does is condemn us to the last millennium for the duration of the coming one, all because we're not willing to round up the stragglers and nudge them along.

Maybe it's idealistic to think it's possible to defuse the Middle East. Maybe taking out Saddam will make things worse. But this is still the beginning stages of the great cultural confrontation that will decide the course of the next thousand years; it's going to be painful sooner or later no matter what course we choose. I think it's likely to be resolved sooner and more cleanly if we plant our feet and roll up our sleeves than if we curl up into a ball and hope it goes away.

I don't much like the situation we've been put into either. There is no good way out; there are just bad ways and less bad ways.

09:49 - Safari Up the River

Phew, boy. Dave Hyatt's done it now. His "Surfing Safari" blog doesn't have an e-mail link (wisely, it seems), but he's noticed that lots and lots of people are trying to find ways of getting their bug reports and feature requests in to him; they've been resorting to really creative solutions, probably including slipping them into his morning paper and hiring skywriters to put them in the sky over his house.

Well, now he's created a designated post/comment thread where he's actually encouraging people to post their suggestions in the comments or in their own blogs via TrackBack. He promises to read them all.

As of this writing, there are 648 comments and 32 TrackBacks.

Some of the TrackBacks note, though, that if more companies took this tactic toward customer involvement in software development, it would be a great world indeed. I suppose I can't argue with that; I just wonder whether Dave will regret this. I guess it's just a nice clear illustration, if nothing else, of just how touchy the subject of web browsers is these days-- people need their browser to accomplish all their daily tasks and support all their pet features; they need to be able to depend on it. Mac users often have three or four browsers floating around their Docks, just for compatibility purposes; Safari aspires to replace all of them, but it's only now that we get to see clearly just how serious a task that will be for Hyatt and his team.

So far I've counted numerous votes for tabbed browsing, almost as many people saying how much they hate tabbed browsing, and several who propose something better than tabbed browsing...

I'm not even going to bother posting anything in the comments. I'm not enough of a CSS stud to have specific demands along the lines of what he's primarily looking for, and I've already sent in my other bug reports that I've found so far. Many people have already commented on some of those issues anyway, so I'm sure they'll be addressed.

Building a new browser from scratch for a vibrant platform that doesn't have a good single browser solution already. And then soliciting bug reports and feature requests. Can you possibly think of a better way to spike a guy's workload?

Thursday, February 6, 2003
15:47 - Testify

Marcus sent me this link a couple of days ago: the Christian Mac Users' Group.

It seems in fact to be a serious site. It even has some resources that I find interesting-- things like detailed guides to historical/religious analysis using dedicated mapping and concordance software. I don't see any nutball-ism here, just stuff of interest to a particular demographic-- with a sense of humor to boot.
Welcome to the Bully Pulpit, CMUG's colorful equivalent to an editorial page. Here you'll find "sermons," rants, and musings on a variety of subjects of interest to Christian Mac users.
But what I like best has got to be the graphic on the main page, at the top. Religious or secular, I think that's just cool.

UPDATE: This is even better: SMUG, the Satanic Mac Users Group. (With that acronym, I would have thought someone could have put together one slammin' Mac-mockery site.) Nicely done. Thanks to Chris Cooper for the pointer!

12:10 - The definition of "is"

So yesterday, many of us were assuming that Powell's presentation would be exactly the "smoking gun", the proof of Iraqi noncompliance and threat that so many people have been demanding, the absence of which they were using as the basis for their opposition to war. We figured that anybody who wasn't convinced by now would never be convinced by anything short of "Saddam personally driving a truck full of Sarin right through their living rooms", as Mike put it.

Well, this morning I was listening to Forum on NPR, and caller after caller expressed levels of disapproval of the war-- each person had a different reaction to the presentation, but almost none of them (aside from one Holocaust survivor, and everybody knows we can just ignore what they have to say, right?) had anything good to say about the prospects for war. Nobody appeared to have been "swayed" by the presentation; they just had different justifications now.

Some people said the presentation was rock-solid-- but war was not the answer. So what if Iraq is doing all these terrible things? If the alternative is us going in there and slaughtering millions of Iraqi civilians, destroying their already tattered infrastructure, and sending hundreds of thousands of our own young people to be killed and maimed and gassed-- it's still unacceptable! I find myself wondering whether people have World War I and the Civil War so indelibly printed in their brains that it's become the archetype of all "war" that anybody can conceive. Never mind Gulf War I and its tremendously low civilian casualty rate and absurdly low American troop loss; never mind Afghanistan, which was even more clean and one-sided, largely thanks to those big bad super-weapons we've been designing all these years which specifically avoid harming civilian populations and instead go directly for the pinpointed positions of known command figures. No, war is apparently all about killing the maximum possible number of civilians-- case closed.

Nobody's guaranteeing that the war will go smoothly. But Iraqi Kurds are asking for the US to invade, because it's better than what they're having to deal with now-- and it has a real chance of making things way better once it's over.

Callers kept saying that "there must be a peaceful solution," just as the UN delegates whose responses they so admired kept repeating. But so far the only such solution anybody has proposed is "more inspections", and if those don't work (and Powell's thesis is that they haven't), what then? Is our example of peacefulness supposed to shame them into changing their minds and disarming?

Another argument was: And how are we supposed to pay for this, anyway? My Social Security goes down the toilet to pay for oil from Iraq? Tacking the "oil and empire" argument onto this otherwise interesting thought betrays the questioner's unwillingness to listen objectively to the idea that there might be other reasons why we're going to war. Yes, the financial question is an important one (though not without answers). But the point of this presentation was indirectly to show that oil and empire are not what this is about. The War on Terrorism did not end with Afghanistan, and if we make the mistake of thinking that it did, then we plunge the Middle East back into the same self-destructive cycle of despotic oppression and dangerous anti-Western rhetoric that led to 9/11 in the first place. Does anyone think the opinions that many policymakers in the Middle East hold of the US could possibly get any worse if we attack Saddam? What's more likely to turn it around-- backing off and leaving everything the way it is, bubbling over with hatred and poverty and oppression? Or sweeping in, eliminating Saddam, and turning Iraq into a liberated nation free to join the world community and lift itself above the hell to which it's currently condemned?

I'd like to see some discussion of where the money for this war will come from, and how it will be paid for down the road. (One side effect of a takeover of Iraq will be that we will have cheaper oil, but it's just that-- a side effect. It'll help, though.) It's an important question, but I hope it doesn't boil down to Bush taking the podium to say, "Well, my fellow Americans, I'd really love to protect you all from global terrorism-- but it's just not in the budget this year. Sorry 'bout that."

Another caller said the presentation appeared damning, but calling down the line that someone else had used: "Who are you going to believe-- Saddam Hussein or the Bush administration?" --the caller linked it to the baby incubator hoax, which the earlier Bush administration used in order to drum up Congressional support for Gulf War I. Who was this caller prepared to believe? Why, Saddam, of course. After all, look what our government did.

Now, the incubator thing is a pretty serious scandal, and I'm not going to apologize for it, even if a case can be made for judicious bits of propaganda serving the greater good. But a variation on that argument is that even accepting the incubator case as a lie, once we actually went into Iraq, we did in fact find plenty of evidence for stuff that was just as bad. The incubator thing was a fiction, but one composed of truths-- it was genuine intelligence repackaged and reimagined for easy consumption. We know that stuff like that went on and continues to go in within Iraq. Presenting this story as truth galvanized Congress for the war, and after the war was over, the verbatim story wasn't vindicated, but the war was. And so the argument that we can't trust the Bush administration to tell us the truth more than we can trust Saddam to do so becomes less compelling. One lies for the right reasons, the other lies for the wrong reasons. Is the incubator lie worse than Saddam's lies that such things did not happen in Iraq? Not so easy to develop an opinion out of that, is it?

Finally, a number of callers said that they found the presentation totally unconvincing. They said it was all just propaganda and circumstantial evidence and speculation; they said "It's just a bunch of grainy photographs of trucks and buildings-- Iraq's allowed to have trucks and buildings, aren't they?-- and recordings of people talking in Arabic. How do we know what they're saying?" Most people expressing this reaction said they'd been anti-war before the presentation-- they weren't exactly coming at it from an unbiased position. But there were Arabic-speakers at the UNSC meeting; they can verify that the voices on the tapes were saying what they were saying. The satellite and U2 photos require only an acceptance of the dates and times of recording to be damning. And so either the whole presentation is a fabrication, or it shows what it purports to show; and I don't think I can take a tenable position in an argument against someone who holds the former view. It's just not a debate I'd be interested in having. Such a fabrication would, if uncovered, be such a monstrous scandal as to bring down the entire US government-- just as would be a war promoted solely by Bush's supposed crusade for oil. Either these callers will have to acknowledge that the evidence is genuine, or they're effectively accusing the entire US government of high treason. I'm not sure they recognize the implications of the scale of those claims.

Amanda mails me this analysis by Paul Ryan, who points out that the evidence Powell presented is still open to interpretation. And that's fine, but it still implies an assumption that this is the best evidence we have to justify war, and we're doing it anyway. I really don't think that's the case. There's plenty more evidence we could have presented, as Powell said, but to reveal too much would reveal too much, as it were. If the US doesn't have classified information that's way more damning to use to justify this war, then they're negligent and treasonous, and somehow I don't think the government has reached that point. (If the Bush administration were that dishonest, wouldn't they have started building that Caspian oil pipeline through Afghanistan by now, and maybe claimed that the Columbia was brought down by sabotage linked to Iraq?)

Iraq does not have the ability to attack America right now, says Ryan and several callers on Forum. No, but they've demonstrated ability to hide weapons and willingness to develop them in secret, as well as bad faith in cooperating with inspectors. If the ricin link isn't indicative of plenty more dangerous things that Saddam could and would like to indirectly do to us, then what is-- short of an actual attack that can be traced conclusively back to Iraq? It's a state that is acting in direct opposition to UN resolutions, with demonstrated willingness and motive to cause harm to the US, and demonstrated links to groups that are willing to attack us directly. If we do get attacked by Iraqi chemical weapons delivered by al Qaeda agents, won't hindsight be 20/20?

It might have been my imagination, but I think I saw more NO WAR bumper stickers on cars on the way to work today than I've seen in a while. The presentation seems to have won over many, many people; but the remaining anti-war forces have been galvanized into still firmer resolve. As is always the case when the moderates in an argument are won away from their side, what's left are the really hard-core believers. That means the argument over the war is likely to get more strident now, not less.

For the US not to go to war now would be a betrayal of everything the Bush administration has been saying and doing, and of everybody who has subscribed to its stance on the post-9/11 world. We've been talking about "rope-a-dope", about Bush snookering France and Germany into relegating themselves to irrelevancy and cornering the UN and NATO into writing their own death warrants.

But the US is kinda trapped too.

Staying the course is the way out; but that course is a sobering and bloody one. There will be some very non-trivial consequences. War is the right answer, I still say, or at least the least wrong answer. But it will cause more wounds in this country. That's the real legacy of 9/11.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003
03:26 - Coffin nails in the skyline

I was going to say something about what the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has decided are the two best possible ideas for replacing the WTC-- but I knew it would be pointless to try to come up with anything that would qualify as insight, compared to the inevitable (and oh-so-welcome) analysis by Lileks.

He doesn't like either one, and I'm glad I'm not the only one. (I noticed, on the day the finalists were posted, that the CNN preference poll was evenly split 32.1%-32.1% between the two choices, and yes, it was really that close-- and another third of the participants had voted for "any design but these two". Not a ringing endorsement among the populace. While I may be cavalier about politicians' obligation to listen to opinion polls that canvass respondents who don't have anywhere near as much classified intelligence on a given matter as the politicians do, I do think the LMDC has some obligation to do what the people want to see in the WTC's place. And the people are looking at these designs and wrinkling their noses.

The two designs the LMDC has chosen were at the bottom of my preference list; both seemed very, very wrong. I'm yet more sure of that now that I've looked more closely at both, now that we're going to have to live with one of them. And that's what I think is going to be one of the sticking points here, something that ought to give New Yorkers and all Americans pause: With the WTC simply gone, there's the warm glow of hope-- hope that whatever goes in there in its place will be something to dwarf even the previous towers in grandeur and awe-inspiration. There's the element of pleasant surprise; how many of us looked at the empty skyline and said, "Well, there's nothing there now, and it looks empty, but just wait'll they build something new!" There's the assumption that whatever goes there will be something we can be proud of, something that will comfort us for the loss of the first WTC through its tastefulness and originality and its odd familiarity. We feel as though whatever we get, it'll be better than the WTC was. We're in the 21st Century now, aren't we? Surely we know how to build beautiful buildings now, after so many centuries of practice? There's no way we can go wrong, is there?

Sure there is, unfortunately. We can always try to outsmart ourselves-- if you will, to THINK the design to death.

I remain sort of reluctantly partial to the WTC2002 design-- audacious as it is, it's still a building as we understand the concept, and it works with the existing Manhattan skyline to form a sturdy anchor-- a masthead for the country, one that we can tie our nation's rigging ropes to, and one that won't snap off in the wind out of being really no more than a latticework memorial. It's a real building, with real people and real culture inside. The old WTC stood at one end of the country like a billboard, saying, "Go west beyond this point, and more of this is what you'll see. People working, building their national dream. They're all on display here, doing what they do best, thirty thousand of them in two gigantic vertical boxes. Be inspired, and go find your own box somewhere out there in that great expanse westward. Go through the gateway and seek the fortune that we wish you." The old WTC was the beginning of America, traveling westward. But these new designs do the opposite; they're the end of America, traveling eastward. They're the prows of foundering ships. They're ghosts and relics and memories. They're not vibrant celebrations of the future, they're morose fixations on the past. One evokes that past through a macabre and disturbing phantom; the other leaps so far away from the old visual mores as to reject even a contemplation of what made that place special. And neither design projects an image of strength; even if they're both potentially the world's tallest structures, neither one beckons the viewer with an impossibly thriving iteration of the familiar, as the old towers did. Instead, they make the viewer frown and wonder. They don't reassure, they disturb.

Worst of all, if one of these designs gets built, that will be it. What if it sucks? What if New York decides the building is really, really awful? They can't very well get rid of it and start over. They'll be stuck with it. Right now, there's the open-ended hope that whatever gets built will rock. But if the LMDC picks one of these, that hope will be dashed. We'll be condemned to whatever ghostly or alien vision the LMDC decides to visit upon the site, for the foreseeable future. And it'll change the character of Manhattan, and New York, and America, more than the simple lack of the old WTC already has done.

Part of me still says "Build them back exactly like before." I know it's probably not feasible. But Lileks finishes with this lament:
One of the greatest architects of the era was Raymond Hood, who also worked on two modern icons - the Daily News building, which was a glass of cold water in the face, and the gorgeous McGraw Hill building, which isn't much known outside of New York. (It's up there with the Chrysler, in my book.) But he was adept at classical styles; his American Radiator building still overlooks Bryant Park, and it's another one of my favorites. Black stone, gold crown. He was not an innovator, but he captured the essence of a style and distilled it into the best possible expression.

If only we could bring him back to life and give him this job. I think I know what he'd do - it would be restrained, severe, symmetrical, and it would strike the sky like two great swords.
Hear frickin' hear.

10:06 - Any questions?

Powell's laid out the evidence. (So much for "Let the inspections work", eh?) Now to sit back and see who's willing to admit they were wrong, and who will instead lash out bitterly at those who turned out to be right. (Ehh, let 'em fume. They had their fun. Now they get to do some soul-searching.)

Here's my favorite part, though:
At the other end of the table, Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, listened to Powell's presentation and waited for his chance to respond. .
I'm sort of expecting his response to be something along the lines of:

"You know, boys, there's an old saying down on the bayou that, uh... blah!"

And then he'll throw Ralph at Colin Powell and run away.

UPDATE: So much for "so much for 'let the inspections work'". I heard the Chilean and Angolan delegates' responses while on the way to work, and I had the same reaction that Ray did. Unbelievable. (And I didn't even get to hear what folks like Syria had to say.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2003
21:59 - A winning combination

UNIX and TV, together at last. And with transparent layering to boot, so you don't have to shuffle windows around in order to hack and watch at the same time.

Just thought that was kinda cool.

Monday, February 3, 2003
22:37 - Ah, the mysteries of life

Okay-- Safari question. Any web geeks out there using Safari, who might be able to suggest an insight into this?

Go to this URL; watch the image as it loads. Namely, note that it loads as a thumbnail-- about 200 pixels across. Then, as soon as it's fully downloaded, the image expands to its full natural size, re-rendering the page around it.

Why does it do this? What controls it? Is it simply that the image is large in dimensions and has no WIDTH and HEIGHT tags, and this is how Safari handles such things? The final result is a properly-rendered page, but what's the purpose of rendering the image scaled-down while it's loading?

I'm having a hard time deciding whether this is a cool and clever feature, or a bizarre and stupid bug. I'm leaning toward the former, as it's just a behavior quirk and causes no actual incorrect rendering in the end. But-- I'd love to know just what's going on.

UPDATE: Several people have e-mailed to the effect that some apps (such as Photoshop) save JPEGs with a smaller, "low-res" version of the image encapsulated within them. The idea is that the browser can load the small version first, quickly, and then load the high-res version on top of it. It's sort of like progressive JPEG functionality, especially if the browser HTML-scales the thumbnail up to the full dimensional size of the high-res image while it's loading.

Now, the high-res image is only stored in the file linearly after the low-res image, so the browser won't know the high-res image's dimensions until it's finished loading the low-res image; so it would have to do pretty much what Safari's doing, which is to load the small one at its native, small size, and then have it "pop" to the full size of the high-res version once that's loaded. But what I'm still confused about is that the small version doesn't appear to load any more quickly than the high-res version does. It loads linearly, top-to-bottom, as though it's loading a high-res JPEG that's been HTML-scaled down. As a matter of fact, what it looks to be doing is the following:
  • Open image, find a low-res thumbnail version with small dimensions embedded at the top of the image
  • Lay out the page according to the thumbnail image's dimensions
  • By now, the thumbnail version is fully loaded, and Safari finds a high-res version in the file; however, rather than simply displaying the completed low-res version in the position that's laid out for it, Safari starts actually reading (and displaying line-by-line) the hi-res version, and HTML-scaling it to fit into the space that's been laid out for the low-res version.
  • Finally, once the high-res version has been fully loaded, Safari re-renders the page layout according to the high-res version's dimensions.
If this is what's going on, then it's not a pure bug I'm seeing, but a nifty feature with a bug. What Safari probably should be doing is displaying the low-res image in its small laid-out space, and only popping to the full-size image after the JPEG has been fully loaded. Alternately, it could pop to the high-res version's full dimensions as soon as it begins reading the high-res version, but display the completed low-res version at the high-res version's size, which would make for a different kind of "progressive" behavior-- big and chunky at first, but snapping into better focus as the data loads (and meanwhile, being laid-out in the format that it would end up in).

15:24 - The Heart of the Matter

Talk of the Nation today on NPR covered the current debate on the whole Iraq "thing"-- the European recalcitrance on a military action, America's general support of it (or at least the acceptance of a genuine debate and a division of opinions), and the reasons for the huge ideological split that apparently has remained relatively dormant for a number of years, only now to erupt into trans-Atlantic rhetorical posturing that sounds like a bunch of people angling to be the next Patrick Henrys or Neville Chamberlains, each one hoping his writings can boil everything down into an epiphany that will rally a sphere of minds regardless of which side it's on.

When I tuned in, there was a caller who sounded American, calling from Norway. He said that the general European position is simply that they can't possibly imagine how war could make the situation in the Middle East any better; as far as they're concerned, right or wrong, if we forcibly remove Saddam from power, he'll inevitably be replaced by someone just as bad, and there'll be extra resentment and animosity layered on top of it. The possibility that we would occupy the country and guide its further development into a friendly modern nation seemed beyond the realm of contemplation; of course that won't work, seemed the sentiment. (Whether this betrays some kind of feeling that "Well, they're all just destined to be third-world forever, and no amount of Western influence will be able to convince those people to change" is a question that remains to be clearly answered.) The guy seemed to think that it would be a much better solution to lift the sanctions on Iraq, and trade with them-- put money into the country through civilized means, which would reduce animosity and raise the nation's wealth and all that, without anybody having to fire a shot in anger. (I guess Saddam's history of invading his neighbors and developing WMDs even when the UN tells him not to is all just an irrelevant side issue-- it's all about poor innocent Iraq being unnecessarily punished for some bygone provincial affront.)

While the moderator was talking to this guy, he brought up an e-mail that someone had sent in. It contained the following adage:

Americans try to solve problems; Europeans try to live with problems.

I don't think many Americans would disagree with this sentiment; they'd happily stand under a banner with this statement printed on it in foot-high letters. But oddly enough, neither would the Europeans object to it, if the Norwegian caller's positive reaction to it is any indication. He thought it was perfectly valid, something Europeans could point to proudly. Each side can use the same statement as an illustration of the shortcomings of the other and a vindication of its own position.

Isn't that veird?

It certainly would explain a lot-- from Europe's WWII appeasement to today's desire to placate Saddam rather than overthrow him, while berating the Americans' "cowboy" politics; and from all the wars in America's history to today's desire to wipe out Islamic fundamentalist terrorism rather than figure out how to hide from it.

Americans who follow the Jacksonian model, as Steven Den Beste has repeatedly said, are "magnanimous in victory"-- rebuilding the countries we flatten, making them stronger than they were before, but only after thoroughly squashing them and putting them in their place. The Norwegian caller, though, wanted to be magnanimous in tactics-- before victory is even assured, to make a big show of being "nice guys", so that nobody could possibly hate us, so they'd feel bad about continuing to attack us or something. If they're building nuclear bombs, it must be because they sense a threat from us-- and so if we take on the omega role and lie on our backs and whimper, then the adversary will see no reason to become the alpha wolf and take advantage of the situation.

I personally don't see how that follows. Nature follows a pecking order for a reason, and if an alpha wolf steps down voluntarily instead of imposing his will, then someone else will step into the alpha role-- violently, more often than not-- rather than create the world's first vegetarian pack of comrade wolves.

A woman called shortly afterwards, identifying herself as a "politically na´ve" stay-at-home mom, nervously stating the case that the US has become that which we were trying to get away from in our Revolution: a colonial power, trying to impose our will and our ideals on the rest of the world. "There is no right way," she said. "The world is full of different people with different ways, and they're all right." (Especially the ones that beat women for not wearing head scarves, right. I understand.) Her thesis was that (get ready, because there needs to be fanfare-- after she said it, the studio went silent and contemplative, like nobody had ever phrased it quite like this before): The US is a bully. "It has to be said," she gasped, triumphing over her neck-implants that inject patriotism-serum into her bloodstream. You'd think half the country's freeway traffic skidded off into the medians because all the listeners had let go of the steering wheel to clap.

Fortunately, the moderator and the guys in the studio had a response, right at the close of the hour. The guy who responded had this crucial thing to say: Just because an action is taken by a country that happens to be the world's most powerful body does not necessarily mean that that action is evil. That's right. Yeah, maybe the US is a bully. Maybe we do tell the rest of the world that they'd better fall into step with us or be treated as the enemy and crushed. But we would be pursuing the same goals and in the same way if we were the fifth or sixth largest power in the world as we're doing now that we're the largest, I believe; at any time, we could choose to start erecting statues and flying flags all over the world and asserting our imperial influence in every corner of the globe. But we're not doing that, and therein lies the difference between us as a global power leader, and certain other nations in history that aspired to that power. We don't goose-step and build concentration camps. We don't have political prisons. We haven't even built that oil pipeline through Afghanistan that so many people are convinced the war there was all about. We have doomsday bombs that can level megalopoli, but do we use them to enforce our global hegemony? No, we don't-- as a matter of fact, we spend billions of dollars developing weapons that can seek out a single person and fly through his window and kill him in his sleep, leaving even his bodyguards unhurt. No, we're not perfect-- we do make mistakes, but they're honest mistakes, things that occur in spite of our ideals, not as a result of them. If our only crime and our only evil is that we are big and powerful, well, quite frankly, I have a hard time seeing how the world could do any better.

Might does not make right; it's true. However, might does not make wrong, either. The world would do well to remember that.

12:05 - Filename Extension Depth Arms Race

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate filename extensions?
How the New Exploit Works

The exploit relies on especially crafted email headers, creating an attachment with three file-extensions. Standard email packages will not generate these headers; these emails must either be created by hand, or using hacker tools (many of which are freely available, MessageLabs warns).

The first extension (e.g. .jpg) is visible to the email user, and is intended to persuade them that the attachment is "safe". The final extension (also, for example, .jpg) is used by Outlook Express to set the icon to represent the application for opening the attachment.

However, the unusual middle extension (.EXE) is used by Outlook Express to determine how to launch the attachment, therefore an .EXE file will be executed if a user double clicks on an infected attachment. Other examples may include .COM, .PIF, .SCR, or .VBS.
Die... diiiie... <teeth cracking>

Thanks to Kris for the link.

UPDATE: John Poole did some experimentation and found that OS X's Mail.app is not susceptible to filename-extension trickery. I too am curious as to how it keeps track of the executable bit, and I wonder how it would handle a Classic-style monolithic-file executable (one that isn't a folder "package"). There's also the question of whether Apple intends to try to encapsulate OS X's per-file extension-hiding bit, and what implications that would have for virus.gif.pkg kinds of exploits...

11:40 - Ill

Okay... if you're at all a devotee of Strong bad and Homestarrunner.net (It's dot com!), go look at this.

Just... look. That is all.

09:37 - Apple's Dirty Little Secret

SFGate has a long, detailed exposÚ on Apple Certified Resellers and how they're being systematically screwed by Apple. This, the article says, is something that's been happening for many years, possibly as long as Apple has existed-- but it's gotten worse lately, specifically since Apple started opening its own retail stores. That's apparently when Apple's relationship with its third-party dealers went from uneasy to downright adversarial.
What angers him the most, Santos said, is that Apple's own sales representatives, when talking to customers, regularly disparage the competence and even the integrity of independent dealers, including dealers like him who have a long record of success and have been certified by Apple to service as well as sell its products.

Kohler, who is getting out of Mac sales and service after 12 years, agreed. "Our clients regularly report that when they talk to Apple, they're told they'd be better off going through the company" rather than a dealer like him, he said.

The disparagement issue that Santos and Kohler raise underlies several parts of Santos' lawsuit, including charges of unfair competition, trade libel and "intentional interference with economic relationship."
And there are tons of stories of Apple's refusal to pay enough or at all for things that should be warranty repairs, and tales of incompetence in the Apple-to-Dealer shipping channel that results in lost shipments and time-consuming inquiries. Readers of MacCentral are roundly criticizing the article as a groundless smear, but a friend who sent me this article from his job in an Apple Certified Reseller assures me that it's not even slightly exaggerated. He's got stories of his own that make my hair curl. (Or straighten, as the case may be.)

There was a big renovation of Apple's service channel a little while back, but it only resulted in more problems. My friend reports that after the shakeup, his reimbursement rates were reduced once again by a minor amount or slightly raised, but only for what Apple designated as "big-ticket items"; the reimbursement for "smaller, easier things"-- like modems and hard drives, for instance-- now netted only about a third as much.

On top of which, they now have a new, web-based tracking system called GSX that's web-based (using WebObjects), which is where the benefits end-- it's hideously slow and buggy, and actively impedes the service technician from doing his job. It seems to my friend as though it's "intentionally left unfinished right now".

Up till now, this is one of those issues that's been lurking under the surface, making the resellers mad but without much exposure anywhere else. After all, Apple seems to consistently get extremely high marks in Service in the tech press, compared to other computer makers like Dell and HP. Besides, the Apple Stores are very nice showplaces, and customers walk out of them extremely satisfied, having talked to the Geniuses and used the nice new machines and stuff, and gotten all their problems fixed and all their questions answered. It's been hard to go up to people and try to convince them that Apple's service system is cancerously broken, or to get anybody to really pay attention.

But now that this story has run in SFGate, which isn't even a tech-centric site, maybe it will get a little more attention.

Is Apple's overall goal to eradicate the third-party resellers and bring all service under its own umbrella? If so, they're going about it in an extremely Machiavellian way, and one that everybody on up to Jobs should be ashamed of. Plus I can't imagine such a move would be beneficial to Apple, particularly in a PR sense.

Sounds like it's time this story started getting tracked on a more exposed level, which maybe it will be. After all, there's a lot I really, really like about Apple; but there are obviously a lot of ways in which Apple can be improved. And if this is the only way to bring that improvement about, well: time to grab some whistles and start blowing.

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© Brian Tiemann