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
Saturday, February 22, 2003
03:29 - Scrappleface for a day

(I hope this hasn't been done already. More to the point, I hope it doesn't suck.)

(2003-02-23) -- UN inspectors in Iraq today announced a broadening of the scope of their group's objectives. In response to new intelligence findings, according to chief inspector Hans Blix, the team of agents will no longer be looking only for biological and chemical weapons in the country; they will now also be looking for psychological, historical, and mathematical weapons, as well as a number of other varieties.

"Our sources have indicated that Saddam Hussein's ambitions in recent years to develop weapons of mass destruction have been primarily focused upon exploiting the weaknesses in the American public education system," Dr. Blix said in a press statement Saturday, after a visit to a warehouse that was rumored to house illicit Euler equations and contour integrals, but which appeared to have been hastily emptied just prior to the team's scheduled arrival, leaving only some non-specific residues at the poles. "Saddam's top scientists have apparently been hard at work developing ways to strike at Western interests using the entire spectrum of disciplines, not just the few that we have been investigating to date."

Saddam's forays into such unconventional weaponry are not new, however. Iraqi defectors have spoken on multiple occasions of secret programs to incorporate massless pulleys and frictionless surfaces into a so-called "kinematic bomb", and there are uncorroborated rumors of an "algebraic agent" being tested on a remote Kurdish village in the late 1980s, though the results are said to have been ambiguous.

"There can be no doubt that if Saddam Hussein were to obtain these kinds of unconventional weapons, he would unhesitatingly use them against his neighbor nations or against Israeli or American targets," US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in response to the announcement. "The thought of a large-scale attack involving a trigonometric or geographical bomb in a major American city, particularly if delivered by agents of al Qaeda posing as ordinary high-school or college instructors, is enough to chill the blood. It is the duty of the United States government to defend its citizens from academic attacks by whatever means are necessary."

On the other hand, officials at a number of major munitions factories in the United States, clandestinely known as "high schools", declined to comment as to the speculation that they have themselves been developing such weapons and arming American youth with them for decades. MoveZig.org, a liberal organization currently focused on preventing a war in Iraq, has responded to Dr. Blix's announcement with a promise to protest this seeming inequity.

"America has been building up a stockpile of horrific weapons of mass education for the better part of a century," said Elijah Frizzay, a spokesman for MoveZig.org. "Who are we to say that Iraq can't have those same weapons, while we make no attempt to disarm ourselves or Israel? We have no right to demand anything of Iraq until we choose to put aside our learnmongering and welcome nations like Iraq back into the academic community.

"We might actually learn something," Frizzay said. "After all, algebra was invented by the Arabs. I think this war is all just an excuse for George W. Bush to seize Iraq's civics and wood-shop resources. These things aren't worth a single accidentally sawn-off Iraqi finger."

Friday, February 21, 2003
03:51 - Blessed Silence

"Wind Tunnel" Power Mac G4 owners, rejoice! Apple's sending out new, much quieter power supplies and fans for the "Mirrored Drive Doors" tower machines, in complete user-installable kit form, for $20 shipping each.

Considering the kinds of prices they charge for replacement parts, this is a helluva bargain. And I'm glad to see that they've accepted that the noise level is a problem and worth addressing retroactively and for free.

I could complain about how the power supplies should have been quieter from day one, but... nah. It's all good.

03:46 - A "Fish Without A Bicycle" for our times

Marcus sends me this interesting tidbit:
Whenever the U.S. favors military action that France opposes (such as the disagreement in April 1986 that saw France denying U.S. F-111's overfly permission on their way to a bombing mission against Libya), jokes and sardonic comments about the prowess and fortitude of the French military inevitably ratchet up several levels in the American media. Hence the latest pithy anti-French quote making the rounds, this one emphasizing American frustration with France and expressing the attitude that having French support in military ventures is ineffective and irrelevant -- "going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion."

These words were spoken by Jed Babbin, a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, during a 30 January 2003 appearance on the political talk show Hardball. The full comment (offered during the course of a discussion about differences between U.S. and European policy towards Iraq) was: " . . . you know frankly, going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. You just leave a lot of useless noisy baggage behind."
That's some pretty frank talk (ow!), even from a retired politician. I wonder if it'll catch on. If it's on Snopes, I suppose it already has.

I certainly wouldn't mind having a few of the likes of the Dissident Frogman along, though.

23:28 - Holy Crap on a Plate!

Hiker needs to die for sending me this link. My only hope of salvation is to pass it on to dozens of other people, so as to disperse the curse.

(Disperse the curse! I like that. I've gotta think of a reason to chant it.)

What frightens me horribly is the thought that enough people are out there who would buy this box of evil on a daily basis that they have to sell it... in bulk... over and over... there's a factory that manufactures these things...

...While Tillamook extra-sharp white cheddar is $15 a brick. And those prepackaged giant dill pickles are only 3,000 mg of sodium per. What a world, what a world.

And to think-- just the other day, on NPR, they had on a guest who had written a glowing nostalgic book on the history of the sainted TV Dinner. The product that made Swanson's fortune, and of which this is only the latest incarnation.

23:20 - Why does this exist?

They're showing Welcome to Groovenia again on Cartoon Network. And I can't imagine why; after all, next week they'll be showing The Iron Giant, which suggests that the CN execs in their all-knowing wisdom are putting these two shows on the same kind of artistic level.

I'm simply going to link to this blog entry I found from the last time the show aired-- and say that I agree with every word of it. It's more analysis than the show ever deserved, so I'm not going to do any more of it on my own than just link to the same post (by a fellow named Morland) and say with a point and a nod, "What he said".

I just have one question: When was this thing produced? I mean, it would have looked dorkily dated in 1992...

UPDATE: Last year, apparently, according to the credits. Good lord.

09:16 - That's America for ya

... Or perhaps Germany. Okay, whose idea was this, anyway?

Whatever the story, I bet Jay Leno wants one.

Thursday, February 20, 2003
21:20 - Crystal Ball

Steven Den Beste has laid out the European Thing as he sees it. In light of recent events, it's hard to argue with it. I had a couple of extra thoughts while reading through it, though; when I showed the article to Lance, he came up with the same reactions.

  • Regarding European regard for authority:
    The French masses understand nothing, which is normal. The masses are foolish, stupid, ignorant, lazy, and easily swayed by demagogues. Only an idiot would actually let them drive the bus, because they'd drive it off the edge of a cliff. Nations must be ruled by the elite, because they know what must be done and why. Any system which forces the elite to pander to the masses will destroy itself because the masses are slime.
    Something Den Beste has described in the past, but only alludes to here, is that Europe has that monarchistic past-- the serfs-and-lords system was invented there. It's only a minor logical leap to ascribe European (and particularly French) willingness to be ruled to a social history of being ruled. It's nothing new to them. Whether it's a king and a system of lords and vassals, or a socialist politburo-- meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

  • What about Germany? This piece paints a picture of a Franco-German bloc in Europe's future, but so far the big gaffes and visible slips-of-the-hand recently have all been on Chirac's side of the table. Schröder has been rather quiet lately, or at least I haven't heard anything from his direction. What do we deduce from this? That France is the real driver of the EU "vision", and Germany is just letting France self-destruct and trying merely to avoid the blast radius? Or that it's really Germany behind the scenes pushing the construction of the EU edifice, and France is a diversion that's all part of the master plan?

    Either way, once France and Germany are perched at the top of an EU which is the geopolitical equal of the US (assuming such a thing happens), what's the endgame? If everybody's actions are dictated by past enmity and friendship and alliances and social order, surely France and Germany aren't prepared to share power and supremacy. How could things destabilize? There are plenty of ways.

    France is a nuclear power. However, its nukes aren't under NATO control. Germany is not nuclear; it's got a constitutional ban on such weapons. If France and Germany should end up at one another's throats again in the future, one has to wonder whether France would threaten nuclear force-- and whether Germany would be willing to absorb such an attack while providing the assurance that it would cost France half its populace in ensuing conventional warfare. Germany's been through this before, after all-- they've had their cities levelled. And this time, France wouldn't have the Americans to back them up.

    Could any of these things happen today? Europe has become extraordinarily pacifist, and that's the whole crux of this European Social Order thing, with world government and international law and no need for war. But how much push and shove would it take to overcome that? Whether the EU succeeds or fails, it seems there's the potential for a Franco-German political clash, and that would mean a real World War III in Europe.

    It might seem as if such a thing couldn't happen in this day and age. But if the European powers claim to be Enlightened today, too Enlightened to ever go to war again-- I seem to recall an earlier age that was called the Enlightenment, and it preceded massive war too.

  • 19:58 - Whiteboard of Doom

    We've all got whiteboards in our cubicles at work now. This can be used, in the words of Strong Bad, for good or for awesome.

    09:55 - It's funny, so it must be true

    Marcus sent me a copy of this "Switch" parody video. It's 48MB, so beware.

    It's funny, I'll give it that. But... well, to put it charitably, it's confused.

    The guy never seems clear about which version of the Mac OS he's making fun of. Sometimes it's OS 9, sometimes it's 10.2, sometimes it's the Public Beta ("the top is reserved for the mighty blue Apple!").

    I know it's ultimately futile for me to try to point out all the flaws in the video; I saw a message-board discussion where someone actually told a Mac user preemptively "Don't bother pointing out all the flaws". Others watched it over and over again, ultimately concluding "Boy, Macs sure do suck."

    But I'm stupid that way. So here goes.

    First of all, every anecdote ends with a complaint about the Mac crashing. Since when has this been the case? I'm sure the video-editing guys in the audience can attest that OS X just doesn't crash-- certainly no more than Windows does these days. The era of making fun of how much a computer crashes is over; it's joined the likes of mocking Windows 95's memory requirements or the iMac's candy colors as completely irrelevant now. If the guy's able to make his editing rig crash as much as he claims, he's a better man than I.

    I'm bewildered by his statement that if you drag files from a mounted disk onto the desktop and then eject the disk, the files all vanish. This is not the case in OS X. In the old days (before the Desktop was just a folder in your home directory), you could put in a floppy disk, drag files off it and onto the Desktop, and "Put Away" to put them back into the disk. This is because each disk had a hidden "Desktop" folder; each disk had files which were on its own "Desktop", and if you inserted that disk, files which were on its Desktop appeared on the overall machine's Desktop, and went away when you ejected the disk. It was a cool idea, and a sensible one too if you thought of disks a certain way, albeit undeniably confusing the first time you see it, if you don't understand what's going on. And it doesn't happen that way in OS X, even with writable media.

    But it was never the case with CDs, which is the example the guy is using. Drag a file off the CD, and see that little green + sign? That means it's copying the file, doofus. Just like you intend. Oh, you mean you're not describing a real phenomenon after all? Well, smack my ass and call me Rosy Cheeks.

    "It's the only operating system I know of where click and drag does not mean you actually copy or move anything; no, you're just making shortcuts on your desktop." Oh, you mean like Windows, possibly? Like where if you click on an .exe file and drag it from one disk to another, it creates a shortcut rather than actually copying the file, unless you hold down Alt or Ctrl or Shift or something? Sheesh.

    He's also complaining about auto-running CDs. Since when has that been a problem? Windows has had the same "problem" for years; developers for either platform can create CDs that auto-run. And OS X handles other kinds of media in a way that lets you control it completely. Blank CDs pop up a window that lets you select whether to prepare it for MP3s, data, whatever, or to open a program. MP3 CDs and audio CDs open iTunes. Photo CDs open iPhoto. And it's all configurable. In OS 9, if you inserted an audio CD, it would auto-play (by default). True, it can be unexpected to have a window pop up after you've inserted a CD; maybe you expect it to just gobble it up and not give you any signal that you've added media to the system, or introduced a disc that's designed to launch a program without your having to do anything. But if you're going to complain about an OS that autoruns inserted CDs, you would have found a more receptive audience circa 1995.

    He bitches about the "Update Manager" icon "jumping up and down at the bottom of the screen like a Jack Russell fucking Terrier"-- and he responds to this by searching manually through the system for the applications it wants him to update (and getting pissed off when he clicks on filenames and accidentally renames them, which a) you can do in Windows too, and b) requires a pretty amazing lack of manual dexterity-- not something to be proud of and crow about, if you ask me). Hello? You're supposed to click on the bouncing icon to activate the Software Update. How is this not clear? He's shuffling through folders trying to compare version numbers while this icon is bouncing in the corner of the screen, and it never once occurs to him to click on it like it's begging him to do?

    He makes fun of the Dock that comes up when you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen-- yeah, you mean like Windows' taskbar? You can hide both, you can adjust or disable the magnification on the Dock, you can move it around-- oh, he admits that, but then complains that you can't move the Dock to the top (where the Mighty Blue Apple is)... what, he honestly wants to have it sitting right below his menu bar? Fine, there are third-party or command-line hacks that allow that. A half-assed solution, but it's only a quarter-assed problem, so we still come out ahead.

    And where does his guffaw about deleted files being irretrievably gone come from? What, does UNIX scribble all over the disk surface when you delete a file? Neeeuuuu, Norton-style undeletion works the same way whether you're using FAT32 or HFS+. Unless you've got some kind of third-party privacy tool installed that makes damned sure your deleted files are unrecoverable. In which case it's your own bloody fault.

    Finally-- and this is just a philosophical little nitpick, but-- Command-Period to stop a running task. Yes? This unnatural but ultimately useless interrupt key! he yells, twisting his arms around as though pressing the Command key and the period key simultaneously involves prodding at a deeply countersunk button in the back of the monitor with a paperclip while at the same time licking the inside of the mouse and pressing six keys at once with your chin. Um... 'scuse me, but the Command key and the period key are contiguous on my keyboard here. Right next to each other. You can press them with one finger if you want to. And think about it: Command.... Period. Command.... stop. Get it? Sigh. Never mind.

    Oh well. I'm sure this will get passed gleefully around everybody's office, and I'm sure a million managers will use it to deflate any gradually built-up friendliness to the idea of buying Macs that they'd accumulated over the past three years. Thanks a lot, "Happy Nowhere". I hope you're happy. Oh, wait. I guess you are. Nowhere.

    The physical comedy was fun, though.

    Just one question, though: Why in the hell does a 3-minute MPEG have to be 48MB?

    Wednesday, February 19, 2003
    23:44 - A compelling case

    CapLion sends this link: a video-blog/interview of the protesters in New York.

    As it turns out, it's pointless for pro-war bloggers to try to make the case that the marchers are incoherent and clueless; the clearest proof of that comes directly from the protesters' very mouths.

    I hope for the sake of the country that there were a few people in attendance whose cogent opinions Ken simply elected not to put into the finished video.

    09:52 - Hey, there's an idea

    Awriiiiight. Seanbaby has just put up another article in The Wave, this time exploring the phenomenon of Raiders fans trashing Oakland after the Super Bowl. I'm sure readers of The Wave are likely to be more receptive to this kind of thing than the average bear...
    If there's one thing that's clear now, it's that we'll never know what causes sports rioting until we ask the screaming mob of arsonists themselves. But they, of course, would light us on fire and kill us. So instead, we should focus on how to stop this type of activity in the future. There are a couple ways we can do this. The first is stricter crowd control. Today, police have a number of less-lethal methods at their disposal: tear gas, rubber bullets, fire hoses, sticks and more. These are all very cute. And while I agree with whichever little girl invented rubber bullets that we shouldn't open fire on every savage mob that comes along, remember, these are people who are destroying a city over a football game. We should be fighting that with flesh-eating acid. It might sound harsh, but let's not kid ourselves -- if someone's lighting your house on fire because a sports team didn't perform well, they probably aren't going to grow up to take sick children on trust-building whitewater rafting expeditions. Human life is a precious thing, to a point. And seeing the torch-carrying Raider enthusiast in front of you get melted down into a pile of steaming soup will probably make your savage brain think twice before you throw that brick at the firemen.

    Tuesday, February 18, 2003
    20:14 - ...And then he woke up

    Mike at Cold Fury has done what a number of bloggers, frustrated with a tight-lipped President and and inscrutable but generally encouragingly well-aimed Administration, have apparently been doing lately: he's constructed the Presidential Speech We'll Never Hear.

    There's no way to excerpt it properly, so I won't; I just recommend a nice lingering look at it. Sure, it's not realistic to expect we'll ever hear it. But I hope someone's sent a copy or three to president@whitehouse.gov. If Lileks' Bleat gets read on the Senate floor (and presumably not as part of a filibuster), how much else that goes on in the blogosphere crosses the desks of the highest-ups in the government?

    I'll say this, though: the speech amounts to a pledge by the President to slash away all the cruft that currently prevents the US Government from fulfilling its founding principles and obstructs us from having the nation the Framers envisioned. Worded the way it is, it's the kind of penetratingly frank, implacable, audacious speech that a tyrannical dictator might make upon seizing power and declaring an empire... except that the speech is a pledge by the President to reduce his own power. So I just have to wonder how the hell the banner-waving public would react to it?

    It's fun to dream.

    17:10 - Key Feature

    There's one rather glaring problem with Keynote that I've seen so far. It's not a bug, per se; it's more of a design choice, and kind of a benighted one. It's that the default filename extension for Keynote saved files is .key.

    Lots of programs already use .key for their files. SSL certificate-generation programs, for example, use .key files (or perhaps it's something to do with SSH-- I forget); such files will now show up with Keynote icons, and open up in Keynote when double-clicked. And if those programs themselves depend on their files having .key extensions, or (even worse) if they try to open them automatically on a periodic basis or something, Keynote is going to get invoked inappropriately a lot.

    See, this is exactly what I mean when I talk about how horrible an idea filename extensions are. Particularly three-letter extensions; after all, how many unique and meaningful combinations of three alphanumeric characters are there? At the very least I would have expected Apple to choose an extension that didn't impose that ridiculous length limitation on itself, like, oh, I don't know-- .keynote comes to mind. (At least Apple made it so that saved files hide the extension on a per-file basis, so you at least don't have to see it tacked on to the end of the filename.) I mean, totally aside from the collisions with software that already uses .key files, one would think they'd have realized that ".key" implies a meaning completely other than that of the word "keynote". What are you supposed to infer from a filename like "Sales Presentation.key"? It sounds like a teacher's answer sheet.

    (Aside: the .key "files" are actually OS X-style bundles, or folders with all the individual items packed inside them in a navigable format. Not that that really matters for the purposes of this discussion.)

    Now that Apple has thoroughly eschewed Type and Creator codes as the means of assigning file types, they're going to have to bear the burden that comes with filename extensions. They've handled most aspects of it quite well, I'm pleased to say, what with the per-file extension-hiding bit and the new "Open with" association. But that doesn't solve the problem of collisions of well-known filename extensions; and if Apple stubbornly sticks by .key as the extension for Keynote files, then they'll be echoing Microsoft's appropriation of the .doc extension (previously used for all kinds of text documents, not just Word files). Only in this case it would be even stupider.

    Ah well. I just came from a company-wide meeting where a send-off presentation for an outgoing VP was done on a TiBook, and it would appear that it was done on another copy of Keynote that has been snatched up by someone else in the company. The infiltration continues...

    15:39 - Now that's censorship!

    A few days ago I posted about the ACLU's collection of controversial post-9/11 cartoons and its proud and heroic gallery showing how these brave cartoonists were flouting the will of the Man by speaking their minds, drawing blood with every sweep of their pens-that-are-mightier-than-swords, risking suppression and censorship at the hands of all-seeing government agents.

    But one cartoon they didn't list, forwarded to me by Mark Johnson, was this one:

    The senate's University and External Affairs Committee late Monday night dropped a controversial portion of the condemnation bill, killing a recommendation to raise the rent of the independent student newspaper because of the controversial cartoon. The Daily Cal leases its offices on the sixth floor of Eshleman Hall from ASUC.

    Some senators said the authors cut that part of the bill under criticism from student groups and senate opponents.

    The amended bill, SB 67A, proposes that all elected ASUC officials sign a letter calling for a printed apology on the front page of the Daily Cal "for using poor judgment during volatile times and possibly endangering students on this campus."

    The proposal also asks the Daily Cal's editors to require mandatory sensitivity training for its staff.
    See, this is insensitive and inflammatory. But this is brave and heroic.

    I get it.

    13:57 - Rallying Sense

    A couple of really good pieces just recently got linked from InstaPundit; after what went on this weekend, I expected as much, but it's refreshing to see it arrive right on schedule. First, there's Mark Steyn's National Post column that takes to pieces the placard-holding-protester mentality, such as it is. If people continue to insist upon chestnuts such as America as the "real terrorists" and Bush as the next Hitler after reading this, there's probably not much more that can be said to them.
    If everybody thought like Saturday's marchers, it would be curtains for all of us. But we're not quite there yet, and reality will be breaking in very soon. Saying that Bush is the real "weapon of mass destruction" is awful cute the first nine or ten thousand times, but only if you live in Toronto or Paris or Madrid. Viewed by an Iraqi from the reality of Basra, it's pathetic.
    And then there's this post by Brian Micklethwait on Samizdata that goes over the probable Long View on the War on Terror: the stuff that we're not being told about now because to do so would jeopardize the entire enterprise. Bush told us last September that the war would be long and difficult, and yet we assumed that he was only trying to set low expectations for a campaign in Afghanistan or something, so we wouldn't be disappointed when we still had troops in Tora Bora come March. But that's not what he meant. He meant this war will, literally, take years.
    Meanwhile, whatever Blair or the Brits or the French or the Timbuktooans might say or think, the USA plan is to take Iraq, and following that, over the next few years, to make itself a lot safer than now from terrorist attacks by (a) chasing terrorists, absolutely everywhere on the planet, and by (b) putting whatever pressure is necessary on any government anywhere which is now not chasing terrorists to switch to chasing terrorists with comparable zeal to the USA, thereby making the USA, and the West and the World in general, massively safer from terrorist attack than we all are now. And if that also makes the USA a whole lot more of a force in the world even than it is now, well, the Americans can live with that.
    Maybe people weren't taking Bush seriously when he alluded to this, but it's what I've been assuming all along. And as for the accusations of American "empire", well-- read the comments following the article, which contain a number of sound arguments as to why America is neither equipped for nor inclined toward such a thing.

    It's going to be a hard slog, and not all of it's going to be faraway news items that we can read about safely from our computers. This is bigger than oil, it's bigger than nukes. Really-- it is. And yet it's probably going to take the hindsight of 2010 or 2020 to really prove that to us.

    Monday, February 17, 2003
    01:32 - Freak Show

    PerversionTracker. It's not what it sounds like. It's better.

    It's a blog that showcases the very worst of what's available in the Mac software world. We've got brain-donor screensavers, UI nightmares, garbage Dock icons, the whole nine yards. Many of the featured masterpieces betray the unmistakable aroma of REALbasic-- the toolbox of choice for software developers who don't really know what it is they're doing, apparently. (True, REALbasic can be used for great things. But it also makes for some really godawful monstrosities, in the true spirit of macdinking, as I've just described it in the previous post; it puts powerful tools in the hands of people who don't really know what it is they ought to be doing with them, just as it empowers the people who do.

    In any case, it's great fun; only a few days old, but already one of the more notable Mac humor sites. I particularly like the analysis of SimpleWeather 1.0.4:
    But the beauty is more than skin deep. Featuring patented technologies such as WindowStateForget 2000, and TemperatureProgressBar, SimpleWeather has REALly fulfilled all our BASIC weather needs.

    Brilliantly, this application does not assume that you would like to fetch weather information automatically -- it "puts you in the driver's seat" by providing you with the tremendous privilege of clicking a button. The forecast pane is conveniently opened with the "Forecast" button, and just as conveniently closed with the "OK" button. A challenge to traditional UI design? Perhaps, but we feel this bold move will become the latest craze.
    I'll bet...

    01:12 - Pretty Keyn

    I had a gift certificate for $100 at Fry's; while showing off the Mesoamerican Temple this weekend, I decided to pick up a copy of Keynote, which the tuned-in will remember is Apple's new presentation software (intended as a "PowerPoint killer"). I figured that at a Benjamin, it made a pretty strong case for itself as a piece of business software-- if I ended up using it a lot, awesome; if not, at least it makes for a pretty box on the shelf.

    First impressions are quite positive-- at least, after taking the time to look at the included quick-reference card which explained all the available palettes. (Without that reference, the interface is pretty opaque; but after all, this is a full-featured program, not an iApp.) Operation is very smooth and polished; I haven't run across any bugs yet that I can see.

    To get a good impression of how it will benefit me in a business environment, though, I had to see how well the PowerPoint import/export function (its true killer feature, reality dictates) stood up. The way to do this is to "Open Samples..." and load up the demo presentation that Keynote comes with, and then export it to PowerPoint format. Then I shared it over to my Windows box and opened it up in PowerPoint, and then clicked through the respective versions on the two machines in parallel.

    The distillation worked very well, at least in this case. There were some layout problems-- misaligned text here and there, and some graphics were anamorphically scaled incorrectly. But the part of the exporter that really shone was its ability to downgrade various neato-spiffy effects to fit into the PowerPoint feature set; if it was demonstrating some feature of Keynote's layout capabilities that PowerPoint didn't have, the exported version would display the best approximation of it that PowerPoint could manage.

    For example, Keynote has a whole slew of fancy-dancey wipes and fades and object compositing effects. You can transition from one screen to another by rotating them as though two faces of a cube, or by flipping the whole thing horizontally or vertically, the 3D effect rendered in real-time by Quartz. But PowerPoint doesn't do that; so instead, the Keynote exporter picks the closest possible match from among the wipes that PowerPoint does support, preserving as much as possible of the effects that were applied in Keynote. For another example, Keynote lets you slide-in individual rows into a table, one by one; PowerPoint apparently doesn't. So during the export, Keynote consolidates all the slide-in frames that make up the whole table into a single slide-in table.

    Some effects fail badly, though, in the exported format. Overlapping transparent/translucent shapes and drop shadows look like butt in PowerPoint, and the text rendering (naturally) is jaggy. Oddly, too, the wipe effects and general motion of the presentation on the Windows machine-- where, of course, everything is faster-- were choppy and jagged and rough. Whereas slides on the iMac running Keynote would slide in and out with velvet smoothness, slowing-in and -out in a way that makes the whole thing flow like a pre-rendered move, PowerPoint stutters and staggers through the same sequence of images, even simplified to a version that's opaque and unambitious. I'm greatly encouraged by Keynote's performance during playback; hooking up a Mac to the overhead projector at a meeting is now likely to involve a positive impression for the audience rather than a snicker of derision.

    Keynote is slim on clip-art; there are a few palettes of symbols, and some general photo art, but none of the imagery present in PowerPoint (much of which has become iconic in its own right-- the businessman guy with his hat flying off, the stick-figure people with the round heads and hands, etc) is in evidence. True, you can drag in any image you want, but it would have been nice if they'd provided some more such goodies for handy access.

    But then again, there's one age-old trap to avoid: macdinking, a phenomenon that has just been given a new opportunity to rear its ugly head.
    The "mac" part of macdink comes from the Apple Macintosh which, thanks to its graphical interface and ease-of-use, encourages people to nudge their work for hours on end.
    In other words, back in the dim times of word-processing, you could always tell when a piece had been done on a Mac, because it was full of overly-clever fonts and styles and things the writer employed just "because he could". I wasn't doing computer stuff for money at the time, so I can't claim to have first-hand knowledge of this; but I can certainly imagine the resentment that this practice would have fostered among the non-Mac-users in a given class or office.

    Macdinking flirted with a comeback with the iApps; some people have expressed dismay at Apple's providing such tools as iMovie and iDVD to "average people", fearing a flood of boring-ass home videos of birthday parties and camping trips, composited by dads who think they're all the next Coppola because they have a camcorder and an iMac, so the saying goes. I'm reminded of Tom Lehrer's take on folk songs:
    The reason most folks songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people... if professional songwriters had written them instead, things would have turned out considerably differently.
    Just so, several commentators seemingly would have preferred that everyday Joes go without the ability to quickly and effortlessly turn raw footage into infinitely broadcastable video, if it meant they could ensure that all the videos anybody found online were of professional quality. (Shyeah.) The same argument went for HTML editors; we all feared (and perhaps rightly) a barrage of godawful gaudy web pages all designed from some prepackaged "theme" in FrontPage or whatever online service provided people with effortless page-writing tools.

    But just as macdinking has undoubtedly caused this effect to a degree in websites and home movies and digital photography and the like, it can't be denied that it's enabled many people (who are talented) to create things they would never have otherwise. And just because Keynote has a whole portfolio of lavish themes full of eye candy doesn't mean it's automatically incapable of producing anything of substance. The same was true of PowerPoint; people will be able to tweak the hell out of a brainless presentation no matter what its feature set is. But Keynote offers enough extra stuff over what PowerPoint does that it actively encourages people (or me, at least) to get down and dirty with it. It's a fun program to work with, and for business productivity software that's a rare achievement.

    I'm going to look forward to reading others' distributed PowerPoint files in Keynote; after all, when it imports them, it makes the text and graphics actually look better than they'd be in PowerPoint.

    And with that, Apple takes one more significant-- if possibly a bit symbolic-- step toward autonomy from Microsoft. Let's hope they haven't bitten off more than they can chew.

    21:15 - Iraqi Explorer

    Seems Microsoft has deployed an updated version of IE to the Gulf region, for the use of the weapons inspectors. (I guess having Blix look for the weapons by sitting behind a computer typing their code names into Google wasn't working well enough.)

    Cute, I must say. Particularly in how it leaves no side of the debate unmocked. It's equal-opportunity ribbing! That's the way to go, if you ask me...

    18:51 - Just so's we're clear

    I don't think many thinking people are fooled by this sort of thing, but apparently there are a lot of people who need reality to have subtitles. So here's one piece of helpful translation:
    Although he makes no bones about loathing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government ("I disagree with every aspect of Sharon"), Ahmad maintains that neither he nor anyone in the group is anti-Semitic.

    "I am a Semite, so I can't be anti-Semitic," says Ahmad, pointing out that the correct definition of the word "Semite" is anyone speaking a Semitic language, including Arabs.

    "We all come from Abraham . . . the Quran says that if you don't follow all the prophets, you're not a real Muslim," he says as the others nod.
    Anybody who answers the question "Are you anti-Semitic?" with a tangent about what the definition of "Semitic" is, is anti-Semitic. Yes, yes-- I understand how broad the definition of "Semites" is in an ethnic and linguistic sense. But the interviewer needed a big sign to be floating behind him that read: YOU KNOW WHAT HE MEANT.

    This is called a "dodge", and it is a tactic used by people who don't want to give a straight and truthful answer on the grounds that it will be self-incriminating.

    (Via LGF.)

    Me, I like Trey and Matt's exchange at the beginning of one of one of the South Park DVDs.

    Trey: Many viewers see us making fun of Jews on the show a lot, and they want to know: Are you guys anti-Semitic?

    Matt: <chuckling> Well, it's a fair question; but considering that I'm Jewish, I'd say it would be pretty hard for me to be anti-Semitic.

    Trey: <sunny indulgent smile> I am, however.

    18:02 - Catching Up

    Hoo-boy. It's been a long weekend, and I've really been out of the loop.

    I had a friend visiting from Canada, and we spent the last three days on a whirlwind tour of the Bay Area-- taking in all the points of interest that I could think of, both traditional touristy things like the Golden Gate Bridge and North Beach and the Castro, and cool spots of more personal significance like Summit Rock and Quimby Road and Kearney Street (up by Coit Tower) and Skyline Boulevard and my new house. We ended up discovering some cool out-of-the-way secrets that I hadn't actually known about before, and the weather cooperated and everything.

    Little did I know that while we were laughing with friends in restaurants and hiking trails, San Francisco's lights below us hid a fresh wave of anti-war protests. It's really getting ugly out there, and I'm starting to feel less and less like I know what I'm doing and where the world is going. Having just watched Big Trouble in Little China and Akira for the first time this weekend as well didn't really help matters; now I'm haunted by nocturnal visions of San Francisco vanishing under a blinding white dome, slowly expanding outward from some central nexus as civil unrest changes the color of the streets worldwide faster and more sharply than has ever happened in the past. Writing on this page for the past year, I've been the proverbial frog in the saucepan, oblivious to the rising temperature and unwilling to shake off the miasma of dulled perspective that prevents me from realizing that I'm about to be boiled alive.

    Right after the towers were hit, people on the news were saying over and over again that this changes everything. Few people could say much that added to that sentiment, but we knew, somehow-- instincively, viscerally-- that this changes everything. We had every reason to believe that the world would be forever altered from top to bottom, that either all of humanity would unite in brotherhood, or we would be plunged into protracted war and suffering. There wasn't much middle ground that we could see. We fully expected more attacks. We jumped at every news report. I woke up every morning with my hand twitching on the Refresh button on CNN.com.

    But those follow-up attacks never came, and we started to realize that somehow, confusingly, not much had really actually changed. The towers weren't there anymore. Three thousand people were dead. But where was the changed world? Afghanistan came and went as a news item, and soon the only concrete evidence of 9/11 was the ongoing discourse over whether new and old movies should have the World Trade Center in their panoramas of the Manhattan skyline anymore.

    I think, however, that 9/11 bit deep-- deeper than we've come to think it did. It's like a childhood injury that comes back to haunt you in the form of a bad back. It's like a seemingly small mechanical failure under the hood, a popped screw or a leaking coolant hose, that manifests itself in its full significance only when you decide to exercise that faulty part.

    We're now going to war, and so there's a requisite peace movement. There's nothing inherently new or unusual about this. But what is new is the deafening stridency of the protests-- the naked anti-Americanism, the shameless support of our declared enemies, the open distrust and fear of our own government and the belief in a nebulous concept called "peace" that everybody seems to believe is there for the taking, if only we allow ourselves to grow up-- and that in spite of the largest, most audacious, most viscerally compelling demonstration that we've ever in living memory seen of the fact that peace does not happen by itself. This world was well on the way to being more peaceful than it's ever been, true-- but we've had it brought home to us, forcefully, that mistaking complacency for peace encourages people to become our enemies and attack us. And these protesters seem unwilling to let themselves see that their good intentions ignore plain, bare facts-- that we're entering a new historical period of war, world-altering war, that has been thrust upon us; that 9/11 was not an aberration that can be quickly forgotten and forgiven; that a cancer has grown on the Earth, and if not excised it will only grow worse and eat us all.

    Peace protests before 9/11 were points of passing interest. They were never unpatriotic; they were expressions of popular dissent, always a requirement in a free society. But 9/11 tweaked something deep down in our collective soul; it threw something off the rails, it loosened a few screws. And now that we're revving up the anti-war engine again, it's rattling and banging in a way that it never used to back when it was under warranty. It's making those kinds of noises that signal an imminent meltdown, the kind that costs us three months' pay, particularly if we keep on belting on down the highway without paying attention to the smoke pouring out the tailpipe.

    Peace isn't the absence of war. Peace is the willingness to accept certain risks in the world landscape, on the understanding that other people won't take advantage of us-- because they're taking on those same risks for the same reason. Peace is a mutual understanding reached by a unanimous community of similarly-minded peoples, with an absence of hatred and resentment, with common goals and an inherent incentive toward cooperation and friendship. Peace isn't something you get if you just lie down and cover your head with your hands while the other kids hurl rocks at it. That's called surrender, not peace. And it's what comes about when your vision of "peace" is simply "not fighting anymore", even if that includes self-defense.

    "America isn't under attack", some say. But one has only to look at the desires of our enemies, expressed in so many press statements and propaganda videos and sermons, to realize that the only reason we're not suffering more attacks right now is because they lack the means, not because they aren't really our enemies. They are. They say so every week. And sooner or later, 9/11 will happen again, or something worse. To disagree with that possibility is to ascribe to them immense fecklessness and unwillingness to follow through on their own threats. I don't think that's a tenable logical position. these are human beings we're talking about, but human beings deeply and thoroughly convinced that it's their duty to do whatever is in their power to destroy us. They've already declared war on us, and they're dead serious about it. For us to march for peace under such conditions is to proclaim that we can bend spoons with our minds.

    The problem still exists; the threat is still real, because the hatred is still real. The hatred is of what we are, not of what we do; and so short of changing fundamentally what we are, there is no solution to that hatred other than to remove the immediate threat by whatever expedient force is necessary, and then work on defusing whatever cultural and religious schisms divide us from that part of the world that currently wants us dead.

    I spent Sunday evening with a couple of friends, watching the sun set over Silicon Valley from Summit Rock, unaware of what human opinion seethed under the lights that came on pinprick by pinprick in the expanse that stretched under us, from Cupertino to Milpitas, from Los Gatos to the northerly city glow silhouetting the San Bruno mountain line. It was awfully peaceful up there, true; but I know that if I had to sit at that vantage point and watch those points of light being snuffed out below me, under a cloud of bioweapon or something worse, the peace I'd achieved by putting myself out of harm's way would have been the most shameful delusion I'd ever bought myself.

    They're waving Iraqi flags down there, I told myself. They're chanting that Bush is dumber than Forrest Gump and more evil than Hitler. They're declaring the US to be the biggest threat to world peace that currently exists. I knew these things were happening, but somehow it wasn't until I came down the hill and started reading the weekend's news and blogs that I started to think about how deeply into the nation's heart 9/11 really cut-- and what's more disturbing, just how irrational and vigorous our reflexive reaction to that affront has been. Never before has this world been in such a position: accustomed to so much ease and wealth and power, and confronted with a menace of such raw and primitive fury. We've evolved beyond the ability to deal coherently with it. And while in Vietnam our country's protesters grew their numbers measure by measure, over the course of years, only becoming significant as a political movement some four years after the war began, today we've declared our own country the enemy before we've even taken a decisive proactive step toward cutting out the cancer that has attacked us. We've become astonishingly quick to blame ourselves, to declare even self-defense to be antithetical, to reject outright any shadow of the promulgation of our world philosophy that has been a hallmark of America since the days of the Monroe Doctrine. It's only now that our people have grown so eased and complacent that the ideas of "puppet governments" and "promotion of democracy" and even "right and wrong" all seem like sinister relics of our parents' time.

    The current conflict should be so black-and-white, so good-and-evil on its very surface that it seems it should have given the world a consensus unlike any it had ever seen in history. But it would seem from the evidence that when the MTV Generation meets the Dark Ages, there's no context for dialogue. There's just too big a rift. Wry irony, when given a sword and an enemy to smite with it, would rather impale itself with a smirk for the sake of the laugh it will get, than to take the obvious "right" course and swing for the bleachers. We all expect a trick question, and so we can't bring ourselves to come up with a straight answer no matter how high the stakes.

    "Interesting times," they call them. It's never intended in a good way.

    I worry that the wounds to our own country's confidence in its own system will be every bit as hard to heal, after all this is over with, as the wounds in the Middle East will be.

    UPDATE: Dane Petersen says much the same thing, only a lot more succinctly. Plus he goes on to link to the bizarre movies and stuff I've been accumulating over the weekend. It's so good to see that some people still know when wry irony is appropriate (freaky pop-humor memes) and when it's not (waving US flags with swastikas instead of stars).

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    © Brian Tiemann