g r o t t o 1 1

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

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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



Cars without compromise.





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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, June 1, 2003
14:28 - Insert clever title here

(top)
Can't post... painting.

Friday, May 30, 2003
19:19 - The strongest kung-fu
http://www.macdailynews.com/comments.php?id=P1154_0_1_0

(top)
This story is a lot more cheering. Actually, it's a series of stories-- letters sent via e-mail to MacDailyNews, by a Windows XP user by the name of Michael P. Assuming we can take him at his word (it's possible that this whole thing might be an elaborate troll-hoax), it's quite astonishing.

It starts out like this, on Tuesday:

"To be perfectly honest, I don't understand why anybody would buy an Apple computer. It is non-standard (everybody uses Windows) and proprietary. Also, it seems to me that Apple is very desperate to sell computers, so much so that they will withhold products that many would want by making them "Apple-only," in a bid to force people to buy an Apple in order to use these products."

"I am a music fan. Yes, I wanted an iPod when it first came out, but it was Apple-only, of course. So, I bought a Nomad Jukebox for use with my Windows system. But, still, it was obvious that the iPod was better, and I kept my eye on them over time, so when Apple finally gave up and made a Windows version, I got my new iPod only to find out that I was stuck with MusicMatch software and not iTunes."

"At this point, I would like to make it clear that I want a Windows XP version of iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iChat, iDVD, Sherlock - yes, I've been all over Apple's site - these applications look great, but I can't find versions of them that run on Windows! Why would Apple bother to create all of these applications and not make versions that will run on 99% of the world's computers?!"

"Instead, Apple would force me to buy an Apple computer to run these programs. Why is Apple so insecure? Why do they need to try to force sales of Apples? Obviously, nobody is buying them or they wouldn't have to try to make Apple-only reasons to try to force sales of computers."

"Damn Apple! How dare they make superior products and then not sell them to me just because I'm not using their other products, which must suck because nobody uses them? What a pathetic two-bit company! Aaargh!"

MDN is correct in saying, however, that this guy's e-mail offers a valuable insight into how a lot of the Windows world feels about Apple: if they're so confident in their products' superiority, why don't they just develop their vaunted superior software and sell it for Windows? That way, everybody would get to use it, and everybody would win! And if Macs are so much better, then they'll win through natural market forces anyway, right?

Yeah, but the incentive to buy a Mac rather than a Windows box is at its greatest when it's the only way to get Apple software-- and with that as the prevailing reality, it's still only got them 5% penetration (or 2%, or 1%, or whatever number you feel is realistic). If Apple made its software for Windows, a) it would have to make a lot of sacrifices in the area of the underlying OS X technology that they can currently take advantage of; and b) it would transform them overnight into a Windows software house, because nobody would buy a Mac ever again. Why spend twice as much for a computer that runs the same software?

So anyway: Michael P. writes back on Wednesday to MDN, after reading through all the reader feedback (much of which took quite strong exception to his tone):

"I was looking at what I thought was some great software from Apple. I run one piece of Apple software on my PC - QuickTime. Although it doesn't work as well as WMP and the files are huge in comparision, it's OK. And it keeps nagging me to upgrade for a price. Also, I was thinking of Apple as a software company, not as a hardware company. Specifically, I was wishing I could have iTunes for Windows, like I have an iPod for Windows. I think iTunes looks/works better than MusicMatch and I want access to the iTunes Music Store from my Windows PC."

"I also really would like to have the ability to run iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc. on my Dell after looking them over on Apple's site and watching movies of those applications in action. I still don't understand totally why Apple can't make these programs cross-platform and sell them, but I kind of see the point after reading the responses."

Yeah, I'm sure Apple's business planners kind of see the point as well.

Again, good insight into the Windows perspective on Apple: a software company, making an annoying-but-okay media player, oh-and-I-think-maybe-some-weird-proprietary-computers-on-the-side. You can imagine what kind of culture clash is involved when someone with this viewpoint expounds it to a bunch of people for whom Apple is the sun and moon and evening star.

But here's where the eye-opening part starts:

"I think Apple could make a ton of cash selling iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc. to the much, much larger Windows market. I wish they would try it. But, I see the point of tying it to the hardware side of their business - it's all integrated and it helps sell hardware."

"So, instead of waiting forever for something that probably won't happen, I'm thinking of falling into Apple's trap. I am considering buying an eMac for $799 to try it. I won't be able to do iDVD, but I'm not willing to spend an extra $500 for that just yet. This way I can try iTunes (will my Windows iPod work with it?) and iMovie, iPhoto and all the rest. I will see if I like it or I will sell it on eBay."

Someone willing to put up or shut up. That's a rare thing in today's world.

Fast forward to today:

"Well, I went in there [the Apple Store] expecting to buy the low end eMac, but after about an hour with two staffers who had to be the best 'computer store' employees I ever had the pleasure to meet, I walked out with a 17-inch iMac with a 1GHz PowerPC G4 (which intitially seemed 'slow' to me spec-wise, but after the G4 vs. the Pentium 4 differences were explained, seemed plenty fast enough to me), with an 80GB hard drive and a SuperDrive. So I do have iDVD."

"I took your advice about the RAM. It was easy to install myself. So, the iMac has 1GB of RAM now, too. Thank you, by the way, for all of your advice. You really helped me out and saved me a lot of time. I've got it connected to my Dell and did it in about 5 minutes by following your directions."

"I haven't had time to do much, yet. But, I want to tell you that from the moment I opened the box, I felt I was in for something quite new and different. The iMac is packaged like it is fine jewelery - very high-end. I have never seen anything like it - right down to the styrofoam shapes and tie wraps and books and cd case. All in a surprisingly small box. Very impressive. I felt like I had purchased a $10,000 fine audio system or something. Quite unlike any Windows computer packaging I had ever opened."

"The buttons and finishes of the case, keyboard, and mouse are solid quality. The whole thing screams quality. My Dell's buttons, keyboard and mouse now seem somewhat thin and 'plasticy' compared to the iMac's."

"The startup sequence of the first time turning it on only heightened the quality level. The thing was on my internet connection (cable modem) as if it was set up for me in the box. It just worked. I downloaded the Safari browser first. Wow! Compared to the included IE for Mac, it really is about 10 times faster. Plus I love the tabs."

"I will write you a followup when I have time this weekend to spend with the iMac. This email is sent with Mac OS X Mail. So far, so good. I spent more than double what I was was planning, but I am sure I made the right decision already. Thanks for your help! You can print this email if you like."

Quoted in its entirety.

I could comment further, but I kind of don't see the point.

19:00 - Obligatory Microsoft Settlement Post
http://www.macminute.com/2003/05/29/microsoft

(top)
A whimper:

Microsoft on Thursday said that it will pay US$750 million to settle a private antitrust lawsuit that was filed last year by AOL Time Warner on behalf of its subsidiary, Netscape Communications. The agreement also includes a new royalty-free, seven-year license of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player to AOL. The two companies said they agreed on "a variety of steps designed to ensure that their products work better with each other." In addition, the software giant and AOL said they will "work to broaden consumer access to high-quality digital content, in such areas as online music services offering single downloads and/or monthly subscriptions [and] authorized Internet access to movies."

That's what they call a "settlement" these days. "Oh, stop twisting our arms! $750 million dollars? Make it stop! The pain! Oh, oh, oh-- and you want us to give you our technology, too? Have you no hearts? First you bleed us of nearly the worth of Bill's finest pinky ring in compensation, and then you vow to use our browser and media player and iTunes-clone music store exclusively for perpetuity? Nooo! Don't throw us in dat dere briar patch!"

Take the word "settlement" out of this and it looks an awful lot like Microsoft just bought a controlling interest in AOL, complete with an agreement for AOL to drop Netscape development forever. The only inconvenience to Microsoft is that it took so long.

It's long been said that "You don't make a deal with Microsoft." But the trouble is that you don't not make a deal with Microsoft either.

Ah well. It's hard to even get too worked up over this anymore; at one time (like, say, 1998) I was flabbergasted by these kinds of maddening playing-right-into-Redmond's-hands developments. But it's such old hat now that it slips down over my eyes and I fall asleep.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003
03:10 - What fourth wall?

(top)
Okay, it's official: Cartoon Network simply kicks ass; there's no further debate about it.

The following are four of the new packaging pieces they're playing during Adult Swim. The first one was on during Futurama; the second between Futurama and Family Guy; and the other two during Family Guy. There are lots more, too, during the anime they show later and as ads throughout the day.

The spots are nothing more than series of text cards, white on black, with ambient music in the background.


On the fourth one, the final card-- #28-- appears for like ten seconds.

These guys rule.

UPDATE: Okay, make that five; the fifth ad was just too much fun to pass up.

Incidentally, on Family Guy, Peter was rubbing his scrotum-like chin; then his eyes opened wide, and he said with surprise, "Hey, how did these get up here?" And he took off his, er, chin, and put it back in his pants.

God damn that show's self-conscious.


21:19 - A good idiot is hard to find

(top)
Something I learned while up in Hippietown over the weekend was that a very simple, basic tenet of group behavior has been obsoleted out of a great many people's thought processes. That tenet is the concept that the majority should be able to dictate the policies that govern all.

I'm no fan of totalitarianism. I don't like being tyrannized by roving gangs of people who think I'm a freak. It would truly suck to live in a country where if I didn't hew to the accepted party line that was broadcast on every TV channel and painted on giant billboards everywhere, I'd be subject to abduction, beatings, torture, and death. That doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me.

I'm also no stranger to the feeling of being in the minority. If being a Mac user for these past few years has taught me anything, it's that using a minority platform has its distinct disadvantages. I'm barred from using certain services. I'm forced to find geeky workarounds to many roadblocks that prevent me from doing things that everybody else in the world takes for granted as no-brainers. I even pay more for the privilege of denying myself partnership in the majority. I make a decision that the cameraderie of the fringe is more important to me than network-effect benefits, and it costs me a bundle in cash and in prestige. The world doesn't pander to me, and I'm conscious of this each and every day.

But what the hell ever became of the idea that the majority should get the last laugh in some given debate? I've found myself alarmed to notice that lots of people are treating minority positions on certain issues as thought they were received truth-- as though just because it's an unpopular opinion, it must be true.

While walking the streets of Arcata, the one overwhelming sentiment that I felt washing over me was not one of hatred, or ennui, or even cluelessness. There were all kinds of people there, of varying degrees of thoughtfulness. The town was humming along in its nice communal bliss, a fairly efficient machine, and each person was doing his or her part, each from a unique background of education and intelligence and financial status and age. There was plenty of diversity in evidence (though it should be noted that although there was what appeared to be a Racial Tolerance Store on the corner, selling one of those traditional African robes with matching round flat-topped cap to any comer with an aching desire to show his solidarity with the pre-slavery African nation and $250 in his pocket, there didn't seem to be a single black person in the town who might buy it). There was a lot of room for debate on lots of issues. People would talk (mostly) intelligently, and often realistically, about market economics, carpentry, science, computers, fishing, even Bush and the war. But the one proposition that never seemed in doubt-- the one sentiment that everybody in the whole entire town seemed in agreement on, accepting it without any further debate necessary-- was that most people are idiots.

Most of America. The American Public. The masses. The sheeple.

Someone would make some comment about how most people in the country understand that eating in a fast food restaurant will make them fat, and everyone will smile and chuckle-- but then someone will say, "But we all know that most people are idiots." And the smiles will turn to sage nods.

Sure. This is a tempting thought, isn't it? If everybody in the country thinks one thing, but I think another, and I'm sure of my conviction, then it must follow that everyone else is simply wrong, yes? And that they must all be stupid, or at best misinformed?

Well, let me see. I've known a lot of people in my 27 years; not nearly as many as a lot of people have known, for I have tended for most of my life to be the sort to keep to myself except for a close social circle. But I've run into people who sucked at computers. (This happens when you work in tech support.) I've run into people who were astonishingly bad drivers. (Well, not literally, as yet.) I've run into people who gamble, or who engage in physically self-destructive behaviors like drinking or smoking or drugs. I've run into people with all kinds of faults, up to and including collecting Mariah Carey albums. But you know... there's something I just can't seem to bring myself to do, and that's to assume that they're all idiots. I can't do it.

You know why? Because if someone sucks at computers, they might yet be a master accountant, or mechanic, or swordsmith, or farmer. They might be brilliant at what they do. If someone gambles a thousand dollars a week, and has been doing so for years and yet still makes his mortgage payments, how stupid can he be and yet stay above water? How is it that someone can earn law degrees from Harvard and Yale, fly fighter jets, make millions in the oil industry, win the Presidency, and yet be widely decried as an "idiot" because he spoonerizes words and speaks with a Southern accent?

Sure, I've known idiots. But-- and it's only fairly recently that I've come to this conclusion-- I will be the last person to suggest that the majority of people that I've met in the world are stupider than myself.

And yet I seem to be in the minority on that matter.

Conversation with people on the streets of Arcata showed me that whatever else people believed, they were sure that if left to their own devices, Americans-- if given popular control over their own destinies-- would stride confidently off a cliff into a volcano's caldera.

In other words, only the elite were really qualified to make the rules. And who are the elite? Why, the people with the correct ideas, of course. Well, how do we tell whose ideas are correct? C'mon, just look around. Most of the country is made up of proletarian idiots. They watch sports and reality TV, and drink Budweiser and eat McDonald's. They don't care about anything beyond their little day jobs and their doughy wives and screaming kids, and getting to the bar so they can drink themselves into a stupor and get through to the next morning and begin the grind all over again. Think they have any worthwhile ideas of their own?

Um... wait. Weren't you saying that it's the working classes who should wield governmental power? Oh, but that's different. Somehow. Oh yeah-- it's because the working classes won't come up with ideas that really matter; it's the elite who have the only worthwhile ideas: the minority ideas.

The Dixie Chicks debacle has brought this problem into stark light: lots and lots of very vocal people seem to have become completely oblivious of what free speech, as defined in the First Amendment, actually means. Namely, that it limits the government's ability to suppress people's speech and expression. It does not affect what private parties might do to smack someone down for being stupid in public. So when hundreds of people pile up their Dixie Chicks CDs and drive a backhoe over them, suddenly other people dredge up a term they might have heard once in Civics class-- free speech-- and take it to mean that any suppression of any ideas or views by anybody is illegal under US law. The fact that the backhoe driver could get away with this heinous act proves that the US has become a police state and withdrawn all the protections it had once extended to its most valuable people-- the ones holding the minority opinions. Because, after all, majority opinions are automatically wrong.

I don't know about you, but I learned the concept of majority rules long before I ever heard of free speech. We'd be in the second grade classroom, taking a vote by show of hands whether we wanted to have peanut butter and celery for snack, or cheese and crackers. And if I happened to raise my hand with the majority of the students, then that was great. But if I didn't-- well, I learned to suck it up. I learned to accept that the majority had decided what the whole of the group would do, and just because I personally might disagree with their decision, my throwing a tantrum would do no good, because it was simply not nice to put my desires above the clearly expressed desires of twenty other kids, even if I could yell louder than they could. And who knows: they might even have a point.

But that basic concept seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. Nobody's concerned with the rights of the incumbents anymore, of the greater society. All anybody cares about are the rights of the smaller groups of less seen people with more unusual opinions. Those must be protected at any cost-- including that of the will of the greater part of the people.

I'm reminded of a Dilbertian exchange (which may or may not have actually been in a Dilbert), in which the manager tells the engineers, "This project takes precedence over everything else, including projects that are more important." Wait. Come again?

Maybe it wasn't in Dilbert. Maybe it actually happened here at work. It wouldn't surprise me; that's the way things have been going.

Where has this fetishization of the minority opinion come from? Whence this discarding of any opinion that is held by more than half of the voting public? How did we reach the point where someone can say "But then, we're talking about a country where 70% of the people supported the war in Iraq," with a sneer and a smirk, and the rest of the assembled group will nod assent at the collective malicious dimness of 200 million coherent pollable citizens?

I have to wonder if maybe it's because we've simply fetishized the very word minority lately. It's a word that's usually followed by rights, or opportunities, or aid, or report. (Oh. Wait. Never mind.) Anything "minority" is seen as automatically righteous. Because a minority implies a majority, doesn't it? And all majorities are by definition oppressors, occupiers, usurpers, unschooled hordes running roughshod over pure traditions and time-honored balance, usually in the name of grubby progress or money or some dumbass thing like that. If anybody from the majority expresses an opinion, feel free to ignore it; after all, it's from the majority. How important can it be? How much protection can it need?

Now, let me point out again that uniformity of thought is a catastrophe; there must always be dissent and a discourse on the issues. But there must also be decisions made, and the will of the people must be followed. However, I don't agree that the minority must ever be allowed to tyrannize the majority. Aaron McGruder of Boondocks (who seems to have been undergoing something of a chemical breakdown lately-- perhaps in response to reading lots of withering critiques of his stupid comic strips in recent weeks, which seem to accuse him of not only making up facts, but of plagiarizing artwork, as evidenced by this strip in which I think he's playing the race card, but I can't be sure) makes a valid point here in a strip from a few days ago:



...Nevertheless, I find it extremely distressing, not to say insulting, to hear it suggested that just because I hold a majority position, I'm quite simply deluded-- that all I need is to have a "brushfire" set in my brain, and I'll come around and see the light. I obviously don't have any valid points of my own, says McGruder-- only a deep dark vacuous mental abyss which, if only I were to open myself to outside ideas, would instantly be filled with his inexorable Truth.

You see, only the minority ideas are worth anything. Majority ideas are, by definition, a dime a dozen, and therefore without merit and undeserving of protection or attention.

Let's see here: I'm a Mac user. I think my decisions which have led to my using a Mac are rational ones, and I think that the benefits I've bought myself by being a Mac user are very much worthwhile. I look at the poor deluded masses of blind sheeplike Windows users and I can't help but think that they must all be morons. And... Whoa! --it's at the very brink that I catch myself, and force myself to think about each individual person's circumstances at work and home, the things they know, the lives they lead, the contributing factors which would all point down a superhighway to Windows-land, bypassing at 75 the little turnoff that says "Macs this way". I remind myself that while there are indeed some idiots in this world, there are also a vastly larger number of people who are rational, capable contributing human beings who make decisions based on their own personal lists of pros and cons and their own individual experiences. I shouldn't sneer at the fact that so many people use Windows; I should rather marvel that they are all using computers. The human brain is an amazing thing. We shouldn't be capable of things like driving cars-- modulating pedals and wheels and levers with a feather touch, sending our mental signals into an intricate collection of machinery and electronics which cause us to hurtle down the freeway at speeds that would turn us to paste if we made the slightest miscalculation, and then-- at the same time-- talking to others in the car, using only a fragment of our mental capacity and our attention to keep the car zooming and weaving and dancing from one end of the state to the other. The fact that there are so many auto accidents in California every year shouldn't amaze me anywhere near as much as the absolutely staggering number of people who drive with complete competence, never getting into an accident at all.

Intelligent people get into accidents. We've all known people who have done so. Not everyone who crashes his car is a moron, and not everyone who drives safely isn't. But the preponderance of evidence would suggest that there are more fully competent people in the world than otherwise. Think about ten acquaintances at random. How many of them would you consider to be idiots? And lest you imagine that your social circle tends to select for smart people, doesn't that suggest that there are whole suburbs full of herds of Pakleds, good-natured but completely incapable of feeding themselves, waiting for the daily dump truck full of slurry to disgorge itself into the troughs lining the streets, and that these guys are the ones who-- though you never see them-- do all the voting and buying and churchgoing that causes such desperate fury among the Enlightened?

The tendency to glorify the minority position is extremely hard to resist, however, and one place I notice it a lot is in "have-nots" tarring all "haves" with the brush of idiocy. Tax cuts for the rich! they sneer. As though they need any more money! The tacit assumption is that all rich people are idle plutocrats in mansions, or clueless inheritors who take their windfalls to Vegas-- and what could anyone possibly do with all that money, anyway? Obviously it's the poor who have a much bigger impact on the economy, and who should be given tax breaks so that they can live better. Absent from all this knee-jerk analysis is always the idea that the flip-side of 10% of the population controls 90% of the wealth is 10% of the population shoulders 90% of the tax burden, and that the rich invest and drive businesses and create wealth, while the poor don't. America still has something of a class structure, yes; but we're quite free of the Upper-Class Twit syndrome so keenly spoofable in Britain. Here, if someone's rich, he just might have done something to get that way, and therefore it's not exactly what I'd call intellectually rigorous to dismiss him as an irrelevant doof who needs to be cut down to size.

And at the extreme end of the stick are the rants I've seen here and there where people respond to the fact that a Republican is in the Oval Office by telling everybody in earshot not to vote-- because after all, voting is just a sham, a fruitless exercise in Control of the Masses whereby you get to close your eyes and stab blindly at a name on a sheet in the vain hope of picking the guy who'll screw you less hard than the other guy. Now, our voting system has its faults; but something tells me that they wouldn't be saying voting was so useless if their guy had won, would they?

Yes, perhaps it's all just sour grapes on the part of the minority. They've got their rationales too, and I'm no better than they are by ridiculing their reasons for arriving at what conclusions they do. From their perspective, they're right-- they deserve nothing less than to rule the world and to enlighten it with the Truth that they know.

But there's a difference in this moral-equivalence-esque balance: one side believes that the average human, the one with the by-definition 100 IQ, is capable of running his own life and making intelligent decisions that benefit himself and those around him; the other side does not. One side thinks humans are competent by nature, the other side thinks they're fundamentally incompetent.

It's oh-so-tempting to shift from one opinion on that question to the other depending solely on which way the winds of argument blow, which side I find myself on-- the majority or the minority. But there does come a time to pin it to the wall for good and ask yourself, does the fact that my opinion is outnumbered in this country three to one mean that they're all stupid-- or that I might be wrong?

Actually, come to think of it, don't discard that Minority Report reference-- because wasn't the whole idea of that movie that the minority report turned out to be right?


19:17 - Pure and Simple Misapprehension
http://news.com.com/2100-1027_3-1010541.html?tag=fd_top

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Aha. Apparently the reason why Apple turned down the screws on iTunes' Music Sharing is simply that they hadn't foreseen what bastards people would be.

Apple said in the statement that it was "disappointed" that people had used the new feature in iTunes to copy music with strangers.

"Rendezvous music sharing...has been used by some in ways that have surprised and disappointed us," Apple said. "We designed it to allow friends and family to easily stream (not copy) their music between computers at home or in a small group setting, and it does this well. But some people are taking advantage of it to stream music over the Internet to people they do not even know."

As AtAT notes, this is a fairly low-risk solution for Apple-- one wonders how the Connect to Shared Music menu option got into iTunes in the first place-- and doesn't really cause any real limitation on legitimate use beyond preventing Joe Shmoe from listening to his home computer's iTunes library from his machine at work. But presumably the solution to that is "getcherself an iPod".

And for what it's worth, iTunes 4.0.1 doesn't exist purely for the removal of this feature; it does contain some bug fixes that address some problems that some people have been seeing with sound playback quality. I haven't seen these problems, which are described as "sound fading in and out" and "muffled music"; but evidently some reviewers did, and concluded that AAC was laughably inferior to MP3. This should put paid to those chatterings, because my own observations have been pretty unequivocal in favor of AAC.

So I guess the moral of this story is that Apple is still rather charmingly nave when it comes to the wide, wide world of geeks and their tinkering with technology; Apple may have scored big with the iPod, but they underestimated the willingness of the public at large to follow the honor system when it comes to exploitable software.

Or maybe that implies that the moral is actually that the iTunes Music Store is bound to fail, because it's founded on the premise that people will purchase music that's conveniently available and inexpensive, if it only provides better accessibility than free and non-guaranteed stuff from the P2P networks. Now that it's proved that people will go to just about any lengths to get free music, quality and cheapness and convenience be damned, maybe the whole premise is in doubt.

Or perhaps the moral is that this is all a red herring; this was a glaring and beckoning feature that just dared geeks to crack it open, especially because it presented such an elegant engineering challenge to the writers of the leech software. Now that the hole is plugged, people will just say "c'est la vie" and go back to dutifully handing over their pittances for crisp and forever solely owned M4P files to enjoy.

Or maybe there is no moral-- it's just a bunch of stuff that happened.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
18:29 - Pre-emptive Feature Strike

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It seems that Apple has released iTunes 4.0.1, a point release whose primary enhancement is that it removes support for sharing music across routed networks. No more "Connect to Shared Music" menu option. Rendezvous-based music sharing still works, but any existing shared-music libraries are grayed-out until their owners upgrade to 4.0.1.

This is exactly what a lot of people were hoping Apple wouldn't do: they responded to the sudden attention paid to the Music Sharing feature by leech-software writers by yanking the feature. It was cool while it lasted, but apparently either a) Apple hadn't thought it would be a problem, b) Apple didn't expect anyone to crack it open this fast, c) Apple simply didn't think of the ramifications, d) Apple caved to sudden frantic phone calls from the labels when they read the headlines on the Mac rumor sites, or e) even without pressure from the labels coming to bear as yet, Apple decided that just as discretion was the better part of valor, cowardice was the better part of discretion, and valiantly pulled the feature.

My wet-finger-in-the-wind leans toward e) as the answer. But of course this raises obvious questions, like... will there now be a massive illicit trade in copies of iTunes 4.0.0? Now that the genie's out of the bottle, will mostly-automated Software Update runs be sufficient to stuff it back in? Even if there's such illicit trade in the open-sharing version of the software, will it be any good if most of the world is using 4.0.1 or later? Den Beste is fond of pointing out the value of network effect; if the majority of Mac users aren't running the open version, will the fact that there's only a small minority who are running that version render iTunes-based music-sharing just that much more inconvenient? Pirates would already have to re-capture M4P files into MP3, publish their IP addresses, and let their uplinks get swamped; how many more of these stumbling blocks must remain before they just go back to using KaZaA?

Kris thinks this debacle is the result of Apple just not being prepared for the malice of the Geek Street, where access constraints are made to be circumvented and geese are made to be cut open for their golden eggs. Like Manw, who comprehended no evil because there was no evil in him, and was thus unprepared for the treachery of Melkor.

That may be; but there's hope in that Apple didn't actually take out the feature entirely: Music Sharing is still enabled for Rendezvous networks, maintaining the "household" unit of computing that Apple's been concentrating on lately. I have to imagine this will all be forgotten in a month's time. But I don't imagine we'll see cross-network Music Sharing put back into iTunes anytime soon, or indeed ever. Pity.


14:22 - Greetings from Hell; wish you were here

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Well, I'm back from Arcata-- the Hippiest Place On Earth. It was every bit as ensconced in its own hindquarters as it was last year, except a lot more so. I can only imagine what it must have been like a month or two ago; but even as it is, now that the war is over, the climate is still thoroughly out of touch. I mean, just look at it:




The last few pictures are of the "Freedom Shrine" that some enterprising civic-minded locals had erected on the wall of the Longs Drugs some years ago; it had four glass cases containing replicas of some of the country's most important historical documents, such as the Bill of Rights, the abolition of slavery, the peace treaty from the Spanish-American War, and a bunch of other such things. And of course it had been defaced, covered with posters, scrawlings, and flyers declaring that WHEN THE BOMBING STARTS, AMERICA STOPS. I'm surprised the glass hadn't been smashed.

I lost count of the NO WAR ON IRAQ, BUSH IS AN IDIOT, and NO BLOOD FOR OIL bumper stickers. I'm sure the people putting them on their cars thought they were being clever rebels, just like whoever it was who spray-painted YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWN onto the sidewalk concrete a block from where I was staying. Yeah, you go, you free-thinker you. I saw Fight Club too, and I get haircuts. Anyway, I did see one truck with a couple of US flags in the back window, a religious bumper sticker, and another decal that said DON'T HASSLE ME-- I'M A LOCAL. That's the best sense of humor I saw all weekend. (No, wait-- my mistake. There was another sticker that said JUST BECAUSE NOBODY UNDERSTANDS YOU DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE AN ARTIST. That one wins. I never thought cynicism could be so refreshing.)

Arcata is just about the right size to exist in perpetuity as a self-sufficient commune, mostly because it's a college town-- Humboldt State University is right across the freeway, offering such pursuable majors as Redwood Studies, Recreational Herbology, and Vegetarianism in AmeriKKKa. Nah, okay, I kid. But the median age of the town appears to be about 19, and (as North Korea knows so well) it's easy to be self-sufficient when you've got patrons and family sending you money all the time.

For what it's worth, the two best grocery stores in town are the Co-Op and Wildberries, both of which operate on the community membership system; they leave the local Safeway in the dust when it comes to quality. But then, they don't carry any major brands, except where they absolutely have to; no Hershey's, no General Mills, no Nabisco, precious little Coke. Whether this is because of choice or price or principle isn't clear-- but it's probably not price, because the organic stuff they carry in pride of place costs twice as much as I'm used to, across the board. But then, Wildberries' deli sandwiches are awesome, and they have fresh mozzarella balls and baklava and other such neato little delicacies that I hadn't really seen in any mainstream grocery store-- not outside premium places with Italian names. I must say I'm impressed by the selection; it's anything but banal. There have been great strides made in the name of organic production and local branding. It's a far cry from the worm-eaten but self-righteous forced-smile organics of the mid-80s. Kudos to them-- but they don't carry Kudos, so never mind.

I'd say I could live quite comfortably in a town like that-- it's definitely gorgeous, and fun, and tiny (everything is within about two blocks of everything else, and a block is about three houses long, and a house is about the size of most houses' garages-- it's like a doll's city). But for the lack of Silicon Valley's teeming masses and the nearness of travel and services, there's nothing I'd really be missing. Even the communal wireless Internet link, beamed from the city center into all the hillside houses, was pretty fast (except when the guy in charge of it rebooted the routers, as he does every day at 2:00 PM to tinker with them). For a world of futons and hydroponics and surrealist sculptures of diapers hanging from ceilings and walls covered with photos of the obligatory world-traveling-disaffected-youth backpacking trips through Southeast Asia, it's not bad.

Except, of course, for the people. The ones Not In Whose Name America does anything other than roll on its back and pee on itself while the rest of the world lines up to take a good kick at it.

Ahem; anyway. The Kinetic Sculpture Race was lots of fun-- the crowds this year were bigger than they were last year, although the receding economy has resulted in a lack of sponsorship; many of the entries, lacking the money they had last year from large toolmaking companies or copy centers, weren't able to do much besides paint their sculptures a different color and come up with a new pun for the name. ("It's now... the Albino Rhino!") Whodathunk-- even wacky free-love human-powered vehicle contests require the helping hands of evil corporations in order to rock the world. Fascinating.

But that said, there were still a good many fabulous entries, even more than last year; though the energy was a little less this time, the creativity was still there. My favorite was the Mullet Bullet:



This time, too, I didn't have to drive down to Ukiah and back for the Memorial Day parade; so I stayed up in Arcata, put up with the Bush=Hitler t-shirts, and enjoyed the parts of the race that I'd missed before, such as the water entrance. It's always fun to see a giant papier-mch horse slide gracefully into the water and glide off under the bridge, followed in short order by a guy in a business suit on a bicycle with an innertube strapped to his back, hurtling down the ramp and somersaulting with a horrific splash the moment his wheels touch water. It was a thing of beauty, I tell ya.

The finish line in Ferndale was graced with gorgeous clear sunlight, a rarity for Memorial Day Weekend in Humboldt (one of the Race rules is "In the case of sun, the Race will be held in the sun"). All the machines finished within half an hour of each other, with great gusto and energy. It seemed there was more of a focus on keeping everyone safe this year than on allowing everyone to have fun-- constant admonishments to stand back, whether in the finish-line square or on Dead Man's Drop, where we couldn't position ourselves in the shifting sands just downhill from where the large top-heavy machines would bog down and topple over on top of us. C'mon! The danger is half the fun! Plus it makes for great camera angles! ... They apparently no longer have the Slippery Slimy Slope (last year some disgruntled farmer got so sick of the throngs of spectators traipsing through his fields to get to the Slope that he piled a truckload of manure right across the dirt road they were using), and what they replaced it with wasn't spectator-accessible, but that's okay. We had plenty else to do in the area, like drive up into the Trinity River wilderness and play in the river at a secluded canyon sand bar where we barged in on a tentful of three hikers who seemed decidedly glum for the duration of our presence, contenting themselves with odd-smelling materials tossed into their campfire while we waded around in the near-ice. I'm sure they were just as happy to see us leave, so they could resume their frolicking. But hey, this land is your land, this land is my land, right? Privacy is an illusion in the Workers' Paradise. And by the way, that was poison oak.

Good weekend, all things considered. How was yours?

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© Brian Tiemann