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
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Thursday, June 26, 2003
18:49 - Cajas de cartón

(top)
We're down to the wire. The end of the month is fast approaching, and we have to move out of our current rental place and into the new one by Saturday night, so we can clean up the old house on Sunday and be out by Monday. Since painting and carpeting concluded last weekend, we've been taking truckloads of stuff over each night-- couches, tables, TV and stereo gear, kitchen supplies. These sessions have taken us well into the wee hours each night. We've made a big dent, but the worst is yet to come.

This is not helped by the fact that the weather has chosen precisely this four-day period to be massively, stiflingly hot.

Capri doesn't like this one bit. He's not built for hot weather-- even in the balmy spring heat of May, his collie coat has made him uncomfortable in our non-air-conditioned house unless he's parked in front of a fan. The new house is air-conditioned, so he's taking rapidly to it and acting extremely unhappy whenever we have to pull him off the couch and back into the truck for another run. And today it's got to be near 100 degrees-- he's apparently not handling it at all well. We're doing an emergency alteration of our plans-- first we install the beds and sleeping arrangements, then we install the dog, then we install dog-sitters, then we install the rest of our worldly possessions. Unimportant crap like Internet and cable service can wait.

Most of my goods are packed up into large cardboard boxes right now, sitting in my new master suite, waiting to be unpacked as soon as there are shelves and cabinets and things to put them in. I can wait. Important things first. That means that immediately following my day job in priority comes racing over there, getting the truck, driving back to the hot house, taping together another few boxes, loading up some two-man-job pieces of furniture, driving back, and repeating until about 2:00 AM from now through Sunday. Blogging will likely be light.

In the meantime, does anyone have a giant heat-sink I can borrow? It has to fit one medium-sized urban valley.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
19:21 - If only they made cars out of bumper sticker glue
http://www.msnbc.com/news/931304.asp?0cm=c10

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I hope those BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED bumper stickers were made with that environmentally-friendly mucilage that lets you peel them off without damaging your car (a derivative, no doubt, of the non-freon-based Space Shuttle foam that falls off and destroys thermal tiles).

Eventually the left will come to understand that just because a cute slogan rhymes doesn't mean it's true. Somehow, however, it's not looking like they'll realize it in time for the 2004 elections.

Fortunately, they captured Baghdad Bob too, so we'll have plenty of alternate explanations in short order. Or are all these sudden successes just a little too convenient?


18:12 - Does this mean they've gone mainstream?
http://www.sideshowtoy.com/cgi-bin/category.cgi?category=rabbits&item=7901R&type=sto

(top)
Calling all fans of Michel Gagné's Insanely Twisted Rabbits! Yeah, you know who you are.



Snerk. Heh. Gotta-- n-n-HAH! Gotta catch 'em all! Hee hee heeee.

(Too bad there's only the one. So far.)


13:16 - Doin' it right
http://www.whatithinkiknow.com/Archive/WIT20030625.html

(top)
How cool is iChat AV and iSight? This cool:

What completely blew me away, though, was how easy it was to hookup. After my wife opened the package, I asked her for the installer disk - woops, old Windows habit! "There's no disk!" she admonished, "It's Apple!". And lo, I plugged in the iSight, opened iChat AV (downloaded the beta from the Apple website for free yesterday). The application popped open, and boom, there I was, staring back at myself. No installation (except the software itself), no configuration, nothing. (My only complaint is that the plastic clip mount doesn't hold very well onto an iBook screen.)

So, I had an idea. I went upstairs and grabbed my digital video camera, plugged in the firewire to my desktop, and opened iChat AV. Boom, same thing - staring back at myself. I look at the windows, and there is the other computer, noticed by Rendezvous, which is some sort of local networking thingy (the same thing that lets me listen to music from one computer on the other one). So, I click on it, and run downstairs to accept the request for a chat. Run back upstairs, and start yelling "Yin! Come here!". I watch on my upstairs computer as she wanders over from the kitchen, looks into the computer screen, and sees me. "Hey! Check this out!"

The most telling bit about this whole story, to me, is the thing about Rendezvous: it's finally starting to come into its own. When introduced in Jaguar, Rendezvous' utility was somewhat, shall we say, limited. I think, in fact, that it had no effect on anything except iChat and the little iChat integration deely in Mail. Not terribly useful. Jobs and Schiller had demoed iTunes Music Sharing over Rendezvous on-stage, but such a feature was not to be seen in Jaguar.

It wasn't until iTunes 4 that Rendezvous-based Music Sharing saw the light of day; but by that time, little things here and there had started to Rendezvous their way into our hearts. Safari automatically discovered websites on other Macs on the LAN. Screen savers like Fluid use Rendezvous now to auto-discover visual themes served from others' machines. Xcode-- which I think deserves a closer look-- uses Rendezvous to auto-discover other Macs on the network, which it can then use to distribute compile tasks in parallel, with zero configuration. Just press a button and it goes to town.

A little more about Xcode, by the way: this is some hot stuff. Aside from the Rendezvous-enabled distributed compiles, there's plenty more cool stuff in there now. Like, oh, I don't know, the ability to apply hot-fixes to runnig code. A little Scotch-tape icon that lets you change your in-development program while it's running. I don't know how well this will work on highly complex, modular software, but in the demo it was certainly cool.

I love how they framed it, too. The slide that Chris Espinosa showed was of the standard programming turnaround loop, the procedure you have to go through when you encounter a bug in the software you're writing:

Stop -- Debug -- Compile -- Link -- Start

Xcode, Espinosa said, eliminated the Link phase right off the bat by removing the necessity to link the whole runtime executable-- just what's necessary to launch. (The five-tile illustration shrank to four.) Then, he said, the Compile phase was now reduced by about half, because of the distributed-compile feature and the new predictive, background-task compiles that Xcode now does-- it starts compiling the object code in the background as soon as you make changes. The bar shrinks to three-and-a-half: Stop, Debug, (Compile), Start.

Then, Espinosa said the Stop and Start phases-- which actually do take up a non-trivial amount of time in the turnaround loop-- are now eliminated by the Fix and Continue feature, making the update to the running code right in the debugger. Scratch two more phases, and we're down to one-and-a-half.

Then some wag in the front row yells, "Now eliminate the Debug stage!" (Mike Silverman filled me in on this one; so that's what that laughter from the video feed was about.)

Anyway: Xcode is worth attention for these features alone, as well as for the newly redesigned iTunes-like datasource-and-contents interface. As Mark reminds me, the fix-and-go stuff isn't new-- it was actually an OpenSTEP 4.0 feature, once thought consigned to the dustbin of history, but now resurrected and made mainstream. "Everything old is new again", said Mark in e-mail. "Good ideas never die." Ain't it great?

And now iChat has been taken to the next level with the AV stuff-- Rendezvous, of course, making the whole thing seamless, to the point where nobody has to think about it or understand it or even know it's there. And you can plug in any FireWire camera you want-- they all work the same, Apple's drivers support them all natively, and there's no need for specialized software-- making apps like EvoCam possible. I know this is starting to sound like a mantra, but that's the whole point: It just works.

Oh, and a look at the Exposé page reminds me of just how far off-base the people are who think that the key to Apple's success is to adopt Intel processors, multi-button mice, a taskbar on the bottom, OEMed VIA chipsets, and in effect just make PCs:
Using mouse buttons.
And those of you who use a multi-button mouse can also assign Exposé actions to the extra buttons on your favorite rodent.

In other words, Apple's too busy coming up with the next envelope-pushing thing made possible by their overengineered, Quadrant-II infrastructure to worry about whether people think they should be more like Microsoft. Apple isn't about twitching the knob from 2 to 2.1; their dials go to 11.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
03:43 - Just because

(top)
Hey, I suppose I'd crow a little too, if I were them.



20:52 - Growling over the turf
http://apple.slashdot.org/apple/03/06/24/2154256.shtml?tid=126&tid=181

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Wow. Apple Veep of Hardware Product Marketing Greg Joswiak (whom AtAT calls "the genetically-combined offspring of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak") has already come out with an interview defending Apple's SPEC benchmarks.

They don't usually do things like this. They must really mean it.

Joswiak added that in the Intel modifications for the tests, they chose the option that provided higher scores for the Intel machine, not lower. The scores were higher under Linux than under Windows, and in the rate test, the scores were higher with hyperthreading disabled than enabled. He also said they would be happy to do the tests on Windows and with hyperthreading enabled, if people wanted it, as it would only make the G5 look better.

Damn. After years of cheerfully accepting sucker-punches in the tech media, it sounds to me like someone at Apple's finally snapped.

They must have really bet hard on the G5 in order to be so adamant about setting the record straight. I must say I would be too, which is why I'd make a lousy CEO.

UPDATE: CapLion notes that Dell also disables hyperthreading for its own SPEC tests; apparently it slows the CPUs down. Great feature.

UPDATE: And here's some more details regarding they myriad inaccuracies and oversights in the challenger's thesis.

Surely Apple can't be blind to the fact that this page will be the most pored-over, picked-over, poked, prodded, analyzed and counter-analyzed piece of technology marketing in recent memory. They're not going to leave themselves open with big glaring vulnerabilities, not in the most exposed spot their credibility has had in years.


17:03 - Whoops, better cancel my order
http://www.haxial.com/spls-soapbox/apple-powermac-G5/

(top)
It would seem, from this carefully self-labeled non-biased source, that the G5 benchmarks were doctored and Apple rigged the Veritest setup.

You know, it seems odd to me that Apple would publish test results that show their machines to be slower than the comparable PCs at certain things (integer operations on single-CPU machines, for one), if such results were the product of book-cookery. Wouldn't they cook things sufficiently so that they'd win on everything?

One possibility is that the G5s suck so much that Apple couldn't even cripple the P4s and Xeons enough so that the G5 would outperform them across the board. (Another is that they're trying to carefully craft a result set that's made plausible by a few selected failures.) But I'm reminded irresistibly of another argument we're hearing lately: The fact that we haven't found any WMDs lately means that Bush lied about their existence. Whereas an administration determined to sell a lie would surely plant some WMDs after the fact, wouldn't it? If they're disingenuous enough to lie about there being WMDs in order to fight the war, then surely they wouldn't be above planting some afterwards so they could justify it ex post facto? Especially because they would have known that if the enterprise were based on a lie, then someone would eventually find out there wasn't anything there to begin with?

Same goes for the G5s. Jobs knows as well as anybody that people will always fact-check the benchmarks. He's been burned on such things numerous times already-- sometimes deservedly so, sometimes not (the latter case often the result of people so determined to catch Apple in a lie that they'll flat-out refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt in an ambiguous scenario)-- that he would surely have expected that any blatant lying about the G5s' speed would be wrung out within days, if not hours. Why would he do such a thing? Is he spectacularly stupid, or just plain evil?

Or is there more to the story than even the there's-more-to-the-story exposés would have us believe?

I'm not saying I disbelieve that the SPEC benchmarks were fixed. Somehow, though, I have a hard time swallowing that Jobs hoodwinked or bribed the CEOs of Adobe, Emagic, Wolfram, and so forth into giddily endorsing the G5. I like to think that people like that will have their own guys do their own independent analysis. Adobe's VP, for instance, in the keynote itself mentioned that within the company, his engineers were all over the G5-- and even one particularly skeptical Wintel guy was now a total convert, after having seen what it can do on his own recognizance.

Apple doesn't make claims that are blatantly, factually false. No, hear me out: Apple often makes claims that can be seen as misleading, depending on circumstances, politics, and so on. Their claims of superiority in speed over the years certainly fall into that category; there have always been certain things that Macs have excelled at, and if you allow a couple of asterisks and footnotes, Apple's claims can be seen to be correct. However, on claims such as "The world's first 17-inch notebook", skepticism or no skepticism, Apple's not stupid enough to make that claim unless they know it to be factually true.

Real-world usefulness is king, not SPEC benchmarks; and the preponderance of multi-sourced evidence suggests to me that the G5s at the very least are a match for top-end P4/Xeon machines. And the G5 is at the beginning of its development cycle, not the end; "this architecture has legs," Jobs said yesterday. And the 980 will be coming in six months to a year anyway. IBM is behind this project wholeheartedly.

The upshot? Two things: 1) relative to my older Mac, the new G5 is as much faster as claimed; and 2) relative to contemporary PCs, it's in the same Little-League ballpark, to the extent that when people tell me Macs suck dog balls, I can shake my head and walk away secure in the knowledge that it's based on sour grapes and good old-fashioned pettiness rather than factual numbers or real-world experience. And that's plenty good enough for me, at least five friends, and the ton of other potential buyers who currently have the Apple Store's phone lines swamped with orders.

I doubt that I'll be disappointed when mine arrives; if I am, I'll say so. But, to use a known infuriating unassailable piece of nyah-nyah logic, the only criterion that matters to me is my own satisfaction. If I'm satisfied, then the rest is gravy.

UPDATE: In any case, the Slashdot thread appears to be populated largely with people who find Apple's spec practices to be defensible; I'm not sure I want to go so far as to say they tear the challenger's arguments to shreds (there are almost 1500 comments to read through), but this is clearly not a cut-and-dried case.



12:57 - Drum roll, please

(top)
So, the question on everyone's mind is, naturally: What the hell was in those large, G5-tower-sized Mysterious Boxes of Mystery piled on wrapped pallets in the Apple Stores, guarded by vicious attack dogs and surrounded with laser tripwires and signs saying Beware of the Leopard?

A Top Ten list would seem to be in order.
  1. iSights (in twelve-packs)
  2. Black t-shirts with the slogan DOOOOMED across the back
  3. Fake-out G5 cases-- everything from spheres to hexagons to buckyballs
  4. WMDs
  5. Crack (for the Apple Store employees)
  6. Copies of the Apple NDA, personally addressed to all employees, with ominous references to the possible fates of each individual's family and pets
  7. Fresh supplies of bottled water in special 11-ounce Funky Non-Standard Proprietary Apple Size bottles
  8. Undistributed "iPod Live" posters, for in-store sword fights
  9. Grape Kool-Aid

    And....

  10. Nothing but packing peanuts and bricks (wouldn't that be just like Steve?)

Monday, June 23, 2003
18:18 - Total Journalist
http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,59261,00.html

(top)
Sweet! An interview with the creators of Homestar Runner.

It's notable that today, Chris wore his The Cheat shirt, and I have on my Strong Bad one... talk about the target audience.


15:18 - Hot damn
http://www.apple.com/powermac/

(top)
They kept it under $3K!

Well done, Steve. And IBM, too-- I hope they get the kudos they deserve. This is quite an achievement. People were talking about how they were pretty sure there'd be a new chip, but they had no idea they'd actually be bringing in Serial ATA and PCI-X and all that stuff. Very, very nice-looking system, both visually and mechanically. Check out that case.

Each of the four thermal zones is equipped with its own dedicated, low-speed fans. Apple engineered seven of the nine fans to spin at very low speeds for minimum acoustic output. And Mac OS X constantly monitors component temperatures in each zone, dynamically adjusting individual fan speeds to the appropriate levels for the quietest possible operation. As a result, the Power Mac G5 runs three times quieter than the previous Power Mac G4 enclosure.

Not shipping until August, though, so that's the one gotcha. But hey, that's still earlier than most of us expected; and they're taking pre-orders now, and if you buy it through the Valley Fair online store (and probably all the other ones too), they give you a Pro Card with lots of discount goodies and service guarantees and stuff. I think I'll be exercising that AmEx after all. But maybe it's for the best that I don't actually have to charge it for another couple of months.

Anyway: Panther. I'm all over Panther. Great set of demos; the new Finder, the thing I thought was sort of jumbled in the early leaked photos, actually seems to be a much more cleaned-up metaphor, and the instant search/filtering is now in all sorts of things throughout the OS. (Labels! Woo-hoo!) Mail's all spiffed-up. Exposé rocks-- I'll be using it as my new hey, check this out demo thingy, the one I've been using Zoom for up till now. Unless the thing I choose to show off is actually Fast User Switching.

Because we can
Mac OS X animates transitions from one user to another. The current desktop becomes a texture placed on a 3D cube that rotates out of view while the incoming account desktop rotates into view on another side of the cube.

You have to see it. It had me on the floor and the audience roaring. "We have to admit," said Steve, "that Windows XP beat us to this one. They got there first. So we're catching up to it now, and doing it a lot nicer." God, he's not frickin' kidding.

FileVault, comprehensive encryption of the home folder, good for lost laptops. Preview is now the fastest PDF renderer in the world (a mini-bakeoff showed it kicking the ass of the 3.06GHz Dell in zip-scrolling through an 800-page PDF which it rendered on the fly in 28 seconds). Font Book-- cool little Address Book-like font manager. Integrated faxing in every Print dialog. Auto-syncing iDisk, which lets you keep your folders in sync in the background all the time you have a network connection. Xcode-- kickass new development environment. (He used that word, kickass, about six times today.) And iChat AV turned out to be the heaviest hitter-- integrated text/audio/video IM'ing. Uses any camera with no setup (especially the iSight, Apple's new webcam/mike). Uses cool video transitions to do picture-in-picture. And all based on open standards, so "If anyone else, er, copies what we've done, they can interoperate with us."

Oh, and lots more cool updates under the hood. FreeBSD 5.0 underpinnings. Active Directory integration. Direct SMB server browsing. X11. IPSec VPN. Pixlet. More that I can't remember.

There were some great lines in the presentation, which you should watch if you've got a couple hours to kill and a good connection-- a very jubilant atmosphere. Some of the memorable one-liners:

When showing off iChat AV, Steve first did a video-chat with Phil Schiller in a back room with a bookshelf and stuff. The camera picked up almost instantly; very smooth. Then he went back to his buddy list and picked out one of his old colleagues in Paris; he initiated an audio chat with Jean-Marie Huillot, and it took a few seconds for the audio link to set up. And it took a few more seconds. And a few more. And Steve turned to the audience and said, "It takes a little longer to negotiate with France."

(Immediately afterward he video-chatted with Al Gore: "You're the third Apple board member to use the new iChat!" Gore: "Yeah, well, it's hard to come in first." Ho ho. The only obviously rehearsed line. The man got quite a few ahems and razzes from the crowd, too.)

Early on, Steve showed a clip from Jay Leno, with his "bin Laden videotape"-- which turned out to be a bin Laden impersonator dancing around on a white background holding an iPod singing "I Like Big Butts" like in the iTunes Music Store ad. "It just doesn't get any better than that," Steve giggled.

When opening up the "One More Thing" segment, with the G5, Steve kicked it all off by showing a giant slide of the Apple Store page with the flubbed graphic. He certainly seemed in good humor about it; he put up a slide with what the incident was being called internally: Premature specification.

(He said, incidentally, that the reactions he'd heard regarding the image flub-up fell into three camps: 1) It's too good to be true, and therefore a mistake; 2) It's true; 3) It's brilliant marketing on Apple's part. Well, he said, It was a mistake. Big slide: It was a mistake. We all held our breath. And... it's true. Big slide: It's true. 3800 collective sighs of relief, followed by long rolling applause.

And when the founder of Wolfram Research took the stage for the bake-off with Mathematica, in which the G5 rendered a series of huge fractal images 2.3 times faster than a whoop-ass dual-3GHz Xeon (it's all about the memory bandwidth, apparently), he said that "The G5's competition is no longer PCs; it's the high-end UNIX workstations that cost twice as much. And it's faster than all of them too."

As for the turnout in the Valley Fair store-- excellent. Probably fifty people were crammed in around the theater. One guy was there at 5:50 this morning just so he could be first in line; he got the Geek Prize from the store employees, which was a photo of everyone else in the store pointing and laughing at him, and a t-shirt. They also Dutch-auctioned off a 15GB iPod, and tried to unload some Power Mac G4s and iBots whose shelf life has now become severely limited.

An exhilarating couple of hours indeed.

Oh, and here's the performance bar-graphs for those who find them fascinating.

Interestingly, the specs graphic on the G5s at the Apple Store is different from the one that was leaked. Subtly different, but different. The leaked one was 100% accurate, but they redid it anyway. The header line now rotates between several slogans. Bizarre.


10:27 - Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/tsnoteswwdc.html

(top)
From Think Secret, which has pre-keynote photos like this one:



After Apple's accidental posting of Power Mac G5 specs to its Apple online store last week, the company emailed many of its employees a copy of their non-disclosure agreement (NDA). While Apple didn't specifically mention the G5 post, the email reminded employees of the agreement they signed when they were hired, in an effort to prevent leaks late in the weekend.

Sources confirmed that the PowerPC 970 CPU that is at the heart of Q37 -- the Power Mac G5 -- is code-named "Neo" within Apple.

Have I mentioned lately that I love Apple's code names?

More later, in all likelihood.
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© Brian Tiemann