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
Friday, July 11, 2003
19:03 - You can't make this stuff up
http://www.andante.com/article/article.cfm?id=21464

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There was probably a time, back in the Enlightenment days, when it looked for all the world as though the longer the planet Earth lasted, the more history unfolded, the more knowledge humanity accumulated, the wiser all people would become. People would try grander and grander experiments in science and social engineering and justice and government, and the good ones would succeed and the bad ones would fail. And the cumulative effect of these shared dabblings in the human experience would make us all happier, richer, more decent individuals with an advanced understanding of how humanity works commensurate with the luxury in which the poorest of us live our lives compared to even the richest nobility of earlier ages.

Boy, would they have been surprised to see 2003.

French virtuoso keyboardist François-René Duchable plans to end his career this summer by destroying two grand pianos and burning his concert suit to protest what he sees as the bourgeois elitism of the classical music world, The Times of London reports.

According to The Times, Duchable, 51, told the French Catholic newsaper La Croix that his life as a touring pianist has been "hell" and he delivered blistering parting attacks on some of his fellow musicians.

Alfred Brendel's latest recording, Duchable said, is "discouragingly artificial." Maurizio Pollini has "worn himself out from repeating the same things" and Martha Argerich has "managed to become a myth by always playing the same four concertos."

Duchable told La Croix: "The piano is a symbol of a certain domineering bourgeois and industrial society that has to be destroyed. Used as this society uses it, the piano is an arrogant instrument which excludes all those that don't know about music."

The pianist says he plans to create a sensation with his final three concerts, according to The Times. The first concert, scheduled for the end of July, will end with a piano crashing into Lake Mercantour. The second will finish with his recital suit on fire and the third will culminate with the mid-air explosion of a grand piano to make the statement that "the concert is dead."

After the concerts, Duchable plans to strap a portable keyboard to his bicycle and pedal around France giving impromptu performances, the Times says.

"I have had enough of sacrificing my life for 1 per cent of the population" Duchable said. "I have had enough of participating in a musical system which, in France at least, functions badly and limits classical music to an elite."

Where did we go wrong, Mr. Whittle? How has humanity come to such a pass? Why is it that the closer we get to soaring into the stars, the more we yearn to live miserable thirty-year lives in primitive villages surrounded by wild beasts, fearful even to build a campfire for fear that it would pollute the air, or to murder an animal for food?

Why is it that rather than a dapper and urbane inventive adult on the brink of cosmic enlightenment, our species resembles nothing so much as a suicidal teenager?

(Via a commenter at LGF.)


16:03 - Why I hate MDI

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MDI, the Multi-Document Interface, is one of those "innovations" that purportedly makes Windows just so much more convenient and simple to grasp than its nameless competitors. The idea is that you have a "container" window, which can take up an arbitrary amount of screen space, including being maximized to the logical borders of the screen; then, inside the big gray box that the container window forms, you can have an arbitrary number of other windows-- open documents-- that can be moved around within the application's own virtual space. Just like windows on the desktop, document windows in MDI can be overlapped and moved out of the visible screen area.

This is supposed to make it so you can group your application's controls in a modal fashion, so you can control multiple documents within the same application, or show and hide the whole lot of them, with all their functionality subservient to the app itself-- while making the application subservient to the top-level control metaphor of the desktop. Web browsers shun MDI, as well they should; though often it would be nice if you could control all your browser windows at once, or shut down the whole browser app. (The Mac OS, since the active application takes over the whole desktop space and the global menu bar, provides for this functionality and obviates the need for MDI.) But other apps, like Word and Photoshop and Excel, don't; they heartily embrace MDI, regardless of little complicating elements like sharing files between computers with different desktop settings and unalterable anchor positions against the top and left and so on.

So: could someone please explain to me exactly what the flying fart I'm supposed to do with this?



Whee! The document window is too large to show completely in the MDI window, even if I maximize Excel. Not only that, but all its control surfaces which can be used for moving or resizing the window are inaccessible.

I guess I need a bigger monitor!

Either that, or Window->Arrange. Ugh. While Panther is moving the bar with Exposé, when it comes to Excel I'm stuck in 1992.

Thursday, July 10, 2003
16:51 - Seek for the plot point that was broken
http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/tv_film/newsid_3028000/3028376.stm

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Wow, I really have been out of it. I entirely missed this revelation, spotted by Hiker, of the first poster for Return of the King to hit the rumor circuits.

The key sigh-of-relief generator being, of course, the sword.

Shyeah. Like Peter Jackson was going to do things like include the Jack Black/Sarah Michelle Gellar "Council of Elrond" scene on the DVD, and render the Andy Serkis/Gollum MTV Awards acceptance piece, and yet manage to forget about having Andúril enter the story. I was never worried.

Okay, maybe just a teensy bit.


13:43 - Tetris is so unrealistic
http://bash.org/

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Blame Chris for this one. Actually I get the feeling I really should have known about this site for a long time, but it somehow slipped my attention. It's bash.org, a database of quips captured from IRC sessions. Some are obviously staged, but many aren't, and if you look at the Top 50 you'll get all the best ones right off.

<BombScare> i beat the internet
<BombScare> the end guy is hard


10:39 - ENDUT! HOCH HECH!

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There are times when I really feel like I just don't get something. Like I'm totally out of the loop, like I'm missing some huge piece of the puzzle, leading me to do things that I just can't sensibly rationalize, like (for instance) continuing to torment myself with NPR every morning.

A few days ago, over the weekend in fact, there was a show that I heard a part of while driving somewhere, whose subject was the animator/director Gene Deitch. The hosts had on a few guests, such as Deitch's son, and various other luminaries of the animation world, and they spent the hour according Deitch the same kind of praise that Den Beste (rightly) heaps on Genndy Tartakovsky.

This I don't understand. Gene Deitch, acolytes of animation know, is a man most notorious in mass-market circles as the guy who scored a contract from Hanna-Barbera in the late 60s-- dawn of the the Dark Age of Animation-- to do six Tom & Jerry cartoons at his studio in Czechoslovakia. These cartoons were unspeakably awful. They're the ones where the characters grow big puckery vertical Cathy Guisewite mouths under round perky cheeks in their asymmetrical faces, uttering sounds that were apparently recorded inside a tin garbage can rolling down a hill. Ever see "Dicky Moe"? How about that one with the Carmen Miranda dancer who appeared to be drawn out of an Ed Emberley book? The steel-drum tropical one? The one that inexplicably took place in ancient Greece? I think what happened is that nobody bothered to explain to the estimable Mr. Deitch exactly what Tom & Jerry was supposed to be about; granted, it's not going to be a complex writer's bible, but in order to screw up such a simple concept as badly as he did, the situation would have to be explained by nothing less scandalous than a set of hastily scrawled model sheets wrapped around a brick with a roll of unmarked bills and dropped from a long black limousine into an alley in Bratislava. Remember "Eastern Europe's favorite cat-and-mouse team, Worker & Parasite"? That's what we're talking about here. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Deitch's work is exactly what it was a parody of.

So how exactly did this guy get to stand among the giants with Chuck Jones and Tex Avery and Ub Iwerks and Ralph Bakshi? ...Oh, wait. I think I just answered my own question.

See, there's experimental art, and then there's crap.

On the NPR show, the sycophantic tribute to Deitch covered things like some project about jazz that he had done, presumably with lots of impressionistic geometric shapes airbrushed onto a foggy, gray background. There was probably a lot more, too-- after all, it was a full hour show. I admit I don't know more of the man's work than just those painful Tom & Jerry episodes, but in the opinion of this philistine, nothing else he's done can absolve him of those crimes against humanity.

If you're going to "reinvent" a beloved old show, just go all the way and take it to the level of merciless parody, as John Kricfalusi did with Yogi Bear. Now that's at least funny.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003
16:31 - So that's where we're going
http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2003_07.html#004146

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According to Andrew Sullivan, AOL will be unveiling blogging software soon; apparently whoever's in charge of the project "gets it", and that's all to the good. Far be it from me to cheer for AOL, but I've got to admit that even the ads are starting to get a little less annoying. (That one with the Franciscan Friars is actually pretty funny.) And now that they're in an earnest fight against MSN, they're actually starting to incorporate some useful features, like (gasp!) the ability to sort your e-mail. Trivial, one might say, yes-- but there's something to be said for keeping the interface even simpler than, say, a Mac's-- because for the vast silent majority of users, missing features are far less important than the ability to just do and understand the basics. All they have to do now is overhaul their pathologically dire support infrastructure, and they may have a fighting chance.

As for the blogging software: hey, good. Sure, maybe it means they're just giving birth to another LiveJournal; but if these reports are correct, they're not going after LiveJournal's target audience. They're going after the kinds of people who demand the sorts of features you get in Movable Type-style blogs, plus unique perks like the ability to post straight from IM clients. Cool.

Now, it must be said that blogging software is not rocket science. One thing that's mystified me for the past couple of years is just how difficult a time some of the blogging systems have had in keeping things straight. BlogSpot has had its perennial archiving/permalinking problems; Movable Type had some scandal recently. What's the problem, exactly? Blogging software is in fact stupefyingly easy to write. I wrote mine in just under three hours, a year and a half ago, and have barely had to modify it since then. I'm not saying the design of my system is any good, either-- there are some design decisions I might have made differently if I had it to do again, but that wouldn't have made the project materially more difficult. It's really a very simple concept. A blog is a degenerate case of a message board, itself a very straightforward piece of code to write. All you're doing is providing a schema whereby one or more people can write messages into a database, and then display the last few entries. Even the ancillary features aren't hard. Searching? Easy if you know how to do it. Comments? No problem. TrackBacks? Takes a little cleverness, but there's not much to it. Archiving? Depends on how you do it, but it can amount to almost nothing under the hood. XML? Easy. I'm not saying I speak from some kind of oracular position on the subject here, but compared to some database-driven web applications, blogging is an absurdly simple proposition. So how come some outfits have such a tough time of it?

Mostly load management, I think. Server-side execution can really kill things on a heavily centralized system, especially if a post gets Slashdotted; generating static pages is one solution, but it's not a total one. In order to really hold up, you've got to have a dedicated server farm with lots of redundancy and backups, and there aren't many services out there with more of those things than AOL.

So does this mean blogging is about to "grow up"? That the floodgates are about to be opened, with the legitimacy granted the Web upon the release of Netscape 1.1? Could be. Then again, it might be the death of the blogosphere as we know it; it might morph into something we don't recognize, something too big to handle, something where the current nexuses of attention lose their tether points and get washed away in the tide. I remember when AOL opened up USENET access to its users; the classic newsgroup structure was effectively useless from that day forward. It might have died the same death by spam and Me-Too-ism anyway, but AOL certainly hastened its demise.

I wonder if AOL's getting its hand into the game means a formalization of the tip-jar concept, too?

Nothing to do but wait and see, I suppose...


14:14 - Because We Can

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No, it's not a Mac post; nor is it a hot-off-the-presses article (I've been woefully lax in posting lately-- not having net access at home will to that to you; you try posting by screeching like the TX into the phone. The HTTPS handshake is a real bitch).

It's still cool, though:

dB (as in decibel) drag racing is an obscure but growing international "sport" in which competitors go head-to-head for two or three seconds at a time -- hence the name drag racing -- to establish whose sound system is loudest. The 2002 record, set by a German team of secretive audio engineers, was 177.6 dB.

The roar of a 747 on takeoff is usually quantified at about 140 decibels, although there's really no way to correlate the wide-spectrum noise of jet engines in open air with a low-frequency pure tone inside a highly reflective enclosure. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, with every 10 dB increase equivalent to a doubling of perceived sound (otherwise known as noise), dB drag racing enthusiasts create some seriously loud tones. (Another rule of thumb: All else being equal, every three dB of increased sound from a typical dB drag racing system requires a doubling of amplifier power.)

This is one of those "This is the kind of thing we do for fun, you other-people's-technology-hijacking throwbacks!" things, it seems to me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003
15:24 - Get those eyes peeled
http://www.macdevcenter.com/pub/a/mac/2003/07/01/isight.html

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A couple of folks have sent me this link, though regrettably I haven't had much time to look into it deeply; but since I'll probably be getting an iSight of my own in a few weeks, once I have a network on which to use it, I figure the link is worth entering here so I can come back to it later. Sounds like fun!

By now you've probably iChatted with all your buddies and are wondering what you can do next with the iSight. As I explained in the weblog, Want to Do More with the iSight than Chat?, this little "cheese grater" of a videocam packs a lot of potential beyond serving as a simple webcam.

The iSight is a well-designed autofocus camera with a fast f-2.8 lens that focuses from 50mm to infinity. But what makes it so powerful is that its FireWire cable plugs into years of Apple QuickTime development lurking within your Mac. In my view, QuickTime is an underrated technology. And I think lots of people are going to discover QuickTime's versatility thanks to this $149 gem of a camera.

Streaming video with QT Broadcaster. Yay!

Monday, July 7, 2003
12:37 - What'd I miss?

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Now that's what I call a good long weekend.

Boy-howdy, did we ever get stuff done. We've cleaned out the garage, for one thing; that was sorely needed. With the help of doughty friends, we dragged everything out of there and sorted it in the driveway into piles of stuff to a) keep, b) give to Goodwill or someone, and c) hurl away. The third pile, it should surprise nobody, ended up dwarfing both the others. Enough so that I just ordered another 12-cubic-yard debris box to pile it all in. The sooner the better, too, because hidden in the piles of crap are lots of boards with nails in them and other such slobbering-alien-repelling weaponry, and there are inquisitive toddlers roaming around the cul-de-sac and just aching to discover new sharp objects on which to brain themselves. It'll be arriving tomorrow.

So then we were able to start moving the boxes from inside the house into the garage, which means we can now walk around more or less with standard human mobility, instead of navigating through towering cardboard canyons in every room. Naturally the dog is all used to the canyons now, so he's watching worriedly as the boxes gradually dissolve from his field of view. "What-- are we moving again?" he asks.

We got the major drapery done, too-- the living room now has our elegantly hung green curtains, with an 8-foot span across the bottom part of the picture window and then a peaked and stapled upper part that we're quite proud of. See, we (actually, Lance) took a six-foot curtain rod and mitre-cut it so it could be screwed together at a 90-degree angle. Then we hung that against the peaked top of the picture window, and hung curtains from the sloped sides so they sort of bunch together in the middle, but in a cool way. They can be separated and gathered at the corners of the peak so as to let in the sun, or pinned behind the TV to keep things cool. It works very well indeed, and it preserves the shape of the window even when closed. Slam-dunk.

My bathroom is just about done; I've finished untaping most of it, and the mirrors are up, with matching frosted edges against the green background. I still need to finish some touch-up painting, the door trim, and the crown molding up top; and the toilet could stand to be replaced. But that's something that can happen at our leisure. There's a new shower head, so I can now take showers without feeling like that shrieking guy at the end of the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is pointing accusingly at me.

Oh! And I've gotten moving on the new book; at least, I've finished putting together the proposal TOC. This was an interesting adventure. See, the book is supposed to cover 10.3 "Panther"; and thanks to benevolent forces which shall remain nameless, I have such a beast in my hot little hands. So I thought I'd install it on my G4, which has two disks; see, the way the Panther DP works is that there's no upgrade path from it; you can't upgrade from it to the final shipping version of Panther, you can only do a wipe-clean installation, which will trash all your installed drivers and such. So I wanted to put 10.3 on the second disk, leaving the 10.2.6 on the primary disk untouched. But the installer didn't want to cooperate. Taking a cue from Windows 2000's installer, it seemed dead-set on thwarting me. Here's what happened: I would put in the CD; it would say, "Oh! you want to install, do you? Press Restart and the installation process will begin." And it would write to the boot blocks that it wanted to boot from CD, and restart. It would boot into CD. Or not. See, it would get to the gray Apple logo screen, and then freeze. It wasn't a hard freeze; the little twirly "wait" icon would still twirl. But it would never get anywhere. So I'd reset, and the same thing would happen; I'd reset and hold down "C" (to boot from CD); the same thing would happen. Or wait! No! It's actually booting-- though it took like half an hour for it to happen. So I don't know whether it would have finished booting all those other times if I'd just let it sit, or what. But it finally got to the installer screen, after nearly an hour, and plodded through the installer process unnecessarily slowly. In fact, it took some six hours to complete. (I know because I'd opened up the installer log, and it had convenient timestamps for all the events as they happened.) Then "Installer requested restart," said the log, and it rebooted. But apparently it hadn't cleanly installed, because it booted right back into the CD (it came right up this time), and started installing all over again. Crumbs.

So I aborted the process and tried booting from the hard disk. See, on a Mac, you can hold down Option after booting, and it will give you a listing of all bootable volumes. (You can bet this will get a special mention in the "Tips and Tricks You Probably Didn't Know About" chapter.) Select one of the icons and press the Boot button, and off it goes; it's non-persistent, though, and to permanently set the boot device, you have to use the Startup Disk preferences. Anyway-- so I tried booting from the half-installed 10.3 disk; and it ... got to the gray screen and froze. For hours. I went to sleep, got up later, and it was still there, twirling glumly away on the logo screen in the gray pre-dawn. So I shut it off and gave up.

Then it occurred to me: something that had been nagging at my mind ever since I'd read the Read Me file, absorbed its contents, and filed it away in the "Root around in later after you realize you threw something away that you needed" bin. And that was the stern warning that you could only install 10.3 on a Mac selected from a strict list (I was), that had an Apple-supplied video card and no third-party PCI cards (I wasn't). I knew it-- I knew I'd regret installing that new ATI card six months ago and throwing away my old factory Rage 128. Blah! Plus the machine has an Adaptec SCSI card in it. So I figured that had to be the culprit. The DP of Panther probably doesn't have all the third-party drivers done; since the system would occasionally boot (the freeze point was always right after it probed the USB devices, as I could tell from booting in Visual mode-- Command-V), and since it had the nice mouse drop-shadow and everything, I figured the video card probably wasn't to blame. It was probably that damned SCSI card.

I had a few options before me. I could try taking out the SCSI card, and maybe digging up video cards and swapping them in and out; but that just seemed so... so... exactly like what I was dealing with whenever I tried to install Win2K. Granted, this is a developer's preview, not even a public beta; but still, I felt I shouldn't have to do this. It was much simpler to just play by the stated rules.

This meant installing it on my iBook. But wait! The iBook only has one disk; and unlike Mac OS 9, where you could install lots of different copies of the OS onto the same disk (a bootable OS consisted solely of a System Folder that had been "blessed" properly-- it could exist anywhere on the system, deep inside folder trees, wherever), OS X can only be installed once per partition. (I hope they streamline this-- I've heard that they're working on it, but it's hard to get all those invisible UNIX directories to behave properly.) I was in no mood to try partitioning my disk. So then... what?

My iPod gleamed at me from the corner of my desk. Of course!

I plugged the iPod into the G4 and enabled manual mode, and deleted all the songs from it. Then I unplugged it and fired up the iBook, and plugged it in. Tossed in the Panther disk; rebooted to begin installation. It booted almost instantly. It asked which disk to install it on; with a flourish and a doffing of my flowing black cape, I selected the iPod. And it installed quickly and smoothly, taking less than 45 minutes all told. (I further suspect the SCSI card in the G4 as the culprit, now; it was behaving as though it had to keep waiting for the card to give it some kind of approval to continue, a signal that was never forthcoming.) It rebooted, the iPod clicking away in my hand, and asked for the second disc, which I happily fed it. It finished eating and spit out the bones of the CD, and rebooted again. O happy day! Behold: the joy of Panther!

Now I have a bootable copy of the OS in my pocket; I can take it to work and boot my iMac with it, so I can see the more video-intensive things like the hideously gratuitous (and therefore utterly delicious) Fast User Switching feature, and of course Exposé. I can take it to the park with my laptop, boot it into Panther, and explore the half-finished features and guess at what they'll eventually do. I can take it home, plug it into my G4, and watch it freeze at the gray logo screen. Then I can pretend it's the G5 that will be arriving just as soon as my bank account dips below the amount I'll need in order to pay for it.

This stuff's fun even when it goes kablooey!

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© Brian Tiemann