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 18, 2003
18:57 - Now that's classy
http://www.apple.com/ipod/vw/

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I heard about this yesterday, and went to find it myself; it's not hard. Apple and Volkswagen are running a promo to sell VW New Beetles equipped with iPods. Both companies are prominently featuring the promo, and the popup Flash tour is accessible from either apple.com or vw.com.

I suggest you take a gander at it, too, if you're so inclined. It's one of the most delightful, artfully produced little Flash pieces that I've ever seen.

It was inevitable, really. When two groups of people have so much in common, eventually they find each other. Volkswagen and Apple. Buy a New Beetle. Get a new iPod. And the kit that brings them together (plus a lot of other cool stuff like free music and a $100 Apple Store coupon).

They're right. The two companies do seem made for each other. I bought a Jetta in 1999 because VW seemed to have as likeable a corporate attitude as Apple does, as much as because I liked the car so much; they both have a certain quirky but restrained and very tasteful design sense, and that "cult of corporate personality" thing that I know is a myth in actuality to the employees in the trenches-- though knowing, as we do, the very real differences in corporate atmospheres between, say, Microsoft and AOL, it could well be that companies like Apple and VW can in fact be cut from the same stylish cloth. I love the way my Jetta looks; I love the muscular whirr of the VR6-- just like I love antialiased fonts and FireWire. Both companies make products that people identify with and, indeed, fall in love with. And VW has been pushing relentlessly upmarket-- we're in Touareg and Phaeton country now.

"Pods Unite" is what they're calling the promotion. Watch the ad linked from Apple's site for yet another of those little frissons of well-being like the one you get when you open up a box and are greeted with the word "Enjoy", or when Zephram Cochrane cues up "Magic Carpet Ride" on the sound system of Earth's first warp-ship as it launches from a missile silo.

The kit you get with your Beetle is pretty nice, too. Granted, it's at heart just a cassette-adapter setup, not a line-in option on their in-dash player or anything; but they've done an excellent job packaging the flexibility of what they do have. All the components are white, including the Sony tape adapter and the Monster audio cables and the trick little cupholder insert. Plus VW gives you a couple of CDs' worth of drivin' music, a $100 off coupon for the iTunes Music Store (provided you dump a grand into it), and a 'zine that says YOU ARE NOT A HERD OF CATTLE on the cover.

Seductive. It's like, the way the world would be if materialism-- lovingly crafted materialism-- were the highest form of art.

Is the alliance of companies like Apple and VW a harbinger of a whole new kind of demographic, a white-clad yuppie generation that listens to techno music and goes to raves and surrounds itself with purring technology that just melts into the walls? Or is it the other way around-- that demographic is already here, and it's just waiting for the mothership to call the iPod People home?


14:48 - Whatever you say, Mr. Billboard!

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I had meant to post about this a little earlier, when I picked up my iSight, but I got sidetracked by a number of things; but James, who was struck by it just the same as I was, reminded me:



"I nearly wept when I saw that. It's so frickin' Apple."

It's little surprises like that that are just so much fun. When you're a Mac fan, it's Christmas every day.


10:44 - Sunny Day in Arizona; Janeane Garofalo Still a Moron

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Forum this morning had Janeane Garofalo and some other Hollywood turd-- Hector something-or-other-- from "Artists United To Win Without War", as I believe they're now called. God-- I've never heard such a circle-jerk in my life. Garofalo kept bleating out statements like, "Of course Iraq was going to be a Vietnam-esque quagmire; anyone who thinks otherwise is alarmingly ignorant, and I hold the popular media criminally responsible for click!" Actually I don't know if she actually said click; maybe it was just me turning off the radio.

Of course, nowhere to be found in the show was the apology that Garofalo had promised to render if the Iraqis should-- inconceivable!-- welcome the American troops.

The assumption under which these people were operating was interesting indeed, though: it was all focused on the fact that the media is too unconcerned with the negative aspects of the war, too conservative. They blamed the news outlets for focusing on Laci Peterson and Kobe Bryant-- okay, granted that they're guilty of that-- but that instead of that, all the media had to do was to poke just a little bit into the Truth and they would crack wide open this massive scandal of a monstrous Lie that was foisted upon the American public, a war that was fought purely for evil reasons masquerading as righteous force. "Americans have an emotional need," Garofalo said, "to believe in the mythology of America-- that America is always on the side of good and right, and whatever the President says-- unless, of course, he happens to be a Democrat-- goes."

The people behind the Drudge Report, the Coulters and Hannitys, she also said, are doing their work not because of any political reasons, but just because of an emotional need for that same mythology that "right-wingnuts" need to fill. And naturally that extends to all the popular media, all the news organs, all the services that claim to be "giving the people what they want". When they show things like Bush landing on the aircraft carrier, it's the government happily using Hollywood as long as it suits them. And of course now there is new fodder for these people to use in leveraging themselves back out of the woodwork-- videotapes of soldiers wanting to come back home, reports of the casualty count exceeding that of Desert Storm-- which they're happily pouncing on (making sure, of course, to paint on their Sympathetic Sad Faces before wagging their fingers on-air and blaming the families of the soldiers for not knowing what kind of corrupt bloodthirsty military machine their sons and daughters were signing up for).

What's most stunning about this whole matter is just, as I have to keep telling myself, because otherwise I just can't believe it, that these people have honestly convinced themselves that our invading Iraq was a bad thing.

I wonder how well one of Garofalo's cynical stand-up routines would play in Baghdad?

Thursday, July 17, 2003
13:49 - Turn off the light
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/31765.html

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Netscape is dead.

And I don't mean it in some sniffy, pseudo-poetic, God-is-dead kind of way, the way we've all been saying it with resignation since the Judge Jacksons of the world gave way to the Judge Kollar-Kotellys. I mean it quite literally. Dead, buried, paved over. Debranded.

I found this Register story this morning, but heard the sad tale last night from a friend (whom I'll call "Fred", because he still works there), and The Reg has it just about right. Except for the on-the-ground stories, such as of cranes taking down the last Netscape logos from the walls, and hundreds of employees being instructed to report to Security so as to have their badges overlaid with AOL decals to obscure the once-proud N, the Company Who Must Not Be Named from now until forever.

Orlowski points out that when AOL acquired Netscape in 1998, it had market-share parity with Microsoft Internet Explorer. It had more than that, as Fred noted. It had something like 59%. Because IE at that point was so slow, buggy, and lacking in basic features, nobody really imagined that IE's growing slice of the market had anything to do with technical merit; rather, everyone knew it was because it was included by default in Windows 98. Get it under everybody's noses first, and then worry about people's petty demands for functionality. You can't compete with "free" or "ubiquitous", even with a demonstrably superior product. And so Netscape, starting with a seemingly unassailable lead, was falling further and further behind in the market, no matter what it did.

But the real fucker of the matter, Fred mentioned, was this:

On the one hand, the corrupt suits at AOL failed to appreciate the majesty of the Mozilla code, pulled features (such as blocking pop-up windows which AOL's advertisers loved, but users hated), forked willy-nilly, adding adware where they could, and generally betrayed the Great Project.

Feature after feature, innovation after innovation, Netscape's dogged developers would come up with something brilliant-- something nobody else had done-- and just on the brink of release, AOL would step in and decree that it should be removed. Pop-up blocking, ad blocking-- Netscape had it first. Where is it in the shipping 6.x/7.x? Nowhere, because AOL refused to let them ship it. (Actually it seems to be present in 7.1, released three weeks ago, in what was clearly now a last spore-flinging death throe.) Spam filtering and image blocking suffered similar fates, being allowed into the open-source Mozilla version, but yanked from the AOLified Netscape. About the only thing AOL allowed them to keep was the Gecko engine. Meanwhile, all the other browsers implemented these features lavishly and well, so that now the only browsers that don't have things like pop-up blocking are-- that's right-- Netscape and IE.

And that's the thing: Netscape wasn't falling behind its competitors because of a lack of effort or achievement, but rather because of active suppression of such achievement by AOL's suits. After all, pop-up blocking would conflict with AOL's advertising revenue, don'cha know. And the result of AOL's acting like this towards what was once a world-changing piece of software is that instead of Netscape being allowed to bow from the market in 1998, to well-earned applause and the knowledge that it left the game with its honor and respect and good name intact, AOL kept the brand alive just long enough to totally slaughter the reputation that Netscape had built up for itself. AOL didn't euthanize Netscape, which would have at least been respectful; instead, they put it in a nursing home, chained it to a bed, and read it nursery rhymes until it went mad. And then they killed it.

Fred's stories of how AOL is managed internally are nothing short of appalling. Upper-level execs micromanage from across the country, without a clue about what exactly the line people do; they take a department deep in the operational trenches that has a 99% customer satisfaction rating, change the rules of metrics so that they're judged on the same basis as call-center people (must solve problems within ten minutes or bump it up a level-- never mind that the problems this department handles take days to solve, and there's no upper level to bump things up to), and find to their astonishment the following month that it's now the worst department in the company! They impose an onerous corporate culture on employees of acquired properties; they agitate about people not wearing ties or not being in their cubicles at 7:55AM each morning, a culture shock that the Netscape employees never did quite acquiesce to. Even the Time-Warner work environment was unbearably casual to the AOL execs, who forced a culture of clueless top-down micromanagement and structure and process upon a massive organization of loose and disparate work environments, all of whom would undoubtedly have been able to work much more efficiently even than the aforementioned 99% sat rate if only they could be left alone. Employees were even, on their periodic self-evaluations, required to submit a paragraph describing their feelings on loyalty to the company. East Coast corporate politics, clearly, don't sit well with the Silicon Valley seat-of-the-pants style characteristic of just about every notable computer or Internet company except for AOL.

So I won't mourn for AOL if it collapses in on itself. But I do mourn for Netscape, a good name that suffered a knockdown punch (from Microsoft) and then a lingering, poisonous convalescence that led to a thoroughly-- undeservedly-- ignominious death.

There are some lessons we can learn from this, however. We've known for some time, from first-hand experience, the problems with integrating a web browser into an operating system, both made by the same company. Even aside from antitrust-style arguments, it's been shown that having IE woven into Windows introduces a whole plethora of technological and user-interface issues, not least of which is the decidedly ill-informed effort to blur the line between local files and web-based resources, between your own desktop and a Web page. (Surely poor users are bewildered enough without having to try to cram these wildly disparate metaphors into the same mental boxes.) A bug in the browser, such as the one in which IE goes into a brain-dead loop if it encounters a JPEG with XML data in it and refuses to load any more images until you kill the process or reboot, can hobble the OS and its usability. Having the same company in charge of an operating system and a web browser is a dangerous business, and the interface between the two concepts has to be much more carefully managed than Microsoft was willing to accept was the case back when it first floated its inspired integration plans in 1998.

But we also now know that a potentially much larger conflict of interest can arise when the company that makes the browser is also a media company. It was in Netscape's interest to provide its users with the means with which to block unwanted ads, but it was in AOL's interest to keep unfettered access to its users' eyeballs. The two divisions were thoroughly at odds. A media company is going to behave like AOL/Time-Warner does, turning a web browser into a conduit for advertising and purchasing; whereas a company whose goal is to simplify and empower the user of a web browser for its own sake will develop features which defeat that very commercializing tendency. And so this is perhaps a greater risk still to the success of a browser than a clumsy attempt to integrate a browser with an operating system.

The problem, of course, is that browsers are now supposed to be free; so who has the resources to provide free browsers? Let's see: the company that makes the OS, who can bundle it for free; advertising-supported media giants; and open-source tinkerers.

Maybe Mozilla will survive in the hands of the third group, but I'm not terribly optimistic. I'd like to believe that the reason why the Mozilla developers have spent so much effort on what Orlowski calls "esoteric frameworks and note-perfect bug tracking systems that only a nerd could appreciate", rather than actual useful features, is purely AOL's onerousness, and that now that they're free of that they can concentrate on competing head-to-head with players like Opera and OmniWeb and Safari. But it may be too late for that. As Safari has indeed shown, even the Gecko engine is now too big and bloated and full of idealistic mumbo-jumbo to be as workable as the light, quick, but full-featured KHTML. The torch has removed itself from Netscape's supine hand and jumped to a new carrier, and while there will always be contenders against IE-- which after all still has woefully inadequate CSS support and none of the user-convenience features that AOL wouldn't allow into Netscape either-- they're not going to be following Netscape's ideological example anymore.

We have AOL to thank for that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
18:28 - G5 ad
http://www.apple.com/hardware/ads/g5/

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Short and sweet and glib. Just the way we like 'em.


Also, this is interesting-- they've broken out the sound composition/loop development software from Final Cut Pro into its own standalone $299 product, Soundtrack. Damned if I'm not feeling like that might be something worth playing with.



11:08 - Pay attention now

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ZEP.


RIT.


DAP.


MEP.


11:02 - Stupid Nature

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So I was stripping caulk (huh huh) off my bathroom sink last night in preparation for touch-up painting and recaulking, when I looked into the bathtub and noticed that there was a large stream of ants pouring out of a tiny crack in the grout and milling around down in the drain area. Now, ants are one of the things I'd hoped I had left behind in the old house, but I'm thinking that that was a fool's hope; even after the house had remained effectively empty of food for some three months before we moved in, the ants came billowing out of the woodwork with the very first Coke can that was left out on the counter overnight. So it's either regular tent treatments, or a stepped-up Grin-N-Bear-It campaign.

I've been grinning and bearing it for a few weeks now, and to their credit the ants have been behaving themselves better after that initial night of Coke-induced carousing; they've only made scattered and inexplicable appearances, such as swarming over a plate in the sink with baked-on chicken juice, while bypassing sniffily a whole open box of cookies. I've given up trying to understand the little buggers. Their tastes bewilder me, but if they don't like our cooking, I won't lose sleep if they complain.

So imagine my surprise when I saw-- in my otherwise spotless bathtub-- this cloud of ants gathered around a mysterious puddle of material near the drain. On close inspection I couldn't determine its nature. I looked up at the ceiling-- did something leak through and drip down? Is there a dead candy clown in the attic? Nope. Did the paint touch-up I'd done the previous day somehow fall bodily off the wall and curl up in the tub? Did ants like latex paint? I wouldn't put it past them. But no, that wasn't it either.

Then I noticed it: the round metal cover above the drain, under the faucet, the thing that has that weird toggle lever in some tubs but not this one, was slightly open along the bottom, in a slit along the tub line, as though for ventilation. Into this slit was stuffed a dead moth.

Whether it had crawled in there itself or had been dragged in by amazingly industrious land wasps, this moth was now being carted away in bite-sized pieces into the crawl space. I sat on the toilet and stared at the spectacle for a good ten minutes before grabbing up tissues and noxious chemicals and embarking on the vigorous cleaning process. It would probably behoove me to caulk up that slit while I'm at it, unless it's actually important for drainage or something. But all throughout, all that occupied my mind was a general sense of wounded pride and baleful stolidity, the kind you get if some jokester dupes you after long and careful skepticism into believing some bizarre tale, upon which he laughs in your face and goes SUCKER!

I kept thinking, Yeah, very funny, nature.

Monday, July 14, 2003
16:47 - Well spotted, Bruce!
http://www.theonering.net/perl/newsview/2/1058130053

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It is a small world...

Report on Bay Rait and Weta at the Aussie FX and Animation Festival
Tehanu @ 5:00 pm EST
Lolly's Report from the Australian Effects and Animations Festival held in Melbourne back in May, at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square. This happened back in May, but I don't think we got such a detailed and funny report as this at the time.

Lolly writes:

Firstly Bay introduced himself and gave a brief run down on his role at Weta, which in TTT was building hero facial systems. He discussed what would be discussed and shown, and we were treated to a 50 minute tape of behind the scenes.

I do believe that's Bonnie Raitt's nephew Bay Raitt, who graduated from my high school, Ukiahi, after my freshman or sophomore year. He was always a performing-artsy type, big and imposing, with a deep booming voice. (He played Charlemagne for the school's production of Pippin, and boy did he look the part.) Everyone expected great things from him. I'd heard offhand that he had gone into film animation, and thence to Weta Digital, where he was working on the Lord of the Rings movies.

And now he's in the spokesman's role, giving demos at animation festivals.

Sweeet.


11:11 - Any port in a storm, eh?

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There seems to be a problem with a certain lack of critical thinking in America today. At least among the media personalities. If there weren't those opinion polls which stubbornly insist that most people still think going to war was the right thing to do, I'd be starting to despair that this mental laziness were becoming an epidemic.

NPR all throughout the weekend-- particularly on Saturday, to and from the concert in Sacramento, which featured Three Dog Night, Lou Christie, and The Association, among others-- was giddily gleeful in all its headings. The dubious information that was used to justify the war in Iraq! To hear these headlines, you'd think someone had just sleuthed up a secret dossier titled EYES ONLY: OPERATION SCAPEGOAT. ZOG CENTRAL.

On Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, as usual, they led off with their typical raucous Bush-bashing; it was all the more maddening given the recent flap over the Nigerian yellow-cake business. According to the hosts, when confronted with the evidence of prevarication and subterfuge, Bush responded with wide-eyed confusion befitting a toddler. The hosts giggled and dished back and forth for a few minutes, then mentioned that Ari Fleischer had said, "I think the burden of proof lies with those who said Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction-- it's up to them to say where they are." Clearly going for the "You can't make up stuff like this" vibe, one of the hosts followed this up with, "What, is Ari going for a stand-up comedy career after this? I mean, at some point you have to just sit and marvel." Another added, "Hey, it's Comical Ari!"

And that's the infuriating bit: unless you think about it, Fleischer's comment does seem like the stuff of ripe parody-- unless you think about it. I wanted to reach into the radio and grab those guffawing hosts by their lapels and do what I've grown far too tired of doing: explain the reasoning behind the statement. That being that everybody knew Saddam had WMDs, including the UN, Hans Blix, Bill Clinton, the State Department, France, Germany, Russia-- nobody was disputing any of that. We knew Saddam had used WMDs, against Halabja, against Iran, and against our troops in Desert Storm. Iraq had many of those same weapons when the inspectors were expelled in 1998. This was a fact, never in any doubt. Where the weapons went between 1998 and now-- if indeed they aren't in Iraq-- is an interesting question, and one that ought to be answered (if only because we'd rather find them before al Qaeda does); but there is no logical means by which the failure to find the weapons constitutes a lie on the part of the administrations of the US or or Britain in the lead-up to the war. Nor does it change the fact that nit-picking at the dotted I's and crossed T's of the pre-war justification is not just petty and stupid, but an insult to the people of Iraq, some six to nine thousand of whom would have died in the time since March if we hadn't removed Saddam, and whose children would still be in prisons, whose family members would still be in torture chambers, and whose compatriots would still be buried in unmarked mass graves. Complete the sentence: Though none of the other grievances against him are in any doubt, Saddam may not in fact have tried to buy yellow-cake from Niger. Therefore: __________________

(I know! I know! Therefore... he wasn't a bad guy after all, meant us no ill will, never harbored a WMD program, and was loved by his people-- and we ousted an innocent man!)

Statements like Fleischer's seem like self-parody only if you don't think about them. And that's what really gets me: apparently the majority of the American public is able to see and grasp the logic of his reasoning, while the visible media personalities to whom they tune their radios and TVs-- whose job it is to keep up with and interpret the news-- can't. To them, it's all just the obfuscation of a bunch of unelected dunderheads steering this country to ruin, and isn't that just so tragic that we have to laugh to keep from crying?

They also made fun of Ah-nuld's chances at the California governorship, and his recent statements wherein he compared himself politically to Nelson Mandela. Apparently never having listened to a word the man has said on political subjects, they dismissed him out of hand on the basis of-- what? Apparently the fact that he's still making movies as a character actor. "Schwartzenegger's potential voting constituency is bodybuilders, pro wrestlers, movie fans, and Howard Stern," the hosts quipped, adding that "Well, hey, that's most of California." They then said that the next thing to expect would be Keanu Reeves explaining in a press conference why he's like James Madison.

It's funny, so it must be true.

We've trained ourselves not to accept anything on face value-- to assume that there's always more to the story, to assume that whoever's in power is trying to dupe the public, especially if they're Republicans. There's always some nefarious subplot. If one isn't obvious in what people say, then that's just evidence of conspiracy.

It must be an amazingly unfulfilling life, to be that suspicious all the time.

Now people are calling in to Greg Kihn's radio show and stating bluntly that "There are no weapons of mass destruction." And, presumably, there never were. Nor was there ever a Saddam Hussein or an Osama bin Laden. Or a World Trade Center.

UPDATE: Oh, and even Congresspeople are getting into the act. Some guy who said he voted for war is saying that he's shocked, shocked, at the recent revelations. When pressed, he won't say he was "duped" into voting for war, but clearly, clearly the war was fought under false pretenses and therefore for some sinister purpose of the Administration's. Condi Rice knew! She told Tenet to take the fall! Bush didn't know because he's an imbecile! Now an innocent dictatorship has fallen and a people has been ruthlessly liberated to their own destiny! Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!


The cognitive feedback loop on the left may have become such that there won't be a voice from there that anybody can take seriously until after a major shakeup-- like on the scale of the death of certain political parties. Bring back the Whigs and Federalists!

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© Brian Tiemann