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
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Friday, July 25, 2003
19:28 - Paranoid conspiracy theory

(top)
Chris brought this one to my attention.

About three days ago, SCO-- the UNIX vendor that has been suing IBM over its use of Linux, in one of those easily recognizable end-of-life intellectual-property-hoarding death-throes-- announced the acquisition of a company called Vultus, Inc. under terms that were not disclosed.

One of the investors in SCO is a company called the Umbrella Corporation-- er, excuse me, the Canopy Group.

Vultus, Inc.-- a company that "has developed tools for creating Web-based applications" and presumably is a leading supplier of polysyllabic words and other strategic business solutions-- is wholly owned by the Canopy Group, and shares their building.



Now, as Chris noted: What better way to siphon money out of a dying subsidiary company in a clandestine end-game than to have it buy a company that you wholly own?

...Naaaahhh.

UPDATE: Well, well.

As Chris says, the best part is how SCO says that their acquisition of Vultus is a "good match" for their UNIX business-- while Vultus' web-development software is Windows-only.


17:47 - Meanwhile, on a different planet...
http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/07/25/sharpton.ap/index.html

(top)
Sharpton: "I agree with what Bush is doing, and support more of the same! Shame on him! He's a racist!"


16:20 - What do you want from us?
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=7607_Naked_Arab_Hypocrisy_on_Display

(top)
Arab Street: "We will not believe that Uday and Qusay have really been killed unless you show us pictures of the bodies."

US: "Okay, here they are."

Arab Street: "Aaaahhh! That's un-Islamic!"


Geez louise. As Lileks said back in late March or so, whatever.


13:22 - Saber-toothed cow
http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/main_news.cfm?NewsID=6650

(top)
Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Bill Gates!

Microsoft's new Windows operating system Longhorn will be so different from its predecessors that users may not like it right away, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said yesterday.

"Longhorn is a bit scary. We have been willing to change things," Gates said during lunch at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting in Redmond.

Now that's good PR.

...Right?

Wait a minute. Scary to whom?

Thursday, July 24, 2003
14:09 - PseudoPod
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/54/31943.html

(top)

They just keep a-comin'!

While the iHP-100 certainly lacks the iPod's styling, it does have some neat touches of its own. Like the latest iPods (but not the 10GB version, it has to be said), the iRiver device ships with a remote control unit, but the iHP-100's version has a full-size backlit track information display screen. The iHP-100 also offers digital optical audio input and output ports, and you can hook up any source to digitise sound directly to the player's hard drive. There's a built-in microphone too. The iRiver also contains an FM stereo radio receiver.

But you apparently navigate it using a thumb-dimple joystick, and the screen is cluttered up by the usual Aiwa/Tokyo-at-Night display-candy. Plus it loses out to the iPod in price. (?!)

The iHP-100 connects to a host PC via a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed link. It plays MP3 and Windows Media Audio files. Neatly, you don't need jukebox software to transfer files to the iHP-100 - Windows Explore will do.

Which I guess means no playlists or ID3-tag-based organization, or auto-synchronization. But hey! It's more conveeeeenient! Plugging it in and having it automatically sync everything is too restrictive. Oh, and is that USB 2.0 2.0, or USB 1.1 2.0? I'm sure it's the former. Such naming schemes have the consumer's best interests at heart.

One of these days I'm going to have to put that "PseudoPods" page together, showcasing all these game attempts at, um, flattery.


13:14 - Insanity
http://coldfury.com/archives/001431.php#001431

(top)
Mike at Cold Fury has done what I don't have the will to do: written a cathartic post about the stupefying reaction we've been seeing from the Left to the deaths of Uday and Qusay. It's not a long post, nor a very refreshingly vitriol-filled one; rather, it's faltering and even a little bit resigned-- the way I've been feeling, the reason why I haven't been able to write anything on the subject. I think I know now why I've been feeling so very tired over the past couple of days.

I know that kids under, say, 16 really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to politics; they'll happily espouse completely horrifying viewpoints just because they sound cool. That's all I can imagine explaining this:
Doesn't a part of you wish that Queasy and Duh-day were alive?

I'll admit they're scum and rightfully so, but anything that lands as even more humiliation on W's grotesque shrivelled face is that much the better.

It's sad, really, that as despicable as they are, Saddam's family seems to be the lesser of two evils when you compare them to the wretched little bastard occupying the White House and destroying America in the process...

And I only quote that one because it's particularly representative and memetic, not because similar sentiments (slightly more tactfully worded) haven't been soaking the online and broadcast world, across the mainstream spectrum.

All I'm saying is, shouldn't there be some kind of age requirement for getting on the Net?

Not that that would help. Apparently people from all walks of life are having a hard time seeing why killing Uday and Qusay is a good thing. The fact that Bush exists trumps all.

Lest anyone get the impression that I'm some kind of unquestioning Bush supporter, um, no, I'm not. I think there are many things he could be doing far better. There are also many things he could be doing far worse. About par for the course for a President in an extraordinarily trying historical time.

But I swear, I am so goddamned physically drained after seeing this unrelenting stream of utter bilge from the reactionary Left, especially in reaction to what should have been an unquestionably uniting and praiseworthy event, that I can't even sleep well. I saw some of those conspiracy-theory-munching goons in my dreams last night.

For a long time I've been able to reassure myself, based on poll numbers during the war and such, that most of this country was too smart, too moral, too mentally clear to be sucked in by the endless "yellowcake" bleating and the hammering of these legions of hateful little trolls; but I'm afraid. I really am. I'm afraid that enough people take news sources like the BBC seriously enough, and ascribe enough credibility to any headline that stays on the news for more than two days, that the Left's tactics-- if tactics are what they are-- are working. And if so, it means my faith in the American public to make the right choices is seriously shaken.

That's such a depressing thought that I'm going to have to avoid this subject altogether for some time.

UPDATE: Specifically, some people seem to have the same vacuous, unresearched understanding of the word "McCarthyism" that they do of the terms "Free Speech" or "First Amendment".

God, I hate when people don't do their homework and then get treated like rock stars. It's like high school all over again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
14:52 - There's a name for that sort of thing
http://www.dickgephardt2004.com/releases/pp_foreignpolicy.html

(top)
Several people have been commenting on this speech by Dick Gephardt in which he says with complete seriousness that the greatest threats to this country are those created by our unwillingness to cooperate with international legal bodies, for our own safety and security-- for instance, the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty.

Now, never mind the arguments that have already been put forth and dished about, for instance by Bill Whittle, who notes that "Even the proponents of Kyoto admit that if fully ratified, it would only delay their own worst-case model’s warming by two or three years over the next century. And all we have to do is wreck the world’s economy." While that's certainly worthwhile, I have a different observation to make.

The other day I heard (on NPR, where else) some guy moaning about how we hadn't signed the Kyoto treaty, thumbing our noses at the rest of the world and the 178 countries who have dutifully signed the accord. He said that countries like Russia have signed it, and their greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily dropping ever since; but over the course of the 1990s, while the US had made some token statements to the effect that we would be attempting to scale back our emissions over time, each year our emissions grew significantly. We appeared, in essence, not only to not be cooperating, but to not be trying to cooperate.

But this guy on the radio noted a critical little piece of information: that Russia's emissions were falling not because they were working to comply with the treaty's regulations, but because their overall economy is shrinking. Industry is scaling back. Factories are closing. So naturally their greenhouse gas emissions are dropping.

Kinda makes the US look a little less malicious, unless you consider success in itself to be malicious. And, we now know, some do.

It also throws some perspective upon those 178 countries that have ratified the treaty. For the vast majority, it was no huge leap to be able to do so. Did anyone fear that Ghana or Nepal were likely to be significant contributors to global warming? It's a no-brainer for non-industrialized nations to sign, or even industrialized nations with small populations. The treaty, it becomes clear, is really only aimed at one specific rogue state.

But that's not even what I was getting at-- it's just the warm-up. The guy on the radio went on to describe how because Russia's economy is shrinking, they are not using their full allocation of "emissions credits"-- and are therefore selling some to the US.

I was coming up to a red light when I heard that, which is fortunate because I would have slammed on the brakes anyway.

Emissions credits?!?

So if I understand this properly: if you're a country that is not in compliance with the Kyoto treaty, or whatever treaty it is that provides for these "credits" that we are a signatory to, you can either put yourself in compliance-- or you can purchase a waiver for yourself in the form of these "emissions credits", buying them from countries that aren't producing enough pollution to be using all the credits that are allocated to them.

In other words, the treaty isn't concerned with pollution at all; it's merely concerned with identifying the successful countries, the ones who can't comply with the treaty's terms without destroying their own economies, and siphoning money out of their coffers and into those of countries that can't help but be in compliance because they're unsuccessful. You can go ahead and pollute, but you have to pay off the poor countries around you.

When the Catholic Church did this, it was called indulgences.

Nowadays, it's mostly known as a bribe.

Or, in slightly different terms, a "sin tax". Levied on the successful, assessed upon the level of success. For the purpose of redistribution of wealth.

I believe I now understand where reasoned cynicism regarding environmental regulation comes from. How come nobody had a booth explaining these stipulations at Earth Day at my high school? If they had booths for Negative Population Growth, Inc., why not this?

Yeah, I know. Stupid question.


13:56 - But is it "Good Enough"?

(top)
So the first declared competitor to the iTunes Music Store has been launched: the BuyMusic.com site by Buy.com. 79 cents a song! Wow! They sure undercut iTunes 99 cents, didn't they? I guess Apple is doooooooomed!

... Or not. Judging by the raucous laughter coming from all corners of the tech press today, the new service qualifies as a "Nice Try" at best.

Wired sez:

Although online retailer BuyMusic.com will offer more than 300,000 songs from the five major recording labels, users of the service will not necessarily have the freedom afforded customers of Apple's iTunes service. That service permits transfer of music to multiple computers, portable devices and compact discs.

Jobs secured uniform licensing deals from all the recording companies that allow all iTunes songs to be burned onto CD an unlimited amount of times, save for a restriction against making multiple CDs with the exact same song lists. All songs on iTunes can also be transferred to up to three different computers and to the iPod, a portable digital music player.

Songs purchased at BuyMusic can't currently be played on the iPod.

Blum was not able to obtain uniform licensing rights from the recording labels and artists. As a result, different songs on BuyMusic have different restrictions on how often they may be burned onto CDs or copied to other PCs or portable music devices. They can all be burned onto CDs at least once.

"It doesn't work on the iPod". Sounds like partisan boo-hoo'ing at first, until you realize that the iPod has become far and away the definitive, iconic MP3 player that has defined the modern market. It's multi-platform, it's easy, it's sexy, it's fast, it's full-featured. Everybody takes the iPod seriously now. Not supporting the iPod is like... like... well, like releasing a piece of software that doesn't run on Windows. (Ahem.)

It's all WMP 9's DRM, too, which is a lot more onerous than iTunes' AAC protection. The comments get a lot more fun when you start venturing into the Mac commentary world, such as this post at Geek.com:

Buymusic.com has successfully copied the entire idea of the iTunes music store. The website looks like it was designed by monkeys who were strapped to chairs and forced to stare at the awful color scheme of Windows XP. Hopefully it will flounder based on its failure to adhere to simple guidelines. Some songs can be burned a bunch of times, others can only be burned a few. This will, indeed, be hard to keep track of, but I guess Windows users are used to not being able to keep things organized.

There's a Top 10 Reasons Why BuyMusic.com Sucks list at TheMacMind, which is well worth a read. Chaosmint and Damien Barrett each give it a drive-by panning. But the best bit of all is the one at The Mac Observer, which provides not only a series of incisive observations, such as that the search function doesn't work, and this:

BM's singles downloads begin at 79˘, but we found it difficult to find any. There were some that were priced at 79˘, though there aren't as many as you might hope based on BM's marketing message. Some of Cher's songs are available at that price, which might be why somehow she has the top album in the Top 100 Pop/Rock category. The artists that are more popular, such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly, 50 Cent, Eminem, and Coldplay are priced at 99˘ for a single. This is the same price as the iTMS.

However, if the singles are the same price, why are the EPs and singles with b-sides priced so strangely? American Idol's Clay Aiken has a two-song EP for sale on both BM and the iTMS. Both retailers are selling each song individually for 99˘. The iTMS has both songs together for US$1.98, the price of the two singles added together in one simple "add album" button. It's the BM page that is confusing. Both singles are 99˘, but to buy them simultaneously will cost you $9.49. What?

...But also includes a luscious series of head-to-head comparative screenshots of the various parallel features. Commenters on the article have noticed other shortcomings, like missing thumbnail images and the fact that the reason why the search function doesn't work is because someone programmed the link to it with a backslash (\) instead of a forward slash (/). "C'mon guys! A little bit of testing!" said the commenter in question. Hear, hear.

Now, as many of the aforementioned pundits are carefully noting, it's a Good Thing for the industry, to see another store of this type emerge. Apple's going it alone meant that the labels' willingness to continue to cooperate with the idea of per-song downloads and limited DRM was contingent solely on Apple's success with the iTunes Music Store, and millions-of-downloads-a-week or no, Apple's market share is still fairly negligible compared to what they'd be getting if, say, iTunes were avilable on Windows. Now that there's another player to pander to the Windows side, the labels will be able to see some real, significant income from download sales, and before they know it they'll be entrenched in a new business model, beyond the point of no return. And that's the critical battle.

Still, though-- it's hard to mask the disappointment at seeing such a blatant ripoff of a service shamelessly stepping into the spotlight, making snarky comments like BuyMusic.com's CEO calling Steve Jobs "a visionary, but he's on the wrong platform"-- or, indeed, our schadenfreude at seeing just how badly it sucks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
15:27 - About frickin' time
http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/07/22/sprj.irq.sons/index.html

(top)
CNN's big alert banner has pictures of Uday and Qusay on their respective playing cards, with the headline TRUMPED.

Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, were killed Tuesday in a gunbattle with U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said.

Their bodies were identified from "multiple sources," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad.

"They died in a fierce gunbattle," Sanchez said. "They resisted detention and the effort of coalition forces to apprehend them."

Of course, now it's anybody's guess whether Saddam's still out there. But it's immensely gratifying that finally we've bagged some really, really big fish.

UPDATE: And, of course, the usual suspects are reacting to this news with every conceivable emotion except for happiness: they're accusing the US of having had the bodies in freezers for weeks, to trot out in order to push "yellowcake" off the headlines; they're lamenting our cold-blooded assassination of two men who should only have been arrested at worst; they're even latching onto the word "sons" as though it implies that Uday and Qusay were innocent kids. And it's not just these slimy little web worm-dungeons either-- the BBC is even putting scare quotes around the word "dead" and what we callously refer to as "good" news.

That's it. I am through with trying to make sense of how people like this can consider themselves moral and rational and informed human beings.

If I were a praying man, I'd pray that they were fewer than they appear.


13:02 - Amazing coincidence
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=7559_Saddam_and_September_11

(top)

No connection; no connection at all.

Oh, and read the comments; there's a contributor by the name of "evariste" who makes for some fascinating reading.

Monday, July 21, 2003
15:56 - Smirk me up that grid square

(top)
One of the side effects of having all my worldly possessions-- which primarily consist of things that had been stacked on bookshelves, many of which are in fact books-- strewn about my floor in stacks without any particular place to put them is that I'm tempted to do something I haven't really done in years, since before college: reading.

Now, granted, I never was that much of an adventurous reader. I loved big thick books, but only certain big thick books; I would find a few favorites and read them over and over again. I've been through The Silmarillion some twenty times, for instance, and Watership Down fifteen, and the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series until the covers fell off and the paperback spines split. I can't say what the commonalities are between the books I've tended to like, except that I know a book I'll hate the moment I pick it up. Almost all sci-fi/fantasy falls into that category; Tolkien's the one exception to a genre that nearly uniformly makes me furious. And in any case, once I went off to college, my reading time was severely curtailed, and I never really did pick it back up again.

So now that the house work is gradually and slowly beginning to asymptote off, and the things I am doing usually involve a work path as follows: Apply a bead of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; spray a layer of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; apply fingerfuls of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; sand, caulk, prime; paint on a coat of something, then wait several hours for it to dry; repeat; repeat -- I find myself with a number of temporal interstices into which I would normally insert networking time, doing e-mail or blogging or tinkering with code or some such. But that's not possible until the phone company should ever get my house's correct address into their head (they've tried three times now to install the T1, and gone to the wrong address each time, resetting the Beseech a Favor From the Bureaucratic Monopoly clock with each dimwitted call from the middle of a parking lot somewhere miles from my house); and so I find myself sprawling on a couch and reading.

And what should I pick up but the various books by Bill Bryson? They're always a lot of fun, though I should note that they're always funniest the first time through. A long sojourn away from them will also pep them up a little, but I find that if I'm anticipating some cute trick of wording or visualization that I know is coming, such as his extravagant fears in Neither Here nor There about what should happen if he should buy a rubber love doll in Germany and it should flop out of his suitcase and self-inflate in the middle of a crowded subway car, it doesn't give me the lingering, delectable guffaw that I suffered the first time I read that passage-- on a transcontinental red-eye flight, under the dim reading light on my window seat, my paroxysms of silent laughter provoking increasing irritability in the guy sitting next to me and gamely trying to sleep as we soared through the midnight sky over Ohio.

I've always been a fan of Bryson's, I should point out, ever since I was handed a copy of The Mother Tongue by an English teacher at my high school. It's one of the most engaging, comprehensive tomes on the subject of the English language that I've ever run across, and I've read quite a few, many by much more distinguished linguists than he, such as Jespersen and Pei. But I always come back to Bryson. Why? Because there's something about his written wit that I like. It's hard to pin down. He's often described as a Keillor/Kerouac/Barry admixture, but I don't know if that comes near the mark. Bryson spends so much time talking about how bewildered he is by things in the world that I usually find perfectly understandable, and I'm not just talking about computers here, and yet has such a vast wealth of statistics at his fingertips with which to bolster some narrative point or other, that I can never tell if he's as endearingly feckless as he makes himself sound, or if his endless bumbling and gape-mouthed wonder at things like cell phones and underground walkways is all just an elaborate put-on. In which case I find my respect for him is diminished by a significant amount.

Which, I also should note, is the impression I'm regretfully left with after plowing through I'm a Stranger Here Myself, a collection of his columns that he wrote for a local paper after returning to America after living in England for twenty years. Now, I'd loved The Mother Tongue for its wealth of fascinating information wryly delivered; I'd found The Lost Continent, his trek across America, to be uproarious in the best Bryson tradition, though I can't find that one in my bookcase at all now; Notes From a Small Island, about England, was marginally less diverting, mostly because of its monotony; same goes for In a Sunburned Country, on Australia, its interest coming chiefly from the alien nature (to me) of the place. Neither Here Nor There, about his travels through Europe, is the magnum opus, unless it were A Walk in the Woods, the one that really put Bryson on the map, as it were-- his northward hike along the Appalachian Trail. It's in that book that you start to get a glimpse into Bryson's priorities in life, and in I'm a Stranger Here Myself he continues the trend through to its conclusion-- he's willing to devote months toward becoming a wild and scruffy mountain man, able to hike thirty miles a day through sweltering, buzzing mountains, but at heart he's really a cosseted American dad who putters in the yard and wrestles with his taxes and writes long sarcastic tirades about his computer being incomprehensible and unreliable. (DOS-prompt jokes in a 2000 book, even. I wonder.) He spends his Appalachian adventure bemoaning the changing landscape, whose decay he's careful to point out is not always the result of simple crass American industrialism eating away at the natural world-- often it's just, for instance, that the Ice Age is only just now ending, and climates are still changing rapidly, in a geological sense. But over the course of that book and the columns collected in the next, Bryson's disgust with the modern world begins to stick out in sharp relief.

Sure, he remains funny in his later books; that's not in doubt. If I were to characterize his style, I'd say he's what you get if you were to take James Lileks, excise about two pounds of clue from his head along with his conversance with popular entertainment and any smidgen of fascination with modern technology, and instead replace it with several encyclopedias' worth of fascinating environmental and economic and political statistics relating to the past twenty years' worth of American and British history. Also, scoop him up from decidedly practical Minnesota and transplant him to the Imagineered quaintness and contractually quintessent Americana surroundings of New Hampshire, where his neighbors are no doubt the nasally and insufferable cast of Family Guy. And pull the political ripcord and let the spin begin.

There are a lot of points in I'm a Stranger Here Myself where I find myself saying, "Yeah, yeah, I'll let this one slide," with reference to some particularly incisive and slanted barb about something I hold dear. I can take his extravagant rants about the unnecessary complexities of design in personal computers; hell, I write those myself. I can handle his moaning about how the old modular diners from the 30s and 40s are all gone now due to disinterest, but people flock to modern simulations of them like Johnny Rocket's. But I do take exception when I run across those gee-aren't-I-clever statements that I find now and then: If we as a people are advanced enough to send a man to the moon, measure the most distant stars, and cure seemingly incurable diseases, then why can't we design a turn signal that turns itself off if you're not making a turn? or whatever. Things that have very rational explanations, but that I can't explain to the author because this is print media and I can't make myself heard by shouting at the book.

When Bryson spends a column on his slack-jawed stupefaction at the amount of choice you get in American goods and services today, he comes dangerously near to crossing the line: One of the hundreds of cable channels that I get is a twenty-four-hour cartoon network. Perhaps the most astounding thing about this is that the channel has advertisers. What could you possibly sell to people who watch Deputy Dawg at 2:30 AM? Bibs?

Uh, no, Girls Gone Wild videos, of course. Jackass.

Anyway, I understand that Bryson has a new book out in which he denies his statement from I'm a Stranger Here Myself-- that he is competely, woefully clueless about all things scientific, whether physical or chemical or biological or mathematical-- and chronicles the history of the universe and all its component sciences, all in typical smirky Bryson fashion. It might well be fascinating, and I suppose I'd better give it a look, as it stands to reason that it will resemble The Mother Tongue the most closely of all his previous books. And that suits me just fine.

After all, I ought to be able to tell when he's making a salient and amusing or startling point, or when he's blowing a verbal booger like When you are overwhelmed, what is the whelm you are over, and what does it look like? out his nose.

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© Brian Tiemann