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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, August 31, 2003
03:37 - Zzzzz...

(top)
Just got back from a very intense day of high-school-reunion-type-stuff. Met up with the old Carpe Diem Society at Lake Mendocino, and we all went out on a party boat owned by some friends of one of our number; we drove around the lake all afternoon, picking out spots to stop the boat and dive off to swim. When I got back to the car at 6:00, I found that it had been well over 100 degrees on the lake all day. (Miraculously, I don't seem to have become sunburned.) And it still felt refreshingly chilly when I was standing on the boat deck dripping from a dip in my non-swim-trunks.

It was a blast. And I love having less than 20% humidity.

Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep myself from falling asleep on the three-hour drive back home; it was an exhilarating day, but the glucose crash at the end was pretty cataclysmic. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

See you in about, oh, fourteen hours.


05:10 - Conservation of conservatism

(top)
So I'm taking a brief break from my pounding out chapters in advance of my Tuesday 50% deadline to catch up on the newsgroups I follow (taking happy advantage of the new T1-- damn, but it's fun to not be fazed by 5000-line attachments anymore), and I found myself noticing something.

See, the group in question, and the demographic that I've been sidling around for the past six years or so, is one that's made up in large part of young, angst-filled, disillusioned guys of alternative sexuality who feel themselves to be alienated from the mass of humanity-- largely of their own volition. Whether in college dorms or their parents' basements, many of them have lived on some form of dole for the majority of their lives, and (like anybody would be) they don't feel terrifically self-confident or self-sufficient as a result. These are people who are so disgusted with the human race and its perceived vagaries, cruelties, inequities, and crimes against the planet, that they'd rather not even be human. (Don't even ask what I'm doing floating around such a group.)

So it's not as though I can really reasonably expect to find a whole lot of political balance there. And upon pulling up the chatty newsgroups, which I'd last read in mid-February, it was with a twinge that I realized I'd soon be scrolling my way through an inevitable morass of truly, truly dumb anti-war sloganeering.

As, indeed, it turned out to be. We had insightful sentiments from DJ-ish types like "Drop Beats Not Bombs", and speculation was batted about that the Bushies were planning to use nuclear weapons in Iraq, and someone had changed her signature to an FDR quote: "A conservative is a man who, having two perfectly good legs, has never taken a single step forward."

But before that was a startling thread from one person who was on the verge of tears for an entirely different reason: he was a Christian. And he felt totally alienated by the group he loved-- vilified and discriminated against by the very people to whom he'd attached himself largely because he'd thought they were all about tolerance and open-mindedness. He felt betrayed. He felt surrounded by scowling faces who saw no difference between him and Pat Robertson, between him and the KKK, between him and a Satan that the scowls didn't believe existed anyway. And he didn't know where he could turn next.

And I got to thinking. Let's see: since so many people start out as liberals, being idealistic and full of progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-McDonald's, anti-modernist causes to fight for from the safety of their prepaid tuitions, it follows that for anyone to become conservative later in life has to involve a conscious change in attitude, catalyzed by some series of personal events or shifting of interests. Remaining a liberal is the default state, and in the absence of some defining event to change one's attitude, one is likely to find a community of like-minded compatriots with which to experience one's twenties and thirties in the same relative comfort and idealistic certainty as one was used to.

So it follows, it seems to me, that a great many people who grow up proud to call themselves "liberals" have quite possibly never actually met a real, live conservative-- except maybe for their jingoistic fathers whom they remember as the guy who always told them to mow the lawn or stop dating hippies, or their square-jawed buzz-cut gym-and-civics teachers who always growled about commies. It's hard to grow up these days with a positive impression of conservatives-- and it's equally hard to grow up with a real first-hand understanding of what conservative politics are about.

The realities of the business world are opaque to the high-school student, who sees only grimy air and ugly smokestacks next to a white-sand California beach. The rights of the landlord are ignored or seen as irrelevant by the tenant, whose friends and roommates are naturally on the opposite end of an adversarial relationship with what can only be a tall and dark-cloaked figure with a top hat and a greasy, curled moustache who darkens poor welfare recipients' doorways each month to demand exorbitant rent to support his own opulent playboy penthouse. The gun owner, casually visiting the range twice a month to brush up on his target practice, is inscrutable to someone who sees the government as being a more benign entity than his neighbors, or who would equate the killing of an animal for food with killing a human for sport. The moderate religious citizen, no matter how low-key or benign his faith, is automatically folded into an über-class of oppressors by kids opening their minds for the first time-- cataclysmically, like a ship floating through the last trammeled channels of a river delta before suddenly finding itself out at open sea with no boundaries in sight-- to the myriad possibilities of existentialism and atheism and Matrix scenarios; it's so attractive for such a wondering youth to think of the past two thousand years of human experience being a deluded mass fiction that even those who take just a passing part in such a delusion become synonymous with the great perpetrators of intellectual darkness in our species' history. Christianity is old and staid and established, and so it becomes evil. Likewise with so many other traditional hallmarks of conservatism-- gun rights, business-friendliness, acknowledgment of military necessity. Group enough of these memes together, and the college student or young adult can't help but equate "conservative" with a caricature so vile and objectionable that it's inconceivable to look at the underlying realities with clear eyes.

So it's with some disappointment that I still find myself floating through social groups full of people who, if they knew I was no longer comfortable with the "liberal" label myself, would suddenly view me with the same narrow-eyed suspicion as they would if told that I donned a white hood and burned crosses at night. But, naturally, I try to keep my mouth shut, for fear of losing friends. Even the most conscientious and centrist conservative viewpoint can seem callous or cruel to a dyed-in-the-wool liberal; how do you discuss landlords' rights with someone who lives in an unpleasant and overpriced apartment, or discuss the Second Amendment with someone who lives down the street from a kid who was killed at school by a classmate who brought his dad's .38 to campus?

I don't have the answer, obviously. If I did, we'd have the Grand Unified Theory of Politics and the way to universal bidirectional dialogue. But there's that unfortunate one-way tendency of politics to contend with, more's the pity. Lots more people spend their childhood reacting positively to the word "liberal" and with distaste toward "conservative" than the other way around. This leads to a profound imbalance in politics and demographics, one that's likely impossible to resolve.

Of course, there's always the contingency of anecdote: I could describe a conservative as "someone who would pull a gun in order to face down a racist", and surely it would short out a few synapses, particular on one of those ever-present people who seem to be absolutely fetishistic about guns, but who viscerally dread the idea of Americans legally allowed to own them. Just as it would ring hollow with someone quoting FDR or Marx for me to point out that American conservatives are the firmest believers in individual liberty, self-determination, and the innovation and technological and social progress that inevitably follows. Danger! Danger! Does not compute. Conservatives are against progress! Why do you think they call it Congress? Taglines don't lie!

But anecdotes can only go so far; there is, unfortunately, the reality that political schisms and prejudices can't be resolved with a well-placed tactical one-liner. The best I can do is to just hope that as these people grow up and find their place in the world, they'll come to realize why it is that half the American political system consists of people who occupy a school of thought that they reflexively think of as evil. Fifty Senators and 240-something Representatives, to say nothing of the highest elected officers and appointed Cabinet positions-- all evil. Never mind the lifetime of thought and philosophy that leads each such politician to such a platform; never mind how much time each one spends each day thinking about how to advance freedom and personal happiness throughout the country and the world, using the proven tools of capitalistic creation of wealth and individual liberty. These must be meaningless three-card-monte shells, pushed forward to hide an ever-present evil agenda and a black, black, corrupt heart.

I have no problem with people being genuinely in favor of those causes one normally associates with "liberal" thinking. Equality, environmental preservation, assistance to the down-at-heel, spiritual freedom, peace-- these are all fine goals. I believe in every one of them, and firmly. However, I also believe that the paths toward them that are so casually espoused by the Left-- equality enforced and over-enforced by fiat, environmental protection through barriers against business, welfare, abolishment of religion, pacifism-- are superficial and short-term semi-solutions that treat the symptoms rather than the causes. That's why I'm no longer comfortable with the term "liberal". I think there are better paths toward these admirable goals, but they're more subtle, or they involve intermediate steps that may seem counterproductive. To have peace, for instance, you can't just not fight; you have to take positive action toward lasting mutual good-will, which can involve things like the overthrow of tyranny-- in other words, war. To bring happiness to the downtrodden, you need to create wealth in the economy, not just dole out the wealth you already have in the hopes that the recipients will somehow be inspired to achievement (or at least become magically happy); and to create jobs, you've got to make your city a favorable place to run a business, not bleed dry anyone stupid enough to set up shop there. To protect the environment, you've got to let businesses become more efficient and less wasteful as a result of their own internal process development, which is in fact in their own interest.

It's a complex world out there, much more complex than it ever seemed when I was peering out the window of my college dorm. It's full of tradeoffs; but it's also managed to survive this long, and those mysterious and shadowy people over on the right who stand for what I always thought of as evil must actually sort of have a point-- because, after all, it's their "conservative" ideals that have kept this country on the amazingly successful track toward all those "liberal" goals, to which we're closer now than ever before in history.

It pains me to think that I'm what so many people whom I like to think of as friends and kindred spirits would think of as evil. But I'm comforted by the thought that there are as many people there whose ideas can and will change over time as there are people who are forever fixated on the worldview they developed from the comfort of a computer chair, disgusted with being unable to see the Golden Arches across the street because of the smog.

Those images are hard to shake, I know. But it's the starkness of what appears to be their truth that is most insidious about them: there is, indeed, more to the picture, and it can only be revealed with time.

Friday, August 29, 2003
19:40 - Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue...
http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,95902,00.html

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But I thought they hated us! I thought they'd all posed grinning for photo-ops in April with the soldiers handing out M&Ms, and a month later took up AK-47s to drive out the despised invaders!

An Iraqi couple has named their 6-week-old baby boy George Bush (search) to show their appreciation for U.S. efforts to force Saddam Hussein (search) out of power.

"He saved us from Saddam and that's why we named our son after him," the baby's mother, Nadia Jergis Mohammed, told the Associated Press Television News. "It was George Bush who liberated us; without him it wouldn't have happened."

Baby Bush was born July 11 to Mohammed, 34, and her husband Abdul Kader Faris, 41. His full name is George Bush Abdul Kader Faris Abed El-Hussein.

If the couple had had twin boys, the father wanted to name the other baby Tony Blair (search), because he said both the U.S. and Britain liberated Iraq.

I wonder if anyone in Iraq is naming their daughter Janeane Garofalo?

Just wait, though. The real scoop, the meme that will stick, is this:

As the woman did the interview, little George Bush screamed in his crib.

How very cleverly worded. Someone break out the 24-pack of Pulitzers.


15:28 - ˇHa! ˇMás!
http://www.imao.us/archives/000958.html#000958

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Frank J. has a list of Fun Facts About Hamas. It's about time someone turned up the satire screws on those turds.

* Hamas is a big part of the "cycle of violence". They blow up innocent men, women, and children, and then Israel is like, "Hey, don't do that." And thus the cycle of violence continues.

And he even thinks Aquaman could kick their asses. That's saying something, for Frank.


13:41 - <bang> <bang> <bang>

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Do pardon the forehead marks on the table.

So in the ongoing battle against Microsoft's unbelievable lack of proactiveness in fixing that stupid JPEG/RDF/XML/IPTC header bug (wherein MSIE will go into a death spiral if it encounters a JPEG that contains an XMP packet with profile and path information, such as Adobe Photoshop writes), I've hit another snag.

For background:

The long-time Photoshop users said, effectively, "Well, duh, of course there's a difference between Save As and Save For Web". Obvious to you, of course, but based on the people who have been emailing me, saying "Oh, so that's what's wrong with my site!" plenty of folks are actually using the inappropriate save option for web purposes. That's a user behavior problem and I'm not sure what the best solution is for that. Adobe could add warning dialogs until they were blue in the face, but they'd still fall victim to [Frank's First Law of Documentation].

All available information suggests that XMP data is a documented, accepted extension to the jpeg standard. Without any evidence to the contrary, my perception is that Adobe has committed no crime, and the onus is on Microsoft to fix Windows IE's jpeg decoder. Hopefully someone read my bug report. Nobody from MS has contacted me.

In the meantime, what can web developers do to avoid the problem?

Well, first and most obvious, if you are creating static graphics, use Save For Web. And (hopefully you're already doing this) test your site on as many platforms as you can.

For more dynamic sites, such as snapclub.com, which accept jpeg file uploads from arbitrary third-parties, there is at least one solution; ImageMagick's "mogrify" command can be used to remove the metadata from the jpeg like so:

mogrify +profile iptc image.jpg

...Which I've been using for a month or two now. And it's worked great. Or so I'd thought.

See, I was sure I'd checked to make sure that this command didn't recompress the JPEG while it was stripping out the IPTC header. I was sure it left the image quality alone. But several artists have e-mailed me to let me know that no, this is not the case. The mogrify command does in fact recompress the JPEG, at some arbitrary level (probably the default 60). So all the many thousand images that people have been uploading in the past month have all been recompressed to some godawful level. And it's only now that they've got the better of their politeness and notified me of it.

<bang> <bang> <bang>

It hardly bears pointing out that this is Microsoft's problem to fix, and that while this problem is increasingly widespread with the adoption of Photoshop 7 in web design houses, most Windows users don't even notice what happens (namely, that IE abruptly stops being able to open JPEG images, and spins endlessly upon opening pages, until you hard-kill the process or reboot), figure it's "some damn worm or something", and reboot. Certainly nobody's able to trace it back to some "poisoned" image that IE choked on way back during the person's surfing history. And needless to say, there's been a patch made available, but it's so low-key and so little has been made of it (or people are so distrustful of software patches and the Windows Update process) that nobody has apparently installed it.

So I, the web designer, get the blame from those people who do encounter the problem. And Microsoft gets off scot free. Like always.

And I have to write godawful workarounds on the server side to clean up after Microsoft's incompetence. And the tools I have to do that aren't a complete solution, and indeed can be worse than the original problem. So I'm stuck.

I guess I can still mogrify the thumbnails, so at least people won't have their browsers freeze up in the middle of loading a gallery page-- only when they should happen to open one of the offending images. JPEG quality on thumbnails isn't a big issue. And maybe this will be good enough.

God damn I hate those two words.

Thank you again, Microsoft. Hope you're enjoying your Freedom To Innovate™.


By the way... is it just me, or was Microsoft's current slogan written by Yoda? "Hmmm! Do Amazing Things You Can. With Windows XP, Yes!"


UPDATE: Chris Adams has been down this road before, and he has the answer: jpegtran, which is part of libjpeg (a package that ImageMagick has as an installation prerequisite anyway):

jpegtran -copy none -outfile nometa.jpg meta.jpg

And the resulting file has no meta-data and has not been recompressed. Yes!

So all I gotta do is jpegtran all my uploads, then copy the resulting files back over the source files, and all will be well...


Thursday, August 28, 2003
18:21 - CUHMLHFWS Covert Ops
http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,60081,00.html

(top)
Damien Del Russo forwards me this guffaw-inducing little gem from the first days of the SoBig storm:

After removing its predecessor MSBlaster, the new worm, which -- just to add to the confusion -- has been dubbed WORM_MSBLAST.D, Nachi and Welchia by various security and antivirus firms, then politely patches the machine against the vulnerability that MSBlaster exploited.

"My computer hasn't been right since it was infected last week," said Nadine Lovell, a Manhattan textile designer. "This afternoon it's working perfectly again."

A scan of Lovell's system confirmed her machine had indeed been infected with the new Blaster variant.

"Thank you, worm!" said Lovell.

Innovative, and amusing-- but somehow it doesn't comfort me that this, the computing equivalent of an entrepreneur innovating his way toward the American Dream, is a lot messier and uglier than Apple's solution, which is to trickle software updates to your machine in the background (if you request it to) and prompt you whenever there's an update ready to be applied. Clean. Centralized. Secure. Friendly.

Makes me feel like such a statist.


15:23 - Self-parody
http://www.al-shia.com/html/eng/books/miscelleneous/islamic-articles/14089803.html

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This kind of thing really shouldn't be this funny. I wish it weren't. But you know, sometimes the only way to keep from crying is to laugh, right?

Music creates vibration in the body and this is conveyed to all the parts of the body through the nervous system. As a result of it, indigestion occurs. Music affects the heart in such a way that the heartbeats becomes irregular. The blood pressure goes awry. All such ailments make a person permanently ill. Consequently, even the modern medical science, in spite of its astonishing progress, fails in such a situation. Sometimes, the music is so intense that the listener loses his sanity. He becomes dumb and various kinds of mental diseases occur. In places, where music is more prevalent, we find that there are more neurotic illnesses. It is for this reason that most of the mental hospitals are to be found in Europe and America.

Dr. Adlen writes against music, "Even though it seems pleasant, the effect of music is profound upon the nervous system. Specially, when the temperature is high, the ill-effect of music is more. This is the reason that ill-effects of music are more in the hot areas of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The American people are so disgusted with the bane of music that they have united to demand from the senate a permanent ban on music. It is a pity that the whole world perceives the evils of music yet is adopting it as entertainment."

The Islamic world will be reformed when they have their own equivalent of the Onion. One that they do intend as parody.


13:49 - Now that's a testimonial
http://www.smoking-monkey.com/Jesus.htm

(top)
Sure does explain a lot of the world, don't it?



(Thanks to Capt. J.M. Heinrichs.)


05:08 - Who dares challenge the Sultan of Sound, the Maestro of Music, the Titan of Tinnitis?

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One thing I noticed, by the way, in my peregrinations across the continent from the land of Queen Califa to the Northwest Passage, was that Apple gear is everywhere in the airports. I'd get off a plane and instantly spot two, three, four TiBooks, iBooks, and telltale round white earbuds with their cords trailing off to discreet little belt-clipped boxes. Sure, there were all the usual road warriors tinkering with PowerPoint presentations on their Dells and Compaqs; but to count the stylin' Mac gear jauntily hanging off the hip young urbanites in every terminal, you'd never guess that Apple has that measly 2% of the market or whatever it claims these days. You'd think half the world owned Macs.

Nothing was more ubiquitous in these settings than the iPod, though. Everywhere I turned I saw those white headphone cords, or someone twirling the wheel with his thumb. Visiting a friend's apartment in Toronto, a Windows iPod box peeked out from behind a PlayStation 2 and a GameCube; even PC users aren't immune to that most peculiar disease of Mac geekdom: saving the boxes that the gear comes in, because they're so damnably cool.

But iPods are certainly not to the point of total penetration. Far from it. Their numbers are dwarfed, especially when you get out onto the streets of Toronto, by those of the people who have the CD-shaped disc-based MP3 players, the ones that have evolved by this point to have barely any more mass or dimension than the discs themselves, albeit covered with little squirmy buttons that look like the blisters on Baron Harkonnen's neck. At subway stations, in malls, in restaurants, people were always carrying these players in one hand as they nodded silently to the beat. And they always held the players horizontally in one hand; these things don't clip to your belt, apparently, and evidently nobody seems to have a problem with the player being so big you can't fit it into a pocket; they're willing to sacrifice the use of a hand for the sake of however much music they can fit on a CD. Call me crazy, but this strikes me as a step backward from the days of minute cassette-based belt-mounted Walkmans. But hey-- who am I to argue, right?

Because there are always things like this: Toshiba's newest iPod killer.

The player, the Gigabeat G20 MEG200J is just 1.27cm thick, a smidge thinner than the 1.55cm iPod. It measures 8.95 x 7.65cm and weighs 138g - the iPod is 10.25 x 6cm and weighs 158.76g.

Inside its limited edition dark "sapphire" blue or standard aluminium shell, the Gigabeat packs in a 20GB 1.8in hard drive. More square than the iPod, the Gigabeat resembles a miniDisc player rather than an MP3 player. The device will play MP3s, but Toshiba is touting its support for Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 format, which presumably means its DRM'd to the hilt.

As the mysterious Male Pattern Baldness Man from Teen Girl Squad might put it: DRM'd!

It's kinda funny, really. Just as the other players in the industry have realized that the iPod is the man to beat, they find themselves reaching in slow motion for the tantalizing doorway of free music mobility just as it closes off its beam of golden light; the market has reached self-awareness, and the music industry will insist not just upon DRM support, but preference for DRM. And for the Windows-based players out there, that means WMA. And WMA is evidently festooned with technical hurdles for the third parties to clear.

The built-in Lithium-ion battery provides enough charge for up to 11 hours of playback - more than the iPod's eight-hour battery life - though that's likely to be much reduced when the machine has to decode WMA9 files.

That doesn't sound encouraging. How come? Why doesn't AAC cause a similar battery drain? Are these rhetorical questions?

Maybe so. Because on the final, Chicago-to-San-Jose leg of my flight home, I found myself overhearing two guys in the row behind me chattering excitedly across the aisle.

"Hey, is that that, um... iPod thing? From.. from--"

"Apple? Yup. It's the new 30-gig model."

"Those things are so damn cool... they're just for Mac, though, right?"

"No, they make 'em for Windows now too."

"Oh, sweet! Oh, and then there's that ... iTunes Music Store, or whatever, right?"

"Yeah, it's really great. I use it all the time."

"That's Mac-only, though, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"That's a shame. Damn."

"I've got all my other stuff on here, though. Look-- it has all my contacts, my calendar events, some games; it syncs like a PDA. It's a hard drive. I can store anything I want on here."

"No kidding? Wow! Damn... how much was it again?"

It was at this point that I could no longer resist; I went from glinting-eyeballs-peering-over-the-seat-back mode to full-bore buttinski as soon as a lull opened up.

"I've got my laptop booted up on mine," I said, holding up my iBook with the iPod connected via its unnecessarily long FireWire cable, draped over my arms like a long silvery Mirkwood spiderweb.

Blank stare. "Booted... what? What do you mean?" (The other guy was grinning ear to ear.) I explained about OS X's boot selection process and how the iPod acts as an external disk, and how I had a full copy of the system on it, on my measly original 5-gig model. By the time we'd taxied to the runway and were spooling up the engines for takeoff, I could swear I'd heard the guy muttering about how he might be able to sneak such a purchase past his wife once he got home.

Mindshare is the game; it's always been the game. It's all about the right place and the right time, and whoever was in charge of getting the iPod to market when it did ought to be relaxing under a palm tree in Puerto Vallarta right now, perched on top of a heap of stock certificates and those burlap bags with "$" printed on them.

He probably isn't, though. He's probably deep in a lab somewhere in Cupertino, working on the next thing scheduled for release, bewilderment, ridicule, torrential sale to early adopters, appearance in strategic pieces of pop culture, grudging acceptance, and eventual ubiquity. And that's just fine with me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003
02:56 - Thanks! Uh... you too! Wait...
http://gandalf.ics.uci.edu/blog/2003/08/three_weeks_in_france_ten_years_later.html

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Kris mentioned this fellow's blog-- a Frenchman who had been naturalized as an American citizen, and ten years later went back home for a visit. He described the experience, as well as the return trip:

At last, in a clean, air-conditioned, body odor- free room, the US custom agent looked at my American passport. He then raised his head, and after he verified I didn’t bring any French cheese, said with a warm smile something I never heard as a French citizen re-entering France: “ Welcome home! ”.

Those were the words that came from the suddenly-smiling mouth of the dumpy little blonde woman who stamped my passport yesterday too. I hadn't known what to expect; last year I'd been barked at by a crew-cut column of a man thus:

"WHAT'S YOUR COUNTRY OF CITIZENSHIP?"

"Uh, USA."

"WHERE DO YOU LIVE?!"

"San Jose."

"WHAT DO YOU DO THERE?!?"

"I'm a software engineer."

"WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN CANADA?!!!"

"I was visiting some friends. Something I do every year about this time, you know, sort of a trad--"

"DID YOU SEE THE BALLET?!!?!"

"Uh... no. What?

"I SAID, DID YOU SEE THE BALLET?!?!?!111`1`"

"Uh, bleerg? Glassnorpt. Ah-hoogy hoogy bomb! Allahu akbar! Um, I mean, go Raiders!"

So I had no idea what the customs experience would be this time. The card I filled out said that "controlled substances, obscene materials, and firearms" usually weren't allowed into the US, and I was worried that someone might open my bag and be knocked flat by the smell of a week's worth of wilderness laundry and clap me in irons. (There wasn't anything more incriminating in there. Honest. Certainly nothing from Church Street.) I wasn't sure whether it was more suspicious to put down some innocuous number like "$20" for the amount of goods that I'd purchased while in Canada, and then to itemize it as directed on the back as "camera batteries" or something, and if so if they would demand to see me open my camera and verify that it took $20 batteries-- or to enter "$0" and incur that look of "Okay, nobody doesn't buy anything while on vacation. And we're certainly not buying your story, Ahmed." In the end I found myself scribbling out the "$20", itemizing "camera batteries" and "toothpaste", and changing the value to "$0", then emending it to "$10". In other words, making it as incriminating-looking as I possibly could. I figured that way it would look like I was either a) an amazingly disorganized tourist or b) an amazingly disorganized terrorist, and in either case they might let me through on pity alone.

So imagine my surprise and relief when the little woman's stony face and pursed lips tilted up toward me and bulged into a sunny smile: "Welcome home." (Stamp, stamp, stamp.)

I know they make them say that. I know it's part of the ritual, as rehearsed as any telemarketer's script.

But still.


13:35 - Cheerful little campfire songs

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I nearly forgot.

While I was in the woods of Ontario, I found an interesting little sheaf of paper in one of the cabins at the camp.

"Camp Songs!" it said at the top. Ah! For strumming with the kiddies around the fire, while making s'mores. For the kids who were in these cabins the previous week. How sweet.

When the night
Has come
And the land
Is dark
And Islam
Is the only
Light I see....

Uhhh.... waiiit a minute.

I'd like to build the world a mosque
And furnish it with faith
Bring Africans and Chinamen
And every human race

Oh... kay.

It went on. For like ten pages. Pop songs, hymns, campfire melodies-- all re-lyricized and filked into Islamic themes.

And not peaceful ones, either. There was one long song that explained in bewildering terms that the US, Canada, and Turkey had all ganged up on Pakistan in order to put Afghanistan through a trial of hell. There were other songs glorifying the day to come when Ottawa would rule a Canada subject to Shari'a law, and the Kuffar States of America too. To say nothing of the Arabic songs that I couldn't translate.

I'd been reading on LGF and elsewhere that these chilling summer camps were being set up all over the US, Canada, and other Western nations. But let me tell you, it's quite another thing to actually come across direct physical evidence of it sitting on top of a bunk bed in a forest bungalow.


12:15 - Not funny

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Tuesday, August 26, 2003
03:52 - You Go, National Post

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In the Toronto airport while waiting for my flight, I saw that the one newspaper that was for sale on racks outside all the newsstands and snack bars was The National Post. Having some three hours to kill (which became four upon AA's learning of Chicago, my layover, having some kind of Weather Event which meant they had to meter all the flights very carefully in and out and-- rather unfairly I think-- give the summer thunderstorms the right of way, rather like giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats), I picked one up and started reading.

I found myself quite pleasantly surprised. I don't know if the NP is known for being flamingly right-wing or what, but its tone regarding the US was genuinely positive throughout. Sure, it had its criticisms of various pieces of happenstance like corporate malfeasance and Cheney blocking document probes and questions over Liberia and whatnot, but I couldn't find anything that directly criticized us in the way to which I've become accustomed lately. No weird-ass swipes at Bush. No taken-as-given moaning about our genocide in Iraq. The front page, in fact, had a small but very heartfelt story on 9/11 memorial plans for Canadian victims of the WTC. And the other main headline was a kooky story about Camp Julien, the Canadian encampment in Afghanistan, and the camel spiders and scorpions that the officers there are keeping in jars after scooping them off hapless soldiers' boots.

And the editorial page-- ohh, the editorial page. I thought I was drinking from a font of pure silvery water. People I was astonished-- happily-- to hear from. People with a real and studied understanding of American politics. People with common sense. Just look-- here are four of the columns clustered on one of the pages, handily online:

Thou shalt not challenge secularism, in which Hugo Gurdon explains that regardless of whether George W. Bush's openly expressed Christianity gives people in enlightened athestic nations the willies, the US is brazenly secular and has been so-- and irreversibly-- since about 1960. I pointed out to a friend over dinner in downtown Toronto last night that whenever anyone says the US is in danger of becoming a theocracy, I reply that they ought to look at 1919, in which temperance committees managed to convince two-thirds of the State legislatures that they should Constitutionally ban alcohol on moral and religious grounds. Today ain't no comparison. But Gurdon makes an even clearer point: the First Amendment doesn't say that the US shall be a secular nation. It says that the Federal government shall make no law respecting religion at all-- either pro or con. It's a matter for the States. I wish more people would realize that these kinds of things go State first, Federal second-- and the President's word is not law. Besides, while it was all satisfying and stuff to posit that Christianity was inherently evil and espoused hatred as its primary tenet, like back in high school, I find that I'm much more comforted nowadays by someone who knows that not to be the case than by someone who still toes that tired old line.

Iraq is not a place for 'blue helmets', in which Frank Gaffney, Jr. blasts the UN's butting in where it isn't wanted-- by either Americans or Iraqis. Parallels (and deconstructions thereof) to the Bosnia-Herzegovina situation, and incredulity that we'd consider turning over our plans for the country to a body that has Syria as a sitting Security Council member and Libya as the Human Rights chair.

My months of silence are over-- Daniel Pipes breaks NDA and speaks his mind about the charges that have been laid at his feet by people insistent upon proving his racist and genocidal motivations. Finally, now that Bush has given him the go-ahead for the USIP appointment, Pipes can start methodically demolishing those claims. About time.

Begone, Big Brother. Your camera, too-- Lorne Gunter denounces traffic surveillance cameras, providing delicious stories of how they don't even work. The language is one of "freedoms" and "social contracts" and what happens when the two are at odds.

It's not often that I find myself reading an entire print newspaper. But I had the time, and after reading a few sheets, the inclination as well. I'm immensely gratified to find that there's a large-circulation paper in Canada that's willing to take upon itself this kind of stance. I daresay it ain't a popular one.


02:45 - Oh my, a flaming paper bag on my doorstep

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Well, I'm back. And joy of joys, I see there's a little present that's been left for me in my inbox.

Well, no-- perhaps little is the misnomer of the year.

It's this new "SoBig" virus that I heard whispers of while up in Toronto, see. The worst Outlook virus ever, so I'm told. Klez-like in its behavior (in that it combs through your cached Web history and e-mail boxes as well as your address book for names and addresses, which it uses to forge both the recipient and the sender, the upshot of which being that anybody who has a popular website with their e-mail address on it will get bombarded with a copy of the worm for every infected person who's ever been to their site, as well as angry messages directly sent from people who think I've been sending them these things), but not in its impact (where Klez had internal brakes to prevent it from propagating exponentially, SoBig does not-- it can send multiple copies of itself simultaneously, for example). The worm's payload is 103K when encoded. It exploits a vulnerability in Outlook that's been patched for months. A patch that nobody on Earth has apparently applied.

Care to guess how many copies of this charming little beastie were to be found in my inbox upon my landing just before midnight tonight? All starting sometime during the evening of August 18, one day after I left on my vacation which I knew in the back of my brain that I'd regret having taken? Go on. Guess how many.

No. Higher.

Higher.

I'm not kidding. More digits.

Give up?

21,000.

Twenty-one thousand. For a combined mailbox size of 1.14 gigabytes.

Boy oh boy, am I going to have fun getting this one under control. Ten new copies every time I check for new messages. Oh, sure, I'll filter it out on the server side (somehow). But first things first. I've got to try to download all this crap, then sort it and delete the garbage. Then I'll have to tackle the /var/mail directory on the server and see just how bursting it is. That's all I need-- the server itself to burst its seams over this.

Thank you, Microsoft. Thank you so fucking much. This is just what I wanted to spend my first night back home doing.

You know, I'm going to have to regress a little bit here. For the longest time my feelings toward Microsoft were downright murderous. Then, for the past couple of years, they were mostly just sort of tiredly amused. You know, the old whaddyagonnado? thing. But that's not going to survive this little episode. I can't hold myself back. There's going to have to be some payback, and somehow I don't think I'm the only one who will have been hit in a similar manner or driven to such a pass.

I mean, it's really become self-parody in its purest form, hasn't it? Microsoft announces with great fanfare that it is reorganizing its software development strategies so as to put security above all other concerns. And what follows in the subsequent twelve months but a litany of unprecedented viruses, worms, compromise vulnerabilities, and other hideous failures that would be an irreparable embarrassment to any other company-- that would make such a company into a laughingstock that would thrust the Enron scandal firmly into the sweatband of a cocked hat, in a train-wreck of a performance of a piece of software that I can't turn my back on for ten lousy days without it abruptly mutating and exploding and sending radioactive tentacles everywhere, like some homeless guy from an alley in Toronto who shrieks at the top of his lungs continuously and with no apparent flagging of energy, and who decides inexplicably to follow you four blocks to the subway station, still emitting howls of wordless fury after your retreating back, yet somehow able to buy subway tokens and operate the turnstiles because you hear him screeching furiously in your direction as soon as the subway door opens for each the next five stops up the Downsview-University-Spadina line?

I've had it. I've had it up to here with Microsoft's incompetence, their lip-service to making things better, and their insufferably arrogant attitude towards the consumer. Enough is enough. Too much is riding on the Internet now for companies who pit their fortunes on it not to notice this massive liability they have in trusting the construction of the scaffolding on which they climb to Microsoft. There will have to be a reckoning, because nobody can ignore the irony of a solemn vow of commitment to security and reliability being followed by a year of escalating security breaches of never-before-seen proportions.

Now, don't nobody be giving me no platitudes about how if it weren't Outlook out there serving people's e-mail needs, it would be some other program-- Eudora or Netscape (pbuh) or Pegasus Mail or whatever-- which would invariably be equally as bad as Microsoft's piece of compiled compost, and even worse for business because what purchasing manager would trust his company's fortunes to a firm he can't sue for the sum of his company's market cap? Please. It's been well documented for many years (right here on this page, I might add) that Microsoft's software is garbaceous in ways that other companies with far fewer resources just can't even approach no matter how hard they try. It's like trying to dance against the beat: most companies can't force themselves to produce crap that smells as bad as Microsoft's. It's not possible. Most companies employ human beings with standards of personal pride in what they write. How can such beings compete with the million monkeys hammering away in the lava caves under Mt. Rainier?

Maybe SoBig will fade away to a smirk and a roll of the eyes from the Buddy-Holly-looking guy on the evening news at eight minutes to the hour, just like every other past snafu that whirls in a maelstrom through the Internet every few months with Microsft serene and calm and unruffled at the center. Maybe nothing will come of this, just like always. We'll all just sigh, roll up our sleeves, and pick up the old shit-shovels like we do every time, dutifully spooning Microsoft's clockwork turds into baggies and stirring them into our ice cream to eat with a smile. I can't freaking wait.

I'm thinking maybe we need to start an action group: CUHMLHFWS, or Citizens United to Help Microsoft Learn How to Fucking Write Software. It would be a great philanthropic undertaking, surely one from which the world would benefit.

If anybody needs me, I'll bee knee-deep in twenty-one thousand gallons of solid waste.

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© Brian Tiemann