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:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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Sunday, October 19, 2003
02:43 - My eyes are open, Tyler

If I were in the game development industry, and I read this collection of covert snapshots of gaming forums gathered by the Something Awful guys, I would kill myself. Many times over if necessary.

I mean, how could you live with it, knowing that this is your audience?

Saturday, October 18, 2003
03:23 - New Iraqi Dinars


Iraq's new bank notes were released on Thursday. Pretty cool, if you ask me, and full of the same high-tech security features that are on our own evil new $20. But, of course, the best feature of all is the lack of Saddam's face.

Note that they are also missing portraits of Bush and Rumsfeld. Somehow.

Incidentally, this is via Healing Iraq, a blog run by a 24-year-old Baghdad dentist.

I'm not sure if the American adminstration deliberately chose this day , October 15th, to start circulating the new Dinar or if it was purely coincidental. Nevertheless the timing is wonderful and so symbolic. Iraqis know this day to be 'thikra al-zahf al-kabir' or the anniversary of The Great March, it can also be translated as The Great Crawl which is more accurate. Saddam's version of elections. It was in October 15th 1995 that Saddam decided to show the world how Iraqis want him and only him to be president 'for life'. So he set up voting centers all over Iraq, so that the people would vote for their 'beloved leader'. Of course it was absurd, there were no other candidates, no political parties, no nothing. Mukhabarat and security agents had already started spreading rumours on the street that the paper you would submit had some kind of watermark that you could be traced by. Of course there was nothing like that, but it was a message to Iraqis that no one could even dream of saying no. The paper ran something like this (I don't recall the exact wording): 'Do you vote for president Saddam Hussein (Allah preserve him), Yes, or No'. It was actually a poll. And it was creepy enough for everyone to say Yes. Of course the voting procedure was carried out in a democratic fashion, armed Baath members hanging around the centers, and sometimes even voting for you, nobody simply could secretly write no and fold the paper and submit it. It was all scrutinized by party members. But some people somehow DID write no, but it didn't change anything. It was all prearranged. It was just a farce. The next day Izzat Ibrahim AlDori (revolutionary council vice president) announced the results proudly to the world: %99.9. And that was it. Each following year after 1995, October 15th was a day for celebration. Last year Saddam pathetically realized the need for another show, seeing how things looked bad for him. It was pretty much the same thing, but this time the results were %100! I clearly remember it because I was almost killed that day...

The guy's worth a read.

00:56 - Not hyperbole... maybe just parabole?

Interesting comment on an online comic site, "Little Gamers":

In other news, iTunes is out for windows, and PC-folks are laughing at the phrase "Best program for windows ever" they post at the site.
I bet they won't be laughing when they try it, actually, they'll all be crying, crying out for a mac of their own, crying because they run a system that sucks ass (well, not if you're playing games on it, cuz then it's pretty dope).

As commentary from the gamer world goes, that's pretty lofty.

(Meanwhile, my gamer co-worker says that he can already see that iTunes will replace his WinAmp, his CD-ripping software that he hates, MusicMatch, his CD-burning software that doesn't work very well, and his ID3-tag editor. All these functions are neatly wrapped up in this one elegant app.

Well, yeah. That's the idea.)
Friday, October 17, 2003
18:05 - Windows 101 for Diplomats

Before iTunes can perform well as an "ambassador" application to the Windows world, it apparently must learn to speak the language. Or vice versa.

The Punning Pundit has a post in which he describes his first impressions of iTunes for Windows. His conclusion is generally favorable, but the bulk of his post is taken up with gripes, most of which seem to stem from a general misunderstanding of how the application is supposed to work. Now, I'll grant that iTunes does require a little bit of explanation for people who think it's intended to be something it's not; and so while I've responded to the fellow directly in e-mail, I feel it would be a good idea to go through his gripes and address them point by point here, because they're worth discussing.

It took about five minutes to figure things out; the problem is that Mac people just don’t think like PC people, so the buttons are labeled different things and are in different places. Nary an "option" tag to be seen, but most of what I wanted was under "edit". "Edit" is used for other things in Windows, and, well you get the idea...

Windows apps all used to put the Preferences (or Options, or Settings, or whatever they call them this year) into the Edit menu. Then they moved them to the Options menu. Then they moved them to the Tools menu. The location of the Preferences on Windows apps has always been a moving target.

If Apple were to do the Windows version the same way as they did the Mac version, they'd put the Preferences into the Application (iTunes) menu-- but that doesn't exist on Windows. So if they were to do it the Windows way, they'd put it in the Tools menu... but iTunes doesn't have a Tools menu. Apple menus are designed as follows: <Noun> -> <Verb/command>. So, File -> Open. Or Controls -> Play. There is no place for a "Tools" menu. Rather, iTunes has File, Edit, Controls, Visualizer, Advanced, and Window menus. There isn't really a logical place to put the Preferences, is there-- except for under Edit.

Moving on...

Believe me, the difference is easy to hear. To make it a fair test, I ripped the M4A file at the same 320 kbps...

There was a slight difference in Apple’s favor. Not a big one, but a noticeable one. The Apple file was 14 Megs compared to the Mp3’s 10 Megs. I’m not sure if the M4A file is worth a 28% file size increase. And definitely not for a codec that no one else’s software can read...

That's weird. I never saw AAC files that were larger than MP3 files at the same bitrate. Well, maybe not never-- but probably 85% of the time. And it was never much larger.

In any case, it's an open standard-- there's nothing stopping other vendors from developing software that will read AAC files.

The big thing, though, the one thing that turns me off I-Tunes completely is this: Apple re-named all my music files and changed my organizational structure! Remember that friend I mentioned in the earlier paragraph, the one whose files I change as a prank? Well, Apple changed mine as a "convenience". It did have (buried in the bowels of the program) a check-box for “keep the I-Tunes music folder organized”, and didn’t tell me that the I-Tunes folder would be wherever I store my music. It also doesn’t let me set how it is organized. So all the CDs I have by with multiple artists are now scattered all over my music folder, organized by the artist responsible for each track. A sampler CD with 30 artists will now be under 30 different folders. And there is no half way with this thing...

Here's the answer you're looking for:

The deal with iTunes is this: It's not a mere front-end for your MP3 files, like WinAmp is. It's a complete music management system-- designed to handle all your music needs, from importing off CDs, to organizing, to burning to CD, to syncing to iPod, to sharing over the Net. It's all in the one application. And along with that comes the philosophy that you don't organize your music by folder and filename, but by song title and artist and album. It's a content-based interface-- one where you organize your media based on the intrinsic criteria that the media itself carries with it, rather than by some clumsy and ill-suited computer-imposed metaphor like "files" and "folders".

I've written about this at some length, years ago. (Geez, has it really been that long?)

And so the idea is that iTunes organizes all of your MP3 files for you, in the background, changing filenames and folder names to match the ID3 tags that you change within iTunes. This way, you can immediately navigate to any folder in your iTunes Music folder (which is inside your My Music folder), browse by artist, then by album, then by track. When you put in a CD to import from it, iTunes looks up the track names and album info, and it writes out the new files into pre-organized folders in that filesystem structure. But you don't ever have to go into the filesystem to find them-- it's just for your convenience. And you can customize it if you want-- you can have it add track numbers to the filenames, or not; you can even choose not to have it copy all your files to the consolidated folder. That's the default behavior anyway-- if you double-click on an MP3 in some random location in the system, it gets added right where it is. But if you turn on "Copy files to iTunes Music when adding to library", then it'll copy your MP3 files to the consolidated location. "Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized" is what controls whether iTunes renames files according to your ID3 tag edits on the fly. Why would you not do this? Only if you have MP3 files with all those underscores and huge long filenames, I suppose, all in a big flat folder and your own personalized system of browsing through them by folder/filename. Hey, suit yourself, I guess...

In any case, the whole idea is that iTunes will find all the track information when you import new albums, and create its music folders that way. If you already have a collection of MP3s, there's a good chance that their ID3 tags are not all filled in-- and so iTunes is going to have a hell of a time organizing them. But just select them in groups, Get Info, edit the ID3 tags, and let iTunes sort everything out for you. Don't worry, be happy.

And when it comes to compilation albums-- I'd wager that the "Part of a compilation" checkbox is not set in most of these songs' ID3 tags. Well, that's easily enough sorted out, isn't it?

For future imports, you put in the CD, and iTunes automatically figures out that it's a compilation. It then creates the audio files inside a "Compilations" folder, instead of scattering them to thirty different places according to the different artists. (Tip: select all the songs in the album within iTunes, Get Info, and turn on the "Part of a compilation" checkbox. Watch iTunes neatly assemble your files back together in the folders. Let it work as designed.)

Unless, of course, something went wrong in the automatic track lookup...

The other big knock against the I-Tunes is the lack of automatic ID Tag look up. I should clarify; there is a manual look-up, but one so dumb it couldn’t find the Who’s Pinball Wizard. As this is not an obscure song, I can only presume some difficulty on Apple’s end...

Something weird's going on here, because my Windows-using friends assure me that Windows iTunes does indeed do automatic CDDB lookups, just like the Mac version. Put in the CD, wait a few seconds, and iTunes automatically populates all the fields. If it wasn't able to look up your track names, even if you do it manually, suspect a network problem.

iTunes uses the CDDB, aka Gracenote, for its CD lookups. This is not a small database. If iTunes couldn't find information in it for a popular album, there's a network problem. And in any case it's not Apple's fault.

But! If iTunes doesn't find the track names on a CD you've inserted, just select all the tracks, Get Info, and fill them in yourself. Including the "Part of a compilation" checkbox if necessary. You only have to do it once. Then Import.

A more minor knock (but still worth mentioning) is that the player lacks as "pause" button. Seriously. I have to turn the song off if I want to have a moment of silence...

A more minor knock (but still worth mentioning) is that the player's "pause" button is not always present, even when a song is playing. Seriously. If I’m not on the "library" screen while listening to a song, I can't pause it. It’s a minor thing, but anything that makes me do more steps is a pain...

This confuses me. iTunes' Play button turns into a Pause button while it's playing. Or, if you have selected a different music source in the sidebar from the one it's currently playing from, it becomes a Stop button. The idea is that the music source you're currently viewing-- the Music Library, a CD, a playlist, Internet Radio, someone's Shared Music-- is a single big playlist, and if you let iTunes keep playing, it'll keep selecting songs from that window. If you shuffle it, repeat songs, start and stop it, it works all within that music source. But if you select a different music source, then iTunes assumes you're wanting to play music from that source-- and so the Pause button, which implies wanting to stop the music and then continue playing from the original source, instead turns into a Stop button so that the next time you Play, it'll be taking music from the current music source.

The alternative is for iTunes to have both a "Pause"(/Play) button and a "Stop" button... and the difference between them is subtle enough that I think most novice users would be confused. Control buttons should be as few as possible, and as significant as possible. You really want to make the user have to think about whether he or she wants to "stop" or "pause" the song?

Solution? Leave it in a single music source while you're letting iTunes play music on its own. The only reason you'd be switching between music sources a lot, in any case, is if you're playing with the application for the first time. Once you start using it, this will cease to be a problem, I daresay.

Tip: Double-click on any music source (a CD, playlist, whatever) to open it in a second window. Then you can work on that music source, edit its contents, change its settings, whatever you like-- and the music, playing from within the music source in the original window, will have a Pause button instead of a Stop button.

Other than that, I-tunes really is a nice piece of software. It is free (a big plus), fast, small, and has a decent (though non windows-friendly) interface. It is way, way better than Microsoft’s offering (though that isn’t saying much).

You don't say. Now, I suspected that most of the gripes from Windows users would be along the lines of how you can't resize the window by gripping the edges-- like in Windows-- or how the scrollbars are Aqua-themed. But these gripes are mostly founded in misconceptions about what iTunes is for, and how it operates. Yes, yes, I understand the irony of it all-- Mac software is supposed to be so intuitive! And iTunes is supposed to be such a great example of it! And yet here I am, having to write this long-winded essay explaining how to use it! Uh huh, yeah, I know. All very humbling and all that.

But, look-- for the new computer user, iTunes eliminates the need to think about "MP3 files". That's its entire point. If you come into iTunes expecting it to be a non-intrusive front-end like WinAmp, letting you keep your old MP3-collecting lifestyle intact while running iTunes under its default settings, I'm afraid you're cruising for a bit of a shock. Making friends with iTunes means giving up a goodly number of preconceived notions about how MP3s and digital music work-- you have to let go of obsessive control over filenames and folders in the filesystem; you have to work with ID3 tags and automatic lookups rather than manually organizing lists of files in folders to specify playlists. iTunes frees you from an immense amount of organizational hassle-- but if you try to hold on to what you have come to expect MP3 files to do under Windows, then making your habits reconcile with how iTunes does business makes things way more difficult than either the WinAmp method or the Mac method on its own could ever be.

UPDATE: Kris reminds me that in the iTunes installation wizard on Windows, there's a screen where it asks you whether you want it to automatically keep your Music folder organized... and it defaults to off.

I should also point out that this is exactly what I was afraid of, with taking iTunes to Windows: iTunes on the Mac is designed to take advantage of the Unique File IDs in the HFS+ filesystem, so even if you move your files around on the disk, iTunes will still be able to find them, even if you turn off "Keep my iTunes Music folder organized". But under Windows, it can't do that; if you move a file from where iTunes thinks it is, it'll lose track of that file. This complicates matters quite a bit, when it comes to the whole question of automatically copying files into the iTunes Music folder, or where to put newly created files. Ideally it should all still "just work" (iTunes should only copy files from their existing locations into iTunes Music, not move them-- and anything that it would automatically rearrange must be inside the iTunes Music folder to begin with, so I don't understand how any of the original structure can have been "lost")-- but hey, this wouldn't be the first time that what looks like a bug actually turns out to be a misunderstood feature.

11:58 - Come on in, there's plenty for all

Yesterday was a very important milestone for Apple.

For years, people have been asking, "If Apple's software is so great, why don't they just port it to Windows?" And "All Apple has to do is bring out Mac OS X for the PC platform. That's where all the money is! Right?"

It's kinda like saying, "Well, if the reason we went to war is weapons of mass destruction, then where are they?" A question a child might ask, but not a childish question. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Huhhh. Anyway... as I said last April:

Lance used to work for a company called WorldTalk. Back in the mid-90s, WorldTalk had a killer app: an e-mail gateway server package that could translate between just about any of the dozens of proprietary e-mail formats that were in use at the time, in the pre-Web, pre-online-desktop Internet. Companies using cc:Mail could talk to companies using Lotus Notes could talk to companies using SMTP could talk to companies using MS Exchange. All you had to do was buy the WorldTalk gateway, which cost $70,000 and ran on an HP-UX machine which the company preconfigured for you and included in the deal.

It was ingenious, and it worked great. The software included translators for each of the mail systems that would preserve the maximum common formatting that both the sender and the recipient could handle, and it would translate everything in a bidirectional way so that nobody would ever know there was a middleman. To a cc:Mail sender, WorldTalk looked like a cc:Mail server. To an Exchange client, it looked like an Exchange server. They sold all kinds of copies and were making a killing.

Of course, this was in the days before good ol' SMTP mail grew to account for slightly over 100% of Internet e-mail traffic. This consolidation killed off cc:Mail, Lotus Notes, and all the little proprietary competitors one by one. And obviously WorldTalk's market was going to go away eventually.

But whether or not this consolidation would have ever really caused the destruction of WorldTalk through the complete deflation of their business plan is a side issue and now a moot point.

Because, you see, the WorldTalk execs made an odd decision back in about 1996: They figured, hey-- there's this new platform called Windows NT. It's cheap, it runs on any PC-- why don't we produce a cut-rate version of our software that runs on NT, includes only the most popular translators, and costs only $700? That's only one-hundredth the cost of the full standalone HP-UX package we sell right now. Sure, we'll lose some HP-UX customers, but the NT market will explode!

So they did. They sold an NT version of their gateway software that cost $700. And by God, they sold ten times as many copies.

WorldTalk was dead within a year.

So it is with Apple. If they were to port Mac OS X to the PC, they'd never sell a Mac again-- and their margins would plummet to a tiny fraction of what their business plan and stockholders expected. They can't give up the Mac platform, and they can't give away the keys to it. Doing so would kill Apple.

It's up to the company to come up with new ways to leverage the Mac platform itself, sell more boxes, and seek out market tie-in opportunities that bring in revenue that's both a supplement to and enhanced by being linked to a Mac.

Like, oh, say, the iPod.

Sure, it's got its competitors. But now that it's been revealed as a full-fledged digital lifestyle device, not just a MP3 player-- and not, critically, just another PDA, which is a solution that's always struggled to find a problem to solve-- it's still really in a class all its own.

When it first came out, it was criticized for its high price, but more so for its Mac exclusivity. "Wow, it's really cool. Whaddya mean, it's only for the Mac?" Bill Gates reportedly said while trying one out. But Apple knew what it was doing. It had iTunes, which was already one of the best "showcase" applications the Mac had ever seen; anybody looking for a prime example of Apple's reserved and elegant design sense, of form following function and everything in its proper place, needed to look no further than iTunes. It's one of those programs where you look around, you click on things, and you feel overwhelmed by this sense of general software well-being, of everything being exactly where it should be, like it was designed according to ley lines or Feng Shui or something, to the point where you just can't picture any of the controls or interface elements being laid out any differently. And in the face of its competition-- like MusicMatch, which looks inexplicably like a car radio, complete with chrome and LCD-like displays, and WinAmp, which everybody loves for its skinnability but which contains no real cataloging or ratings or device-syncing capabilities-- it feels like the island of sanity amid a sea of confusion. It's the Mac's crown gem.

And the iPod was designed to be "iTunes to go". The same intuitiveness of interface, the same rules to follow when you seek out your music. You see, many companies have good UI design practices. Everybody has a set of standards that they try to live up to. But one thing that Apple does, that I don't think I've seen anybody else even try to hold themselves to, is design their products so that everything is equal. They strive to make sure that no feature is left behind, that there are no annoying exceptions to deal with; while the iPod was missing any features that iTunes had, or vice versa, fixing those inequities was always foremost on Apple's agenda for new versions of the software. Consistency. Predictability. That's what good design is all about, and Apple focuses on it sometimes to the exclusion of critical bug fixes, which can be both an asset and a detriment.

All you have to do is look at the various music stores for an illustration of the Apple philosophy: BuyMusic.com advertises "79 cents a track", but if you actually go into the site and look around, you find that there are maybe like six songs in the whole site that are 79 cents, and the rest are priced anywhere from 99 cents to $2.00. And every album has different rules for how many times (or whether) you can burn it to a CD; BuyMusic.com didn't bother itself with doing all the bending-over-backward negotiation involved in signing every label to an identical set of terms, so they just threw everything together, each artist and label with its own terms, and let the buyer figure it out. And apparently they're paying the price for it, as most customers find the site completely infuriating for that very reason. PureTracks.com, similarly, advertises "99 cents a track", but that only seems to apply to the featured tracks linked off the site's main page-- all the rest are $1.19 or so. What's a customer to do?

But Apple knew that the key was to put the onus on the labels, to drive the complexity into the back-end as it were (just as they aspire to do with their software), and do what it took to get everybody to sign to the same terms. 99 cents a track. $9.99 an album. Everybody, no exceptions. Big label? Small label? Doesn't make a difference. You could be BMG, or you could be Bob's Podunk Label-- doesn't matter; you sign the contract, you submit your music, you're held to the same rules. (If an album is of a weird size or format-- really long or really short tracks, or if you can't get the rights to certain individual songs because of shared copyright or something, solve the problem by making the album available only as a complete album, or only by track, or don't include the questionable tracks at all-- only alter the standardized price as a very last resort, and never go above $9.99.) And every single piece of music in the iTunes Music Store is subject to the exact same stipulations as far as CD burning goes: every song is freely burnable. No matter who it is. As many times as you want, as long as you aren't just making a playlist and then running off copy after copy (it stops you after ten of those). For all honest intents and purposes, it's unlimited once you own the songs.

So it's with that egalitarian ideal in mind that Apple seems to have undertaken its long trek through the computer industry with the digital music revolution. First, the iPod and iTunes were both Mac-exclusive; and they weathered the usual storm of ridicule from people who assume that because it's Apple, it's got to be overpriced and crap. iPod People were sneered at as much as they were secretly admired. And gradually the ridicule gave way to longing.

But for that first phase, Apple wasn't selling to the Windows public. They knew what they were doing. They were selling a Mac premium, something that they knew the faithful would eat up en masse, something that would bring in an instant infusion of revenue. I've heard that the iPod is actually priced at a very tight margin-- the parts' individual cost add up to not much less than the retail price, which I guess speaks volumes about the quality of the merchandise-- but they still managed to foster a complete digital-music culture nearly overnight, starting in November of 2001. Those white earbuds, which you saw in a surprising number of ears, were a symbol of a sacred cult. You knew you were seeing another Mac user there across the mall, and many a knowing smirk and nod was exchanged.

During that first phase, Apple didn't just sell iPods to the Mac faithful, though-- they sold iPods by the handful to technophile early-adopters, all the people who used PCs but who weren't married to them; people bought iPods because they were just the coolest thing on the block, and then they bought Macs to go with them. After all, even at the outset, the iPod worked with third-party Windows utilities like EphPod and XPod-- but not amazingly well; and after wrestling with those tools for a while, no small number of Windows users broke down and bought an iBook or an iMac ("For my daughter", they usually said) to drive the iPod the way it was intended. I saw it happen five or six times right here in my own company. This was the period when you saw celebrities buying iPods and flashing them around on Wilshire Boulevard. The iPod was becoming a style statement, no matter what computer you used. And if you had the money for it, you became a Mac user in the bargain.

But eventually that stream of new-Mac revenue started to dry up, inevitably. There are only so many early-adopters in the world, after all, and over the course of 2002 the iPod wannabes-- the pseudoPods-- all came to market. SonicBlue. Archos. Creative. They all made their own "iPod-killers", often with bigger hard drives-- meaning they were physically bigger as well as having more capacity, because the competitors didn't adhere to the same standards of the newest and smallest drives and the most efficient mechanical design possible. That's how they were often able to undercut the iPod in price, and a few of them caught on. The iPod remained the reigning champ in its market segment, but it was now diluted-- and people started buying things like CD-R players (which you have to hold in your hand, horizontally, while you rock out on the streetcorner-- something that city dwellers everywhere seem perfectly willing to do), which were a much more ungainly solution... but cheap.

So Apple fired the second stage of the rocket.

The iPod was now Windows-compatible. True to form, it had exactly the same features as it had on the Mac; they went to great lengths to retool a version of MusicMatch Jukebox to support iPod autosyncing, and they made sure that all MP3s were organized according to ID3 tags rather than filename. Prices were identical. You needed a FireWire cable, even on the PC. But now Apple could market the iPod as being truly intended for the Windows market as well as the Mac, and the ad campaigns reflected this. Soon, the more cautious customers who had never considered the iPod before, because they knew it was only officially supported on the Mac, were sneaking in the doors of the Apple Stores to pick up iPods. Sure, they weren't buying their iPods with a side of iBooks anymore-- but some did, and the real benefit was in volume. By all accounts they sold an absolute pantload of iPods during this phase. It's at this time that the iPod entered the public lexicon; it started showing up in movies, TV shows, lifestyle ads for other products, marketing tie-ins (like with the VW New Beetle). Accessories appeared. The second generation of iPods came out, with PDA functionality that left the earlier models (like mine-- blah) in the dust. Windows users were now buying iPods on their own merits as standalone devices, not as "something that Apple makes but that weirdly doesn't require a Mac". The competition started to fade into the background again.

But then the iTunes Music Store happened, and suddenly the focus of Apple's digital music campaign was back on iTunes. And iTunes was Mac-only, still. Sure, it's a great concept, this store-- I mean, look at all that flat pricing, all those generous DRM terms, all that ease of use-- but it's still Mac-only.

For a time, this was not a handicap. For a time, the iTunes Music Store helped sell new Macs, just as the original iPod had. But Apple weathered more ridicule from the Wintel camp, from CEOs of rival startup music stores who scoffed at Jobs' obstinate refusal to play with 95% of the market. They saw their own jobs as being to "show Apple how it's done"-- BuyMusic.com illustrated the typical reaction with its vicious guitar-smashing ad campaign, and a dozen other companies rushed to bring out their own online music stores now that the labels were buttered up by Apple's foot-in-the-door contract agreements. (Many were able to negotiate more favorable deals with the other stores, which is why you have the weird price non-parity problem when you browse PureTracks.com or BuyMusic.com.) And all summer long, Apple quietly let its own store sell to the Mac faithful, and to the early-adopters who hadn't already been lured to the Mac fold by the original iPod. They reaped the fat off the bell curve as it rolled slowly past.

But eventually that income trickled off, as the competitors came online, and Apple lost its advantage of exclusivity and novelty. This was not unexpected; Apple had been planning the third stage of their assault long before, knowing that the time to push the button would come. And yesterday, it did. Out came iTunes for Windows.

They'd announced early on that they'd hoped to bring the iTunes Music Store to Windows. Right after the store originally opened in April, as a matter of fact. Partly this was to appease the investors, who weren't about to put up with another revolutionary advance that would only be enjoyed by a paltry few percent of the market; but partly it was just setting expectations in the market itself, letting people know that they could wait until the end of the year for a Windows version of this we-thought-of-everything-and-did-it-right service... or they could just buy a Mac and have it all right now. And many chose the latter.

If Apple had released iTunes 4 for the Mac and PC simultaneously, they would have been pulling a WorldTalk. They'd have eliminated the competitive advantage of the Mac, without getting anything for it in return. But by delaying the Windows release, they were able to pull in more Mac buyers who wouldn't otherwise have jumped ship, as well as to build up that all-important impression of being an exclusive company making premium products that were sort of mysterious and inscrutable. After all, that's where a lot of the Mac's mystique comes from-- its niche-market nature. Most PC users know of Macs as only an odd, luxury-priced, fringe computer platform-- and while they dismiss it for the most part as just some kooky "alternative" thing, or the AOL of the computer market, deep down they know there must be something someone's not telling them. What are all these Switch ads about? they ask. Why is there all this buzz about some freaky computer that nobody uses? What am I missing? And so there's genuine curiosity under all the dismissal.

iTunes is the first Windows application that Apple has committed itself to publishing since QuickTime; and as I've mentioned before a number of times, QuickTime is not the most dashing of ambassadors to the Windows side of the fence. It's widely regarded as being buggy, greedy with filename extension mappings, and annoying in its nag screens and TSR behavior. Valid concerns all, and I can hardly blame most Windows users from having a general reaction of "Eeww!" when they think of the Apple logo. To most, it's just some has-been company that makes weird niche computers, and this "QuickTime" software that nobody likes. Why would anybody buy a Mac in this day and age?

iTunes is the answer to all that, and that's why yesterday was so important for Apple. This is the first opportunity the company has to really make a positive impression on the Windows community-- to show Windows users that they're capable of a lot more than just QuickTime, and that they can in fact write software that Windows users might find palatable or even droolworthy. The iPod did that in its own way, but it's not software, it's not a computer-- so now it's iTunes' turn to make the case.

Apple has waited a long time before giving away the keys to the kingdom, as it were-- and they haven't even really done that, either. iTunes is hardly the only application that makes the Mac what it is, though it's certainly one of the best examples of it. It remains to be seen whether Apple will be able to justify bringing other apps to Windows-- like iPhoto, for instance, where there's a potential profit center in the photo-ordering and book-making functions, but not as much of a runaway hit as buying music already has proven to be. But in the meantime, they've committed to turning iTunes into their new "ambassador" app-- and doing it right this time.

That means being 100% feature-compatible across platforms. The Windows version isn't lacking a single feature that the Mac version has. Autosync? Yes. CD/DVD burning? Yes. AAC codecs and file locking? You betcha. Music sharing across platforms? Indeed yes. Rounded transparent window corners? Yup, they've got that too. The practical upshot is that there is nothing in iTunes that makes Windows users second-class citizens. In keeping with the philosophy of making sure everything is equal across the board-- either done 100% right, or not done at all-- iTunes for Windows is meant quite literally to be, in the words of the splash page, "the best Windows app ever". Glib, yes; smirking, yes; but with a kernel of self-effacing truth to it as well. Apple knows that Windows users view Apple as a snooty luxury-market vendor; but if they can play off that assumption, by coming across as kookily lofty and arrogant ("Hell froze over! We made a Windows app!") while at the same time providing a piece of software that's free and top-drawer and doesn't treat them like an untapped market for new Mac purchases (by giving them all of iTunes' feature set, instead of teasing them with a partial version and then entreating them to buy a Mac in order to get the real thing-- "Hup! Whoah, almost got it... Whup! Noo, gotta jump higher... 'cmon, boy..."), they might just be able to win a set of hearts and minds that would have been otherwise unavailable.

This development brings the Apple logo to the Windows user's desktop in a context that covertly leverages Apple's strengths while subtly springboarding off its image weaknesses. If the Windows iTunes becomes a popular enough download, as likely found on a Windows user's desktop as WinAmp, then Apple will have won the most difficult battle in the whole effort to gain back their lost market share: the battle of logo association. If they can make it so that most Windows users have a positive reaction to the Apple logo, rather than the negative one they have now (deservedly so or not), the rest of their marketing job becomes infinitely easier. It's way easier to sell to someone who thinks of you as a maker of good products than to someone who thinks you ought to have died long ago.

And, of course, if anybody should happen to wander into an Apple store, and notice the subtle differences in cosmetics that do exist between the Windows and Mac versions of iTunes...

... well, they're welcome to buy a Mac, y'know. Hey, how bad could it be?

By the way-- in the two comparative screenshots above, notice how the Windows version has the OK button on the left and Cancel on the right, which is the Windows standard but backwards from the way the Mac does it (Apple's UI guideline is to put the "default" action at the extreme right, close to the "forward" margin and near your right hand). Also, the Windows screenshot says "filenames", as is more commonly used in Windows, whereas the Mac one says "file names". Don't think that isn't intentional; they really do pay attention that closely to detail. And they really do commit to a set of UI guidelines for a given platform, even when they don't agree with them.

UPDATE: According to AtAT, the price breakdown of this whole venture is very intricate and profit-directed:

So how, you ask, does Apple expect to make any money selling music to the notoriously cheapskate Wintel market? Answer: they don't. CNET reports that Phil "Gilligan, Drop Those Coconuts" Schiller freely admits that, while the iTMS is "close to profitability," it's "still losing money" overall-- and even when it does squeeze into the black, Apple "doesn't have any illusions that it can make great profits from selling songs over the Internet." In short, says Phil, "the iPod makes money. The iTunes Music Store doesn't." Wow. The last time we encountered anything that blunt, someone was swinging it at our heads.

So, let's think about this for a minute: if Apple (who had a massive infrastructure already in place for the delivery of scads of data over the 'net) can't make a profit on 99-cent songs even when selling in the volume of millions, what hope is there that legal services offering cheaper tunes will stay in business long enough to compete? In other words, unless the record labels decide to lower their wholesale prices to song resellers like Apple, 99 cents is probably the rock-bottom sustainable price we'll see for a while-- and Apple isn't even expecting to make money on the songs at that price. As company execs have stated before, the whole point of the iTMS is to sell iPods.

Incidentally, this ties in directly to another iTMS complaint we keep seeing from Wintel folk: if you buy iTMS songs and you want to take them with you, you "have to buy an iPod." And yes, that's 100% true, at least for now. But guess what? If you're not the sort of Wintel user who'd buy an iPod, Apple doesn't want you as an iTMS customer anyway; unless you also buy that iPod (and maybe eventually a Mac), any songs you purchase from Apple are probably just costing the company money. Let's be clear about this: Apple isn't going after the whole Wintel market with iTunes. It's going after the subset of Windows users who happen to have a little taste, and (more importantly) a little money to spend on iPods and other nifty (and profitable) stuff.

Wow. Kinda sobering, that... but now that the pieces are all in play, we can expect a major shakeout to start happening.

Thursday, October 16, 2003
02:58 - Homer sleep now

I'm done.

With the primary writing task, anyway. Now comes author review.

And in the meantime, back to the deck-building and trim-painting...

13:22 - Kid in a candy store

Wow... I've really been out of the loop. Today's announcement really snuck up on me.

I had no idea, for instance, that there was a Stevenote this morning, in which iTunes for Windows was unveiled, along with a ton of other stuff. iPod accessories, for instance; like Damien Del Russo, who wrote to tell me about the Stevenote and its details, I'm going to have to get me a new dockable iPod now-- the accessories won't work with the old iPods, but they're too cool not to have.

Belkin Voice Recorder. Sweet. This is something they've been needing for some time. Fifty bucks, and third-party-- but all the iPod itself needs is a software flash, and blammo: instant voice-recording feature.

inMotion Portable iPod Speakers. Now this I want. A set of small but powerful speakers that you can use to turn your iPod into a portable boom box, or even just a bookshelf stereo. Very stylish, actually-- hell, I think it looks a damn sight better than those godawful Aiwa and Panasonic monstrosities they sell in electronics stores nowadays. Begone, Tokyo At Night displays! $150? I can get behind that.

Belkin Media Reader. OoooOOooo. To quote: "Save a bundle on memory cards the next time you take your digital camera on vacation. When your card is full, transfer the images to your iPod via the handy Belkin Media Reader." Niiiice. Damn cool.

The new Windows iTunes is evidently 100% feature-identical to the Mac version. Wow. It's got Aqua widgets, and Apple calls it an "application" rather than a "program"-- sure to grate again Windows-heads with the "Mac accent" of the terminology-- but, hey. Looks to me like they even managed to make it fairly attractive.

MusicMatch is gone. When you install the Windows iTunes, it supplants MusicMatch for transferring music to the iPod. I guess MusicMatch must have known this was coming; they can't have made a whole helluva lot of money on their iPod bundle deal in any case.

So the DRM is being done entirely within iTunes, then-- so I wonder just what it's keying off of. On the Mac, you get a combination of the machine's serial number and the primary Ethernet address; what do they do for PCs? I'd love to know.

iTunes for Windows does disc burning. I guess this means some poor R&D unit within Apple had to undergo the torment of testing hundreds of Windows drivers for various ATAPI optical drives... kudos to them if the list of compatible drives is of any significant length.

iTunes 4.1 is the new current version, which means there's a new one for Mac users to download too. Evidently you can do voice notes and on-the-go playlists and sync them to your iTunes, you can burn long playlists that are longer than a single disc (it allows you to span discs), it lets you access the iTunes Music Store as a web page and drag it into an e-mail and stuff-- interesting. And of course there's Windows compatibility-- including the ability to share files between a Mac and PC. I wonder if this means you get any more than the three DRM slots? You know, like, "three for your Macs in their halls of stone, and two for the Windows-lords under the sky" or something?

As for the iTunes website-- it's been majorly revamped and reopened. It's clear now what's been going on, or at least so I surmise: the current multicolored iPod ad campaign, with the silhouettes dancing around with their iPods, was originally intended to accompany the iTunes for Windows release. But then BuyMusic.com came out with their own campaign trashing the iTunes store (quite literally); so Apple had to launch the new ads early, centered only on the iPod (which, they remind us, is "Mac or PC"). And now they can roll out the full campaign: iTunes for all! (booo!) Very well, iTunes for none! (booo!) Very well... iTunes for some; miniature American flags for others! (yaaaay!)

It should be noted that just about everybody and his brother is starting up a music store. First BuyMusic.com, now PureTrack.com, and now we hear that Dell is coming out with one, and probably Microsoft and all the labels and so on. But you know... it's notable that only Apple has released numbers for how many songs its store has sold. The other stores haven't. Presumably because the numbers would be too embarrassing.

(Oh! WinTunes' installer wants you to reboot after it finishes. Isn't that precious?)

Oh, and I'll have to look up the details of this, but evidently Steve also announced a giveaway of 100,000,000 songs. A hundred million. How does that work now?

Damien says:

The best was Bono, after he complimented Steve..."That's why I'm kissing the corporate ass" - claaaaasic.

Sweet. Let the good times roll! And now for the betting pools on download numbers (WinTunes-vs-Mac iTunes) to kick into high gear...

Oh... and on the iTunes Overview page, which is full of much-updated info, it says that iTunes is "Coming soon for more than 25 million U.S. members of America Online". Wow... they're really blasting off the chocks, aren't they? All that first-out-of-the-gate stuff really did pay off in the corporate wheeling-and-dealing world, huh?

UPDATE: It appears the iTunes Music Store itself has been nicely spruced up, too-- and not just cosmetically. True, all the song and album listings are now in attractive boxes whose color patterns match the artist pages (Elvis's page is in a deep greenish-brownish-gold that looks like coffee mixed with molasses and a light shined through it); but more importantly, there's a bunch more content-- both static and dynamic.

Each artist now has a Biography page-- very long and detailed in many cases-- and also an "Influencers and Contemporaries" page, which I think is extremely cool. You get to see all the artists and all the albums that your favorite artists listed as inspiration; you can track musical styles back through the ages this way. As database-driven content goes, this is some of the best stuff I've seen. This is what it's all about, man.

Oh, and the Store now has "allowances" (so you can give your kids access to your purchased music without giving them your credit card) and gift certificates. This thing's got some serious potential...

UPDATE: The Audiobooks section appears to be an evil, evil trap for the unwary spendthrift. There are dozens and dozens of books in there now, all the Audible content now integrated into the iTunes Music Store. Books range from $10 to $35 or so, and there are authors from Isaac Asimov to Tolkien to Hillary Clinton to Ayn Rand all represented in rich digital form. They even seem to have a special Star Trek section, with all the random novellas narrated by the actors-- Frakes, Shatner, Nimoy, Mulgrew, Ryan, Shimerman, everybody. (Well, everybody except Patrick Stewart, for some reason.) Tons of classics as well, plus clean recordings of all those public-radio shows that I only hear on a crackling radio on those weekend trips out to Sacramento. They have archives of Car Talk, for crying-out-loud.

I guess all this content was there before, but the whole Audible thing never really showed up on my radar. Now, though... it's all unified.

Apple's got a powderkeg on their hands; the next few days will be interesting indeed...

11:55 - Holy crap!

Hey! They stole the tagline I was gonna use!

"The best Windows app ever." Dammit, I was gonna use that too!

And as J Greely points out:

"400,000 tracks by the end of October including over 100,000 from 200 independent labels."

This explains the size and content of the recent weekly updates.

Yes... yes it does, at that.

Wow. I gotta check this out after lunch.

11:43 - But... but... but... free speeeeeech!

What the blithering hell is wrong with Guardian readers?

The paper's site removed the thread on their discussion forums which had the title "Is it time to assasinate George Dubya Bush?"

And, as LGF notes, the forum denizens are now bitching and whining about "free speech".

I would like to challenge the Guardian Media Group Plc to come up with a reasonable explanation why this page was deleted. I can come up with hundreds examples of risky articles printed by their journalists - most of which I usually support. An abonimation of free speach and human justice.

Then someone points out:

You people have a skewed idea of what 'free speech' is.

Free speech does not apply to a private entity that posts rules and guidelines as to what is acceptable behavior on their privately owned and controlled medium.

Free speech also does not allow one to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater or 'Hi Jack' at the airport.

To which the insightful response was:

Inkind - but free speech does allow one to ask questions does it not? Would you prefer something like - 'Should George W be removed from office by the same means he removed Sadaam Hussain?'. After all, whats good for the goose....

I had a witty retort, but... really. I can't even say anything that does this justice.

I mean, what can you say about people who feel passionately enough to argue in its favor, that Bush should be assassinated because he ousted Saddam Hussein?

And what can you say about people who think that "free speech" is anything but the Constitutional guarantee that the government-- let me say that again, loudly and clearly: THUUUHHH GUUUHHHVERRRNMEEENT... shall not abridge the people's right to express their opinions freely? It is not some cosmic force that applies to all discussions in public and private, hosted by commercial entities or conducted in one's own home, whereby you can justify even the most anti-social and hateful statements by shaking your fist at the walls and yelling free speeech! To hear these people talk, which I have done on occasion, they act as though "free speech" is some word they can call out, like "Sanctuary!", which immediately will strike dumb any opponents who wish to punch the speaker in the mouth for publicly advocating the murder of their elected leader.

Incitement to violence is not a protected form of free speech, numbnuts.

And what's more, why is it that the most pacifistic liberals I know are also the people who are most apt to personal physical violence? A couple of months ago, we were heading out to lunch; someone asked where we wanted to go, and I made some silly pun about a nearby restaurant, as I am wont to do. And this one co-worker, one of the most ardent techno-hippies and promulgators of anti-war and anti-Bush rhetoric in the office, without hesitation spun around and kicked me in the balls. Oh, sure, he didn't mean to actually connect, and he apologized profusely while I lay writhing on the floor. But listen, man! It's not me, the rabid warmonger, who countenances physical violence against his fellow man! But if you go to any "peace" demonstration, you're as likely as not to find smashed windows, fist-fights, forcible suppression of cameramen like Evan Coyne Maloney-- I mean, just look at this:

Why is it that people like these Guardian commenters always seem to act like murder and violence are the way to react when democracy doesn't go their way? I'm all for not allowing political power to fall into the hands of people with that twisted an idea of how a democratic form of government works.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003
18:59 - Project Crossbow

In reading this Rand Simberg piece on the various pro- and con- and indifferent-to- takes on the Chinese space program (congratulations on a safe landing to taikonaut Yang Liwei, by the way), I was reminded of something that had occurred to me earlier today:

This is not to say, of course, that we should be totally complacent about Chinese space activities. While it doesn't justify a surge in NASA budgets, it should cause concern from a military standpoint.

We've seen recently how valuable, even critical our space assets are to our military capability. In the middle of a war on a new form of fascism in the Middle East, of uncertain length and a cloudy trajectory, we cannot risk the loss of the satellites that not only save many of our soldiers' lives, but those of innocent noncombatants as well.

The Chinese were also no doubt watching, with the rest of the world, the precision devastation that we wreaked on first the Taliban, and then, even more precisely, on Saddam's regime, often destroying individual tanks while leaving civilian vehicles parked right next to them unscathed. They know that our power to do that comes from orbit, and that if they can come up with systems that can negate that advantage by blinding our eyes in the sky, and silencing our guidance signals, our military ability will be crippled, and back on more of a parity with other powers, including themselves.

If they can do so, then there will indeed be a danger, but it's not at all obvious that their present manned space program puts them on a path to that goal, any more than it puts them on a path to the Moon, in any timely or affordable fashion.

What I suddenly thought of was one of my all-time favorite movies, Real Genius.

Never mind the utterly joyous 80s nostalgia that it evokes, for anyone who's seen it (the scene at the end, with "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" playing over the slow-motion college conspirators cavorting in torrents of popcorn, then fading to the nice brief understated credits that movies had back then, actually brings a tear of lost youth to my eye); never mind, even, the fact that the "Pacific Tech" depicted in the movie was in fact meant to represent my own alma mater in Pasadena, where the sights and sounds and events and wall-scribblings in 1994-99 were so languidly parallel to the 1985 analog-synth geekery seen throughout the movie that I feel better represented by Chris Knight and Mitch Taylor than by any icon of the post-Internet-revolution world.

No, what I was thinking of, with some startlement, was the general premise of the movie.

HOLLYFELD: I've been thinking about your laser solution. I figure you've increased the output to six megawatts.

CHRIS: Yeah.

HOLLYFELD: What would you use that for?

MITCH: The applications are unlimited. Industrial for one.

HOLLYFELD: With the power source you've come up with, the beam would only last fifteen seconds. What good is that?

CHRIS: I don't care, Laslo. I graduated.

MITCH: Let the engineers figure out a use for it. That's not our concern.

HOLLYFELD: Maybe somebody already has a use for it, one for which it's explicitly designed.

JORDAN: You mean Hathaway had something in mind all along?

HOLLYFELD: Looks at the facts: Very high power. Portable. Limited firing time. Unlimited range. All you'd need is a big spinning mirror and you could vaporize a human target from space.

CHRIS: ...This is not good.

Turns out the mega-laser the pure young geniuses have been working on all this time is meant to be made into an orbital beam weapon, as cooked up in a dimly-lit, smoke-filled Pentagon boardroom in the movie's opening scene. And when the realization dawns on Chris and Mitch that they have somehow not been able to detect this possible use for the thing, the project being directed by Evil Dr. Hathaway (sponsored by DEI, of course), the reaction-- on their part and on that of the audience-- is horrified shock. "How could you build that mirror? Chris shouts rhetorically to the absent Kent. The protagonists are betrayed, their very ideals shivered to the core. The scientific breakthrough they've achieved, to them for the pure love of contour integrals and radiatively coupled ground states, is headed into space to be used against... well... against...

...See, that's where my mind was hanging up this morning; it's where the Tears For Fears soundtrack started skipping a beat. What, exactly, was the movie saying was so evil about the antagonists, Dr. Hathaway and his DoD bosses?

Was it... their betrayal of the kids' pure scientific motives for personal gain?

Was it... Chris' realization that he is only graduating because he did the professor's bidding, and not because of his actual academic merit?

Was it... hmm... let's see...

Was it simply that the United States was building a weapon that could target and destroy a person at will, anywhere on the planet?

Forgive me for saying so, but these days, Project Crossbow sounds like a dandy idea.

The tenor of the movie, mired in its Reagan-era cynicism about "Star Wars" and the rapidly vanishing Soviet threat (though the "Project Crossbow" promo video shown to the Pentagon brass featured an anonymous South American drug boss of some sort-- all the more ominous, it's meant to be, since it's just some guy relaxing by the pool with a drink, zapped from his chair while the butler's back is turned-- he wasn't hurting anybody, was he?), keeps coming back to the very idea that a weapon of any kind is evil incarnate. Cut the crap, Kent! You built a weapon! shouts Mitch into Kent's head, tapping into his rival's braces to amplify his voice and embody himself as the sepulchral presence of Jesus. And this horrifies even the weaselly Kent, who from that point on goes from sneering, hated nemesis to sympathetic, shuffling dupe who is redeemed by the purity of his faith in his professor. The very idea! A weapon! As though the top private universities in America aren't dedicated to pushing the limits of science first and foremost in the interest of national defense advances. I mean, who's fooling whom? I never even thought about this until just today-- which is really weird, since I've watched the movie at least a couple of times on DVD recently-- but perhaps the least credible concept in the entire movie (except for that dumb-ass line from Mitch about "liquid nitrogen", in reference to the solid cylinder of ice from which Chris saws a quarter-sized chunk for the vending machine-- a visually clumsy piece of flubbed direction that made a lot more sense on paper) is the idea that nobody in the group-- not Chris, not Mitch, not Jordan, not Kent, not even Laslo until his steam-tunnel epiphany-- even considered what the practical purposes of a six-megawatt laser would be.

Of course it makes sense once you think about it, as Laslo illustrates. What else could it be?

But this is the turning point in the movie, when the antagonist role shifts from the Kent-Hathaway Axis of Arrogant Lab-Politics to the decidedly more sinister Department of Defense brass and their B-1 test harness for the laser, targeted at a dummy motorcade (intended probably to represent Gorbachev and his retinue, but looking suspiciously like Kennedy in Dallas). Our Heroes dedicate their brains toward defeating the ones who are revealed to be the true villains: the US Government and their diabolical plans to attack unspecified bad guys from orbit. It's a moral imperative.

Which, of course, they do. And there was much rejoicing, amid mounds of popcorn in the ruins of Hathaway's new house.

And the Evil US Government is foiled again. It'll have to look elsewhere for its weapons of death, thankyouverymuch.

This is 1985's view upon the nature of war and its role in the technological future: We have far too much death and destruction right now, thank you. Kindly keep your Death Beams out of the skies, Mr. President. We have no need for such things in the modern world.

Just imagine, though, if Clinton had had such a thing at his beck after the 1993 WTC bombing.

Nowadays we're seeing the benefits of the God Button-- Predator drones icing terrorists in their cars who didn't even know they were in danger, unmanned bombers taking out ground targets painted by forward observers with GPS units, those concrete-filled Acme Guided Anvils that eviscerated Saddam's T-72s without even the need to explode. We have the technology now, and it's being used against the bad guys-- who are seeing more and more that the more omnipotent their enemy appears, the more futile their own cause is and the less incentive they should have to pursue it. As it should be.

Yet somehow I get the suspicion that if Real Genius were to be remade today, the writers would look surreptitiously for a somewhat different prototypical Evil to hang the story from than the Pentagon and its ludicrous mad quest to find ever better and more effective and more targeted weapons against those unspecified, anonymous, third-world, cave-dwelling supervillains who might want to wreak their maniacal plans against American interests. (Scoff, scoff. <cough>)

So now I get a better idea of the kind of memes that I grew up with, the kinds of ideas that seemed-- even until this very morning-- to be so unremarkable as to fail to raise one of my eyebrows. Weapons are bad, says the movie, and I nod and laugh at the caricatures. Of course weapons are bad. And of course the Pentagon is evil for wanting more of them.

If only we could live in a world where science nerds got megamillion-dollar funding to build six-megawatt lasers purely for the joy of discovery and scientific advancement, right?

Sheesh. Goes to show, I guess, that grads of that little temple of learning on California Boulevard who go on to write movies about their transcendental experiences there on campus might indeed be real geniuses... but their senses of reality are impaired to the point of catastrophic material failure by the surreal atmosphere of the place.

First-hand experience tells me that it's no stretch for such a thing to happen to a guy. (The student who snaps and freaks out in the study hall in one of the montages-- one of the best scenes in the whole movie-- could have been taken straight from one of the South House lounges on any given Thursday night.) That doesn't, however, excuse him from snapping out of it once it's all over.

UPDATE: John writes to point out that we do have these kinds of weapons now, sorta. (And also sorta.) He's right, too-- in a world where someone is eventually going to have weapons like this, I'm glad it's us. I think the world could do far worse (and has done) than to trust us to be the keepers of the flame.

16:58 - Your concern is noted

Earlier today:

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip - A remote-controlled bomb tore apart an armored vehicle in a U.S. diplomatic convoy Wednesday, killing three American security guards and wounding a fourth in the first deadly attack on a U.S. target in the Palestinian territories.

The attack, on a convoy of U.S. Embassy diplomats entering Gaza to interview Palestinian candidates for a Fulbright scholarship, was a dramatic departure from typical militant operations, which usually target Israeli soldiers and civilians. It was almost certain to lead to greater U.S. pressure for a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups.

"Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," President Bush (news - web sites) said, blaming Palestinian officials for the attack.

Yeah. Killing American diplomats who are there interviewing Fullbright applicants. That sure sends a rational message of legitimate resistance against oppression. We read you loud and clear.

"HalfLife" from LGF:

NPR just had John Burns on (from the NYTimes), and he reported that the stone-throwing "Allahu Akbar" chanterss near the bomb site had to be dispersed twice, once by Palestinian police shooting over their heads, and once by an Israeli tank shooting over their heads (after which he added something about "tear gas")...

When the journalists were finally allowed in, he says he saw a crowd of 600 or so, and they stoned the journalists. He said they were laughing and smiling, and at first he thought they were friendly [how stupid can he be?], but then they started throwing rocks, shattering the car's windows... He said he was at the rear of the convoy of journalists, if his driver hadn't managed to speed away from the scene, it could have been bad... They were actually chasing the car! He admitted it was terrifying.

Yes, Virginia, they hate you too. They'd probably have killed even the beatified Rachel Corrie, who died defending the tunnels that were probably used to smuggle in these bombs, if she were in the crowd. And "terrified" or not, she'd probably welcome death, for it came at the hands of her beloved pet cause. Like this brain-donor who said it would be an honor to be eaten by a bear... and is now duly honored.

IndyMedia blames the attack on the Jews:

The zionazi foe has attacked a U.S. diplomatic convoy in order to win the sympathy of Americans. Recent opinion polls had shown a tremendous drop in Americans' support for the zionists with Americans holding zionists equally responsible for violence. Consequently, the zionazis have launched an attack on the U.S. vehicles in a desperate ploy to blame Palestinians and detract from any possible media focus on yesterday's 50th anniversary of the zionazi genocide at Qibya. The article below shows that Zionazi tanks were already in position to make full use of the opportunity.

It must be a form of what Lileks calls "English Major Disease" that leads cosseted Western college students to look for the insightful hidden meaning in everything that turns the obvious interpretation of an event on its head. Four years of seeking the all-important top-of-the-bell-curve grade leads a person to see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower-- and a swastika in the Star of David, and an international Zionist conspiracy in the World Trade Center crashing down. It's an obsessive need to find historical parallels to contemporary events, even if it involves stretching credibility beyond its elastic limit-- and to react to the latter events as though they were the former, as though by treating 9/11 like it's the Reichstag Fire, these people get to atone for their not being alive in time to prevent the actual Hitler from rising to power. This kind of mental onanism is what makes a person refuse to believe there's such a thing as real Good and Evil in the world; just because he's never experienced true Evil, for him it doesn't exist, and all reality is relative.

These people are going to eviscerate this country. Especially since the Democratic candidates seem so busy trolling for their oh-so-willing votes.

And for a finale, here's instant reaction from the Arab News:

Oh, for the voice of reason that was M. Khalil.

10:49 - For your edification

Via J.M. Heinrichs:

Puretracks.com, Canada's first legal online music service, was launched amid much fanfare yesterday, with record industry executives saying the service could prop up faltering sales caused by free downloading sites.

The service, which as of yesterday was offering 175,000 tracks from a wide variety of artists, hopes to draw fans who want to download music legally. Its launch was called "a watershed moment in Canadian music history" by Alistair Mitchell, co-chief executive of Moontaxi Media Inc.

Fees, which customers can pay with credit cards or a "cash card" that can be purchased at retail stores, start at 99¢ for a song and $9.99 per album.

Buyers can save the files on their hard drives or burn them onto CDs, but the service limits the number of times the files can be transferred.

Until now, Canadians were unable to legally download music from sites like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes due to copyright restrictions that are determined on a country-by-country basis.

Sounds like a good idea.

Maybe too good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003
10:49 - Wow. Three points!

I usually think my nasal cavity is fairly safe from having to pass carbonated liquid through it when I'm reading Steven Den Beste.

We have to take candidates as packages, and can't really pick and choose features to create a best-of-breed candidate (i.e. Clinton's charisma combined with Dole's erectile dysfunction).


10:04 - The least REMF President ever

Following a sudden rebound in Bush's popularity rating, which has been sagging lately under an early campaign warmup by the Democrats that has gone largely uncontested from the White House, there's this Guardian article by George Monbiot, found by Tim Blair:

Now Bush, of course, is commander-in-chief as well as president, and he has every right to address the troops. But this commander-in-chief goes far beyond the patriotic blandishments of previous leaders. He sometimes dresses up in the uniform of the troops he is meeting.

He quotes their mottoes and songs, retells their internal jokes, mimics their slang. He informs the "dog-faced soldiers" that they are "the rock of Marne", or asks naval cadets whether they gave "the left-handed salute to Tecumseh, the God of 2.0". The television audience is mystified, but the men love him for it. He is, or so his speeches suggest, one of them.

He starts by leading them in chants of "Hoo-ah! Hoo-ah!", then plasters them with praise and reminds them that their pay, healthcare and housing (unlike those of any other workers in America) are being upgraded. After this, they will cheer everything he says. So he uses these occasions to attack his opponents and announce new and often controversial policies.

The marines were the first to be told about his interstate electricity grid; he instructed the American Legion about the reform of the Medicare programme; last week he explained his plans for the taxation of small businesses to the national guard. The troops may not have the faintest idea what he's talking about, but they cheer him to the rafters anyway. After that, implementing these policies looks like a patriotic duty.

This strikes me as an abuse of his position as commander-in-chief, rather like the use of Air Force One (the presidential aeroplane) for political fundraising tours...

...Or like landing on the USS Lincoln to congratulate the troops after taking Baghdad, yes?

Monbiot finds it creepy that Bush is so conversant with military slang and the soldier's mindset. He thinks it's a cheap shot, a low blow-- that if Bush tells the Marines about his kooky plans first of all, after buttering them up with carefully rehearsed lines, they'll believe anything he tells them-- and that this will immediately confer a landslide popular victory to Bush in 2004. 'Cause, you know, like, every able-bodied registered voter in the United States is in the military. Or something.

Monbiot mutters about facts and figures from socialist websites and "appointed" Presidents, in what I honestly don't have the time to decode. (Hey, there's a reason why I haven't been posting much of anything for the past few days. Deadlines. The kind that make you wonder whether it might be a good idea to run away to live in a cave for a few years until it all blows over.)

But as Blair notes, this article is more telling than I think Monbiot intends. It means that Bush is, quite frankly, a lot more shrewd than those who dismiss him so rapidly as a "moron" can imagine believing. Those whose comedy routines and book proposals are predicated on verbal gaffes and SNL-esque caricatures of the President won't want for material, certainly, because the feckless and moronic caricature version of Bush has taken on a life of its own-- owing nothing to reality, it nonetheless comes across as received wisdom to anybody already predilected toward believing it. And Bush the actual person does little to dispel the myths.

Except to the military, apparently.

It's easy to dismiss his landing on the Lincoln as a "publicity stunt", a cheap and cynical ploy to bolster morale among the only constituency he really cares about during wartime. But look: The man did not just stretch a flightsuit over a beer gut, hoist himself into the back seat of an escorted military transport, and land at a base under guard somewhere. He took a Navy jet-- an S-3B Viking-- and what's more, he flew it:

Bush said he did take a turn at piloting the craft.
"Yes, I flew it. Yeah, of course, I liked it," said Bush, who was an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard after graduating from Yale University in 1968.

What the Secret Service didn't allow him to do-- aside from taking an FA-18, which Bush reportedly wanted to do, but the spooks were going to be having none of that, opting instead for the Viking, the safest jet in the fleet, and painting "Navy 1" on the tail-- was land the thing. Do you know how dangerous it is to land on an aircraft carrier, even in a Viking? Do you know how hard it is? Anybody who's ever played a flight-simulator game might think it's a bitch, but it's quite a bit more intense than any game can convey. The noise, the vibrations, the G-forces, the sudden deceleration... and the constant knowledge that the slightest misstep or mechanical failure will send you skidding off the deck into the water a hundred feet below where you'll sink before they can rescue you, or plowing into the stern of the carrier in a blazing fireball. People die in carrier landings all the time-- and these are trained pilots, people who do it for a living, who do it every day. And this time it was carrying a sitting President of the United States. The man whose personal safety is probably guarded with more obsession and paranoia and infrastructure than any other in the entire world. The man who, if the Secret Service had its way, would be encased head-to-toe in Nerf from swearing-in to stepping-down.

If you ask me, this is an entirely fitting way to commemorate the event. (And for what it's worth, I can't think of too many Presidents who would have looked hotter in that flightsuit.)

All this means that the message that Bush means to sent to the soldiers, very explicitly, is that I understand what it's like to be one of you. Clinton might have put on the Basset-hound eyes while telling the cameras that "I feel your pain", but who could really take that seriously? But imagine yourself as a Navy pilot on the Lincoln. To see your commander-in-chief come sailing in on a Viking, after having flown it at least part of the way, and then go through a real, honest-to-God deck landing, catch the arrest wire, and step out wreathed in smiles... well, there's not a man on that deck, or indeed in the whole military, who didn't receive the message loud and clear. The message was-- and this has been said before, but it bears repeating-- that this is a President willing to put himself through the same trials and risks that he asks of his armed forces. I mean, let's be truthful here: In landing on that carrier, Bush put himself at greater risk of life and limb than perhaps any President has been in during living memory, barring assassination attempts. And it's not recklessness; it's a carefully calculated way to convey familiarity and confidence in a very crucial time. Many Presidents are criticized as what we now hear to be "chickenhawks"-- people willing to send other people to fight wars, but who aren't willing to go and fight themselves. Bush himself has taken barbs-- a pale attempt at mirroring the draft-dodger accusations against Clinton-- for "dodging danger" in Vietnam by flying in the Texas Air Guard instead of going to the front lines. Well, the only way Bush could have dispelled that criticism any more effectively is if he rode into Nasiriyah standing on the front of an M-1 Abrams, waving a Kabar and shouting commands through FO gear.

Is this disingenuous? Is he ignoring the rest of America while pandering to the military? Somehow I don't think so. If he's shrewd enough to acquaint himself with soldier slang like "the God of 2.0", which apparently the audience ate up with more gusto than how the Germans received "Ich bin ein Berliner", then he's intelligent enough to understand that the military does not represent the entire country when it comes time for elections. He knows full well that he'll have to turn his attention to the domestic campaign trail before too long.

But first things first. Right now, the biggest reason why this war is no Vietnam is that Bush is no Nixon-- or Johnson. And the men know it.

UPDATE: I also heard him a few days ago telling a bunch of Cuban-Americans that Cuba será pronto libre. His pronunciation wasn't that of a linguist-- he'd clearly rehearsed it-- but it did sound more natural than "Ik bin aahhyn buh-linnah". I think this is as close as we're going to get to the grand old days when politicians were expected to speak at least five languages fluently.

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© Brian Tiemann