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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10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, November 9, 2003
03:41 - Who is this moron?

As I was driving to the movie, NPR was airing some guy in a darkened soundstage reading headlines off a sheet of paper and reciting their details in as snarky a tone as possible. I have no idea who this joker was, because there was no station ID or anything in the fifteen minutes that my radio was tuned to him... but I'd love to know if he was someone I should have known about beforehand. Sunday evening, 7:00-8:00 hour? San Jose area, KQED?

He started out by reading the usual encouraging news about chaos and disorder in Iraq, reading all the administration's statements in Epsilon-minus voices, and peppering it with his own recommendation, which was "Get our troops back home, right now. But hey, that's just me." Great. Noted.

He went on to talk about "some stories of our Homeland Security forces on the march," which I thought were going to be lurid reports of our Ashcroftian Gestapo running amok and arresting shopkeepers and filmmakers on flimsy pretenses. But no... as a matter of fact, the most heinous story he came up with was a group of police who had been hired to guard a Texas power plant against possible terrorist activity. Instead, it turns out the cops had spent their shifts-- for the better part of a year-- fishing in a pond at the facility. This clown read the story and its unfolding details-- the cops kept fishing even after they'd been ordered to stop, they covered for their colleagues who wanted to fish-- against a backdrop of mocking music and in a tone of deep puffed-up indignation, except where he read the police chief's statement in a know-nothing Texan accent, even though the statement itself (talking about how the department is very disappointed in the actions of its officers and will take whatever corrective means are necessary) was completely unimpeachable in its content.

He then also noted a story about how security guards at Lawrence Livermore Labs had lost a set of keys, and now they'll have to change all the locks. "'Because of redundant security systems, the increase to risk of security breach is minimal; and in any case there is no evidence of a security breach.' Yeah, well, how would they know?" Great. Real insightful commentary there, whoever you are.

Then he switched gears, moving on to making fun of Fox, who had just announced criminal prosecution against an employee who circulated an e-mail containing the salaries of all the upper-level employees. His tone was, "Those dastardly power-grubbing executives! How dare they-- who do they think they are, treating this simple e-mail as cause for criminal prosecution?" Never mind the fact that this kind of incident would be grounds for termination and possibly prosecution at any company, but the fact that it was Fox... now, damn. That's comedy gold!

He proceeded to read an apology e-mail sent out by the execs to the employees, which apologized for the distraction caused by the original e-mail and its consequences; but of course, this was worth mocking, so he played that "I'm so sorry" song in the background.

"The company said it feared that the e-mail would spark a storm of executives asking to renegotiate their salaries, in light of the information contained in the e-mail. Oh, now we all know executives would never do something like that!"

By this stage I was in the parking lot and he still hadn't announced his name, so I shut off the car in disgust. What is this? Who decided this was insightful commentary? Whose idea was it to give this guy, whoever he is, an hour-long slot on Sunday prime-time on NPR?

The way he was going, he'd have sneered over reports of a low-pressure system moving into the area if he could have somehow blamed the Republicans.

UPDATE: Harry Shearer? Dear God, nooooo...

I swear, Hollywood's starting to look like the end of the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

00:01 - Out with a bang

Brother Bear is the last animated feature film to come out of the venerable Buena Vista Blvd. ANIMATION building in Burbank, the one with the giant Mickey Mouse "sorceror" hat out front. The dream factory.

The things that went on in that building were both good and evil; the stories of horror from within those walls were as legion as the stories of the magic that was created. But it's all gone now, the building off the 138 is closed, and the final product-- the last big-screen feature with the Aquinos and the Kuperschmidts in the credits-- is now in theaters.

I just saw it, and it's a fine send-off.

Now, I'm not saying it's the best Disney movie ever. I wish I could say I was surprised to see that it comprised such a Who's Who of misanthropic, nihilistic pablums-- there was even a "Why do they hate us?" segment right in the middle that gave me hives, almost as much as the Phil Collins soundtrack did, which was more needlessly cacophonic than even his Tarzan outing-- but I wasn't. I knew what to expect going in. And it didn't disappoint on that count.

But then, there weren't many counts that it did disappoint on. This is, after all, still Disney-- and they know how to really pour it on in the final emotional scenes. The screenwriters did themselves proud. It's a very complex script-- not in the plot, but in the way it's engineered. Lots of little interwoven elements of song and dialogue and pseudo-montage, like in the "I don't like this story" scene. Very ambitious of them. It's also not as funny a movie as many of the recent Disney outings have been-- but the very last visual gag in the "outtakes" they stuck into the credits (not the bit after the credits, but the final actual "outtake") is absolutely astonishing. I don't know if I was just sitting there helplessly with my guard down after the final tear-jerking scenes, but something about that last gag had me honking with laughter over the entire rest of the credits as the parents herded their kids worriedly past me and toward the exits.

Word is that the upcoming Home on the Range will be Disney's last 2D animated feature ever, the decision to move exclusively to 3D hinging on the success (or failure) of Brother Bear. Now, I'm not one to stump for the company taking actions that are known to be money-losers when they've got stockholders depending on them; if people just aren't dumping the bucks into the box office the way they used to, I'm not going to tell Disney they have to just suck it up and operate at a loss because it's their "duty" to produce classical 2D features. I could maybe ask for reality to be a little different; after all, everybody said they wanted Disney features to involve more "adult" humor and less kiddie content, and they delivered with Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove and the like, movies that are definitely a pinnacle in the adult-level enjoyability of Disney films... but they were box-office disasters. Who knew? Sure, it sounded good on paper to write movies that appealed to everybody, and the products were fabulous... but their non-traditional, non-formulaic, non-merchandisable natures appear to have killed Disney.

So enjoy Brother Bear... for all its saccharine emotional grandstanding and its musical vapidity and its cellophane-wrapped romanticization of primitive human life and its uncharacteristic bloodlessness (recent Disney films have even been fairly gory by comparison), you'll never see its like again.

Godspeed to a great Hollywood phenomenon, now a thing of the past.

Thursday, November 6, 2003
19:49 - Oh.

I'd wondered why, in all the back-and-forth over whether Pvt. Jessica Lynch had been tormented while in captivity in Iraq, or whether she had been expertly cared for until the 'Merican stormtroopers burst in firing blanks while the cameramen filmed, Lynch herself had never said a word about what had happened.

Well, now she has an authorized biography out, so I guess we know.

"Jessi lost three hours," Bragg wrote. "She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the Humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it."

The scars on Lynch's battered body and the medical records indicate she was anally raped, and "fill in the blanks of what Jessi lived through on the morning of March 23, 2003," Bragg wrote.

"The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead."

But, after all, it's just "filling in the blanks". So expect Indymedia and DU to leap to the fore with the charges of conspiracy and propaganda.

It does fill in an awful lot of blanks, though.

(Via LGF.)

16:45 - You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means

Look! Just what the world needs. It's "Avant Browser", a new addition to the browser pantheon... and not just any browser, a tabbed browser.

...Except that what they think "tabbed" means is not even vaguely related to what the rest of the world means by the term.

This isn't tabbed browsing. This is MDI. "Tabbed browsing" is a well-established term by now, and it means something specific. MDI is not what it means. (Okay, tabbed browsing is a form of the MDI concept, but it's nothing like what we see here.)

This is what Opera did in about 1996. And it sucked butt then, so they got rid of it.

This is what happens when some dork doesn't learn from history.

God damn, how I hate MDI. A big gray box, with lots of little windows inside it, each one with its own title bar and control buttons. I mean, just look at this PR screenshot-- I have a hard time imagining a publicity photo that would make a worse impression on anybody trying to maximize his screen real estate. I count eight separate sets of window-control buttons (minimize, maximize, close), in their big bulgy XP-ish selves, which along with the title bars and all the control buttons (and the row of tabs along the bottom, which I guess is what the author thinks makes Avant Browser a "tabbed browser") take up fully half the application window's usable space.

This isn't a step forward for UI design. It's a plummet backwards into the dark ages.

The whole point of "tabbed browsing" is to view multiple documents maximized within the browser window, so you minimize the overhead incurred by window widgets and all the wasted gray space you get in an MDI window. Even MDI applications, like Excel, keep separate documents as individual tabs in the system taskbar. But Avant Browser seems to want to throw all that out the window and go back to a metaphor that was ridiculous six years ago, let alone today (now that WinXP's title bars are that much bigger than before).

True, Avant Browser apparently lets you "maximize" these sub-windows like any good MDI application, effectively making it act the same way as Mozilla or Firebird or Safari or any of the other browsers that behave in what we now know as a "tabbed" manner. But to put Web pages into multiple floating windows within a container window-- gaah. There's a reason nobody does this anymore, and that reason ought to become very clear after about three minutes of trying to use it. (That's how long it took me to get sick of Opera when it tried this "innovation".)

The site reads like a parody. The FAQ, amusingly, has as its second question: "Is Avant Browser spyware?" A thoroughly valid question, as these days you don't have to do any work to create a browser beyond wrapping your own shell around the IE engine (which is exactly what this guy did), giving it all the features-- and vulnerabilities and bugs-- of IE. A user would be entirely justified in wondering just what weird Trojans would be installed along with this thing. I sorta hate to give this site traffic by linking to it, too, because Chris tells me that Avant Browser reports referrer URLs to Web servers not as the URL of the previously visited page, but of the AvantBrowser.com site itself. This has to be intentional-- it can't be a bug. So it's designed to pollute people's Web server logs with the URL of its own distribution site, so (if the logs are public) the search-bots will pick it up and drive more traffic back to AvantBrowser.com. Why would they do this if there weren't spyware or hidden ads involved? Revolting.

The FAQ further reveals that the browser project is in fact the brainchild of one intrepid guy, who just really really loves MDI:

Avant Browser is an Application built with MDI (Multiple-Document-Interface) technology. With MDI technology, fewer system resources are used, web page loading is faster, and all opened pages can be easily controlled at user's pleasure.

Yeah, and I understand "Push" technology is the next big thing! And DHTML! And there's this great new thing called "Java"!

Oh, and on the main page, there's this:

Avant Browser now supports AI-RoboForm. AI-RoboForm can help you remember passwords and fill out any online form with just one click of a button. Passwords are securely stored on your computer and protected by a master password. You can find the latest RoboForm here.

Depending on the font, you might read this as I did: Al-RoboForm, a new terrorist organization that attacks in giant plodding mechs like in The Matrix: Revolutions. Complete with a total lack of frontal armor, at that, so you can fight them off with rocks if they start stomping their way up out of the East River.

Geez. Poor guy. I wonder who thawed him out.

13:05 - Sanity spreads

Fawaz Turki, writing in the Arab News, says he was wrong all along to oppose the war in Iraq.

Is it too early to adopt a revisionist view of the US war in Iraq and for this column to admit its mistake in having vehemently opposed it from the outset?

At issue here is whether the Iraqi people have benefited from the overthrow of the Baathist regime and whether the American occupation will eventually benefit their country even more. Iím convinced ó and berate me here from your patriotic bleachers, if you must ó that what we have seen in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates in recent months may turn out to be the most serendipitous event in its modern history.

Let the fatwas ring forth. But you know... sometimes all it takes is a single voice to be raised, for others to realize that it's okay. Someone has to be the first.

Via InstaPundit, who also links to this post at Healing Iraq which is as worthy of a read as that "Andrea vs. Mohammad" radio clip from March was.

First, I have to explain to some western idealists that public demonstrations is an alien idea to the majority of Iraqis. We have been forced to demonstrate in favour of Saddam, the Ba'ath, Palestine, and Arab nationalism for 3 decades. Just to give you an idea on how that was like for us; party members would surround colleges, schools, and govt. offices. They block all outlets and shove people into buses which head to wherever the demonstrations are to be held. You simply cannot refuse to demonstrate. I remember hiding in the toilet back in high school whenever the buses came into the park to herd us to the demos. It wasn't a pleasant experience I can tell you. Once I got stuck and had to shout anti-imperialist slogans at one of these rallies just two years ago. You don't have the slightest idea of what it is like to live your life daily in fear.

Now today, we are facing terrorist and violent threats against our nurseries, schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, oil pipelines, power stations, water purification systems, and other civilian facilities. If you think that a peaceful demonstration would deter those criminals from doing harm to us, then you are 100% wrong. Do you think the Syrians/Saudis/Iranians/Yemenis/Sudanese would simply say 'Oh look, the Iraqis don't want us there, lets go home and leave the Americans and Iraqis work it out'? Or if you think we should go out and face the dangers just to prove to you -paranoid Americans sitting in your ivory towers watching tv- that we do not support the terrorists, then you are wrong again.

You see a handful of teenagers dancing in front of the camera celebrating dead Americans, and you judge an entire people, you start whining about pulling the troops out of Iraq and giving the Iraqis what they deserve. Are you people really so close-minded? It is the fault of your news agencies that show you what they want, its certainly not ours. If you want us to go out and cry for your dead soldiers and wave American flags, then don't count on it either. We are losing way too many innocent Iraqis daily to be grieving over dead soldiers who have actually made a decision to come here. What about the thousands of dead Iraqis who were not as lucky to have a choice? Did you cry for them?

Sooner or later it will dawn on the Left that they've grown so complacent about the assumption that they speak for the "common man" and are "open-minded", that they've become the elitists who heap contempt upon the average Joe and suck up powdered propaganda through the nose.

12:48 - Blood Money

So I was all set to write some snarky post about how NPR should turn down the $200 million gift they just received-- from the widow of Ray Kroc, the McDonald's magnate. Sure, it's enough money to run the network for like two years... but it's money that comes from that bastion of evil American corporate imperialism, carrying our filthy culture into places that don't want it (like Jordan, where they lined up literally for miles outside the door when the first Golden Arches opened).

But, of course, Scrappleface is way ahead of me.

Dammit, I just get up too late in the morning.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003
17:43 - Power Computing all over again

It's not like Steve hasn't done this before. It's not nice, but it's also not unlike him.

Apple is changing the terms under which third-party licensed Apple Specialist stores can do business. Again.

Despite some 150 independent Apple dealers increasing their business almost 20 percent in the last year, Apple will announce Monday that it is firing many of its Representative Apple Executives (RAEs) across the U.S., replacing them with existing inside phone liaisons and upping the dealers' requirements to achieve certain discounts on equipment by as much as 40 percent. Details of the new strategy for dealing with independent Apple Specialist dealers will be outlined Monday during an online webcast, numerous sources close to the company have confirmed to Think Secret.

Under the new plan, Apple will be cutting the "majority" of ten RAEs and has already fired a number of the reps. Some RAEs, who have yet to be dismissed, have already quit and are putting in less than the customary two weeks notice. Think Secret has spoken to two out-going reps, who were not surprised by Apple's move to cut back the Specialist program. "The handwriting has been on the wall for well over a year," said one RAE, who asked not to be identified. "Anyone who didn't think this would be the next move simply wasn't listening or noticing the signs."

In addition, Apple will be increasing the rate at which Specialists must sell extended warranties with every Mac computer sold, sources report. If a dealer does not attain an 'attach rate' of 40 percent or more, it will not qualify for discounts of as much as 20 percent on demonstration equipment. It is also expected that Apple will be strengthening its requirements for a dealer to stay as a Specialist and will announce a new, revamped three-tier structure that will make it more difficult to achieve discounts and other added dealer benefits.

Marcus, who works at one of these Apple Certified Reseller businesses, has told me numerous times about the nefarious ways of Apple's dealings with them-- unfair gouging in parts ordering, preferential timing and quantity on newly released items being given to the official Apple Stores instead of the independent dealers, bizarre requirements for how much of what must be sold-- to the point where I have to wonder exactly what business case can be made for being a third-party Apple dealer in the first place. Especially since Steve started opening the Apple Stores in malls everywhere:

"Since the opening of Apple retail stores, our business has fallen off dramatically and I defy Apple or any independent dealer to deny that," said one dealer in the central U.S. "They promised us Apple retail stores and the online store wouldn't be competition. They have turned right around and lied to us and they compete with us each and every day. Whatever they announce on Monday won't be good for independent dealers. They'll simply cut back more on the support they give us."

And here's the followup details:

To attain the best possible pricing, Specialists will now have to meet higher goals in a number of key areas -- primarily monitor, software and Apple ExtendedCare product warranty sales. For instance, Specialists will now have to have an 'attach rate' of 60 percent for warranties with each Mac CPU sold, up from about 40 percent, sources report. In addition, dealers will have to have an attach rate of 60 percent on Apple monitors (up from 50 percent) and sell $100 of Apple software, not including OS X, with every system sold.

Dealers Think Secret spoke to were anxious to discuss their reaction to the Apple announcements, but none were willing to let us use their names for fear of repercussions.

While the attach rate has increased, dealers admit the goals have always been a requirement. "But now they're going to make it much harder for me to maintain my dealer status," said one west coast Specialist. "I'm going to have to make some difficult decisions about what I buy, when I buy, and who I buy from. The repercussions could ultimately decide if I stay in business or not."

Yes, that's not good for the dealers.

Marcus says that one of his co-workers sees an upside-- that if the new requirements can be met, this means potentially more money on the table for the dealers. But that's only one voice in a chorus, most of which see the writing on the wall, which is this:

Apple wants to put the independent dealers out of business, and get all the retail traffic through its own directly owned stores.

"This will be bad for customers, ultimately bad for dealers like myself and in the end, bad for Apple. By then, it will be too late," said another dealer, based in the central U.S. "It might not look like such bad news to customers or to Apple now, but in the future, I think it will be very bad for everyone."

But then, Steve did do this before, killing the clone market as soon as he returned to Apple in 1998, putting Power Computing out of business and killing the Mac-clone wings of Motorola and UMAX. That was quite the controversial move in its day, and few would deny that it's been one that's had mixed results in the marketplace-- but for the intangible ideals, like perceived quality, product unity, and serviceability, Steve has managed to steer the company toward his own maniacal goals while still somehow keeping the company profitable. And for those customers who see Macs the way Steve sees them, it's victory and vindication.

Remember that in 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple because John Sculley (whom Steve considered to be a bonehead about computers, his background being in selling Pepsi) thought him to be a menace to the business. Overbearing, perfectionist, one of those dictators who never sleeps because he knows what's best for you-- Steve insisted on keeping all the Mac technology in-house and going it alone. But after Steve was forced into exile after a failed coup attempt against Sculley, the first thing Sculley did-- apart from firing 1,200 Apple employees-- was to license key Mac OS GUI code to Microsoft in exchange for a pledge to keep making Word and Excel for the Mac. And we all know where that led.

One has to wonder-- okay, sure, Jobs' monomania is really volatile and dangerous. But isn't the alternative worse?

We've seen Apple leap back to the forefront of both the public imagination and the tech press in the five years since Steve returned to Apple and went on his Clone War, heaving out the unimaginatively numerically-named, lackluster Macs of the day and replacing them with the gobsmacking iMac. It's tempting not to notice that Jobs' moves in that time haven't just been related to Mac hardware itself; but, indeed, just about every single change he's made has been toward more consolidation of assets and infrastructure. Let's take a look at some of it:

  • The online Apple Store. Launched in the heady days of Amazon's revolution and built on top of the gulp-worthy WebObjects, this was a direct-marketing coup that netted Apple a ton of mail-order sales that had previously been going through warehouses and catalogs.

  • Software. Before Jobs' return, Apple made almost no software other than the Mac OS. There were little utilities and graphics tools, but nothing you'd find in place of prominence on a shelf-- they'd even spun off their applications division into Claris, years earlier. Now, though, Apple was writing all the software that you'd ever need, in a complete turnaround: iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and (most recently) a huge suite of high-end digital-video tools designed to take on the likes of Avid. Now they've even got their own Web browser, Safari, and their own e-mail app and PowerPoint-compatible presentation software. Can iWorks be far off?

  • Glass-and-mortar retail stores. It was quite a gamble, but who can say the stores haven't paid off? The first stores in California and Virginia had lines that stretched out into the parking structures on opening day, but nobody expected that to last. To everyone's shock, it did. The lines for buying Panther at the Valley Fair store led halfway around the ground floor of the mall.

  • Digital music. Nobody, but nobody, expected the iPod. And few expected that it would take off. Yet it did; and now it's the world's #1 digital music player, whether for Mac or PC, and the buzz says that the whole point of the iTunes Music Store is to sell iPods now, not to sell music. (iPods are a bigger cash cow.) Apple could have partnered with someone like SonicBlue or Creative to sell a cool Apple-designed player, or they could have brokered a deal with the labels to become a major investor in an independent online music store-- but they didn't. They took it all in-house, with their own new codec, their own in-app store (versus a Web page), and their own contract terms with the labels.

  • The G5. Everyone knew Motorola's G4 was doomed to mediocrity and a premature end-of-life, but everyone similarly knew that Jobs wouldn't go to Intel unless he were being fed into a plastic shredder feet-first by Saddam's goons. There was always "Marklar", the rumored x86 build of OS X-- but that was always a last resort, and Steve would try anything first. And he did: Apple and IBM co-designed the G5, tacking Altivec instructions onto a stripped-down POWER4 core, and co-investing in the new fab plant that's now turning out the chips that may one day be used (giggle) in Xboxes. Apple's solution to a flaky external chip supplier? Do the chips its damn self.

    Even little mini-storms like the one over Sherlock and Watson have been arguments over Apple consolidation versus the long-standing, traditional third-party innovation among the Mac market. Watson was designed as an adjunct to the then-Spartan Sherlock-- an XML/SOAP-based front-end to a lot of useful Web services, like yellow-pages/maps, movie tickets, translation, flight schedules, and so on. But shortly after Watson started taking off, Sherlock 3-- built into Jaguar-- was announced, almost an identical product in function and design to Watson. Karelia and its developers (understandably) took exception to Apple's blatant disregard for the sovereignty of the third-party shareware developer... but the argument was also made that Apple should be able to integrate this kind of functionality into the OS if it wants to. Today, Watson still exists in its role as an augmentation to Sherlock, with a few channels that Sherlock doesn't have-- but Sherlock now integrates the dmoz directory, with dozens of third-party channels designed for Sherlock... and not for Watson.

    I must admit that it's intoxicating to have all your functionality right here, in one box, from one vendor. Part of the physically pleasing nature of the Mac today comes from admiring its polish, with everything thought of from the lowest OS levels to the topmost specialized applications, with nary a checkbox out of place, without even a default setting I feel like changing. iTunes wants to organize my MP3s for me? Fine! Great! Go nuts! Mac OS X wants to hide extensions per-file rather than always showing them, like in the past, and relying on Type/Creator codes? No problem! I like the new way now. Exposť comes attached to F9, F10, and F11, enabled right out of the box? No complaint here!

    This is apparently the mindset that Steve is banking on, that he hopes to instill in the users. Sure, it's megalomaniacal. It's what we always expect to see out of Microsoft-- but Apple and Microsoft are quite reversed in their roles from how we always expected them to be. Apple was always the hands-off good-guy, remember, with the vibrant user community developing cool apps (like Hotline, which was Napster five years before Napster existed) and the thriving third-party dealer network; whereas Microsoft was the stern dictator, gathering all pawns to its gloved hand, decreeing the terms by which you must obey the Master or else. The situation could hardly be more the reverse today-- Microsoft's Windows Media engineering lead said of the iTunes for Windows release that "Windows is all about choice", claiming that no Windows users would opt voluntarily for Apple's closed-house software-design tactics.

    Well, that seems to have been wrong too.

    And now Apple is making the final moves to bring all retail sales under the corporate umbrella. With that, the monolith will be complete-- and I think it's entirely possible, given Apple's track record on decisions like this, that the consumer will actually benefit. Apple's built a business on defying the conventional economic wisdom of monopoly and complacency and closed-shop infrastructure, succeeding precisely where everybody said they were particularly doomed to failure. Who's to say that they can't succeed brilliantly even after totally killing the venerable independent Mac reseller market?

    Nobody, however, will claim that it didn't make people really mad in the process-- that it didn't betray all the people who had dedicated their lives to the Mac, who had pledged their firstborns and guzzled the ol' bug-juice, who had banked their mortgages on running the nice little Mac shop on the corner. Nobody will say that Apple stiffing these folks is the honorable thing to do, no matter how good it might look on paper.

    But that's Steve for you.

  • Tuesday, November 4, 2003
    19:57 - It's still a good time to be a Mac user

    Mac users had it pretty rough through the mid-90s-- but as with all kinds of all-weather fans (except those of the Cubs or the Red Sox), fate eventually turns in their favor and rewards their steadfastness.

    Of course, people like this guy are welcome to their nay-saying, but it's getting rarer and more desperately strident as more and more people seem to be finding their way around to an open-minded and positive view of the Mac. iTunes has done a lot of this lately (more and more people seem to "get it", after the inevitable initial gear-grinding), and Panther is now doing the same. All it takes, really, is for someone to see Exposť in action, and they immediately see something that's undeniably useful and heart-stoppingly cool. "Dammit! Why can't my computer do that?" I hear at work from time to time.

    Even eWeek is getting into the act, with this short but glowing review, the only down note being that "Unfortunately, Mac OS X runs only on Apple machines, which significantly limits a company's hardware purchasing options."

    In Mac OS X Version 10.3, Apple Computer Inc. combines its latest ideas with pieces drawn from the open-source world, from Mac OS versions past and from operating system rival Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. In so doing, Apple delivers what's probably the most polished desktop operating system available today.

    Pretty heady stuff. eWeek has been fairly Mac-ambivalent in recent years, pointing out the cool stuff while being careful to jab at flaws, but rarely doing any in-depth coverage or secondary or tertiary analysis about the possibilities of the Mac platform and whether it might even (gasp!) survive into the 21st century. But lately they've been covering Panther like a campfire, with all kinds of articles from developers' and enterprise and security angles. They're genuinely excited about this stuff.

    That's what it's like, really... once you let yourself peek in the window and admit that part of what's in there is cool, it's damned hard to stop chugging the Kool-aid on the sill. (Maybe "Slurm" would be a better metaphor...)

    Meanwhile, though, ExtremeTech notes the amusing prospect of the Xbox switching from Intel CPUs to the IBM PowerPC family. Yes, that's right-- anything from the latest G3s that zip past G4s in clock speed, to G5s, to the rumored G6es (PPC980) that I oddly haven't heard anything about in some months. I mean, think about it-- what kind of psychological blow would that be to Intel, to have to admit that Microsoft of all people was abandoning their court for the hated PPC, even after the years of FUD?

    To say nothing of the windfall it would be for IBM, and indirectly for Apple. If the G5 (or a relative from the same R&D wing) did end up as the flagship processor for the Xbox, it would be a massive validation of the Apple-IBM joint investment and CPU design effort-- and it would cement the future of the East Fishkill facility to a level never dreamt of by the Apple that floundered unhappily through the doldrums of Motorola's becalmed 1GHz-class G4.

    We've endured pundit after pundit telling us that Apple's only salvation was to go to Intel processors. We've parried and dished over the rumor of "Marklar", the shadowy x86 build of OS X. We've wondered, increasingly worried as the G4's speed crept negligibly upward, if crow was on the menu. And now this? Do forgive just a momentary chortle.

    I think it's pretty safe to say that Steve has reason to smirk over his bottled water these days. And so do a lot of Mac fans, the ones who clung to faith in his long-term vision even when it seemed there was none. (Maybe there wasn't one anyway-- this was all just luck. But still.)

    Whatever. All I know is: F9 F9 F10 F9 F10 F11 F9 F9...

    15:01 - This here's what America's all about

    'Tis the season, it seems, to Fisk poetry, or at least overanalyze it. And as I was driving in to work this morning, Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"-- long one of my favorite songs of his-- suddenly seemed to be a lot more microcosmic of some bigger archetype than I'd really figured before. It's an immensely silly song, yes, but it's as apt an encapsulation of what really drives all us warmongering, inbred, proselytizing, overfed, unsophisticated cowboys to do the things we do as any other piece of popular media that's a product of its cultural environment.

    Well, I had two weeks of vacation time coming
    After working all year down at Big Roy's Heating And Plumbing

    Not a rock star or a movie god, just a regular Joe in a workaday job. What has he accomplished? What has he contributed to society? Well, maybe he hasn't built dams or designed moon rockets, but this is a guy who does his job because it's his duty-- and whatever he makes from it no doubt goes into his family and his house, his own little corner of America that he's helping build.

    So one night when my family the I were gathered 'round the dinner table
    I said, "Kids, if you could go anywhere in this great big world, now
    Where'd you like to go ta?"
    They said, "Dad, we wanna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"
    They picked the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    ...And yet he lives all year for that vacation. And what does he plan to do on his two weeks off? Sit on the couch and eat pork rinds and watch golf? Lie in the hammock and swat mosquitoes? Nope-- his plans center on his family. It's all about the wife and kids, and what they might enjoy. And if they pick something he wants to do too, well, hey-- bonus!

    So the very next day we loaded up the car
    With potato skins and pickled wieners,
    Crossword puzzles, Spider-Man comics, and mama's homemade rhubarb pie
    Pulled out of the driveway and the neighbors, they all waved good-bye
    And so began our three day journey

    Packed to the gills with snack foods and popular media. More than just creating a semblance of homelike comfort while on the road, they're indulging. This is a time to celebrate.

    I used to think, by the way, that the waving neighbors were a relic of a time long past. But at the new house, well-- our neighbors would wave.

    We picked up a guy holding a sign that said "twine ball or bust"
    He smelled real bad and he said his name was Bernie

    You never turn away someone who shares your common goals.

    I put in a Slim Whitman tape, my wife put on a brand new hair net
    Kids were in the back seat jumping up and down,
    yelling "Are we there yet?"
    And all of us were joined together in one common thought
    As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our '53 DeSota
    We're gonna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    We're headin' for the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    It's a kooky combination of Route 66 retro and modern suburbia. Of course the whole song's a paean to Americana, but the setting in time and space is deliberately left vague-- the family's stuck in the Leave It to Beaver 50s, while at the same time evidently living in a world of car tape decks and diet sodas. (This song dates from the early 80s, remember.) And kids being annoying in the back seat is as timeless as the interstate that leads to Wally World.

    Oh, we couldn't wait to get there
    So we drove straight through for three whole days and nights
    Of course, we stopped for more pickled wieners now and then

    Once you've got the goal in mind, you don't stop or get distracted. But there's always time to feed the economy with snack-food consumption.

    The scenery was just so pretty, boy I wish the kids could've seen it
    But you can't see out of the side of the car
    Because the windows are completely covered
    With the decals of all the place where we've already been

    There's Elvis-O-Rama, the Tupperware Museum,
    The Boll Weevil Monument, and Cranberry World,
    The Shuffleboard Hall Of Fame, Poodle Dog Rock,
    And The Mecca of Albino Squirrels
    We've been to ghost towns, theme parks, wax museums,
    And a place where you can drive through the middle of a tree
    We've seen alligator farms and tarantula ranches,
    But there's still one thing we gotta see

    All immensely silly places, but they may as well have been real (some were). Why go to these things? Because they're cool. Where do you think memories come from? It's all so inconsequential, so futile, so false-- but it's all a part of a shared national hallucination that coalesces into something that's all the stronger for it. When a people has this much leisure time, and yet worries at it with such gusto as to find attractions like these to go to and spend their money, it's not decadence, as some accuse-- it's the opposite of decadence. It's the raising of the banal to epic heights. It's the lust for life. It's the feeling-- nay, the conviction-- that while the past may make for good postcards and window decals, the best days always lie ahead.

    Shame about that scenery, though.

    Well, we crossed the state line about 6:39
    And we saw a sign that said "Twine Ball exit - 50 miles"
    Oh, the kids were so happy the started singing
    "99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall" for the 27th time that day

    Another timeless classic. As is the obsessive need to time the trip and track the mileage-- "Are We There Yet?" for the grownups. Because obviously the dad's as big a kid as the ones in the back seat.

    So, we pulled off the road at the last chance gas station
    Got a few more pickled wieners and a diet chocolate soda
    On our way to see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    We're gonna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    Better make sure it's "diet", to cancel out all those wieners and pie. Charmingly naÔve.

    But here's where we get to the real crux of the thing: the narrowing of perspective, the raising of something so provincial and pointless to the stature of a religious experience:

    Finally, at 7:37 early Wednesday evening as the sun was setting
    in the Minnesota sky
    Out in the distance, on the horizon, it appeared to me like a vision
    before my unbelieving eyes
    I parked the car and walked with awe-filled reverence towards that
    glorious huge majestic sphere
    I was just so overwhelmed by its sheer immensity,
    I had to pop myself a beer
    Yes, on these hallowed grounds, open ten to eight on weekdays,
    in a little shrine under a makeshift pagoda,
    There sits the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    I tell you, it's the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    Even a holy place charges admission-- and that's okay. There's nothing else in the world that matters. This is vacation time; this is the one little break and reward we give ourselves for a year of uncomplaining labor, and by God we're going to make it worth remembering. We may not be able to change the world in our spare time, but we can at least enjoy the living daylights out of it.

    Oh, what on earth would make a man decide to do that kind of thing?
    Oh, windin' up twenty-one thousand, one hundred forty pounds of string
    What was he trying to prove? Who was he trying to impress?
    Why did he build it? How did he do it? It's anybody's guess
    Where did he get the twine? What was goin' through his mind?
    Did it just seem like a good idea at the time?

    Do you really have to ask? Because he could.

    And that kind of dedication you've just gotta admire.

    Well, we walked up beside it and I warned the kids
    "Now, you better not touch it, those ropes are there for a reason"
    I said, "Maybe if you're good, I'll tie it to the back of our car
    and we can take it home", but I was only teasin'
    Then we went to the gift shop and stood in line
    Bought a souvenir miniature ball of twine, some window decals,
    and anything else they'd sell us
    And we bought a couple postcards, "Greetings from the Twine Ball,
    wish you were here"
    Won't the folks back home be jealous?

    Suddenly it all drops back down to Disneyland mode. It's still sacred ground, but now there's moychandising, moychandising. And good for it, too; these guys aren't buying knickknacks and postcards out of a feeling of obligation, but because they genuinely want to remember this experience. Now, it's left sort of open-ended whether the song portrays the whole family's honest emotions, or just this dopey dad and his rose-colored and inscrutable obsession with Americana that the family just indulges him in, for the sake of blessed family unity. But for all intents and purposes, it's all genuine.

    I gave our camera to Bernie and we stood by the ball
    And we all gathered 'round and said, "Cheese"
    The Bernie ran away with my brand new Instamatic,
    but at least we got our memories

    Aw! That's what you get for trusting people. I'll bet they pick up another hitchhiker on the way back home, though.

    Then we all just stared at the ball for a while and my eyes got moist,
    but I said with a smile, "Kids, this here's what America's all about"
    Then I started feelin' kinda gooey inside and I fell on my knees
    and I cried and cried
    And that's when those security guards threw us out

    Now then, now then. It won't do to get too sentimental over this, now would it? Yet when it comes to paying your respects to something you believe in, there's no limit to the lengths to which you'll go.

    You know, I bet if we unravelled that sucker,
    It'd roll all the way down to Fargo, North Dakota
    'Cause it's the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
    I'm talkin' 'bout the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    And it'd probably reach all the way back to here, too.

    Well, we stayed that night at the Twine Ball Inn
    In the morning we were on our way home again
    But we really didn't want to leave, that was perfectly clear
    I said, "Folks, I can tell you're all sad to go"
    Then I winked my eye and I said, "You know, I got a funny kind of feelin'
    we'll be comin' back again next year"
    'Cause I've been all around this great big world
    And I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather go to
    Than the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    I said the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    And in the end, though, it all comes back around to the kids. Whether it has any bearing on reality or not, nothing makes this guy's day more than to see his kids bouncing in glee. And really, that's what makes the Twine Ball such a spiritual destination: sure, it's worth nothing. No symbol has any value, in and of itself. But you can never foretell just what power can grow up around a symbol, or what associations people will form with it. With luck, a symbol's fame and meaning grow, spread, expand beyond its own provincial borders-- and before you know it, people flock to it, though they don't even know why. Money changes hands. Memories are forged. And wealth is created.

    These are the foundations of a nation that's so secure in its own existence, its own petty leisure pursuits, that it is willing to dash itself to bits when called upon to save the world. The more ridiculous our diversions are and the more ease in which we live our lives, oddly, the harder we're willing to fight to keep from giving any of it up.

    That's the dichotomy that repeatedly confuses the rest of the world about America, while at the same time defining us. And it only looks like a contradiction if you don't live here.

    13:17 - Oh my flippin' gawd

    Via LGF, Tariq Ali spins quite a yarn in The Guardian:

    Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is no reconstruction. There is mass unemployment. Daily life is a misery, and the occupiers and their puppets cannot provide even the basic amenities of life. The US doesn't even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks, and so south Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and "friendly" companies are given precedence. Even under the best circumstances, an occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony capitalism, the new cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.

    The Iraqi maquis have weakened George Bush's position in the US and enabled Democrat politicians to criticise the White House, with Howard Dean daring to suggest a total US withdrawal within two years. Even the bien pensants who opposed the war but support the occupation and denounce the resistance know that without it they would have been confronted with a triumphalist chorus from the warmongers. Most important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.

    Got that? No reconstruction. Misery. Worse than it was under Saddam. And the guys who blow up the UN building and the Red Cross are the maquis to Bush's Hitler.

    This is a hugely widely-read paper in Britain. Yet facts evidently are not welcome there.

    But people like Tariq Ali are:

    Ditching the Labour Party he embraced Leninism, becoming a leader of the International Marxist Group (IMG). "One can see," he said then, "that we shall once again see (workers') Soviets in Europe in the 70s".

    So: when people talk about how America is trying to defend those quaint little notions like "freedom" and "democracy", and people sneer at them to say that those ideas are under no threat in today's postmodern enlightened world... um, guys? Hello? Right under your nose?

    God, this makes me mad.

    How many American soldiers and political victims of brutal regimes will have died in this century alone, only for us to blithely throw away all the fruits of our hard-won hundred-year victory and invite the enemy in to sit at our table?

    Monday, November 3, 2003
    11:45 - Thass what I'm talkin' bout

    Among the many things that we got done this weekend-- such as finishing out the front landscaping with a truckload of head-sized quartz rocks, planting three more new birch trees out back, finally gluing up the cove base trim in the laundry room, and finally finishing the ceiling and floor trim in my bed area and moving the furniture into place (Hey, I actually have room in there now), was blessed progress on trimming the curtains. Thanks to the deft assistance of my mom, who stopped by with my all-too-willing-to-ruin-his-back dad this weekend.

    Does that work, or does that work?

    11:38 - Worth pointing out

    Glenn Reynolds and Sofia Sideshow, discussing this story, in which the 101st Airborne found piles of money in Saddam's palaces... and are using it to finance construction of parks and infrastructure through private local contractors, Bechtel and Halliburton be damned.

    ...points out something that I took for granted, and notes that it's nothing to take for granted:

    Alright, I re-read both articles, looking for mention of the single most obvious facet of the story. Something most Americans don't even think about. Indeed, Glenn didn't pick it up, and the Globe and Mail didn't pick it up, although it's right there, the single-most lauded aspect, and we Americans missed it totally. I'll bet 99% of Americans who read the articles missed it.

    They didn't steal the money.

    You remember the film "Three Kings," where disaffected angst-ridden grunts went off on their own in search of gold? I mean, they were stuck there in some sort of 'war,' and the crisis they face is whether to help the citizens or succumb to greed. It was very 90's, and brilliant and all that?

    Let's repeat this: A squad found tons of money lying around...they started to spend it...on others...without orders.

    They didn't steal the money!

    You think they'll make a movie of that?

    Their honesty is simply taken for granted. It shouldn't be. It's not how the rest of the world works.

    What they did is both outrageous and thoroughly American.

    So is not realizing it.

    That's me. Outrageous, and thoroughly American. Because I didn't realize it.

    Oh, sure, this is probably just an isolated case. I bet they found millions more dollars in other stashes, and we never found out about those-- there are just going to be a lot of mysteriously wealthy ex-reservists in a couple years. Right?

    Either that, or we as a people have just become so sophisticated and skeptical as to have lost all credulity in the spirit of human decency.

    Previous Week...

    © Brian Tiemann