g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, November 30, 2003
21:17 - Go back to your bonfire

(top)
So SomethingAwful, in its inimitable way, is playing to what we know its audience to be in the following way:

Lately I've been thinking about the 2004 election. After all, the first primaries are coming up with remarkable speed. With any luck, Ol' Dubya will be out of the White House pretty soon. But in the meantime, I think it's high time we stop bemoaning the fact that we have a juvenile power-mad redneck as our current President and start enjoying the privileges this affords us. After all, we may have been the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton, and sure, we may have even felt like the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton. But did we get to act like the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton? I think not, unless you take "like the most powerful nation in the world" to mean "diplomatically and reasonably." But that's not what having power is all about. Having power is about making the people who don't have power feel like they don't have power. So as long as Bush is pissing off every other country in the world to the point where our allies are taking to the streets and burning him in effigy, let's make the most of it. Since we already look like jerks, we might as well be jerks. It's time to tell the other nations of the world that we're not acting like this because we're stupid. We're acting like this because we can, dammit!

Setting aside for a moment whether the disaffected college-age youths who were toppling the effigies represent "our allies" or not, I have to ask: Where's the honor in being in these countries' good graces?

These are countries that, "represented" by their unelected delegations in the EU, thought that there might be something worth investigating about how 59% of their polling publics had concluded that Israel was the world's biggest threat to peace and how anti-Semitic attacks and slanderous hatred seem to be occurring at a rate not seen there since the late 1930s; so they commissioned a study to find out where all this Jew-hatred could possibly be coming from. Then, when the independent body returned its findings that the attacks were primarily being perpetrated by young immigrant Muslims, the EU in its infinite wisdom buried the report for fear of offending young immigrant Muslims. In other words, fuck the Jews-- they've had their moment of sympathy.

And they call us the simplistic racists. Bunch of bloodthirsty, unrepentant, unreconstructed Nazis over there, the lot of them. (Or at least, 59% of them.) They haven't learned a goddamned thing from the past century.

I don't want these people's approval.

And I especially don't want them getting any ideas about "having power".


12:50 - Just a little G5 love

(top)

It's overdue, I know-- by several months, in fact. I'd meant to do some G5-related photo-blogging right after I got the thing, but due to one thing and another (and another, and another, and another), it's had to wait.

Indeed, maybe it's all to the good that this comes after my now-infamous meltdown, just to show that no matter what might happen to the data in it, this is still a damn fine machine.

So, let's begin.

The first thing I wanted to show off was the case locking mechanism. The old G3/G4 case, which lasted for some six years in one interation or another, was ingeniously clever-- you pulled a ring on the side panel, and the whole panel hinged down, released from an interlocking metal frame that was moved out of the way by your pulling the ring. You could stick a padlock into a second, smaller ring on the back of the computer-- a protrusion from the inner metal frame that stuck through the back panel-- that prevented the frame from moving and unlocking the hinged side panel that housed the motherboard.



The new version is quite a bit different, but no less elegant. To open the case, you lift up on this latch, which slides aside three hooks that anchor both the metal outer panel and the inner clear plastic airflow shield. To prevent this, you flip down the little thumb-piece underneath it so its protrusion sticks through the hole, and snap the latch back into place; what formerly was a flush-fitting light gray square is now a padlock hook. Neato.



With the latch open, you lift out the side panel (it doesn't have the motherboard on it in this case, which seems more inelegant than the old model only until you see what the "motherboard" looks like) and set it aside. There are instructions for installing RAM and stuff printed upside-down on the inside of the door, so as it hinges down on the tabs at the bottom, you can read them correctly.

If you've got the G5 sitting on top of your desk (hey, why not? It's quiet!-- Oh yeah, it's got a pretty damn big footprint), you can run it perfectly happily this way-- snap the latch back down and let it run with the airflow shield in place. That way you can sit and stare at the machine's innards all you want, and your co-workers will come by and gawk all day long. Then you can impress them as follows: Explain to them the four heating zones (1, the drives at the top; 2, the PCI-X and AGP 8X slots; 3, the CPUs and cabling; 4, the power supply, hidden out of sight at the bottom), and how they're all fed by the cheese-grater front panel which acts as one big continuous air intake; then point out how quietly everything is running, showing off the low-speed CPU fans which make the whole thing look like one of those musical-guest stages on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s, the sun slanting through a lazily turning fan in the background; then lift the latch, hook your fingers in the divot near the top of the shield, and rotate it out. Listen as the fans all spin up in panic: Aaaaaghhh! I can't guarantee proper conditioned airflow! Mayday! Mayday! Lower the processor speed! Kick up all nine fans to maximum capacity! Damn the noise level-- we've got heat to dissipate! Then clap the shield back into place and listen to the fans recompose themselves, settling back into the blessed silence to which they're accustomed.

Speaking of fans, there's this:



It's the removable, slide-out module containing the two low-speed CPU fans. Warrantied G5 customers might be out of luck if anything related to the insanely complex and welded-into-place case goes awry, but if this fan unit dies, it's absurdly trivial to remove it. Just grab hold of the plastic oval handle and pull it out along its track. It's enough to make a brave man weep.

Above the CPU zone is the PCI-X slot zone, which has four slots with little gray numbers. It's like being in the movie Short Circuit. How many times have I cursed at PC cases where I could never be sure which slot was "1" (or, really, "0") according to the hardware, and on top of that, which way the operating system decides to count them? (Linux numbers Ethernet cards in one direction, from furthest-out to closest-in, ending with the motherboard interface if present, while FreeBSD numbers them in the exact opposite direction-- or was it the other way around?) Bah. What a wonderful world it would be, huh?

Up into the next zone, you get this: the drive bays.



Granted, the G5 only has space for two hard drives, which is one strike against it in comparison to its predecessors (which all had space for four to six drives, which could be attached to a removable caddy and hooked up by thoughtfully arranged ribbon cables pressed into channels). But the cable management is just as pleasant here. See all those cables lying around, criss-crossing the internal cavity of the machine? Right, I thought you couldn't. There aren't any. Praise be to the Steve, there are no frickin' cables strewn throughout the machine. Instead, there's this one tiny pair of drive cables, stuffed underneath the plastic bay with its latching side rails, with the connectors fitting perfectly into their dormant positions underneath it. Tug them out and you can see just how cool Serial ATA is going to be. There's the big connector and the little connector. Wanna guess which one is power, and which one carries all that high-speed data? Yup: power is on the left. And if I may dare to dream, I've wrestled with my last stupid ribbon cable.

(No, wait. There are still all those PCs in the lab. Damn.)

Shifting our gaze to the back side of the machine, here's the stack of connectors. Now this I like. (As opposed to all the previous stuff, which apparently I hated. Anyway.) It's the way the back of a computer was meant to look. No multi-pin "D" connectors. No getting the serial cable confused with the VGA port. Well, okay, these days we may have lost some clarity along with the specialization of certain ports (multiple USB ports can't be much more friendly to novices than round sockets clearly marked for "mouse" or "keyboard" or "ADB", and there's always the possibility for confusion between the two audio jacks when fumbling blindly with an arm stretched around the back), and until we get out of the FireWire 400/800 limbo, there will be this annoying mix of the two port styles labeled with the same logo. But this stack of connectors is just so neat and tidy, I can't help but grin at it.

The front of the case looks like this. Little cluster of plugs at the bottom (fed by the only floating cable in the entire computer), and the CD door at the top. Notice how the drive door hinges such that it slides down vertically inside the case's inner surface, making way for the tray to slide out. A far cry from the flip-out door on the front of the old G4 case, which simply flopped out of the way of the stock DVD-RAM drive's door as it pushed its way out like an alien being born.

And finally, there's this:



How do I love thee, power supply at the bottom? Oh, the rapture of properly realized design, where the heaviest crap goes on the bottom, the biggest cord plugs in near the floor so it doesn't dangle over all the rest of your (smaller and more delicate) cords and get in your way, and where the plug itself is designed so it fits flush into the square opening so it looks almost like the cord is built into the unit. There's love in this box, ladies and gentlemen.

These photos are, naturally, not exactly what you'd call art-gallery quality, and as such they don't do the machine justice. For that, be sure to look at Bill Noll's photos, which are of a single-processor version. And no less cool.

Thursday, November 27, 2003
01:19 - The battle for Helm's Deep is over; the battle for Middle-Earth is about to begin

(top)
Reviewers on the radio who have seen advance screenings of Return of the King are saying things like, "It's better than the second movie, which was better than the first-- and that's never happened before in movie history."

And on the subject of things that if you'd shown them to me when I was twelve, I would have laughed in your face, is this:



Complete with full-color 3D maps of Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor, made by the same art department that six months ago was cranking out graphics of troop movements up the Euphrates. Unreal.

Anyway, George e-mails with the following:

In Lileks’ Bleat, he referenced LOTR and wrote that it might be the most impressive thing he has ever seen on the screen.  I, to a large extent, agree wholeheartedly. However, my heart hurts when I think what the director and cast did to “The Two Towers” to achieve a bizarre undertone of anti-war smarminess. . .

The Two Towers was a fantastic screenplay. But they tried, in for me what was a horrifying way, to blur the lines between Good and Evil; to compromise with Evil; to preach the bizarre doctrine that maybe it was best to leave Evil alone and go one’s own way, trying to ignore it.  Oy.

As I follow the news and some blogs, I ask: am I that far gone that I am the only one to notice this?

In the Two Towers, everyone wants to surrender and nobody is Good.

Points:  Elrond and the elves are leaving Middle Earth, over and over and over again, because this is not their battle and they can’t win.  NO – Toilken didn’t write that.  The elves were always leaving Middle Earth, but they knew they fighting Sauron was a Good thing to do.

Treebeard says he is not going to fight and has to be tricked by the hobbits into doing so.  NO – The ents don’t want to fight, but do so anyway because they realize that Evil must be stopped.

King Theoden tells Gandalf that he will not fight and leads his people to safety to Helm’s Deep.  NO – He leads his people into battle; sends the non-warriors to safety in the mountains; and goes to rescue those fighting at Helm’s Deep.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli all despair at Helm’s Deep, convinced that it is hopeless.   NO – They never believe that it is hopless, even though they despair.

Faramir captures Frodo and Sam to take the Ring back to Gondor.  NO – Faramir nobly rises high above that temptation and lets Frodo and Sam go.

There is a subtle undertone throughout that surrender – either to running away or to the sensual joys of romance (the love scenes between Aragorn and Arwen), are viable alternatives to fighting Evil, even if you can’t; or don’t want to; or it’s hopeless.  The sucked the nobility of Doing the Right Thing, in spite of the odds against you, out of Toilken’s masterpiece.   Oy.

Toilken wrote of nobility in fighting the good fight, “no matter how hopeless…. I fight for the Right, without question or pause; to be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.”

Jackson has implied that it is okay to “Run Away!  Run Away!”

The changes he perpetrated do nothing for the story, the screentime or the overall “feeling” of the movie….

I do not like these people.  But I will see The Return of the King in the hope that redemption is at hand.

Now, it's true that there are things about The Two Towers that bug me. I don't like Faramir-- let's get that straight, right out in the open. In the book, you're supposed to sympathize with Faramir-- the Good Son who nonetheless can do nothing right in the eyes of his father Denethor, who is blinded with pride for his dumber but better-looking elder son Boromir. In the book, you're led to feel pained rejection when thinking about Boromir, and to cheer from deep within for Faramir to eventually prove his worth. But in the movie-- possibly because Boromir actually looks so good, especially in full armor, and Faramir has that weaselly, big-nosed, sullen look about him (plus one of those inevitable "I have a beard" beards, as a friend of mine in college put it)-- we find ourselves rooting for Boromir as a totally sympathetic character, after his spectacular redeeming death-scene, whereas Faramir we detest as a cold-eyed, bureaucratic pedant who puts the Quest in more danger than Boromir ever did. That's a big departure from the book, and I'm not sure I like it, because Faramir was always one of my favorites.

But he's only one of the characters who underwent changes in Jackson's adaptation; just about everybody who was unarguably noble and "good" in the book was given a more self-interested and petty motivation in the movie, one which they all had to overcome-- each in his own way-- before they could be said truly to be on the side of Good. In the book, you knew who you could trust, implicitly; but in the movie, nobody in the entire landscape seemed trustworthy-- not Théoden, not Faramir, not Treebeard, not even Éomer. They all come off, at least at first, as people to be just as wary of as any Orc.

I'm not, however, convinced that these changes were part of a general push by Jackson and co. to preach Market Street platitudes about peace-in-our-time and appeasement. In fact, I think that's quite the opposite of the final message of the film.

Of all the points that George lists, where various characters are recalcitrant in the face of their duty or the coming war, each and every one is a case where the characters in question are shown as making the wrong decisions, from which they must later redeem themselves.

Even after Gandalf healed him from Saruman's spell, Théoden defied Gandalf's advice in taking his people to Helm's Deep; and Gandalf is the only character in the film who is shown as being 100% right-- he's actually constantly counseling that Théoden and others should ride out and meet the enemy head-on. Théoden ignores him, and Gandalf is (rightly) worried that this will be a disaster for Rohan-- and that's when Gandalf decides that he himself must act, running to fetch Éomer, or else see Rohan die because it refused to fight when the time was ripe. Finally Théoden redeems himself by following Gandalf's ride-out-and-meet-them advice, though by that time it's right in the Hornburg itself-- better late than never, I say.

(I was amused from the outset by the fact that Wormtongue was accusing Éomer of "warmongering" even when faced with the most blatant of evidence that Saruman was making war on them. I took this as a very hopeful sign, given the parallels with today's world.)

Aragorn, he of the "No Blood for Oil" t-shirt off the set, was the one who said "Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not." And Éowyn, in what I thought was a charmingly appealing 2nd-Amendment homage, said, "The women of this land long ago learned that even those without swords can still die upon them." The protagonists, the guys whose opinions we trust throughout the movies, are the ones who stump for war-- and if only they'd been listened to, great evil could have been averted. Nowhere in the film are we given the impression that running and hiding can have anything but disastrous consequences. That gets you nothing but a massacre in Aglarond.

Similarly with Treebeard. The fact that he and the Ents aren't going to fight is presented as a bad thing, not a virtue. (As is their interminable Entmoot, where they sway and rustle and hoom-hom their way over the course of hours and days to approving meaningless "resolutions" of their intent to do nothing at all. Heh.) Merry and Pippin have to convince them to rouse themselves to action, by showing them the trees' equivalent of the pit at the WTC. When called upon to act, they do the right thing, even though they were prepared to just sit it out. And I think the audience is revulsed, by the end, at the fact that they'd been willing to just stand aside until convinced otherwise. Merry and Pippin, after all, come to the realization that if they do nothing, there won't be a Shire to go home to.

The Elves leaving Middle-Earth is seen as a cowardly move, with Arwen the virtuous exception. Haldir redeems his earlier mistrust of the Fellowship by marching to their aid, joining the coalition of the willing. And dying as part of it.

Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, though initially they despair, eventually come to their mutual understanding (Aragorn with his talk with the kid Haleth) that even though it may seem hopeless, it's better to stand and fight and die with dignity (and humor) than to run and hide.

Faramir eventually comes to understand that destroying the Ring is a higher calling than his own duty to legitimize himself in his father's eyes, or even to grab the Ring for Gondor. He knows (and the audience knows, even more clearly than in the book, now that we've seen the Osgiliath scene on the DVD. in which Denethor appears and makes clear just how he feels about his two sons) exactly what kind of fury he's letting himself in for from his father, once it comes out that he let the Ring go. And yet he did the right thing, and will be redeemed in the end.

And as for Aragorn's love for Arwen, I read his little mental wanderings as more of a "kissing the handkerchief before the battle" sort of thing, a spiritual goodbye. He broke off his engagement with her specifically because he knew of the duty he had, a duty that he's slowly coming to terms with ever since his shrinking from it in the first movie. The audience knows that Aragorn is destined for victory and kingship, but it also knows that he won't get there without huge sacrifice.

I don't think the undertone is that it's "okay" to run away, run away. Quite the opposite-- I think the undercurrent of running away is there, but it's very thoroughly thrust away as a viable course of action, in almost every plotline, across the board. And I think Jackson's purpose in framing these plotlines in such a way-- making everybody into a reluctant and self-interested individual, but then hitting each with some event that turns him around and makes him sacrifice for the greater good-- is intended to establish character depth and growth in everybody under a unifying theme of duty even in the darkest of circumstances. I think that's stronger, even, than the book's portrayal, where these characters are much more self-sacrificing and bound to duty from the outset than how they're portrayed in the movie-- and so they grow less.

It's certainly true that the movie has a very pastoral, anti-industrial slant to it ("The forests will burn in the fires of industry!") that is, incidentally, totally in keeping with Tolkien's own grim outlook on the urbanizing and industrializing England of the early 20th century. But that's not the same thing as promoting a reflexively anti-war stance that can be applied to today's issues. And I'll certainly grant that the allegories aren't exactly parallel either-- in LotR, the West is very clearly fighting a nigh-hopeless, defensive war against an overwhelming and aggresive attacking power, whereas in the real world whether our war is "preemptive" or "defensive" is very much dependent upon the political leanings of whom you ask. Some point to 9/11 as the Pearl Harbor of the War on Terror, while others see it as a statistical outlier that can be ignored, rendering our subsequent actions "illegitimate". Whichever way one tends, it's certainly nowhere near as obvious a set of decisions to be made in the WoT as it is in LotR.

But be that as it may, I think the upshot of all these character and plot tweaks in The Two Towers is very strongly pro-war, pro-doing-the-right-thing, pro-taking-necessary action. The movie is very clear in its insistence that the Enemy cannot be negotiated with, hidden from, or appeased, and any attempts to do so will only end in disaster. In fact, I'd wager that an avowed pacifist watching The Two Towers would be made vaguely uncomfortable by the consequences that it says await those who oppose war under any circumstances.

Or the rewards that it says await those willing to wage it.


00:19 - Now there's an undisclosed location
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/27/international/27WIRE-BUSH.html?hp

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Via Instapundit-- you just gotta love this...

In a stunning mission conducted under enormous secrecy, President Bush flew into Baghdad today aboard Air Force One to have dinner with United States officials and a group of astonished American troops.

His trip _ the first ever to Iraq by an American president _ had been kept a matter of absolute secrecy by the White House, which had said that he would be spending the Thanksgiving weekend at his ranch outside Crawford, Tex. . . .

The presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, appearing on CNN, called it ``a perfectly executed plan'' that would be ``one of the major moments in his biography.'' It would have provided ``an incredible thrill'' for the American.

Mr. Bush sneaked out of Crawford on Wednesday in an unmarked car, then flew to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where a few advisers and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy joined him. They then flew on to Baghdad International Airport, arriving around dusk.

...

"We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," the president said, prompting a standing ovation and cheers.

He also had a message for the people of Iraq: "The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone forever," he said, and pledged the help of the United States and its coalition partners, saying "we will stay until the job is done. I'm confident we will succeed."

Wearing an exercise jacket with a 1st Armored Division patch, Bush stood in a chow line and dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a platter of fresh-baked turkey.

It reads like a parody. If this were early April, I'd certainly be doing a double-take. But no, this is just the way it's done these days.

First he does a tailhook landing on a carrier to show the flyboys that he's willing to undergo the same dangers that they do every day. Now he's following the flight-path of the DHL jet that got RPG'd on its approach a few days ago.

One would have thought he'd tone down these stunts, under pressure from the Agent Smiths surrounding him. But noooo. I wonder if even Democratic Underground hates Bush as much as whatever hapless schmoe is responsible for directing this man's security does.

But I'm sure it's all just an empty gesture, that all the soldiers see through to its hollow, shallow roots. Just politicking; just grandstanding, just baby-kissing.

Whatever. You know what? These are epic times. Not just terrible, fearful times-- epic times. And I'm not complaining one bit that there's a guy in office who's willing to put some good things into this chapter of future history books to go along with the bad ones.


17:24 - If someone was gonna do it, I'm glad it was him
http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/11/27/itunes.code.ap/index.html

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This was only a matter of time:

Jon Lech Johansen, 19, faces a new trial that starts Tuesday after prosecutors appealed his January acquittal on charges that he violated Norway's data break-in laws with his DeCSS program for DVDs.

Last Friday, a new security-cracking program called QTFairUse was posted -- along with the message "So sue me" -- on a Web site for which Johansen is listed as the registrant, or owner.

The new program circumvents iTunes' anti-copying program, MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding, by legally opening and playing a protected music file in QuickTime, but then, essentially, draining the unprotected music data into a new and parallel file.

Of course, this sucks. But I don't think it means the end of the iTMS or anything.

Because, after all, the whole concept of online music buying is not founded on the idea that the DRM encryption would never be cracked. In fact, if such schemes were developed by anybody with any brains at all, they would have counted on it being cracked, sooner or later. But the whole idea behind the DRM in AAC is to make people want to buy music rather than to steal it. It's about making the music-buying process, the guarantee of quality, selection, organization, and service support, so easy and hassle-free and legitimate on your conscience that it's worth $1 per song to the buyer to have those things. If the buyer doesn't think those things are worth the price, after all, he can always get the same songs off KaZaA. Best of luck.

Even with 100% uncrackable DRM, the P2P services haven't gone away, and are always a form of competition for the online stores. But the wild success that the iTMS has had in its few months of life is an indication that a great many people would rather pay a dollar per song for peace of mind and guaranteed quality, than to brave the P2P networks and their numerous pitfalls-- badly organized files, badly recorded songs, rebuke-spam files from Madonna et al, and all the rest of it.

If the iTMS has performed this well against that kind of competition, then it doesn't have much to worry about from people using QTFairUse on their purchased songs and putting them on P2P networks. It wouldn't add any bulk to the illegitimate file-sharing content that isn't already present from people ripping CDs into MP3s. And Apple can probably fear about as much damage to its business as the DVD industry has suffered due to DeCSS.

Apple must have expected this to happen one fine day. But if their business plan was founded on AAC's DRM being sold to the labels as "uncrackable", then the whole concept of online music sales is doomed. But I don't think it is, because the business is designed on a much different claim: not that hackers would never break the seals, but that most buyers wouldn't want to.

In any case, if I'm reading the details of this story correctly, there isn't even anything particularly special about this crack-- it doesn't break the encryption, it simply opens the file legally-- meaning it has to be run by the legitimate buyer of the music-- and saves out an MP3. That kind of thing is fairly trivial to do, and always has been. But Apple hasn't been afraid of people with analog line-in cables, and likewise there's no reason for them to be afraid of a program that does the same thing.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003
16:36 - Clippy's been de-res'ed!

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This is what happens when you run Microsoft Office and that Matrix screensaver on the same Windows machine, and they fight for the same piece of memory:



Now if only I could simply stretch out my gloved hand and decompile Clippy into a vertical stream of unidentifiable amber ASCII characters, and hold him there until I squint behind my little oval sunglasses and with a barely perceptible gesture I break the loose bindings that hold his virtual entity together and he dissolves into the digital continuum...


14:13 - I'd like to return your so-called "Ultimate Belt"
http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/03/1103/112603.html

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Lileks likes the LotR DVDs, quite a lot:

Whew. Just finished the first extended bonus-edition director’s cut LOTR movie. I’m watching both EBEDC LOTR movies to prepare for seeing the third installment in the theater. I have the same reaction to this movie as I did the first time I saw it: gratitude. And a certain amount of awe – there’s not a note out of place. Every works; nothing clangs. Every frame has some sort of beauty, be it bright or dark. When asked for my favorite movie I give the old standard reply – Casablanca, because it has everything I want in glorious Warner Brothers monophonic silvery-toned perfection. It’s a movie in the sense that LOTR isn’t. Short, self-contained, pop culture that effortlessly transcends its limitations (perhaps because it isn’t trying to do anything of the sort.) But LOTR may be the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen on the screen. I say this as someone who was utterly immune to hobbitry right up until the day I saw the movie.

Which I find very encouraging. Because as should be fairly plain, I've been a Tolkienista since grade school. I'm one of those guys who can recite the names of the Numenórean kings and queens in order. I published a manual on writing in tengwar when I was in high school. (I went to a high school where that sort of thing didn't get you beaten up.) I don't need subtitles when Arwen talks.

And I, and thousands of other incurable Tolkien purists, think Peter Jackson has done the impossible: he's made the ultimate purists' story into a series of movies that to a man they fawn over helplessly.

Jackson figured something out that previous directors failed to see: that in order to please the seriously hard-core fans, the secret is not to simply treat the book as the screenplay; it's not to reproduce every last dorky line of dialogue and every verbal pun that only makes sense in print. Rather, Jackson struck boldly out into new territory; he made a movie that, astonishingly, has almost no verbatim dialogue straight from the books-- it's all either subtly altered or completely synthesized anew. When we saw the first trailers for the first movie, Tolkien fans were in shock. Not nearly frightened enough! said Aragorn in one of the shots. What the hell? When did he say that? What have they done to the character? We awaited opening day with the dread of a train-wreck of which we had foreknowledge, standing in the railway cutting with the camera rolling and a lump in our throats.

And then the curtain went up. And after the first perfunctory background scene, the first two lines of dialogue happened, which appeared nowhere in the book, and were manufactured from whole cloth by Jackson and his writers:

Frodo: "You're late."
Gandalf: "A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."
.... trying to keep a straight face... lips quiver... both burst out laughing...

An audaciously un-canon exchange, never envisioned by Tolkien, and introducing the characters in a mixture of mock formality that gives way to an overjoyed breaking of the silly façade and the embracing of two long-separated friends. Ralph Bakshi would never have contemplated such a departure from the original story-- he would have stuck religiously to the script straight out of the book.

And that's why Bakshi's movie was such a turd, and Jackson's shines so brightly.

Because in the Jackson film, that opening exchange-- those two superbly-delivered lines, replete with McKellen's picture-perfect facial reactions-- are 100% in character for both Frodo and Gandalf... and in fact seem more natural, even, than what's in the book. Two lines into the movie, and we already know these two characters. Jackson expertly conveyed their respective essences in ten seconds where Bakshi failed in ten minutes to turn either character into anything to which any audience member could relate.

And as soon as we'd all absorbed those two lines, all the purists in the audience, all the hard-core Tolkien geeks around the world, leaned back in their seats, exhaled, and said: Oh! I get it. That's all right then. And we let go of our jealous defense of the canon plot and dialogue; we put our trust in Jackson's hands, and let ourselves be carried off into a new envisioning of the story. One that, to our profound surprise, we all had to admit was even superior to the book version in many ways.

Sure, some characters and plot elements are dropped. But did we really miss Tom Bombadil? Before the first movie was released, Tolkien purists were scowling on message boards about the injustice of it all, the rape of Tolkien's vision that this fat Kiwi slasher-flick maven was committing. But by the time we'd all seen ten minutes of the movie, Tom Bombadil was the last thing on anybody's mind. By the time we'd seen Saruman (Christopher Lee had an understanding with his old friend Tolkien-- if there were ever to be a live-action LotR movie made, Lee was to get the role of Gandalf; but as it turned out, he was simply poured into Saruman's white robes, and he had a voice that the role seemed all but written for, far unlike the gecko with a sore throat that played him in the Bakshi version; and Lee acted as the primary story consultant on the set with Jackson) and Elrond (Welcome to Rivendell, Misssster Baggins) and old Tolkienian hand Ian Holm as Bilbo, we knew there was not the slightest thing to worry about.

Never mind that Aragorn doesn't spend his time reciting love stories from the First Age. Give me his interplay with the breathtaking Sean Bean as Boromir, and the latter's Best Death Scene Ever (a far cry from the ridiculous rotoscoped arrow-studded Viking against the red construction-paper background in the Bakshi movie), to say nothing of Bloom's appropriately light-footed Legolas and John Rhys-Davies' iconic Gimli, and what you end up with is a movie that succeeds beyond anyone's wildest expectations. No hard-core fan expected it to be perfect (and no, it isn't). But even so, all the hard-core fans on Usenet and beyond had their lists of "ideal casting choices" and demands for such-and-such proper treatment of such-and-such plot point. Nearly everybody who had such a demand was flouted. But what they got was so much better than what they thought they wanted.

This is why-- and if you don't want to hear about any spoilers, stop reading now-- I'm not worried when I hear about certain things being cut from Return of the King. We already knew that there'd be no Scouring of the Shire-- like Tom Bombadil, it's a device that works better in print than (likely) on the screen, mostly for reasons of timing (after all, the three movies break in slightly different places than the three books do). But it also means that Saruman isn't in the third movie either, though he does appear here and there throughout the third book. Jackson says that his role, as the primary antagonistic force in The Two Towers, is over now, and to add him into the third movie (from which his final resolution scene has been deleted anyway) would be confusing and pointless. Word is that he'll have a couple of scenes in the extended DVD, but in the theatrical version there's no Saruman to be seen. Pity, but... if there's anything we've learned by now, it's to Trust your Uncle Peter. He knows what he's doing.

Being a Tolkien fan used to mean petulantly correcting people who said, "Oh, Tolkien! You mean, like, The Hobbit, right? I read that in grade school!" and seeking out those rare like-minded fans on campus or, later, online. But now The Lord of the Rings is the biggest pop-cultural fantasy phenomenon we've seen since Star Wars, and those of us who have been so deeply entrenched in Tolkienism as to imagine ourselves honorary members of the Notion Club, or to gaze out our westward-facing windows in the hopes of seeing Tol Eressëa, are now in the decidedly unusual position of having had all our wildest dreams answered. No longer do we have to long for the real version of the story to be put up on the screen, for some good director to come along and film the books the way they should have been done. Nobody will ever be able to even attempt this project again, because Jackson has nailed it. A true die-hard fan himself, the strange little Kiwi has shown that it's not enough to simply be unwaveringly faithful to the original source material in order to make LotR into a successful movie. You have to be a master storyteller in your own right, bringing your own vision to the table.

And that's the difference between all the fans who assumed that Tolkien's original work couldn't be improved upon, and the people who weren't afraid to say that it could. Whatever stroke of providence it was that gave one of those few latter souls the wherewithal to make these movies, it couldn't have been better placed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
15:23 - Mine would've sucked anyway
http://www.billnoll.com/g5/

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I've been meaning to post this link for a long time now, along with a bunch of supplementary photos of my own G5... but it's pretty clear by now that the latter just isn't going to happen. This last couple of months has really taken a lot out of me, and I'll be just as glad to have that vacation this week.

That said, check out these photos. They're really everything I could have hoped to capture, except for a few of the trivial and technical little details (which, who knows, maybe I'll fill in with some links later):
  • The Serial ATA connectors for a second hard drive-- the power connector, which has the same form factor as the typical ATA drive plug, is about three times as bulky as the Serial ATA data connector itself, and they're both tucked under the plastic housing and retracted out of the way until you get a second disk
  • the little round gray numbers for the PCI-X slots, inside on the motherboard
  • The removable fan module for the CPUs
  • The way the security latch on the back of the case snaps flush when you're not using it, but folds out and locks into place through a little hole in the latch so you can padlock the cover on
  • The power cord, which is at the bottom of the case, dagnabbit, like where it's supposed to be razzam-frazzam-nobody-else-ever-thought-
    about-this-consarn-it-so-it-doesn't-dangle-over-all-your-
    other-cords-dad-gummit, and how the plug is designed to fit flush with the back of the case
  • The way the CD drive drops vertically out of the way to let the tray come out-- beauty-ful

...Okay, so I'll have to get photos after all. Le sigh.

Monday, November 24, 2003
18:06 - Dum dum dum dum dum
http://www.southparkstudios.com/down/guide.html?id=712

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By the way... I'm sure quite a few people saw last week's South Park episode, and I'm sure that the lesson it taught-- in light of the "Let's Make Fun of Islam (coughandalltheotherreligionstoocough)" episode that caused all the furor a Thursday or two ago-- was not lost on them.

Namely, that this one made fun of the Mormons... for about 21 minutes. Then, in the final sixty seconds, Trey and Matt spun around and whapped the audience in the face with a two-by-four.

You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we appreciate South Park so much. Yeah, anybody can make fun of the Mormons, say the duo (I believe Trey was brought up Mormon-- and hell, he's done it before). But it takes being willing to shake up the audience and alienate the people who are lulled into that dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-stupor to turn around and point out the obvious, practical, real-world significance of whatever topic they're skewering this week. The lesson, as always, is quit being such a dumbass, get your head out of the clouds, and come join us in the real world.

And even without the turnaround at the end, in any case, I'd have a hard time imagining the Mormons getting up in arms over this episode. If they didn't do so over Trey's 1997 masterwork, they won't now.

Though if Trey and Matt ever go after the Scientologists, now...


11:29 - Now that's redwood

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Behold! The partially-finished deck.



It's already serving a gallant purpose: providing a clean, level surface at the same level as the kitchen floor, so one can traverse the six feet to the hot tub without walking through mud or going down and up steps. It's all Thompsonized, too, and the water seal brings out that deep rich redness all the more. This deck rocks.

It's going to rock all the more when the secondary, raised portion is done. All that's complete at the moment is part of the truss, but when it's finished, it'll be a quarter-circle jutting out over the planter box, where there will be a tree and lots of planted items. And it's 25 inches or so up off the ground. The vertical variation in this backyard is going to be what makes it cool. Especially once the sunken areas are done, with all their landscaping and flagstones and gazebos and things.

It's really taking shape now...


11:23 - I love it here

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Last night I finished the book and submitted the last five AR chapters.

And just as I'm ready to step blinking back out into the sunlight, I discover that it's November. How the hell did that happen?

Now I have to wear a jacket when I walk Capri at 2:00 AM. But as I pass the long open swath where the power lines are strung, I can hear the weird yelping howl of coyotes, howlign all night somewhere up in the Almaden Valley. If I listen, I can even hear them from my bedroom window.

Right here in the middle of Silicon Valley, and I can hear coyotes from my house.

November or not, I love this place.

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© Brian Tiemann