|Friday, December 26, 2003
18:05 - Skyscrapin'
Combustible Boy sent me this link to a diagram of the New York skyscrapers and where the new Freedom Tower will fit into the pantheon.
I just had to link it, because it-- and the whole damn site-- is just so very cool. These dynamic diagrams are the bees' knees, they are.
Also there's this forum discussion on WTC redevelopment plans. I'm gonna be keeping my eye on this site. Looks like the place to be.
(And for what it's worth, I'm warming to that tower. It's even got some symmetry to it. Only 70 floors, though? ...Oh, wait, I see. The topmost 400 feet or so isn't habitable-- it's just a truss. So this won't even have the highest observation deck in NYC; that's kind of a bummer.)
UPDATE: Whoah. Check out these older proposal diagrams of the Freedom Tower. It could have been way worse.
17:44 - Shake it up, baby
So let's see here. Last week, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit the San Luis Obispo area. (Most people here in the office felt it, 150 miles away.) Two people were killed, and the downtown area of Paso Robles suffered cracked pipes and several collapsed buildings, which made for a subdued Christmas season there.
In Iran, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake today killed as many as 20,000 in the town of Bam and completely destroyed a huge, 2,000-year-old fortress that was the area's main tourist destination, and from photos appeared to be in gorgeous repair. It also destroyed the town's only two hospitals, and 80% of the town's buildings. Iran will now mourn officially for three days, though this will directly affect far more lives than 9/11 did.
I hope al Qaeda and the shake-the-ground-under-their-feet imams get the message.
15:52 - That's it
Okay, little iPod. I'll fix your wagon but good.
See, I have a playlist called "Music". It's a Smart Playlist, which means it's actually a series of database query criteria that selects a set of songs dynamically. I've defined it as everything that does not match certain criteria. For example, I exclude everything whose Genre is "Books & Spoken", whose Genre is "Comedy", and whose Genre is "Unclassifiable"-- in other words, everything that I do not deem to qualify as "music".
This way I can listen to this playlist without worrying about the music being interrupted by chapters of The Silmarillion or by Monty Python routines. Sure, there are times I want to listen to those; but not as part of the iPod's general randomly-mixed background hum.
But anyway, out of necessity, I've added a new criterion to the set.
There we go.
13:13 - Where is everybody?
Fully two-thirds of the company appears to have taken today off. Wandering around the office, I can hardly find any cubicles whose occupants are present. They've all taken a vacation day to make a five-day weekend.
I guess maybe I'll take the opportunity to do the same, and at least take advantage of the remaining three days. Hey, finally-- a chance to get my Christmas shopping done!
|Thursday, December 25, 2003
03:31 - Working Christmas
"Did you hear about how we caught Saddam?" my friend asked me conspiratorially.
I was standing barefooted in the garage, reinstalling Windows 2000 on his computer which he had once in the mists of time (a year and a half ago) obtained from this household's good offices, cobbled together from parts from Fry's. I had been trying gamely to install a FireWire card into it that would allow me to hook up my old iPod to it and thus bequeath it to him, but three separate FireWire cards were unable to prevent the computer from plastering the screen with sequences of dialog boxes saying Unable to copy file from \Devices\Hard Disks\F\Apple Computer DH230P\Volumes\iPod Control\C13245; this data has been lost. Please try to save the file somewhere else, each one taking some three minutes to time out the system and appear, whenever I plugged the iPod in. Maybe a nuke-and-pave is what's needed. Hell, couldn't hurt.
I wasn't sure how to respond. This was a friend who fell into the Michael-Moore-may-be-a-little-dishonest-but-he-sure-does-make-you-think category, and his history of cleaving to Scandinavian allegiance despite having been born in Michigan of Chinese/Filipino and Jewish parents made me wonder where he was going with this. He did say we, though, not they, so there was hope.
"Uh... no?" I wasn't sure if he'd meant had I heard that Saddam had been captured, or if he had some juicy tidbit that I in my lotus-eating-media-addled sheeple-stupor had no doubt missed. It was the latter.
"The Kurds turned him in."
Really? I thought. I paused. "Really?" I said.
I hadn't heard this news. And I was unsure how to respond. He delivered it with a broad smirk, as though it was a deeply scandalous secret, but I wasn't sure in which direction I was meant to bristle.
He added, "And you know, none of the American news outlets have reported this, of course."
So it was evidently some source of embarrassment that the US Army would never admit, and that the gung-ho war-drum-banging Western news media would never let us hear, relentless as they are to give us the impression that the war is going well and that we are right to support our troops there, no matter how hopeless the fight. I wasn't sure why I should find this particular news to be bad, but I decided to be skeptical anyway, just to buy time.
"Um... where did you read this?"
He smirked again. "The Norwegian news," he said. "So far I haven't seen it picked up by anyone else."
Ah, I thought. Now, I like to consider myself fairly well abreast of the news, even though I barely even read the big media sites anymore-- I used to reload CNN.com obsessively every morning post-9/11, waiting for the next big headline that never came. But ever since Iraq, there's been nothing of interest to me there, and every bit of useful news I've heard has come filtered via my favorite blogs. A self-destructive and dangerous technique, I know, but one that's indicative of the times at the very least, yes?
"That's the kind of thing I'd like to see some corroboration on," I said, trying to keep the edge off my voice and sound appropriately disinterested. As I tapped on the keyboard, dragging files to the backup server (my G5 upstairs) and trying to keep Windows from going Eeee! There has been a sharing violation! You can't copy NTUSER, you numbnuts!, I racked my brains trying to figure out how the American soldiers being tipped off to Saddam's whereabouts by Kurdish elements constituted a scandal. "Tell me," I added after a moment's thought. "If the Kurds knew where Saddam was, why did it take so long to find him? Wouldn't they have been the first to jump up with the news, like months ago?"
"It was a tribal rivalry thing," he told me. "The Kurds had a score to settle with him."
Well, durn tootin', I thought. Still not sure why they'd have waited until December to go waving their hands at teacher and point accusingly into the septic tank. And still not sure why we should be embarrassed by this, or why the Zionist-controlled media agents should consider it a piece of dangerous morale-sapping agitprop unworthy of reporting to the proles. Not sure how he meant to spin it as a failure of what he would so chortlingly call "military intelligence"; after all, we had to get our tipoffs from somewhere, didn't we? It's not like we could just take a picture of Saddam-- including several bearded variants, worked up in Photoshop: Santa Claus, Saruman, Evil Twin Spock goatee-- and a recording of his voice, feed them into the orbital laser satellite network, and wait for it to report that it had detected a lifeform matching those criteria in a hole outside Tikrit... right? I'd always assumed that some Iraqis had been the canaries, and if they were Kurds, well, good for them, eh? So much the better. Why be embarrassed?
"Well, he's like Little Miss Muffet-- he's always had Kurds in his way," I said uncertainly. He groaned, and we went back to tinkering.
Anyway, it's been a weird Christmas. Up at 6:30 this morning, to match the down-home schedule of my folks who work in the non-nerd sector; and besides, presents should be opened by the light of sunrise, with the Northern California fog standing resolutely against any attempt by the cold watery gray sun to burn it off-- not under the brisk clear light of midday, when I'm accustomed to getting up. So breakfast-- something I enjoy approximately once a year, oddly enough-- and gift-opening, and calls to brother and his wife in Atlanta, and walks around the house, and petting of barely-familiar cats, and examination of several bullet points on Post-It notes regarding odd behaviors of the venerable iMac which must be looked into with all my boundless Mac OS 9 expertise, and relatives popping by later in the morning, and chin-stroking examination of the redwood deck that my dad insists is infinitely crappier than my new one, despite the fact that it's still sound and sturdy after twenty years-- merch-grade wood nailed to joists or no.
And a couple of hours in the interim spent reviewing my final PDFs for the book-- yeah, yeah, I know, this has dragged on far too long for there to be any suspense left. It reportedly goes to print on the 30th, so I have until the 29th to get my revision notes in, and to cross my fingers and hope they are feeling the charity of the season enough to change "editable" to "selectable" on page 276, and many other such piffling trivial changes which in fact make critical differences in the meaning of the text. I've got three chapters left to check, and then I send in the file. And I'm home free.
I left at about 2:00, and by the time I got home the tryptophan from the midday turkey was getting to me; I hadn't even been able to properly enjoy the fact that on the whole three-hour drive back down south, I'd followed the last heavy raincloud from the recent storm as it lumbered its way down the peninsula, and as I crossed into the East Bay to skim down 880 it was the only dark spot in the entire sky, still determinedly dumping down a distant curtain of mist onto the hills that were lit face-on with the golden setting sun from off to my right, looking startled as though caught in the act of something sordid. As though to reassure the hills, the sun caught the high rain curtain and blasted it into the brightest, strongest, most long-lasting and complete rainbow I've ever seen, with a double and even a triple band, standing there off my left shoulder all the way from Oakland to Milpitas. Finally as 880 turned southwest I found myself facing directly into the sun as it ducked behind the long rolling cloud-bank rumbling over the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the southwestern edge of the valley, and it lit the back edges of the cloud bank with a lick of flame as the end of the Gandalf movement of Johan de Meij's Lord of the Rings Symphony played on my iPod. If you know the music, you know why it is that turning a wide bend on the freeway to face the setting sun as it shoots its dying yet triumphant rays through the nooks and crannies of a mattress of cloud, with the crashing chords of this music playing at high volume, is as close as you'll ever get to seeing end credits start to roll up the blue sides of the mountains.
I was pretty beat when I got home; so after some hazy gift-exchanging, I retired to try to catch up on the last few Bleats. And to give you some idea of just how out-of-it I was feeling by that point, when I read James' explanation that the superiority of the Krispy Kreme donut stemmed from the fact that it contained no fean meat, I nodded sagely and stupidly, like Arthur Dent, and kept reading. It wasn't until the end of the column that I stopped and thought, wait a minute, and went back to see what it really said.
Then I fell flat on my bed and took a nap. I slept gratefully through until 11:30, when I was awakened for Christmas steaks. Two nice thick broiled sirloins. Very tasty and tender, as a matter of fact.
Not fean at all.
(We never did get the computer fixed, by the way.)
19:37 - Merry Kuffmas
I got this last year too, from (naturally) the Ar-Rahman list. I decided then to let it pass, because hey, who knows-- it was probably just some dumb troll who thought he was too clever for words, and everybody else would just ignore him.
Well, I've now received no fewer than three copies of it this year, so I guess it's become a meme.
Let's learn about cultural sensitivity and respect for diversity, shall we?
Christmas or Kuffmas
Christmas or Kuffmas you decide,
placed on a plater your faith
is there to hide.
For at this time of the year eeman
can become an unwanted bride,
to those muslims that substitude
belief for dunya pride.
We must remember it's not our day,
it's not our time,
these pagan rituals that the Kufar define.
Be him a man in red,
or their Messiah now dead
they're still worshiping idols that
their Lord never said.
Did Jesus celebrate Christmas
can you answer me this?
can't answer, stuttering,
now you wonder why your religion
is so easy to diss.
For you make your children
believe in a man that
climbs down a chimley,
your faith is weak man,
refutable and flimsy.
Welcome to the real world
where nothing is make believe,
where we are tried and tested
before we leave.
Where no Christmas tree,
Elf or Red nosed Reindeer,
will help our souls on Yulma Qiyama
the day of much fear.
Where all Muslims, Christians
and those Yahoods I mean Jews,
will be asked
"Did you celebrate this day of
bidah and excessive booze"
So is it KUFFMAS or CHRISTMAS?
I'll let you choose.
By BLAX ©
Can I scream now?
|Wednesday, December 24, 2003
13:52 - Catch ya on the flip side
I'm off to to folkses' until sometime tomorrow night. Merry Christmas, everybody.
...And if the word "Christmas" offends you, well, try to be merry anyway. For once.
And don't hijack any Air France planes.
|Tuesday, December 23, 2003
23:03 - Drawn and quoted
Tim Blair has done quite a service: rounded up all those oh-so-memorable moments of 2003 in a long series of nice crunchy quotes. With links back to where they all came from, no less.
This may come in handy.
The time is drawing near when I will have to unmask myself to my long-time e-mail correspondent, who still evidently hasn't guessed my hideous secret (I'd actually prefer it if it stayed out of the conversation entirely, but it's really hard to avoid it when the discourse unfailingly turns toward the stupidity of Texan drivers with Bush stickers on their cars, or the sheer apolitical genius of that Kucinich Flash ad that Eric Blumrich did, whoring the names of the American soldiers killed in Iraq to suit the Left's corporate-cabal conspiracy theories). He knows there's something I'm not telling him, but he hasn't struck near the mark yet. The closest he's come so far is to theorize that I'm actually a woman. Hmm. Good try...
And of course I'm rehearsing just how I'll break the news once I'm finally requested to, because I know that moment is coming soon. Tim's quotes might indeed help, but they won't do the whole job. I need a way to lead into it gently, bearing in mind that as far as he knows, I'm just another benign San Francisco leftist, a bit politically unmotivated perhaps (why else would I answer him so noncommittally whenever he fumes about Bush's latest energy bill involving a provision to develop
nucularnuclear bunker-busters and fusion reactors?), but thought-provoking nonetheless. I seem at least to have chastened him on the subject of just how helplessly stupid the American sheeple are, and how dismissive it's okay to be of them; he doesn't fume about them quite so much anymore now that I've used words like contempt and arrogance in describing that kind of attitude toward things like the South and Middle America in general.
(I'm wondering, incidentally, how he'll respond to the next sortie that I'm preparing. For some six months now he's been tossing off dozens of rather alarming bits of racially supremacist value judgment, in passing, bam-bam-bam, when describing how the human mind works. See, he's of mixed Native American ancestry, and he gets to regale me with theory after theory about why the Indian mind is so vastly superior to the white man's, how he's tried so hard to wean himself off the hateful white man's habits, how he's worked to rid himself of white man's prejudices, and so on. I've sat and silently taken it, because what else can one do in this day and age? Yesterday, though, I inserted a brief line between a couple of his paragraphs that held forth on all the moral and physical and spiritual inferiorities of the white race: "You know, they say that on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. I'm starting to feel as though I'd be better off as one than as a white person." We'll see how he reacts to that.)
But one day soon I'll have to broach the larger subject, and I'm not sure how I'll go about doing it. All this rehearsal is only getting me halfway there.
I think I'll have to start out simply saying that there are what amounts to two different schools of thought in the world, and most philosophical/political conflicts seem to boil down to them. The first is this:
Success is a desirable thing.
And the other, barring some unfortunate language quirks, is this:
It's best for everybody to be the same.
(I didn't say equal, because while I do intend this in the sense of "equality" of status, prosperity, freedom, etc, we use the term "equal" to mean something specific: what Den Beste calls equality of opportunity, versus equality of result. Remember how Meg Murry confronted IT on Camazotz? No! like and equal aren't the same thing at all! That's stuck with me since third grade. So my meaning in this second philosophy is that everybody should be on a level playing field, whatever the best way of expressing that is.)
Not quite polar opposite concepts, are they? That's sort of the problem. In fact, they're somewhat orthogonal to each other in meaning, though in practice they often turn out to be opposed to each other.
Success is very closely tied to freedom. The freedom to succeed cannot exist without the freedom to fail; but the presence of the freedom to fail is exactly what inspires success, which gives back in value more than it receives as input. Likewise, success is about the freedom of one man to take care of himself and his family, out of the belief that he is better capable of doing so than someone else he doesn't even know. And this applies not just to people, but to economies and to nations on the global stage, too; nations need to have the freedom to make the right decisions for their people, just as they need to have the freedom to make the wrong decisions. But there also must be consequences for the wrong decisions, not a coddling of the mistaken and a punishment of the successful.
Trying to make every person (and every nation) the same, however, is patently alien to the idea of freedom, particularly the freedom to succeed or to fail; because people are different. Sameness must be enforced by an outside hand. Some people are better capable of success than others; some are better capable of taking care of themselves than others. The question lies in whether this is a bug in the design of the human animal, or a feature.
Now, the argument goes something like this:
ME: Success is a good thing. When people succeed, wealth is created, and everybody benefits.
HIM: But it also means the people who don't succeed are poor. What about them? It's much better to give excess wealth to those who don't have any. Then everybody will be happy, and there'll be no need for greed or hunger, just like in Star Trek.
ME: Where does this supposed "excess wealth" come from, though?
HIM: Well, rich people, of course.
ME: People who succeeded, in other words. You're saying we should identify the people who have the gall to win in the game of life, and punish them by taking their winnings and giving them to the people who haven't won. Won't that just remove the incentive to win? Won't that just make sure there are no more winners?
HIM: Yes. Because, see, in my system, if there aren't any winners, at least there aren't any losers either.
ME: Except for Soviet Russia and Cuba and North Korea. And France.
HIM: Exactly. We should give our wealth to those countries. We have lots, and they have none. And our military power and economic influence too. Why should America be so powerful?
ME: Um, because our way is better?
HIM: That's not the point. It's much more important for everybody to be on a level playing field, than for "better" or "worse" ideas to be the basis of judgment of countries that affects the well-being of their people.
ME: So you'd rather punish a wildly successful country, that's created more wealth and freedom and social and technological achievement than any other in history, where even the poor are richer than the richest people in some other parts of the world, to help make sure the countries that chose other paths-- wrong paths, I would venture to say-- don't have to bear the consequences?
HIM: Yeah. That way everything's equal.
ME: Except that without the incentive for individuals to succeed in entrepreneurship, or for countries to develop economies that reward the creation of wealth, or for proven just democratic nations to adopt international policies that champion their own systems of justice over those used by brutal third-world dictators with seats on international lawmaking bodies, there won't be any more wealth or freedom or justice created.
HIM: Oh, there will. You'll see.
ME: Will I now.
HIM: Yeah. You think "success" is such a noble concept, but it only creates a gulf between rich and poor, between powerful and powerless, between just and oppressed.
ME: Making sure that nobody has to work for wealth, power, or justice only means that nobody will.
HIM: Sure they wil. Just ask Gene Roddenberry.
I told one friend the other day about what the dole is in France, the benefit the government gives you just for being in France: $1300 a month. And that's the basic dole, to which are added hikes if you have kids, and even a Christmas bonus, which I'm sure amuses the North African Muslim immigrant population no end.
This friend looked wide-eyed at me. "Damn!" he said. "I should move to France! I could make more money being unemployed there than I can by working here!"
Which is why, I patiently explained to him, Paris has those cités full of unemployed people who outgun the gendarmerie.
There's a reason, after all, why we call it making money.
It's so easy to stand in a circle, holding hands with all your compatriots, and sing songs about peace and love and brotherhood, and sharing all your wealth so nobody goes hungry. It all sounds so simple. It's so obvious. And people who resist-- why, they're just hateful simian throwbacks to some ancient feudal society. They're greedy and thieving leeches who genuinely hate poor people and will do anything to keep them from being happy. And of course they're racists, too, because they're too stupid to realize that the color of one's skin has nothing to do with their mental, physical, or spiritual capacities.
So we see the Instant Rhetorical Superiority that comes from the "make everybody the same" school of thought. It makes the practitioner into the occupant of the moral and intellectual high ground-- and he doesn't even have to have put any thought into what he's saying, let alone what the other side's story is. (By definition, the other side's story is simplistic rhetoric designed to glorify oppression and imbalance of power.)
It's conventional wisdom that people start out as unthinking right-wingers, and then become compassionate liberals as they grow older and meet people and travel the world.
Phenomenal, then, that the vast majority of movement from one side of the political aisle to the other over the past few years (as long as I've been paying attention) is in the other direction.
What was that about how if you're not liberal when you're young, you have no heart-- but if you're not conservative when you're old, you have no brain?
It's not such an antiquated notion after all, perhaps.
I'm still working on distilling all this into an appropriate plan of attack, one that will keep me from ending up on the person's hammered-into-stone shit-list. But I'm left with the memory of an episode of the New Twilight Zone, from the 80s, which I saw as a kid and never really left me:
In a technocratic futuristic city, a guy stands trial for "coldness" to his fellow man. He is convicted, and sentenced to wear a "mark of Cain" on his forehead. This mark signifies to all he meets that they are to shun him, at whatever cost, thereby punishing him with a measure suited to his crime.
He wanders the streets, increasingly desperate for human contact and conversation. Nobody will meet his gaze; nobody will acknowledge his existence. Finally, he meets a blind man in a restaurant-- a blind man who, of course, can't see the mark on his forehead. Companionship at last! The two strike up a warm conversation, sit down to eat, and get along famously.
Then, the waitress comes up to the blind man and whispers something in his ear. His expression changes immediately to a mask of betrayal and hatred. "Damn you," he snarls, as he stands up from the table and leaves.
The Internet is a wonderful thing, isn't it? It's a tool for creating selective blindness in your conversational partner. But the secret will always come out.
18:41 - I shall call it... Mini-Pod
If Think Secret is to be believed, Apple's gearing up to release a line of variously colored mini-iPods at MacWorld next month.
Reliable sources inside and outside of Apple have confirmed Apple will announce the new pocket-size iPods in a number of capacities and in various colors, including stripes. Capacities will be 2 and 4GB -- meaning users could store some 400 and 800 songs, respectively. Prices will start at around $100US, Think Secret has learned. It is not known if the new product line will be available immediately after introduction.
It is also expected that current iPod models will be revamped to add body colors as well.
The addition of mini iPods is not unexpected what with recent comments by Jobs that such a device has been an Apple priority and MP3 industry watchers confirming the market is wide open for Apple to take a lead in technology and offer a better, faster, cheaper, low-end MP3 player.
Well, er, yeah, that would certainly quiet the people who say the iPod's big flaw is its price. A month or two ago, Jobs told Newsweek that "If we could make a $100 iPod, yes, absolutely we'd do it." The implication being that they simply couldn't develop such a device under the current cost constraints of the iPod's components. But now a lot of the pseudoPods out there-- like Dell's thing-- have most of the same features but sell for notably less. How?
Probably because Apple's always been very reluctant to lower prices when component prices drop-- especially when they're alone in a given field. Say they're selling a $500 iPod, and the price of the hard drives drops by 30%. Do they lower the prices 30%? Naaahh. Why should they? People still want iPods; and in the interim, before they make the jump to the next hard drive size up (as inevitably happens, and brings them back to their earlier price point), they get to reap the fat. In the absence of real competition against their iconic market-leader, the prices are going to sit still.
So now that you can get a Dell Jukebox for $250 rather than a similarly-equipped iPod for $400, what does Apple do? Lower the price of the iPod range to bring it into line? No way. They still command the image premium. But they have to court the low-end market. What to do, what to do... I know! I'll have my testicles laminated! Err, wait, no... I know! We'll bring out low-cost mini-iPods!
It worked for Final Cut Pro. It's the high-end market leader, but Premiere held doggedly on to the $600 prosumer niche, selling to customers who wanted to dabble in pro video editing but avoid the cost of entry ($1000) associated with FCP, let alone Avid. So what does Apple do? Why, release Final Cut Express, of course, at $300. It's stripped down enough to not be usable at the real pro level, but the strippage isn't even noticed at the prosumer level. And now Premiere is losing its grip on its niche.
They could do this with the iPod, a pincers movement on the market-- continue to dominate the high-end (and collect a significant margin), and meanwhile undercut the competition on price (its primary selling point) while retaining the image leader status that any iPod brings.
And... various colors? What, whaaat-- is it 1999 again? Or is Apple just floating a trial balloon-- seeing whether lightning can strike twice, whether infiltrating the market with a single unified and unique visual design (like the existing iPod, or the original translucent Bondi Blue iMac) works best as a precursor to trendy customization? Are they playing from the Game Boy script?
This oughtta be a fun keynote to watch.
My question is this: How big, exactly, is a "mini-iPod"? The existing iPod is pretty bloody small; you can't get it much smaller while remaining hard-drive-based. (Most iPod competitors are considerably bigger, in fact, using standard laptop hard drives, which are cheaper.) Did they find a supplier of 2-4GB drives that are smaller yet in form factor? And what of the controls and the display?
I guess we'll see, eh?