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
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, September 26, 2004
23:05 - Sky Captain

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In a couple of words: thoroughly cool. In fact, I can hardly think of any complaints.

True, the movie is rife with little technological implausibilities (for example, sorry, you can't just converse at a normal level inside the cockpit of a fighter plane—and much of the technology, such as the floating airships, would require a power source not of this earth in scale); but the whole movie is one big technological implausibility, so I'm not going to fault them for that. It's one of those movies that takes place in a universe that's juuuust a bit parallel to our own—where happenstances like giant robots and apocalyptic plots by mad scientists are just sort of taken in stride, where city traffic still hurries people to and from work even as airplanes swoop through the streets at breakneck speed blasting away at each other from ten feet above your head. It's much, much larger than life, and as such it's pulp... and, hell, it's good pulp.

The movie is very deliberately vague as to the year it actually takes place; careful examinations of newspapers (yes, they come spinning out toward the camera over a backdrop of a churning printing press) reveal that it's a very kooky 1939. Everything from the New York skyscrapers to the Radio City Music Hall seem larger than they should, somehow. Even the cars are in shapes that never quite existed. It's not obvious what's different in this universe from the 1939 of our own. The year is never made any clearer in the dialogue, nor is there much else to indicate the geopolitics of this strange version of history; Hitler isn't mentioned, for example. It's a setting that's detailed enough in technical and historical matters to be fascinating, but vague enough that they don't have to worry about tedious explications of just how all this stuff works. It's the only way a pulp piece like this could work, and it's pulled off very well.

Even so, the movie plays quite loosely with anachronisms. I'll forgive things like holographic radar screens and levitating guard robots as part of the fun of the thing; but other stuff, such as the repeated references to "World War I" and "The first World War" are harder to excuse, as is the fact that Sky Captain flies a P-40 Warhawk, which first entered service in 1940. I can't help but think that these must be oversights. It's not like the movie is without errors; in one scene toward the beginning, when Sky Captain is striding into the humungous hangar on his base as the hundred-foot-high doors slide open, you see that up above the doors have those huge banks of dusty-opaque windows in grids like you saw in old factories, some of them punched out and shattered so as to give a very realistic, lived-in look. But, startlingly, I noticed that every one of these banks of windows had exactly the same pattern of broken and missing windows; it was repeated over and over, block after block of identically broken-out windows. They even appeared in that same formation elsewhere in the hangar. It's like they only bothered to make one bitmap of "factory windows" for every possible use; considering that the only things that weren't computer-generated were the actors (every single scene was shot in front of a blue screen), and considering how lavish and realistic every shot was, this erratum is particularly shocking, in a "gee that's silly" sort of way. An error that could only have come from careless computerized world-building, in a shot that's otherwise 100% convincingly real, tweaks the brain a bit, like the black cat/deja-vu effect in The Matrix. I'm sure there are other, similar flubs that I missed this time around, too.

But those are small things, and they don't detract at all from the story, which is told in excellently punchy fashion (I was sort of at a loss to think what role in the evil plan the kidnapped scientists played, but that's about the only thing I had trouble with). It isn't a funny movie, but there are four of five moments of such genuine humor—and administered with such zest and timing—that they deliver far more than their fair value in punctuating the narrative. (Polly's eye-roll at "Are you still glad you came?" was priceless. And the movie's very last line of dialogue can hardly be beat.) It seems to me that as an experiment in moviemaking technique, Sky Captain does much more successfully what Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within tried to do; where that movie fell down (the characters, being CG, still just didn't ring true enough to be believable), this one shines, because the actors are real and everything else is rendered (using Pixar's RenderMan, it should be noted). I fully expect to see more movies using this technique in the near future; it might just open up a region of storytelling that was inaccessible in the past. The current miserable state of Hollywood is to do remakes of old movies, even good ones, because there just aren't any new ideas that fit into the traditional medium. CG makes the execs look at 2D properties like Garfield and Scooby-Doo with the voracious eyes of those who see a new unmined field of ready-made ideas that haven't been done before because it was too expensive to animate them in 2D. But this is the first time I've seen CG actually successfully break open a whole genre of filmmaking. It's everything that was so wonderful about the Fleischer Superman cartoons, sharing with them a lot of DNA, as well as tapping into that steam-punk League of Nations vibe that seems so tantalizing even today. Perhaps it's just serendipity that the movie that does it is itself a remake of a particular film genre; but it's a really good one, regardless, and superbly worth one's time.

(Oh yes... wouldn't the radiation in that cave have ruined all of Polly's film anyway? Not that it really matters from a plot standpoint, I guess, but I kept expecting them to make a big deal of that little detail...)

(Oh, and that Michaelangelo-esque statue in Totenkopf's office, of the guy pulling out the other guy's brain, was a work of inspired genius.)


16:28 - Run with the dogs tonight

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To the lady standing with her young son on the corner of the road leading up to New Almaden, holding an armload of large flags and a big sign saying HONK TO SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, all I could do was yell, "I'd honk if I had a horn!"

A smile and a chuckle exchanged with a stranger. You get that walking a dog, too. And it makes it hard to listen to Pet Shop Boys songs sniveling about "suburban hell" on one's iPod headphones, when suburban life is so very fulfilling on days like this.

(Of course, it should go without saying that five miles down the road, at the Almaden Art and Wine Festival in the park, the people on the streetcorner were waving signs of an entirely different nature.)

I think I'll go take in Sky Captain tonight. I haven't been to a movie in a long time, and this seems like as good an excuse as any.

Thursday, September 23, 2004
15:16 - Fill in the blank
http://www.megat.co.uk/wrong/

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This is bound to come in handy someday. Sure seems like it would save a lot of time and effort in a lot of discussions.

UPDATE: Brian sends this noteworthy addition.

Oh, and for no particular reason, here's this one again. Quite possibly my favorite single page on the entire Internet.


15:05 - And capital wealth is thereby created, somehow
http://www.krohm.net/bernd.htm

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Okay, now this is novel, I gotta admit. Give me money or I'll eat this cute bunny-rabbit!

It doesn't look good for poor Bernd...


12:12 - Either that, or the SETI@home of journalism
http://www.microcontentnews.com/articles/borgjournalism.htm

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JMH sends this rather well-done piece on blogging from a journalist's perspective, using a metaphor that a lot of us will probably appreciate.

Weblogs aren't nearly so malevolent, and most bloggers get the warm fuzzies when they think about online content. But allow me to share the flip side of the story: if you're a journalist trying to break news, Blogs are the new Borg.

Blogs relentlessly track down every scrap of news, assimilating it into the Blog Collective hive-mind with stunning efficiency. It doesn't stop there: individual blogs each add a small insight to the story, drawing on their personal experience and contributing to the conversation. Then the conversation takes over, exploring every possible implication and insight with a ferocity that astounds.

When all is said and done, what is the role of journalists in breaking news? Are journalists relics of a golden era, now useful only as a conduit to pass along the whispers of the hive-mind to the unplugged masses? Or have we been reduced to Stamps of Approval, as we validate blog-based trends with the imprimatur of the New York Times or the Washington Post?

. . .

To use a crude metaphor, if you think about covering a story as putting together puzzle pieces, then the Blog Collective tends to shine when it's finding new puzzle pieces, and putting together simpler puzzles.

Journalists, on the other hand, tend to do their best work with really tough puzzles, or in finding puzzle pieces that demand primary research: phone calls, interviews, and the like.

Sounds a lot like distributed multiprocessing to me, a computational method for which some problems are better suited than others. And I guess that can be the source of another thought experiment: does the Borg itself function as the logical conclusion of the distributed multiprocessing concept, with all the strengths and weaknesses associated with it?

With that in mind, the synergistic relationship that Hiler describes here sounds like a very likely projection of what the journalistic landscape will look like in the not-so-distant future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004
01:50 - We have the way DOWN
http://www.techworld.com/opsys/news/index.cfm?NewsID=2275

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Someone please explain to me why Microsoft ought to be "trusted" to handle any sensitive computer-controlled functions on this entire freaking planet.

A major breakdown in Southern California's air traffic control system last week was partly due to a "design anomaly" in the way Microsoft Windows servers were integrated into the system, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The radio system shutdown, which lasted more than three hours, left 800 planes in the air without contact to air traffic control, and led to at least five cases where planes came too close to one another, according to comments by the Federal Aviation Administration reported in the LA Times and The New York Times. Air traffic controllers were reduced to using personal mobile phones to pass on warnings to controllers at other facilities, and watched close calls without being able to alert pilots, according to the LA Times report.

The failure was ultimately down to a combination of human error and a design glitch in the Windows servers brought in over the past three years to replace the radio system's original Unix servers, according to the FAA.

The servers are timed to shut down after 49.7 days of use in order to prevent a data overload, a union official told the LA Times. To avoid this automatic shutdown, technicians are required to restart the system manually every 30 days. An improperly trained employee failed to reset the system, leading it to shut down without warning, the official said. Backup systems failed because of a software failure, according to a report in The New York Times.

The 49.7-day µsec rollover problem, then. The problem that was originally seen in Windows 95. The problem that is apparently still around in Windows 2000 Advanced Server. The problem that caused four near misses and put 800 commercial flights in jeopardy over Los Angeles.

One of these days, the people in the trenches in charge of covering up for Microsoft's incompetence will have trained themselves to "trust" the company so much that they won't be able to recover at all when one of them forgets to run whatever periodic stopgap kludge script they've worked up, and many people will die. On that day I want to see some of these people who have stumped for Microsoft in the big-iron fail-safe infrastructural sector to answer a few pointed questions.

UPDATE: Here's another shining example of Microsoft's robustness ethic.


15:07 - A discriminating customer
http://dotclue.org/archives/002124.html

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J Greely has a post in defense of discrimination. Seriously.

There's "progress" afoot, and it ain't always good.


14:34 - I want to believe

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Okay, I'm gonna need to entreat someone's help here. I'm probably just not looking hard enough—after all, The Internet Knows Everything™. But I can't seem to find a detailed enough episode guide for Family Guy as to answer this question.

Last night, I was pounding away on stuff, with my back to the TV as Family Guy played; I wasn't really paying attention, as is my wont during that particular half-hour. It was the episode in which Brian (the dog) falls in love with Lois, and has to go to a shrink to work out his related mental problems. I happened to turn around, fortuitously enough, for the exchange in which Peter guffaws about Brian being "crazy"; he then becomes serious and supportive, and mentions that "lots of insane people have gone on to lead normal, successful lives."

The show then immediately cut to a three-second, silent, still photo: an old black-and-white shot of Dan Rather.

Just one of Family Guy's typical trademark non-sequitur cutaways, probably... but something about the way the scene was edited, something about the silence of the shot (no sound effects, no music), something made me wonder if somehow, just possibly, the Adult Swim guys had spliced in the picture of Dan Rather over whatever had previously been used in that cutaway. Just to be smirkingly topical, at the expense of the integrity of a show in syndication. (They've done it before—they had to alter "Even though they killed my Lord" to "I don't think they killed my Lord" in Peter's song about the Jews in order to show the "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" episode on Adult Swim.)

So: could someone tell me if that clip always had Dan Rather there? Or was it someone else? Because it seems awfully serendipitous for that joke to have hit the air last night of all possible times.

UPDATE: Word from the underground is that Dan Rather was always in the scene there... and so this episode's appearance on Tuesday night was just an example of extremely kooky happenstance.


13:30 - It's not vandalism if the good guys do it
http://www.stopbushpostcards.com/

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Hey, New York? Howsabout showing some of that old-fashioned spirit and busting some heads?

Unless, of course, this is the kind of publicity you want to have.

Via Paul Denton.


09:34 - You'll be letting out your own right names if you're not careful

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I got an e-mail from someone claiming that the following quote from Dick Cheney was equivalent to Microsoft-esque FUD:

"The danger here is without a very firm commitment on the part of the president of the United States to put in place a vision to make a decision and live with that decision ... what you get out there on the other end is confusion, weakness, uncertainty and indecision," the vice president told about 200 people at a town hall meeting.

Because, you know, calling a position that flip-flops 180 degrees every two weeks "confusion, weakness, uncertainty and indecision" is such a slanderous misrepresentation.

If Microsoft were this honest and straightforward about Linux, there'd be sports stadiums named after Red Hat by now.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, there's real Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt being peddled about Iraq.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
16:12 - What do they make telephone wires out of in Texas?
http://cms.firehouse.com/content/article/article.jsp?sectionId=45&id=32289

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File this one under "Far too implausible to be fiction":

Upon arrival, the engine company found a vehicle still running, hanging on the telephone wires by its right front tire.

Witnesses reported that the car had been traveling westbound on Alief-Clodine when the driver lost control of the vehicle, crossed the median, and made contact with the guide wire from the ground to the telephone pole, propelling the vehicle upward onto the wires.

Witnesses also reported that the driver jumped down from the vehicle and ran to catch a bus prior to the arrival of Engine 2 and the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

The vehicle ran for over an hour until the oil had completely drained from the motor and it seized.

That'll be something to tell the grandkids about...


14:22 - Put it out of its misery
http://www.macdailynews.com/comments.php?id=P3503_0_1_0

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Hoo boy. Here's Gateway's "iMac G5 killer".

As the article says, make sure you haven't eaten recently before you view the photos.

By the way, I find it vaguely amusing that every single one of the related MacDailyNews stories about Gateway (including this one) leads off its headline with "Beleaguered Gateway..."

I feel for you guys, I really do.

UPDATE: Mike Silverman has a better side-by-side visual comparison.


13:45 - Microsoft Evolved
http://www.wired.com/news/mac/0,2125,65027,00.html

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Kris sends this: apparently Microsoft is going to be putting its weight behind developing the Mac gaming platform in Japan, where it's even less existent than it is here.

I thought this was a pretty meaty testimonial:

Although the launch was held on the same weekend as a national holiday, more than 60 people gathered at the Ginza [Apple] store and dozens in Osaka.

In Tokyo, gamers were joined by Asia's No. 1 Halo player, who is known only as Siguma. Many of the guests attended just to play him or see him fight.

While Siguma battled all comers, he lectured about the game. And although he discussed all the features and controls of the game in detail, he battled about 20 opponents without getting killed once.

. . .

During the games, Siguma was asked how he found the Mac version of Halo. "The performance is good," he said. "And the graphics are good too. The controls are the same, so if you have ever played the PC version, it is easy to play the Mac version."

So the Mac is apparently a good enough gaming platform to be the weapon of choice of Asia's top Halo player? Boy, I didn't see that coming.


13:35 - Okay, now I feel silly

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I keep hearing about "pilates". Exercise videos, classes, memberships—they all talk about "pilates" now. And all this time, I'd had no idea what the word referred to. I'd assumed it was a new muscle group that the health-fad manufacturers had identified, somewhere in your lower back region (or so I imagined), that if you exercised them they would make your whole body better, or that it was imperative to give a thorough workout every day.

I was picturing people doing these sets of weird sideways crunches all evening in the aerobics rooms of gyms, working those pilates; after a few weeks, they'd have developed these huge pilates, sticking out of the sides of their lower backs, and they'd have to buy whole new sets of clothes to fit over the huge slabs of pilate muscles they'd built up.

It was only today that I discovered that that's not what Pilates is at all.

Hey, c'mon—it wasn't that stupid a misunderstanding! ...Was it?


11:23 - Once in a lifetime

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Politics is by its nature a very subjective game. A lot of the time, it seems, you can use the same set of facts to "prove" completely opposing points of view. Touchy-feely, human interest anecdotes—whether the sob story of some oppressed worker, or a soul-stirring tale of capitalism and entrepreneurship making a dream come true—carry a lot of weight with people and do more, perhaps, to sway a person to one side of the aisle or the other than a table of statistics ever could. It's a rare occasion indeed when one side turns out to be 100%, unequivocally right about something.

Which is why the CBS/Memogate scandal is such a "big deal". No matter what one might think of the bloggers who ran it to ground and relentlessly pushed it until CBS could no longer breathe, they turned out to be right, and nobody can take that away from them by calling them "partisan hacks" or muttering darkly about imagined political ties. They were right, and they proved themselves to be both more technically competent and more scrupulous than one of our largest and most trusted journalistic banner-bearers, and cast doubt by extension upon the honor of the entire mainstream media. By whatever objective scoring system you use, these guys—Powerline, LGF, INDC Journal, and others—ought to revel in the well-earned spotlight that's now turned on them (though, hey, by the look of that one dude's desk, it might be more of a desk lamp...).

And this is why it's so pathetic to see some people still trying to complain that the bloggers who unmasked CBS for what it is—little more than a bought-and-paid-for partisan propaganda machine—are somehow lessened by being politically motivated. As though there's something political about the truth! This is, again, one of those rarest of things: an event in political history where there's an incontrovertible truth, and a set of people who recognize it as such and another set who were lying. There's no "interpretation" here, no question of "credibility" or "uncertainty". Those damn memos were forged, and you either saw them as such or you tried to contribute to the lie. There's really no middle ground. And it doesn't matter in the slightest what the political motivations were of the people who staked out their claim on that piece of coveted land called Truthsville; they could have been neo-Nazis, or they could have been Communists, or they could have been invading space mutants—it doesn't matter, they were right, and those who opposed them were wrong. You can't throw out a proof because you don't like the look of the guy proving it. And if the bloggers who did the leg-work here all happen to share a political goal (it should be noted that not all of them even identify as Republicans), well, so what? Rather than stamping your foot and wailing like a kid who doesn't understand why his mother won't buy him candy, maybe it would be worthwhile to think about what else these guys might possibly be right about.

I've been waiting for a volta in this turbulent discourse for some time now: the turning point, the event at which the media realizes that its own bias might make a bigger, more saleable story than stumping for John Kerry. So far nothing's been sufficient. But Memogate might just be it. The Washington Post has turned on CBS and produced nice flashy glossy timelines comparing the fake memos to real ones from the same time period. Time has the above-linked blog-pumping cover story, and Newsweek might follow suit. The pressure to cover this story of internal pathology within the mainstream media has been growing, though to do so would be to turn away from the Kerry cheerleading that's at the center of the debate, and so it's not happened yet; but now this story is so big, so hard to keep out of public discourse, that to ignore it is to abdicate any pretense of "keeping the public informed". This might, in other words, be that volta we've been waiting for.

It seems that Kerry is trying desperately to shift the discussion to Iraq, and much good may it do him—but with Memogate now as deep into the public consciousness as it is, and with it having reached the critical mass necessary to sustain a journalistic chain reaction that keeps it alive in the headlines for more than a couple of days, Kerry's entire campaign is now poisoned. Who can say they trust him now? Who can say they trust his campaign? How can Kerry advertise in such a way that paints him as a trustworthy good guy and makes it stick? I think it's really too late for him in this election; he's as good as gone, by all the electoral polls, and his party really ought to concentrate now on figuring out how to rebuild itself into a body with some credibility and some reasoning power, rather than ad-hominem attacks, petulant whining, and hypocritical screeching about an imagined "evil" that the rest of the country now sees only in that party's own tactics.

UPDATE: Yes, I know "truth" and "fact" are not the same thing... or so some smart bearded people in universities say. That's sort of my point.

Anyway, Matt H. e-mails the following thoughts:

The lefties and the Dems seem to treat opinions as facts and facts as
opinions. I've noticed that the MSM, if it wants to "report" on inconvenient
truths, simply encapsulates them in quotes from Republicans. "Republicans
say the memos are forgeries." "Republicans say the sky is blue."
"Republicans say the sun will rise in the east tomorrow." The idiots
comprising the 15% that Jonathan Alter talked about will read this as "The
documents are not forgeries." "The sky is not blue." "The sun will rise in
the West tomorrow."

And the opinions that are facts : "Bush did not fulfill his National Guard
duty." "Halliburton has done something nefarious and Cheney has benefited."
"Iraq is a quagmire." "Less than 1000 combat deaths is a military
catastrophe."

Due to the way the MSM's and the Dems are acting, truth is
_starting_ to become political. It's becoming necessary to vote against
these guys, because of their lack of respect for truth! It's getting so
absurd that who else _except_ Republicans would be worried about the truth?

What's that word again? Oh yeah: indeed.

UPDATE: Geez, there are examples of this all over.

Monday, September 20, 2004
18:38 - Let's not go there
http://www.chinpokomon.com/archives/001309.html#001309

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Kevin has quite the pithy comment about European domestic politics. Sounds about right to me, from what little I hear.

I guess it stands to reason that this is what "the world after history" would look like. Funny—to me, it doesn't sound much worth living in.


13:29 - Throwing Strikes
http://coldfury.com/index.php?p=4867

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You've got to see this video that Mike found. See it, and wonder how deeply buried the sentiments expressed in it really are anymore.

And then see what he's dug up as a rejoinder to it.

Oh, man.

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© Brian Tiemann