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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, December 19, 2004
03:42 - A dilemma

(top)
So, do we celebrate Christmas and proclaim it to the high heavens... or do we hide in a dark corner and disavow any responsibility for any part of it?

On the one hand, he makes a strong case.

And on the other... well.

Uuuuugghhh.

I suppose that, having actually listened to the whole thing, I should be encouraged. I should take heart in the fact that at least today we seem to have more taste—things like this seems like shameful travesties, and even calling it a Traditional Holiday Celebration seems preferable to the SWCA or any other of the memes the 70s produced. And I have to admit that it'll be pretty hard to curl a baleful lip at "Jingle Bells" in the mall after this.

But... damn. I don't care if I was three when this thing came out; I'm still going to a vague sense of cultural culpability for it. There must have been something I could have done.

UPDATE: But then, "A Very Venture Christmas" seems to have been inspired by the same muse—and yet it's funny...


02:26 - I'm going to Tolkien hell

(top)
So why does the Mouth of Sauron look so familiar? Where have we seen this guy before?



Oh yeah:



(Sorry.)

UPDATE: (...No I'm not.)


14:08 - What is this feeling?

(top)
Well, yesterday I got all my chapters and screenshots done for the milestone deadline tomorrow, got all my shopping done, and don't have any more mailing or running around to do. I don't even have any pressing e-mail matters.

I believe I have today all to myself.

I think I'll do something I haven't spent a weekend day doing in a long time: nothing.


(Or I could spend today making a whole bunch of progress on some of my other projects that I've been letting slip while I—no! Nothing! Nothing at all!

Friday, December 17, 2004
19:54 - How's the grass over there, Vern?
http://www.davidbrin.com/libertarianarticle1.html

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Yesterday I delved up this David Brin speech to the Libertarian National Convention again, in support of some aimless musings about branding and consumerism. I knew it contained a couple of points that were germane to the discussion, so I threw in the link sight unseen, without a fresh re-read after the couple of years that it's been since I last ate my way through it.

I just finished it again, and I must recommend it to those who have skipped it thus far. It's hard to argue with. I'd love to pass it to that erstwhile Correspondent of mine, the so-far-Left-he-fell-off-the-Earth one, because at one point in our discussion he rather randomly tried to describe himself as a Libertarian; I suspect he doesn't really know what he was saying, and was grasping for a term that meant "Stay out of my bedroom and my bloodstream, pig". But I think even he might be turned by Brin.

There's one bit in the whole five-long-page essay that bugs me, though. Unfortunately, it's the most important part. After all the great observations and incisive questionnairing and audacious money-changer-table-overturning he does on stage before all the zealous Capital-L types, he comes to the central core of the ideology he's trying to promote: "Cheerful Libertarianism", the optimistic idea that people are fundamentally competent and rational and have accomplished so much already that our trajectory for the future is an encouraging one indeed. His central paragraphs explaining the rightness of the idea are these, on Page 4:

Marxism foresees that era coming as a natural consequence of capital accumulation and the fore-ordained group behavior of mass classes. Classical libertarians -- harking to the resentful Look-Back view -- prescribe removing government shackles that currently prevent the natural flowering of markets. Simply toppling the sin of government excess will begin the era of explicit contracts and true individual liberty.
 
Ah, but then there's Cheerful Libertarianism. (Or perhaps it should be called Maturationalism. Under this Look-Forward zeitgeist, the future era of freedom will come about for one simple reason.
 
Because if we make a future world in which all children grow up healthy and well educated and free-minded, they will naturally, and of their own free will, choose a society free of coercion. Because that is what any person in his or her own right mind would want!
 
Mature, knowledgeable and satiable people will tend to approach the near-ideal society of our fairy tale from nearly any starting point, since almost any unafraid adult will deem it the only decent way to live. Absence of fear is key, persuading individuals to forsake ruthless predation in favor of fair competition.

Coming hot on the heels of his impish verbal traps intended to catch the audience off guard, this statement that his beliefs are "what any person in his or her own right mind would want" seems so glib that at first I suspected he was being sarcastic. But it's not the only time he mentions it, and I can't hear the laugh-track to tell me he was making a face while saying it. I think he actually means it.

Which is worrisome. I don't really believe that a person, raised in liberty and consensus, would naturally choose a life of more liberty and consensus. Sorry, I just don't think it's objectively true.

History, which Brin asks us to treat with the deference we would a teacher, instructs us quite firmly otherwise. Plenty of despots arose out of relative comfort and freedom because they either had a vision of something yet greater that could be had, or (more often) because they saw a weak spot and went for it. That's where we got people like Saddam Hussein. They're the "cheaters" in the Prisoner's Dilemma, the guys who make a global politics based on disarmed debating societies like the UN so unworkable. Freedom is a tenuous human condition, and hardly a "default"; without ever-present vigilance, it can be stolen by someone with designs on power, all the more easily the more consensus we have.

I believe, rather, in a sort of "oscillation" of the human condition. People want what they don't have. Doesn't history tell us that? More to the point, doesn't our very conscience tell us that? If we're oppressed, we want freedom. If we're poor, we want money. If we're being cooped up under a parent's protective wing, we want responsibility over our own destinies. And if we're free adults struggling in this workaday world, trying to make it from mortgage payment to mortgage payment, with kids to feed and clothe and keep healthy, we want ease.

Where does the desire for socialized health care come from? Not from the wealthy and idle. It comes from people who don't want to have to deal with sudden unexpected medical bills. That's a demographic otherwise known as the free middle class. These are Brin's Libertarians (historically speaking), brought up in an atmosphere of freedom and consensus unknown before in history, consciously volunteering to give up some of our individual freedoms and responsibilities in favor of some more ease and convenience and peace of mind.

We all do this. Any number of less hot-button examples can be cited. Say you're a homeowner who toils in the front yard every weekend, keeping the landscaping looking nice, and then has to go inside and cook dinner every night. Say you or your spouse gets a raise. What's the first thing you do? Hire a gardener. Or a housekeeper. Or a nanny. Something to take some of the responsibility off your hands, and to free you up from some of the duties you used to think of as empowering, but now seem only like drudgery. Now you can work on your own leisure projects, instead of having to toil for subsistence, even though it means you're paying out more money and have lost personal control over the tasks over which you previously had dominion—trusting the service you've hired to do your job for you, hopefully the way you'd like it, but always with the possibility that they'll skin the bark off one of your bushes with their weed-whacker while you're not looking. You've traded freedom for ease.

I've seen the same thing happen with people who used to enjoy putting together computers from spare parts, cobbling them together into Frankenstein boxes on which to run Linux and be pleased with the ability to get more use out of an old 486. But these people eventually simply got sick of it; the magic seeped out of it and became drudgery, and they bought Alienware or Dell boxes, or Macs. They welded the hood shut, voluntarily, and paid more money, in the interest of more leisure. And they accepted the reduction in control and customizability that comes with it. Likewise, most of us surrender the work of repairing our cars, computers, plumbing, and electronic devices to paid professional services, rather than learning how and doing it ourselves. Sure, it would be more individualistic and more satisfying and more manly—but we've got better things to do, and time is money.

It's true that the leisure these people buy is itself another form of freedom. What's a better illustration of freedom than building a plane in your garage? From that perspective, these kinds of transactions could just as easily be described as what humans do when they get bored: they choose to shake things up a bit, cut loose the deadwood of their lives, and sprout some new branches.

But the rub is in when the freedom and responsibility that you consciously give up results in a net increase in power for the state, or other organs that hold dominion over you. When that happens, you've taken a step back down and away from Brin's ideal "Cheerful Libertarian" platform. And, unchecked, that will continue to happen—people will continue to sign away rights and freedoms in the name of more ease and convenience—until they find themselves being oppressed all over again. And then they have to reverse the process if they want to expand liberty back to the level their parents enjoyed.

That's what we've been doing here in this country over the past two hundred years or so: swaying from side to side, electing ourselves more freedoms, then voting them away, then voting them back into our hands again. We've been trying to find a balance between the extremes, a place where we can find equilibrium without having to waver and overcorrect and overshoot every generation or two. (And as I've said before, I believe that once a society starts voting socialistic powers to the government, with all the ease and convenience they entail for everyday people, it's really hard to get people to voluntarily give up those benefits and vote those powers out of the hands of the government. It's not totally a one-way street, but the playing field is tilted.)

So I don't know that I agree with the core of Brin's philosophy, even though I agree fully with all the supporting material he throws at us. I don't know if that's a fundamental paradox or what, or if Brin's thesis itself just needs more clarification. I rather think that if he were to address the core a little more explicitly, deconstructing his mischievous glibness and telling us what he really thinks instead of playing the merry prankster (at least for those few crucial paragraphs), this lecture would make a dandy synthesis of thought that would stand up to just about any barrage from Left or Right.

UPDATE: Um, well, and there's also the business about propaganda in the form of popular movies that extol conformity and destiny and fitting in, and how few of them there are. Brin explicitly points out one counterexample, and uses it as a major part of his thesis: The Lord of the Rings. But I got The Best anonymous e-mail:

I suppose if there was such a movie, and it turned out to be one we all
really liked but which had never really considered in this context, it would
be a little embarassing.

And if the counterexample was the single most important movie in someone's
life, like "The Lion King," that would be really bad.

Okay, yeah, wise guy. Come over here and say that...


16:21 - Choose your poison
http://www.herdthinners.com/index.phtml?current=20041217

(top)
Today's Kevin & Kell:



Or, back then, we thought tokenism was nasty, impractical, and patronizing. Apparently, now we know better.


13:46 - Unconvincing Spam

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Well, they're trying.

I don't know who sent this piece of spam (who ever does?), but it's just too silly to escape comment.



How about that? Not only can you fit 100GB onto this 20GB device (or so the convoluted wording leads you to believe), it can also apparently play Audis. BMW apparently had better get its act together; they're falling behind in the "can be encoded digitally and played back through headphones" technology that their rivals have perfected. Oh, and lest one think this is merely a simple typo, like all the other typos:

The all new DMC 8270 has features that you won’t find on the Apple iPod, including FM Radio, Digital Voice Recorder, Direct Digital Encoding and it can be used as an external hard drive to backup important computer files. It provides support for not only MP3 and WMA files, but also Ogg Vorbis. Its high quality metal construction is closer to a fine German automobile than what you expect from a portable music player; and at only $249, it is $50 less expensive than the inferior featured iPod!

The Fine German Automobile music-player line they're talking about, incidentally, is this one—several products confused into one. The one with all the storage capacity is the compellingly named DMC Xclef 500 (apparently it's an OEM'd Korean device); charmingly, the company links to several independent reviews of it, all of which seem to be trying to put as good a face on it as possible, yet include pictures that completely blow the illusion. There's this one, which shows you the petite size of this "Ultimate iPod Killer":



And this one, which shows us what an awesome interface it has:



Wow. Nice fonts, guys. Apple, what were you thinking?

The most successful of the pseudoPods—namely, the Creative Zen one that's on all the billboards as part of that marketing blitz they announced—stake their case on the fact that their devices do stuff like FM radio, which the out-of-the-box iPod doesn't. I've wondered whether that feature is a good enough differentiator for anybody; certainly it'd be easy enough to add an FM tuner as an iPod accessory, but packing it into the iPod's case would make it too big—as big as, for example, the Xclef thing. And some reviewers, like the second one noted above, seem not to be aware of the fact that their iPods work just dandy as USB/FireWire hard drives, and the fact that the Xclef does so—and transfers songs by making you drag and drop them into the hard drive, lacking sync software—is not a point in its favor.

Regardless, I don't think Apple has much to worry about right away; certainly not for this shopping season. I think if some parent bought one of these spamPods and wrapped it up under the tree for his rosy-cheeked teenaged kid, he'd turn him into a parent-hating depressoid Goth overnight.

Get with the winning team, guys.



(Thanks to Kris for graphing Apple's numbers.)

UPDATE: Chris M. takes these observations off in a different and startling direction:

Actually, there IS a market for these things. There are parents who
will buy this at Christmas time, thinking they've got the latest thing
for their kid at a cheaper price. I know this because my parents, God
bless them, did it every year. They didn't know computers from
transistor radios and they definitely didn't know what was cool and what
would be dorky and uncool. I'd say, "Oh... thanks!!" cringing inwardly
but trying my best to look happy and excited.

Yeah, it made me cringe back then. Now I look back on those uncool
gifts and I love them for it. They had no idea what was cool, they
couldn't have cared less, EXCEPT when it came to buying a gift for me.
Then they asked their other clueless parent friends and did their best
with the budget they had. Now I think of all those gifts that
languished in drawers and closets and the main thing I remember from
them is... how much my parents loved me.

Ayup.


12:58 - A sentence is worth a thousand words
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=13989_Terrorists_Crash_UN_Party

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Wow. Could there possibly be a better illustration of the uselessness of the UN and its pacifist dogma in the face of a world that, dash it all, just flat refuses to play by the rules?

The sudden appearance of Zakaria Zubeidi, the 29-year-old militant leader, and at least 20 of his armed men embarrassed the head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the body that administers Palestinian refugee camps.

Weapons are banned in the camps, but during four years of violence, armed gangs have taken control, building their reputations through deadly attacks on Israelis. The unarmed Palestinian police have been shunted aside.

Zubeidi, West Bank head of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent group linked to the ruling Fatah party, strode to the gate of the compound housing U.N. agency offices, passing signs on a fence showing the silhouette of a gun with a red line through it.

After a brief argument with a guard, he checked in his M-16 assault rifle with telescopic sight and walked in — a pistol clearly visible on his hip.

“Of course I don’t condone it, but it’s a fact of life,” UNRWA head Peter Hansen told The Associated Press, referring to the violation of the no-arms rule. “Look around the camp. We can’t stop it — we don’t have guns.”

Think hard. You might arrive at a solution. If you give up, lay your head on your desk and teacher will come help you.


12:08 - At least I'm not fooling myself

(top)
So I'm branded. So what?

Apple's putting some interesting new screen savers into Tiger. One of them is some kind of slide-show involding your iTunes album art, which I don't think is complete yet; and the other is this:



The articles swoosh onto the screen and then whip away into 3D space; the Apple logos in the background march along like a news ticker. And, of course, up-to-date news articles are automatically downloaded in the background. It's so cool.

What? Don't look at me like that.


11:26 - Poddy Emergency

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It's pretty obvious what the Big Gift Everyone Wants this year is; but I don't think I've ever seen any general retailer go to the length of creating an entire top-level category tab just for the iPod, the way Chapters/Indigo, the big Canadian bookstore chain, has done.

No wonder Apple just can't make the damn things fast enough. As "problems" go, I can think of a lot of considerably worse ones to have...

Thursday, December 16, 2004
19:42 - All Warcraft, All the Time
http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=300385

(top)
Heigh-ho, Mac folks. It might interest y'all to know that Mac OS X 10.3.7 is out, and seemingly all the items it claims to fix have to do with World of Warcraft:

• Addresses an issue with Blizzard World of Warcraft in which the game's frame rate could drop considerably when in "Ghost mode," if the computer uses an nVidia graphics card.

• Resolves an issue in which enabling Vertex Shaders in World of Warcraft could lead to unexpected graphics issues when using an nVidia graphics card.

• Addresses an issue with World of Warcraft in which incorrect colors or unexpectedly flashing objects could appear when using an ATI Radeon 9600 graphics card, making gameplay difficult.

Not like that's important to the credibility and future of Mac gaming or anything.

Anyway, this bit's also encouraging:

• Resolves an issue in which Safari, Mail, and other networking applications that use DNS lookups could experience intermittent connectivity issues with Security Update 2004-09-30 and Mac OS X 10.3.5 or later installed.

Tha-ha-haaat's what I'm talkin' about.


17:23 - Consume mass quantities
http://www.thismagazine.ca/issues/2002/11/rebelsell.php

(top)
James A. sends this fascinating article on consumer culture and the media-driven rebellion against it that we've come to embrace, thinking it makes us morally superior to look down our noses at the usual whipping-boy brand identities while modeling our lives on movies like Fight Club and American Beauty.

What american beauty illustrates, with extraordinary clarity, is that rebelling against mass society is not the same thing as rebelling against consumer society. Through his rebellion, Lester goes from being right-angle square to dead cool. This is reflected in his consumption choices. Apart from the new car, he develops a taste for very expensive marijuana—$2,000 an ounce, we are told, and very good. “This is all I ever smoke,” his teenaged dealer assures him. Welcome to the club, where admission is restricted to clients with the most discriminating taste. How is this any different from Frasier and Niles at their wine club?

What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmws).

The problem is that all of these comparative preferences generate competitive consumption. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” in today’s world, does not always mean buying a tract home in the suburbs. It means buying a loft downtown, eating at the right restaurants, listening to obscure bands, having a pile of Mountain Equipment Co-op gear and vacationing in Thailand. It doesn’t matter how much people spend on these things, what matters is the competitive structure of the consumption. Once too many people get on the bandwagon, it forces the early adopters to get off, in order to preserve their distinction. This is what generates the cycles of obsolescence and waste that we condemn as “consumerism.”

The point being that a critique of brand-driven consumerism is itself just another brand that we lap up. (Which, taken as a whole, is no worse than the original consumerism—because consumerism ain't all that bad. It's hard to argue that a McDonald's burger isn't an objectively better solution to hunger than hunting and gathering.)

It rather reminds me of that old Bill Hicks routine about Marketing... where he first says that anybody in Marketing serves no useful purpose and should kill himself—and then muses about Marketing people in the audience going, "Hey, Bill's going for the 'anti-Marketing' dollar. Huge market!"

I'm also reminded of that speech David Brin gave to the Libertarians, pointing out that while we all might rail against consumerism and conformity, can you name a single movie produced in the last fifty years that extols the virtues of conformity or fitting in or changing who you are to fit the world's expectations? Hardly... every day we're bombarded with earnest exhortations to "be true to yourself" and "stand out" and so on. Although Disney movies are all imbued with songs whose refrains are all about "belonging" somewhere, the movies' themes always involve seeking out and finding some other place, some other group, where you "belong" better than you do now. It's a far cry from seeing a multiplex full of films where the opening scene of Metropolis is presented as utopia.

I know plenty of people who will happily, and without any admitted irony, eat at McDonald's while sniffing disdainfully about the Wal-Mart across the street. And of course I know some people (some of whom seem to live in the mirror) who inhabit the Mac camp because of its moral superiority to conforming to the Microsoft gulag—somehow wearing Apple t-shirts and waiting in line for hours before an Apple Store opens in a mall hundreds of miles from home doesn't count as consumerism. All a brand has to do is position itself as being an "alternative" to a bigger and badder brand, and it attains an eerie sort of super-legitimacy. I'm a consumer whore! And how!

None of which is a bad thing if you don't buy into the axioms of postmodern thought that the article delineates (and explodes), namely that conformity and obedience and homogeneity are requirements for the capitalist society to work. Hardly. Capitalism doesn't work without entrepreneurship, creativity, rebellion, revolution—a new form of it every day. In stark contrast to nations where the word "revolution" is trumpeted daily on the loudspeakers over the toiling and indistinguishable masses, evoking a long-past but supposedly ongoing cataclysm of "change", it's capitalism that relies for its very existence and energy source on a fundamentally unstable substrate. People have to feel like they're breaking the rules in order to fuel the machine—because sometimes, when they do, they change it for the better. And the machine throws out the bad changes and embraces the good ones. Darwinism in action, isn't it?

Granted, this article has a few eyebrow-raising bits—like where the author, who has also penned such books as The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets, suggests using legislative action (by tweaking the tax code) to engineer consumerism away. After all the work he does to detoxify branding as a phenomenon, it seems weird to attack it at the end, and in such a manner whose results can hardly be better than the disease. But other than that, it's an excellent piece full of quite thought-provoking observations.

I guess that for those who see movies like Fight Club as oracles and prophets, they serve as a kind of balm—a salve to their wounded consciences, a way to convince themselves that they're really going to bring the system down from the inside, that they're honorable rebels who alone see the light that escapes the benighted rest of us. But while they sip their coffee and sneeringly discuss their promised inheritance, it's Starbucks that quietly changes the world.

UPDATE: CapLion takes firm exception to the article's attitude toward SUVs and other luxury items. It's clear that the author is no great fan of conspicuous consumption, but I'm not convinced he's agitating for an end to bourgeois commercial culture. His explanation of the capitalist model is without antagonism. It's more a sort of weary indulgence, coupled with an energetic defense against a common misunderstanding of what capitalism requires. True, I'm not sure what to make of that business at the end about legislating away advertising-spawned brand fetishes. But I still think the article fires home some fine points about those who think themselves superior to the "masses" for having bought into the prepackaged and branded rejection of branding.

Just because you're an academic without a consistent point doesn't make you a commie; neither does being a ne'er-do-well intoxicated world-traveling artiste mean you're incapable of gleaning a culture for yourself from the branded mainstream. See this awesome interview with Tony Millionaire of Maakies fame for an illustration of what I mean: a hippie who doesn't get why his interviewer thinks he should be contrite for weeping over Family Circus or having had a hand in Reagan bombing Libya.

(Seriously. Go read it. And read the strip, too, if you like crude scatological comic strips straight out of the 30s featuring absolutely exquisite pen-and-ink background art of pirate ships and flower gardens. I don't understand it at all, but I know what I hate... and I don't hate this.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
17:55 - This is called "fun"
http://benjanaway.users.btopenworld.com/EFE.htm

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Oh, the things I've missed out on in life.

"Drunk Person Jenga".

Tuesday, December 14, 2004
13:19 - It also places satellites into orbit

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Various iPod aftermarket accessorizers have been trying for a long time to come up with the perfect way to hook up an iPod to your car. Every solution has its drawbacks. Cassette adapters are clunky and cheesy and temperamental. Direct line-in jacks are rare in car stereos, or require hacking wires into the CD changer connectors. FM transmitters are about the only reasonable, low-impact solution left, and they're far from ideal.

And they're hardly the only component necessary, either. You've also got to mount the iPod somehow, and power it somehow. I've seen mounts that jam into your cupholder, mounts that stick onto your dashboard with sticky pads, mounts that screw into places that shouldn't be screwed into, mounts that ask you to throw the iPod into your glove compartment—none of which are compelling options. And as for power, there's the cigarette lighter, and there are lots of adapters available, usually as part of more general mounting kits. But the adapters usually have an extra cable of their own leading to the mount or the connector, and in the end you're left with a big white stringy rat's nest on your previously spare and austerely dignified center console.

It seems that there are a couple of solutions now, though, that address all these problems and do it all in a single unit. The DLO TransPod seems to be the better of these, at $99, with a company history of making similar solutions and refining them over the years with each new iPod model; and not to be outdone, Griffin's RoadTrip ($79) is the same kind of thing. Each of these devices solves the power-and-mounting problem by using a cigarette lighter adapter that's integrated into an articulated plastic Space Shuttle arm that supports the weight of the iPod and cradle; and it solves the audio connection problem by integrating an FM transmitter (with digital tuner) into the cradle itself.

This is a far cry from the iTrip, which, elegantly understated though it might be in design, doesn't thrill me; you select the FM frequency by playing a specially encoded MP3 through it, one of a couple dozen with the frequency coded into a series of pulses. How... 1960. Besides, I've come to the conclusion that mine simply doesn't work. I can't get it to register a frequency, and nothing I do seems able to get it to transmit. I think it may be a dud. Odd for a piece of solid-state electronics. Ah well.

So that leaves me without a solution for my car; but the TransPod (or RoadTrip) looks like something I might want to try next. The TransPod seems to be a bit better designed and less likely to interfere with my gearshifting. From the review of the RoadTrip:

(Editor's Note: Regardless of the device you consider purchasing, based on TransPod user comments and our own RoadTrip experiences, our inclination is to recommend that the purchase of either device be made only from a store with a reasonable return policy. Placement in your vehicle may not be as straightforward as you imagine, and you can avoid the double penalty of disappointment and financial hardship by choosing a merchant that offers a fair testing period without a restocking fee. We also continue to recommend cassette tape adapters, direct line-out adapters, and separate power chargers for users who want superior audio quality and don't mind the extra cables and related charges.)

Yeah, well, I do mind those things. I think I can live with the FM audio penalty if it means a more elegant integration solution than even the Apple-endorsed BMW one.

One of these days, cars will all come with a little iPod-shaped receptacle in the dash, with a dock connector sticking up—just pop the iPod in and the car stereo starts playing from it. No docks, no cradles, no wires, no adapters. But until that day, I don't see a better solution than this.

It's either that or keep wearing headphones in the car—and having the dangling wires always getting caught in my seatbelt and the seat adjustment lever and yanking the earbuds out of my ears when I turn my head or stand up.

UPDATE: Of course, for your home, there is now... the Concertino! Tube-based amp for your iPod! Only €3200!

In Kris' words Poit! Narf!

Monday, December 13, 2004
00:31 - Shut up, Brian

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So like... you know those slogans that various states put on license plates, trying to entice tourists to come visit that state?

I think it would be the most awesome thing in the world if there was a series made that said "Missouri Loves Company."

Never happen, though. That would require a much cooler planet than this one.


20:07 - The many shades of black and white
http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/410/410lect08.htm

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I've been becoming more than casually interested lately in the reasoning behind a lot of Constitutional constructional language and derived law; most particularly the First Amendment, and why it's worded in such severe, direct, negative, and injunctive language—especially compared to the equivalent statements of rights and freedoms used by other countries, such as Canada, which are much more vague and less legally actionable.

We say, after all, that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". It sounds pretty cut-and-dried and quite restrictive. It doesn't seem, on the face of it, to take into consideration the usual list of exceptions: slander, libel, obscenity, and yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Clearly some muddling of the message has taken place over the years, even while we continue to stand on the starkness of the First Amendment's language in interpreting whether it's okay to hold white-power rallies or boo Linda Ronstadt off-stage. Yet it's hardly common knowledge what the various intricacies are, what the history of "tests" are that have been applied to the Amendment and its enforcement, and the shifting political winds throughout the last century in particular which have made this country seesaw back and forth from more restrictive to more permissive interpretations of it.

Well, wonder no more. This lecture by Dr. Thomas O'Connor of NC Wesleyan College gives a rough-riding, condensed history of the First Amendment's various moltings over the years, by the end of which your head is guaranteed to swim, and you'll wonder how those few simple clipped words ever seemed so easily interpreted. We'd love for our legal language to be general and elegant, with enforcement easily following from a clear reading of the words; but the precedent on the Amendment involves so much specific application, so many practical examples and human loopholes (like the "Heckler's Veto") and delineations of societal norms that derive from nothing more dispassionate than our Judeo-Christian consensus as to what comprises "polite society", that any such elegance is long since lost.

I'd hate to be a law guy. It must make it impossible to have an opinion on anything.

Oh, granted, I still think the First Amendment is pretty damned powerful, and I'm pretty happy with the "tests" that are currently in place and that have displaced other such "tests" that were more objectionable, like the "Bad Tendency Test" that sparked McCarthyism. I think it's a testament to its strength that it still stands in its original form, and is still taken so seriously, even after all this time and interpretation and reinterpretation. The fact that above all else still stands this stern injunction to always default to the condition of not making a law if any doubt exists as to its appropriateness is perhaps one reason why Jefferson and Franklin and friends would not be horrified at what's become of their document 215 years later.

(Oh, and Dr. O'Connor has lots of other lectures on interesting matters of our time, such as Homeland Security, Intelligence Gathering, Nationalist Terrorism, and Islamic Extremism—all of which seem grounded in a very sensible worldview, for a college professor. Well worth a visit.)

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