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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11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
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10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
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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
Friday, December 24, 2004
10:51 - Anyway

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I'm hitting the road in a few minutes. Merry Christmas, one and all.

Especially that guy who bought me the sandwich yesterday.


10:48 - Let's at least pretend we're grown-ups

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The more I see of the what-we're-like-when-we-think-nobody's-looking rhetoric of so many of the most objectionable on the Left, including those in positions of power, the more I think their problem is simply an inability—or unwillingness—to converse in adult terms. They don't want to mature. They don't want to have to hold themselves to the conversational standards of their parents, who inexplicably told them that there are some things you don't joke about.

Like Daily Kos, the biggest and most widely-read Left-leaning blog EVAR, whose opinions are read and absorbed daily by every bit as many people who read Glenn Reynolds or Lileks—who said:

But what makes me angry was Kerry and his gang's inability to take advantage of the situation. I may regret saying this later, but fuck it -- they should be lined up and shot. There's no reason they should've lost to this joker.

Heh. I guess he does support capital punishment... just not for any "crime" other than incompetence.

At least he recognizes that this kind of language might come back to haunt him; that shows uncommon self-awareness for someone in his position, I guess, but it's still not enough to have made him choose words better befitting someone claiming to be a political analyst. (I'm also suspicious that his worry about regretting it later might just be that "someone might notice and make a big deal of it", rather than "I might come to think better of having chosen these words, after my head has cooled".) But you know, I recognize this kind of rhetoric, this casual suggestion that people we don't like, people we oppose, or even people who simply disappoint us should be "drug out into the street and shot". I used it myself, routinely, back in high school.

I mean, why not? Even Garfield used language like that from time to time, so what could be wrong with it? (Heh—I wonder whether Jim Davis or his factory full of Swedish cartooning elves ever weighed in on the election. No need to ask on which side, of course. He's a cartoonist.)

There comes a time when, after you've spent some effort pondering the very real ramifications of things like individual liberty and suppression of dissent and the respect due the office of the President, that you begin to take to heart the idea that you shouldn't joke about things like assassinating the President or massacring people with opposing opinions. It just stops being funny. I've noted for a long time that I can't seem to find simple silly jokes funny anymore; if a comedian's routine is political in nature and misleading or wrongheaded, I want to argue with him rather than laugh at him. This isn't a fun situation, but somehow it's a bit of a consolation thinking that at least a majority of Americans seem willing to vote on the basis of their serious-minded consciences rather than on what seems to tickle their viscera on Comedy Central, or appeal to their latent violent, tribal, or totalitarian urges.

I recall this exchange with a friend from England, who has over time indicated that he seems prone to suggest that anything he doesn't like should be "banned". Cinnamon toothpaste: banned. Reality TV shows: banned. Squeaky pop music: banned. I can't recall the exact items whose expurgation from the market he called for; these are just examples of their nature. But small wonder that his impression of life in American society seems to be that we avoid using French words here because Bush banned them. I can't even tell how tongue-in-cheek he was being, but even still: what kind of mind is it that slips so casually into that kind of language? I know he's a smart, well-reasoned guy (especially if, for some reason, he's reading this); but doesn't this kind of conversational tic say something profound about the underlying thought processes?

I know not everyone is this glib, and many more deserve far more serious engagement in discussion of the issues of our day. But it's rapidly approaching the point where I'm going to have to trust to the inherent maturity of reasoning adults in this country to ignore the ravings of people like Kos, so that I can as well.

UPDATE: Dean Esmay unloads in a similar vein.

UPDATE: I guess I should also note that my erstwhile Correspondent, dialogue with whom I've chronicled here from time to time (the "massacring people" link above), mentioned as proof of the Hitlerian evil of the Bush administration that at one time he and his friends were questioned by the Secret Service after a Web forum discussion in which they voiced their hope that Bush should get a fatal disease and die. (He was sketchy on details; the fact that he's alternately described them as the "Secret Service" and the "CIA" at different times makes me wonder exactly what happend and how much he's simply hoping to make hay from a relatively painless ordeal.)

I had to point out to him that the Secret Service doesn't have a sense of humor about things like that and never has. Back when I was working at my local ISP in 1996, stories circulated about (for example) a 12-year-old kid who sent a prank e-mail to president@whitehouse.gov, only to end up with the Secret Service shadowing his family's house for the next two weeks. As I said to him, You made threats against the President in a public forum, and you're surprised that the Secret Service got on your case?

Some people just don't think twice about whether their actions might have consequences... and when given a reminder that they live in the real world, where there are rules about civil discourse, suddenly it's a Gestapo sighting.

That's why I have a hard time getting into these discussions anymore unless I've established to my satisfaction that the person is willing to be mature and thoughtful about expressing their side, not merely bleating about Halliburton and Karl Rove, or reciting Michael Moore factoids and mangled Ann Coulter quotes and then standing their smirking with their arms folded, firm in their conviction of rightness.

UPDATE: The Armchair Philosopher wrote along these lines a couple of weeks ago:

The idea that I’ve been playing with is that many of my Left-leaning/pacifist/social-justice friends see most social interactions primarily in terms of power, coercion, and exploitation. The basis for this idea is that these folks often use coercion metaphors to describe individual and collective social situations that many other perspectives regard as quite benign. What got me thinking was a friend’s comment that this blog’s lack of a comment feature “forced” her to do something she didn’t really want to do: respond to one of my posts on her blog (which is not argument-oriented) rather than in a comment. Now, I’m sure that my friend was joking — but even so, the metaphor stood out to me. It would never occur to me to even joke about my comments policy “forcing” anyone to do anything — I think about my feedback policy primarily in economic metaphors, not power metaphors.

Excellent observations here, including illustrations of the labor-theory versus the free-market philosophies, in terms that are hard to argue. (Mountain Dew should figure in all theorems.)

Undiscussed is the side of the coin that describes actual violent events—the two sides in the illustration continue to use different vocabularies to describe war. We talk about Iraq as being about "liberation", the "removal" of Saddam, the march of "freedom" and "democracy"—idealistic and sanitized words that can obscure the very real horrors of the battlefield. But the Left, in protesting it, goes beyond the obvious war vocabulary into metaphors such as "rape" and "stealing [oil]" and "Crusades"—religious, criminological, and sexual metaphors intended to make war out even worse than it is, by ascribing it the same kinds of anthromorphized malevolence as Steinbeck did in describing the overcultivation of the parched land in The Grapes of Wrath.

If there's a unifying theme here, it might be that whereas the one side sees the world as a collection of systems—self-sustaining, self-healing, occasionally klunky or kludgey but usually elegant systems—the other side thrives on personifying all acts as macrocosms of human behavior, with all the faults of the individual human projected onto our institutions and humanity as a whole.

I guess both views are necessary. Otherwise we might, I don't know, kick over our country's pillars and rape the foundations on our way to the troughs of the corporate luncheon where we feast upon the carcasses of the workers of the world and plot the kidnapping of innocent youths to send as fresh blood to lubricate our war machine.

UPDATE: Hmm. Do you suppose there's something to this idea, that conservatives see the world as being comprised of "systems" that are beyond human construction—either by divine design, or by natural law—and that liberals, i.e. "humanists", see the world as being comprised of human constructs, and thus is subject at a macroscopic level to all the weaknesses of the human mind?

Twalk amongst yourselves!

Thursday, December 23, 2004
14:00 - I want my iTV
http://www.whatithinkiknow.com/Archive04/WIT20041220.html

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Damien Del Russo says that whereas 2004 was the Year of the iPod, 2005 will be the Year of TiVo. And that the two items are not so dissimilar that their futures can't converge.

It takes a little imagination; I mean, TiVo has been around a good deal longer than the iPod has, and already has the cultural awareness level that the iPod is only just now achieving. Its ramp-up has been steady but slow. But now that TiVo as a company has broken out as the clear winner in the DVR space, with a genuine sense of vision and product integrity worthy of Apple, maybe it's poised to sell to the same kind of people who have suddenly become conditioned to expect an iPod level of coolness out of tech gear, whether they're PC users or Mac users (who already have such expectations).

A couple of years ago, I tried to buy a TiVo as a Christmas present; but they were all sold out everywhere and couldn't be had for love or money. Maybe the market has matured a bit by now. And now that I've got a dog who has become adept at asking for walks right in the middle of a South Park episode I've never seen before, maybe it's time to look into it again...


12:39 - Goodwill toward lunch

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Well, that was a "blog moment" if there ever was one.

Kris and I were getting sandwiches at Togo's. As the sandwich maker was putting together mine on the back counter, warming up the pastrami, another employee asked for the sandwich type, as usual, and rung it up—but mistakenly tallied it as part of the guy's order who was standing next to me. After a couple of minutes of standing there with my $5 bill out, waiting to pay, I noticed that nothing was happening with my order—and the guy next to me looked up from his receipt, startled. "Did I just pay for yours?"

I shrugged cluelessly, then held up my money. "Okay, how much was yours?" But he waved it off with a broad grin. "Merry Christmas!"

Smiles and chortles and embarrassed noises of thanks all around. He repeated the sentiment with a slap on the back as he exited, having dumped a generous tip in the little bucket on the counter.

At least some people know how to spread the kind of holiday cheer that lasts all day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
02:40 - Nobody's right when everybody's wrong

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Just for the record, I wanted to note something about this guy who took issue with various people's noticing that for some reason or other, you can walk through an entire mall this Shopping Season and not see any mention of the big dread C-word. He says:

This thin-skinned grievance-collecting gives birth to all sorts of urban legends and rumors about big institutions being hostile to Christ's birthday, such as the one that swirled on WOR radio last week about how Macy's employees had been instructed not to say "Merry Christmas!" to shoppers. A fiction that was put to rest when the host hit Macy's website and saw its "Merry Christmas" greeting, and Macy's employees chimed in over the phones to say there was no such policy.

Well, if that's true, then Macy's has changed its mind. When I posted about it two weeks ago, it was right after hearing a top-of-the-hour news report on KCBS in which Macy's cutting its traditional greeting from its trade dress was the central thesis. "Macy's, long-time host of the big Christmas parade, has decided it's going to be the Grinch that steals Christmas this year!" the anchorwoman burbled. This wasn't some unsourced rumor or misunderstanding on my part; the news story was all about Macy's decision. It's not as though CBS has ever been known to get a story wrong or anything, of course... but this one even featured a lengthy sound bite from the Macy's PR spokeswoman saying something to the effect of: "We don't intend to take away from the spirit of the season in any way; we just feel that saying ''Happy Holidays' or 'Season's Greetings' is a much better way to celebrate the holidays in an all-inclusive way."

If Macy's has changed its position in the time since 12/8, that's fine—but it doesn't make Mr. Wolcott "right" or the rest of us "wrong". I heard them report what they reported. Also, I don't see the word "Christmas" on Macy's website, except after the word after and before the word prices; maybe they've changed that too, after changing it once already in concert with the original KCBS-reported decision. I don't know. All I know is that this Woolcott guy has either failed to do his homework and gone all pompous on "Lilek's" ass anyway, or we're all the victims of a very elaborate and cruel practical joke by Macy's and the WOR/KCBS Axis of Prankdom. I hope it's needless to say which I find more plausible.


11:29 - Things you never knew you never knew
http://www.robinsloan.com/epic/

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Well, I guess this little item is thought-provoking, if nothing else. Nicely put together. Well conceived. I'm just not sure it actually says anything, though.

The premise being that a combination of Google, Amazon.com, blogs, and "social networks" like Friendster will join forces in the very near future to drive both traditional software makers (e.g. Microsoft) and, more importantly, the "fourth estate" of the major media, out of business. The New York Times, by the year 2014, is supposed to go offline in protest against Google-ified bot-generated news and become a newsletter for "the elite and the elderly". And EPIC, a collaborative reporting medium and collective consciousness driven by billions of people with blogs and cellphones and vast automated filter-bots, will rule all.

As a piece of speculative "future history", it's an interesting little mental jaunt—but not a very visionary one, I'm afraid. It's a good synthesis of events up till the present day, but then it sort of loses its footing and starts casting about in surprising directions. Googlezon? For all its purported heaviness, it doesn't seem to really have a good understanding of what ingredients make up the modern Internet, and what trends are showing themselves to be the things that will shape our lives in years to come.

The piece identifies blogs as a revolutionary tool giving voice to people as content creators rather than consumers, all right—that's all well and good. But then it shoves that aside in favor of automated filtering networks like Google News and Microsoft's Newsbot, which are "edited solely by computers", to the chagrin of the human-owned media. Apparently, we're supposed to be clambering on board the emotionless filtered news-clipping feeds of Google and Microsoft and bailing out of the traditional media outlets, both global and local, and why? Because, evidently, coupled with social networks like Friendster, all news can be tailored to us individually by computers that know our search histories, personal details, buying habits, and friends' vital statistics.

An interesting idea. But I see no evidence that it's happening. Didn't Friendster go out of business or something? I certainly don't hear many people talk about it anymore, except to make fun of it—that and Orkut. Remember Orkut? Me neither. And who actually reads Google News, for any reason other than to castigate its nonhuman editors for including "news sources" like Democratic Underground? I've never even heard of Newsbot.

Here's a dirty little secret about news organizations that the author of this piece doesn't seem to grasp: People like bias. They may not say so, but they do. Why do you think even the most non-editorialized of coverage of news stories always includes on-the-spot quotations from passersby or people involved in the situation? It's so the news story can tell the reader how to feel about it, without being explicitly editorial. These people feel this way about this fire or that murder or the other political maneuver. The reader doesn't think in these terms, but when he reads the quoted feelings of people on the ground, he thinks, "Okay, so I'll feel that way about these cold facts too"—or, less frequently but just as importantly, "I don't agree with how this quoted person feels, so I'll develop a strong opinion about this matter." This isn't a matter of agenda, it's a critical background of context that must be had—otherwise how do we interpret a column of numbers? Without knowing how people are reacting to a development, we as humans don't know how we should react ourselves. This isn't a failing, it's part of who we are. Why do you think people read blogs? It's because we crave to have our news reported with a ready-made layer of analysis and opinion, so we know how to feel about it. We construct elaborate filters made up of the bloggers and commentators whose worldviews we find compelling, and while I hesitate to say we're all dittoheads (I don't think we are), we engage ourselves in a news story by catching that first whiff of either enthusiasm or annoyance in the voice of whoever's reporting it, and tailor our expectations accordingly. It's how we're constructed to operate. We humans are tribal in nature; we seek out tribes to ally with. Not one of us can exist without ideological compatriots; we'd go mad. Suppose a person were raised in a Skinner box with nothing but totally unbiased news reports fed to him for a period of years. Can you imagine what kind of politics such a person might develop? He'd be all over the map. He'd develop all kinds of wild theories. Without other like-minded people to bounce ideas off of, and to point out perspectives he hasn't thought of and historical examples of why certain things don't work, you'd end up with an anarchist-Marxist, or a Hitlerian environmentalist, or a free-market absolutist who wants to kill everyone not fluent in Ancient Greek. No moral compass, no historical perspective, no personal investment, no global or local familiarity by which to tailor one's opinions. And why do we follow the news if not to form opinions?

Eric Hoffer, according to a piece of fortuitous spam I just received, said that "When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other." (Is that a testimonial for the bright future of spam as a consciousness-elevating infrastructure?)

This EPIC story overstates people's willingness to put up with news as an interactive medium. Most people aren't as engaged in current events as bloggers or news junkies are. They want to know whether the world has exploded, and then go back to their lives. Google and Amazon and Friendster and such systems might change that a little, but from what we've seen thus far, they're not going to change the basic nature of humanity. And in painting a picture of a future where humanity is so engaged in the news that the news' very humanity is lost, this piece loses its handle on the very reason why we're keeping track of this stuff in the first place: to be personally and actively involved, not to entrust our consciousness to automated filters tuned to our personal preferences. It's nice when a store suggests something we might like, but if we filter out everything we don't know we like, we'll never find it.

The magic of the Internet is discovering things you never knew existed. That's going to continue to override any impulses that would create a system like this EPIC, whose purpose—whether designed that way or not—seems to be to make sure nobody ever stumbles upon something they don't like or weren't expecting. Clearly EPIC isn't presented as "utopia", but its dystopia is founded on entirely the wrong idea. In the filtered future, we won't be wrestling with trivia and erroneous information; we'll be coddled by an environment that shields us from hearing anything we don't like, which will rob us of even the desire to be content creators in the first place.

UPDATE: Lileks says this:

In a sense, blogging is so 2004. The next big thing will be videoblogs. You can fit a rudimentary TV studio in a suitcase -- a laptop, a camcorder, a few cables, and a nearby Starbucks with Wi-Fi you can leech onto to upload your reports. This too will be good. One hundred thousand pairs of eyes looking high and low, versus CBS' staring monocular orb. We'll all turn to the nets to see what they think we should think. And then we'll hit the blogs for the rest of the story.

Hmm. I keep hearing the big guys confidently predicting the rise of the videoblog; but I'm not so sure, frankly. Looking at it from a user-interface standpoint, what's the benefit of video over text? You get pictures and sound and a much richer view of what you're looking at. But what are the intractable downsides? You have to direct and edit video, for one—a badly edited video is way harder to watch than a clunky, confused essay like mine above. Text is just naturally much easier to digest, too, than even the best-edited video. If your mind wanders and you miss a sentence of what someone says in video, it's a pain to go grab the scroll knob and roll it back an indeterminate few seconds to listen to it again, and that's not counting rebuffering and video codecs and all that rot. In text, all you have to do is flick your eye back to the previous line.

And more importantly, when it's text, you can visit a blog and within two seconds know whether there are new posts or not, and within five seconds know whether the new posts are worth reading. You can skim a headline instantly. What's the equivalent ease you get with video? Um, none. You have to watch the thing in order to see what it's about, how long it will take to see it, whether it contains any information you'll find useful, and so on. How many TV news reports have you watched where you got to the end and the reporter said, "Back to you, Diane," without covering anything you were actually hoping to see? You've wasted five minutes. If it were a text blog, it would have taken you a sip and a half of Diet Coke and a stroke of the scrollwheel to process the same information. Not to mention that it probably took the author 1/1000th of the time and effort to produce it. Whence the vaunted immediacy of blog debate once it's all video? How long would it have taken a bunch of videobloggers to break the Rathergate story? A long bloody time, and much fewer people would have had the patience to pay attention to it, let alone do the actual work. Video can't achieve critical mass the way text can and has, in everything from the explosion of e-mail and the Web on forward. Text is the low-tech, low-barrier-to-entry equivalent of papyrus in the CD-ROM age: unsexy, but it'll always work, even after the power grid fails and we're all eating each other in the desert.

Besides, how are you supposed to quote a videoblog? Let's see anyone deny that quoting and cross-linking and fisking is the very heart and soul of blogging. How is that even possible with video? Think how many fiskings there would be of Fahrenheit 9/11 if it'd been text; the only big one we have is the result of one man's obsessive job at deconstructing and transcribing the points of the video into a much more malleable medium, text. Maybe I'm stubbornly refusing to be visionary enough to imagine the stream-of-consciousness, effortlessly editable VR World of Tomorrow, but video and text haven't materially changed in decades, as far as their consumption goes; I can't see that changing anytime soon. Meanwhile, text remains far more flexible and can be molded to the whims of anyone, reader or writer, hence the equalizing nature of the blog where there's essentially no disconnect between the blogger and the discourse in his comments. Once the blogger becomes a director, his readers and fellow bloggers can't respond in kind anymore. And the whole essence of blogging's collaborative nature is lost.

And let's not even get into trying to do a Google search on something someone said in a videoblog. I'll leave that as an exercise for the, um, reader.

I'm skeptical, in short, of the claims so commonly issued by Glenn and the like that videoblogging will inevitably take the place of text blogging, that it will open up huge new realms of discourse and so on. I'm sorry, but looking at it from the standpoint of an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the medium itself, I just don't see it. It's like how I can't quite see an iTunes for movies; the medium isn't as much of a slam-dunk. It takes a lot more shoehorning to make it fit. The discrete pieces of media aren't in such perfect, bite-sized chunks, and lack the natural, built-in organizing criteria we've come to know and love. There are benefits, but they only qualify it as an adjunct to the real steamroller of a medium that we already have, not as a new medium in itself.

We'll undoubtedly see more people posting videos, often very good ones, to support their existing text columns and blogs. But can you seriously, honestly, picture going to a blog on a daily basis whose only content was a QuickTime/WMV window that you had to click Play on to see what it had to show you today?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004
18:54 - Tales from the crypt()
http://www.pacifict.com/Story/

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Who remembers a program called Graphing Calculator, from the original PowerPC Mac product line?

I used to be a contractor for Apple, working on a secret project. Unfortunately, the computer we were building never saw the light of day. The project was so plagued by politics and ego that when the engineers requested technical oversight, our manager hired a psychologist instead. In August 1993, the project was canceled. A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed.

I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple's doors, so I just kept showing up.

With an intro like that, how can this story not rule?

UPDATE: By the way, Graphing Calculator is still in modern Macs' "Applications (Mac OS 9)" folders as a Classic app, and a native OS X version can be downloaded at the site. But Tiger, it should be noted, comes with a new Graphing Calculator app that is truly astonishing in size and scope—if it has any DNA from the Pacific Tech version, it's well hidden. This thing is hard core.


15:25 - Lowtax, Consumer Advocate
http://www.somethingawful.com/articles.php?a=2559

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Wow. Monster (the audio cable makers) sure sound like a company worth not doing business with.

Don't miss this supporting link, detailing Monster's legal battles with a guy selling Halloween costumes (of, yes, monsters) through an unprofitable online store.

I wonder if these guys are in their sights yet?


13:56 - Ah
http://www.rishon-rishon.com/archives/060036.php

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Well, I guess that explains that.

It sucks a lot... there's not much else that one can say, I guess. Den Beste asked to be spared platitudes, so I won't issue any.

I will note, however, that I think I can credit him for a great deal of what notoriety and/or popularity my blog has—a lot of my readers came here via his links, particularly back when we sparred regularly over the merits and foibles of Apple. I'm sure that if not for those exchanges, I'd be a lot more glib and a lot more naïve in my arguments than I am now. Trial by fire, I suppose. I could hardly have asked for more stringent conditions under which to develop.

It's disheartening to hear of the characteristics of the reader mail he gets, and the effect it has on him; but for what it's worth, I still think this observation holds water. Indeed, a mutual reader (one of the involved parties in the exchange concerned) wrote me afterwards to tell me I had it spot-on. I bring this up merely in the hopes of casting that phenomenon into a different light, one that might make constructive criticism from readers into an illustration of the cooperative nature of research and discourse in the blogosphere, rather than a concerted assault by a zillion malevolent mosquitoes. This perspective might not do any good, but then again it might make things a little easier to bear. Who knows—but there it is.

At the very least, and without mawkishness, thanks for everything.

Monday, December 20, 2004
17:55 - Maybe the Electoral College should offer remedial courses

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Now, now, what kinds of people would it make us to point out things like this (a Minnesota Democratic elector casting his handwritten ballot for "John Ewards" [sic]), or this (the entire state of New York casting its official electoral vote bloc for someone named "John L. Kerry")?

What would it say about us if we were to confront our opponents, smug in their intellectual superiority but already devastated and infuriated by their inexplicable loss, with these items?

I guess it would make us bad, bad people.

For it would confirm everyone's worst charges against us: that we just love to watch things explode.

Like heads.


11:16 - Now that's dedication
http://people.freebsd.org/~phk/funding.html

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Poul-Henning Kamp, FreeBSD developer, has been soliciting donations from private parties to help him work on FreeBSD full-time. He quotes a price that covers his mortgage and living expenses for himself and his family; surely a reasonable bargain, and apparently he's been very successful in raising money. More so than he's comfortable with, in fact.

But this part of his writeup really says a lot:

If the minimum amount, DKK99000 (USD16500/EUR13500) is not pledged/reached, I will not start the project and any money already transferred will either be returned or passed on to the FreeBSD foundation (according to the donors wishes).

If this becomes a great success I will consider continuing, but until I know how it works out, I want to be able to contain any damage inside the 2004 financial year.

So, I hit slash-dot with this, and that of course pointed out a couple of things I had not explained clearly enough:

These amounts are of course pre-tax. I operate my own registered one man company here in Denmark and I pay approximately 2/3 in tax, so the net result is that I will have approx DKK11000 (USD1775/EUR1475) per month to pay my mortgage and feed my kids.

Wow. That's a lot of tax. And on a single-person entrepreneurial company, no less. That's how Denmark fosters small business, is it?

Donate to the FreeBSD project! Support the Danish government!


11:01 - Germany has lost its way

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The long-standing ascendancy of the German automakers has been based as much on a consistently excellent visual design sense, in the cases of all the major automakers, as on actual design and build quality. You could always count on a Mercedes to look like a Mercedes, or a BMW to be true to its square-jawed-with-a-cultured-accent shape. A VW was always unmistakable. But is that changing?

First we have this news of Audi of America CEO Axel Mees being fired for daring to suggest in an official capacity that VW has overreached its grasp into the luxury market in recent years with the Touareg and the Phaeton, both of which have been selling less well than hoped (much less well, in the case of the Phaeton), and both of which, according to Road & Track, suffer from a weird pathological problem of blurry, ripply windshield glass. And as I've noted before, the new Jetta and Golf/GTI designs are uninspired departures from all genetic VW roots. As for the rest of that corporate umbrella, Audi itself is doing well, and Porsche enjoys one of those charmed existences—but who can really claim to be happy with a turn of conditions that produced a Porsche SUV?

And now—via Chris M.—it seems that BMW is beginning to rethink the Bangle Revolution.

BMW has finally admitted what everyone in the car world has long known: the current 7-series is a disaster. In an interview with American business magazine Fortune, Helmut Panke, BMW's chairman, said: "I admit the intensity of the public debate over our new design (which began with the 7-series) did suprise me. There are still too many articles focusing on 'I wish this car looked different blah, blah, blah.' The 7-series was a combination of completely new technology with new design direction. The key point is that we should never make big steps in strategic directions without preparing our customers."

Panke is the first BMW executive to publicly acknowlege what many Munich insiders have privately been saying about the 7-series - that BMW made a big mistake in launching Chris Bangle's new design direction and the complex i-Drive system at the same time in the most conservative sector of the market with no explanation.

Panke's comments have been greeted with relief in Munich. "It's a weight off everyone's shoulders," one insider said.

Now, I should point out that I don't personally think the 7-series is the worst-looking car in the world. If (and that's a big "if") you can overlook that awful trunk, I've always thought that the current 7-series has a slab-sided tanklike presence that completely rules, especially combined with those alloy wheels that work so well with its contours, and the thick chrome curve-following strips along the roofline. Were it not for the trunk, I've always thought the 7-series was something any high-powered executive could be thrilled to step into.

But the 5-series, with its bizarre eyebrow headlights, its excess of interacting surfaces on the front shoulders, its dorky angular taillights, and its confused side-profile where it looks like it's standing uncomfortably on tip-toes, is just a big steaming pile. Every time I see one come up on me in my rear-view mirror, I'm filled not with the deference I'm supposed to feel toward such a privileged driver, but a temple-throbbing cacophony of mingled pity and anger. Who thought this shape looked like a BMW? What purpose do these shapes serve? Is "looking different" that holy a goal as to render inadmissible any argument in favor of restraint and tradition on a line of cars that's supposed to be marketed at people who want something that looks dignified and unmistakably represents its market segment?

The new 3-series is going to be more subdued than this, but it still has weird pointy/roundy taillights whose outlines veer off from horizontal to intersect and sail off into the distance, like the cut-lines on the side of the Z4, whose sales are apparently crashing horrendously. Are buyers starting to think that BMW has permanently taken leave of its design sense, the thing that had attracted them to the company in the first place—the one aspect of their cars they couldn't afford to monkey with?

I don't know if Bangle is on his way out or what, or if he has established enough of a legacy that his design sense—which I can only think looks like the work of an overfunded, undertrained "modern artist"—will live on, zombie-like, long after his departure. But irreparable damage may be done. German car design is no longer de facto the best there is. Now that Japanese and American automakers have discovered that they possess the capability of producing good-looking cars after all; and now that VW is losing loyal customers, Mercedes has slipped precipitously in initial quality (now Buick, of all companies, tops the rolls), and BMW has pulled a New Coke on its most loyal customer base, the age of German ascendancy in the auto industry may be drawing to a close.

UPDATE: Chris M. notes:

I'm dismayed to read that Panke thinks "we should never make big steps in strategic directions without preparing our customers." In other words, we're slow, and need to be educated as to why the 7-series is really good, not bad! Bah.

Yeah. What is it with automakers who conclude that if their products aren't selling, there's something wrong with the customers? Apparently it's not just GM in the 70s that cops this 'tude. Maybe it's a universal harbinger of an auto industry segment's imminent downfall.

Who the hell was it that had that quote about how "If the American public isn't buying our cars, then there's something wrong with the American public"? I can't find hide nor hair of it in Google. This is going to drive me nuts.

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© Brian Tiemann