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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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Sunday, January 9, 2005
21:37 - Apple in '05
http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20050107.html

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It's Cringely's predictions, not mine. I don't make predictions. I'm no good at 'em.

Cringely makes much of his very accurate history of predictions in the tech market (80% or so); but naturally a lot of these are based on fairly ambiguous and subjective claims ("I said WiFi would continue to grow, but would still be lacking a business model. Right on"). And of his two Apple-related predictions, he was 50/50 in 2004.

So what's he got in mind for the coming year?

3) Apple will take a big risk in 2005. This could be in the form of a major acquisition. With almost $6 billion in cash, Steve Jobs hinted to a group of employees not long ago that he might want to buy something big, though I am at a loss right now for what that might be. Or Apple might decide to throw some of that cash into the box along with new computers by deliberately losing some money on each unit in order to buy market share.

We might see that as early as next week with the rumored introduction of an el-cheapo Mac without a display. The price for that box is supposed to be $499, which would give customers a box with processor, disk, memory, and OS into which you plug your current display, keyboard, and mouse. Given that this sounds a lot like AMD's new Personal Internet Communicator, which will sell for $185, there is probably plenty of profit left for Apple in a $499 price. But what if they priced it at $399 or even $349? Now make it $249, where I calculate they'd be losing $100 per unit. At $100 per unit, how many little Macs could they sell if Jobs is willing to spend $1 billion? TEN MILLION and Apple suddenly becomes the world's number one PC company. Think of it as a non-mobile iPod with computing capability. Think of the music sales it could spawn. Think of the iPod sales it would hurt (zero, because of the lack of mobility). Think of the more expensive Mac sales it would hurt (zero, because a Mac loyalist would only be interested in using this box as an EXTRA computer they would otherwise not have bought). Think of the extra application sales it would generate and especially the OS upgrade sales, which alone could pay back that $100. Think of the impact it would have on Windows sales (minus 10 million units). And if it doesn't work, Steve will still have $5 billion in cash with no measurable negative impact on the company. I think he'll do it.

Cringely is a big name in the Mac pundit pantheon, but this strikes me as a strangely fanciful piece of speculation. What, just because other companies are selling "Internet Devices" for peanuts means Apple's going to be raking in the margins on a $500 Mac? I think it'll be cutting them pretty thin, myself. True, Apple makes gross margins of about 30% on its computers (as opposed to Dell's 8%, which is part of the price differential—a different business model); but I think selling this box at $499 will mean Apple would be selling at closer to Dell's margins than their own accustomed one, which is probably about as much of a bath as Steve is prepared to take.

Unless, of course, this new machine really does signal a tectonic shift in Apple's strategy: a real loss-leader machine to grab the crossover market, aggressively priced by dipping purposefullly into Apple's big cash reserves, something they haven't done in years, and certainly not for anything less earth-shaking than starting an animation company or bidding to control the digital filmmaking market. Is this really the volta we've been wondering has been coming ever since the first Apple Stores opened their doors?

I suppose they could do worse; as John in Fargo says, who forwarded this to me:

I like it. Sign me up. I have been using Windows since '88 or so. Really started using it in earnest around 1992.
Was a Big MS fan. Converted two companies away from UNIX and Novell over to MS-Based environments.
But now I am sick and tired of their crap.

Although I have spent maybe a total of 10 hours in front of a Mac over my 24 year IT career when the el cheap Mac comes out, I am buying one. There is no possible way the Mac OS-X experience could be worse than the Technical Trouble-shooting Treadmill the Windows experience has become.

I believe there a millions just like me and some of those are IT professionals who will push for the Mac in the work environment.

Let The Insurrection begin!

Apple's got people excited. In the patois of the CFO, now looks like an excellent time for Apple to move from the "invest" phase of their product cycle to the "harvest" phase, where everything they've put in place since Steve's return in 1997 can now be reaped for profit.

I'm starting to think buying that AAPL stock at $60 was a fine thing to have done.


21:22 - Peek through your fingers
http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000110026534/

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Perhaps a hoax, perhaps not. Enough burned hands have taught us all to be very skeptical (especially when words on the box like "Centre" have a distinctly un-Cupertino look to them); but if you want to see what might be the famed mini-Mac in the flesh, enGadget.com has the goods.

If it's for real, then judging by the setting, we might be hearing the words "immediately available" in a few days.

UPDATE: Yeah, it's fake. In a "two iBooks taped together" sort of way.

But that doesn't mean something like it won't be real...


17:51 - The other kind of creationism
http://www.livejournal.com/users/chmarr/19768.html

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My friend Chris has an interesting observation on the nature of "content creators" versus "content consumers" on the Internet, how the businesses are reacting to modern trends that are in the business of creating and distributing content, and how the Internet stubbornly refuses to play along. Ever see a certain Yahoo ad?

Firstly, take another look at the Yahoo ad. In it, a hip preppy-type with a indelible smirk on her face proudly proclaims that she "watched a monkey swimming on her internet today" and then, again with that indelible smirk, challenges us to beat her marvelous feat of consumerism. Now, I know I'm reading too much into this, but to me, it appears that these people - Yahoo, the advertising company, or perhaps the entire content-producing industry - feel that the height of anyone's daily achievement should consist of 'watching something cool'.

. . .

My argument is that the very attitude of the content providers, that we should be consuming content rather than creating it, is breeding a generation of people that do not respect nor appreciate the effort it takes to make that content. Couple that with the ease and repeatability of digital distribution, and you have today's pirate-rich environment. Nice going there, guys!

Also, as should surprise no one, there's a fundamental difference between the "Apple Camp" and the "Microsoft Camp" in how computer users ought to be approaching their interaction with the Internet. One's about consumption, the other's about creation. That's not just glib oversimplification; it's actually how the two companies have positioned their business models. Wonder where each will lead in the future, and what form the content creators will take after this skirmish rises to its zenith and we see where all the digital cable/TiVo/DVD/file-sharing trends lead...

UPDATE: Chris also has predictions for what we're likely to see added to iLife in the next three days. Because TextEdit in Tiger supports HTML output (along with RTF and Word formats), it seems likely that there's now an HTML generation library which could be harnessed as part of a Web-editing iLife component...

Saturday, January 8, 2005
22:39 - Doing so may void the warranty
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20050105-4503.html

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First it was whole weeks' worth of dance music shipped in iPods; then it was digital video proofing; then it was Podcasting.

And now, Steven Den Beste sends this news of some more creative uses for the iPod: both outside and inside the body.

When Apple launched the iPod Photo in the Fall of 2004, it was pitched as the perfect way to take your entire photo collection wherever you went. It was probably just a matter of time before an adult-content site launched a service like Playboy.com's new iBod. Despite the name, iBod is actually targeted at all handheld media players with photo-viewing capabilities. Playboy's service offers both nude and non-nude images that can be downloaded and viewed on the devices.

Hey, every emerging technology is initially driven by porn. Time to declare the iPod an artistic genre all unto itself!

(So, too, are parodies of the iPod ads...)

Friday, January 7, 2005
12:50 - Eso es como es en el Norte
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/americas/01/05/migration.comic.ap/index.html

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Wow. Is this The Onion or something?

I guess the argument in favor of this would go something like, "Well, they're going to do it anyway, so we might as well make it as safe as possible."

Which has its merits. But... I mean, come on.


11:24 - Perils of a Golden Age

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As deliriously awesome as the Adult Swim era is, with its real-time bumps being created every day to introduce specific episodes of favorite cutting-edge animated shows with the self-awareness of a DJ, and incorporating direct viewer feedback and online forum participation as much to mock the viewers mercilessly as to involve them... it's not without its bittersweet casualties.

Only a few years ago, Cartoon Network was a channel full of Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Popeye, and other Golden Age of Animation troves—often presented in an academic and nostalgic manner, as with the "Toon Heads" show that packaged old Chuck Jones and Tex Avery material with historical narration that helped the animation buff arrange it all into a chronologically accurate tapestry, including many now-controversial episodes that would never air on their own. These classics coexisted with the newer shows, the mid-90s flowering of talent from the Tartakovsky-McCracken axis in their "Cartoon Cartoon" round-robin presentation, the "What A Cartoon" show that seemed to present a new possibility for a runaway hit culled every week from the CalArts grads' pitch boards. Between Dexter's Lab, The Powerpuff Girls, their predecessor 2 Stupid Dogs, the first season of Johnny Bravo, and one or two other memorable entries intermingled with all the respectfully prime-timed Golden Age classics, the late 90s seemed like the best thing any animation fan could have hoped for.

The best part of it all, though, was the weird offshoot genre spawned by the unlikely success of Space Ghost Coast to Coast: the ultra-limited-animation phenomenon that showed the world that a show didn't even have to be more than cheekily lazy clip-art to be funny, provided that the writing and the premise were good enough. And as fun a ride as SGC2C was, it couldn't last forever; it was destined to fizzle. But not before doing three things that can never be undone: 1) it created the genre of institutionalized self-mockery in the animation industry (particularly of all the miserable 60s/70s creations that Cartoon Network, as the modern incarnation of Hanna-Barbera, owns the rights to, and which certainly aren't going anywhere on the pop charts in their original conceptions), leading directly to the rich smorgasbord of today's Adult Swim, with everything from frenetic Space Ghost-style clip-art shows (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021) to fully realized, richly animated parodies of the original source material (Venture Brothers, Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law). ...And b) it spun off a weird little sideshow called Cartoon Planet, starring the same basic nexus of characters from SGC2C, minus Moltar and with the magical addition of Brak. This show, which consisted mostly of little random pointless skits that did nothing but let the characters interact and sing and revel in their limited animation, is all but forgotten now. But it was the thing that perhaps did more to solidify the unprecedented, inexplicable atmosphere of the late-90s Cartoon Network than anything else. The skits and songs were typically set to montages of classic animation, playing to the nostalgic glee of the people tuned in to watch Elmer Fudd or Red Hot Riding Hood. And they inspired Cartoon Network to fill the commercial airtime with little blocks of padding called "Groovies" and "Shorties", which were similarly constructed little music videos featuring recut classic animation and composited new stuff. Some were lame, but many were pure gold. And now, like the Adult Swim bumps that disappear into the ether after each night of air, no matter how inspired or hilarious—they're lost to history.

At San Diego Comic-Con 1997, Andy Merrill, C. Martin Croker, George Lowe, and others from the Space Ghost cast had a panel discussion scheduled in one of the upstairs meeting rooms at the San Diego Convention Center. They'd only booked one smallish room, and hadn't expected to fill it. Who could be interested? But my friends and I got there early; by the time the clock reached ten minutes before the panel begun, the line to get in had reached several hundred people in length, and extended from the conference room door down the hallway all the way to the top of the escalators, and continued at the bottom in the main lobby. Andy came out with a video camera and stopped dead: he had no idea so many people would show up. He slowly raised the camera and began filming, right next to us at the front of the line; as he panned down the length of the queue, I heard him breathe an unplanned voice-over: Oh my God.... look at all the people!

Needless to say, it was standing room only. And every three-word character impression coaxed from the panel members sparked roars of laughter that shook the walls.

The third thing that these guys accomplished was to kick off a section of the Cartoon Network website dedicated to the Cartoon Planet universe; it featured home pages for Zorak and Moltar and Brak, written as though done by them, and reviews of pop-culture ephemera like hair-band compilation ads that aired on late-night cable (that's right, they got to make fun of their own advertisers), intermingled with reviews of actual movies and music. This self-awareness, executed with some real quality comedy writing and top-notch character development that went on as much on the website as in the shows over the years, cultivated the sense of audience participation in the whole process. This was all something these guys were making up as they went along, flying blind, trying whatever came to mind and finding that for some reason, most of it stuck. The fans felt like a part of the action. And that's what has led directly to Cartoon Network's embrace of that atmosphere in the Adult Swim block, where enough bitching on the forums will bring back the "Old School Bumps" for a week, or cancel a bad show, or bring well-loved ones back. It's these forum goons who stamped their feet until Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost came out on DVD, and whose earnest zeal at buying full-season compilations are bringing Family Guy and Futurama out of production limbo.

It's all exhilarating; it's been a wild ride. We never know what prank they're going to pull on us next (like "Perfect Hair Forever" or the yet-inexplicable Super Milk Chan); we never know what will become the next giddy cult hit. And yet... and yet there are times when I notice that something's missing. Something has died.

Namely, if I turn on Cartoon Network at any other time than the Adult Swim block, I notice that the old late-90s lineup of adoring nostalgia is gone. No more classic-animation blocks. No more Bugs Bunny, no more Tom & Jerry. No more Toon Heads, Tex Avery Show, Chuck Jones Show, Popeye... it's all gone. Time was that that stuff aired around midnight, but that's the audience that Adult Swim picked up. Now, while our attention has been drawn elsewhere, the rest of the Cartoon Network day has slowly been subsumed by high-schooler dreck. Okay, so Megas XLR and Teen Titans have some charms of their own, I'll grant, and McCracken's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is pleasantly lavish in its animation's smoothness if lacking in PPG-esque punch. There's always Samurai Jack, though it seems strangely hard to find these days. But the fact remains that the current lineup outside the Adult Swim block has slowly been slipping into the "I'd rather not spend my time watching this" realm.

I would give real money for a DVD compilation of some of the ephemera from the Golden Age just prior to the current Golden Age: the Groovies, the Shorties, the Toon Heads, the Cartoon Planet episodes. And oh, what I'd give for an archive of the old CartoonPlanet.com site. (One that works better than this, I mean.) It seems churlish to demand yet more perfection from the offerings they're dishing up today, with all the effort they're putting in to serve the viewer more directly than I believe has ever been done in the history of TV. Yet if there's anything Cartoon Network has demonstrated, it's that they do indeed spend an obsessive amount of time and effort listening to what people want, and if enough people were to ask for the late 90s to be frozen for us in carbonite, they'd probably be right on board with us.

It's worth a shot.

UPDATE: Invaluable insights with Andy Merrill, via Keith & Fred.

Thursday, January 6, 2005
15:24 - Great, now everybody gets to see what freaks we are
http://ravishinglight.blogspot.com/2005/01/well-call-me-hick-and-sue-me.html

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Paul Denton notes that the story of Apple suing Think Secret over the purported mini-Mac has been broken by Drudge; if that doesn't mean Apple is big news now, I don't know what is.

Paul is worried, though, that this kind of corporate heavy-handedness on Apple's part is not good for their business. Maybe it is, but Apple's business doesn't quite follow the same rules everyone else's does. As I wrote in his comments:

Actually this isn't really an unusual thing, for Apple. They've sued over leaks before. And frankly, this is the kind of thing everyone pretty much expects them to pursue diligently.

More so than any other tech company (probably), Apple trades in secrecy. It's become part of their very trade dress, in fact: they refuse point-blank to ever engage in speculative talk about upcoming products, so much so that interviewers have pretty much stopped asking. When there's a leak, it's far more damaging to Apple's business than, say, word getting out about the next movie Disney is working on or the next car Saturn will release: those companies are in industries where speculation and futures-trading is commonplace, and rumors are hard to keep quashed. But Apple's stock in trade is the showmanship that comes with the keynote product unveilings, and Steve is as disappointed in people finding out in advance what he'd wanted to surprise them with as a parent would be to find that the kids had snuck under the bed and found the Christmas presents hidden there.

The Mac community is just ever-so-quirky that way: we generally like to see a surprise unveiled with all the fanfare in a keynote, something that catches us all off-guard like a movie that defies all the trailers. And yet we can't help ourselves when a rumor becomes apparent: we've just got to know, if the knowledge is to be had. On one side we live for the showmanship, and on the other we can't wait for the surprise; we cover our eyes, but we peek through our fingers.

For that reason, Mac users don't blame Apple for aggressively pursuing leaks and leakers, whether of the mini-Mac story or of Tiger screenshots. When ATI leaked news a few years ago that it had secured the deal to provide Apple's video cards for the next upcoming models, Steve flew into a rage and cancelled the contract and gave it to NVidia. When the G5 was announced, the Apple Store website showed the G5's specs the day before the keynote and was on t-shirts by the time he actually showed off the box; the entire Web staff was sacked within the week and six new job openings were posted. Do Mac users resent that? Nah, we see it as part of the spectacle.

It really is different over here. And yet no one can be told what the Mactrix is; you have to see it for yourself...


14:12 - Not a good day for the Billster
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=388786

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Via Damien Del Russo—it must take a superhuman command of Jedi mind-control techniques not to go completely and murderously insane on some days, when you're Bill Gates:

But while promoting what he calls the "digital lifestyle" [as though he came up with the term... -Ed], Gates showed how vulnerable all consumers even the world's richest man are to hardware and software bugs.

During a demonstration of digital photography with a soon-to-be-released Nikon camera, a Windows Media Center PC froze and wouldn't respond to Gates' pushing of the remote control.

Later in the 90-minute presentation, a product manager demonstrated the ostensible user-friendliness of a video game expected to hit retail stores in April, Forza Motor Sport. But instead of configuring a custom-designed race car, the computer monitor displayed the dreaded "blue screen of death" and warned, "out of system memory."

The errors which came during what's usually an ode to Microsoft's dominance of the software industry and its increasing control of consumer electronics prompted the celebrity host, NBC comedian Conan O'Brien, to quip, "Who's in charge of Microsoft, anyway?"

Gates, who was sitting next to O'Brien on a set staged to look like NBC's Late Night set, smiled dryly and continued with his discussion.

I also like how the story shows Gates touting an iRiver music player, as though anyone watching doesn't know who's leading the music-player pack these days. There must come a time when in the interest of pure realism, one has to acknowledge that one isn't in the lead anymore. I mean, what's the CES audience to think—that Windows doesn't endorse support for the far-and-away most popular music player, and instead wants people to go for something they've already rejected in the market?

The message is unconvincing in other areas too. Here's what else got released: a relabeled AdAware-clone called Microsoft AntiSpyware (via Chris).

Problem is, the program is buggy, very buggy. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn’t, forget about it. I had to reboot halfway through writing this review since I couldn’t get it to open anymore. There are some GUI bugs that need to be fixed, including how Windows sometimes forgets about it, and random crashes when clicking on buttons. The GUI is also slow to draw on the screen, which can be annoying.


Still, the most important thing is that it protects your computer. I feel pretty secure with it (as long as it runs), but then again, that proves nothing. My suggestion / plan? Stop using any other antispyware programs for two weeks, making sure Microsoft AntiSpyware is active the whole time. Then, run your regular programs. If they find anything MS-AS missed, keep ‘em. Otherwise, we’ve got a new front-runner on our hands. One thing you can rely on: The internet hates Microsoft when it comes to security, so if there is a major threat that Microsoft AntiSpyware doesn’t detect, it’ll be on Slashdot within 20 minutes.

Ain't that the truth.

The time may not be too far off when people stop accepting these foibles and failings as just part of the cost of doing business in the computer world, and actually apply some of the power of the choice of the market by holding Microsoft to the same standards to which they'd hold a carmaker or a cable company. If you don't serve the customer, he'll take his business elsewhere.

UPDATE: Oh, and look at this interview in Wired with the ex-chairman of Nintendo. Wow... I've never seen anything quite like this.

...Then again, maybe that's because (as I've just been informed) it's a hoax.

UPDATE: Technical ineptitudes aside, Bill's CES speech was also singularly uninspired, as Paul of Wizbang points out—or, perhaps, finally inspired by the buzz from about five years ago. Sheesh. Has Bill been outside lately?

Wednesday, January 5, 2005
15:34 - Free Mansion
http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=609&id=7792005

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Who wants to help Steve Jobs move his mansion? Whoever does gets it for free.

THE billionaire co-founder of the computer giant Apple is offering one of his homes for free to anyone who can afford to dismantle the 35-room mansion and remove it from his San Francisco estate.

When Steve Jobs bought the sprawling house two decades ago, he planned to tear down the building he describes as "an abomination" and to redevelop the land, but he had not reckoned on the strength of feeling among conservationists, who lobbied to save the 17,000sq ft red tile and stucco mansion, arguing it should be protected as a listed building.

The computer mogul finally struck a deal with planning officials, who ruled he could demolish the building, but only if he first tried to entice someone to relocate it.

. . .

Of the house’s original owner, Mr Jobs said: "He was a very wealthy man. Unfortunately, he didn’t have very good taste."

Pictures are here. As is so often the case with Jobs and taste, he has a point.

What're you waiting for?


11:39 - I'm gonna be over here
http://www.deanesmay.com/posts/1104937424.shtml

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Dean Esmay has hurled himself bodily into a massive and academically rigorous attempt to publicize and reinvigorate a skeptical debate over the causal link between HIV and AIDS.

He's about nine long, long posts into it, involving detailed historical documentation, interviews with scientists in the field who have been excommunicated and then returned to honor over their dissenting views, lots of hard and interesting questions, and tons of bibliographic reference. (He's helpfully using a "Related Posts" tracking system now, which is ideal for this kind of thing.) Also the commenters are adding a lot to the discussion.

I have no idea what to think about the whole thing, other than that this is one brave guy. It'll be fascinating to see where it all leads.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005
21:06 - The Mac that had better be

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Now that the tech press is in full cry over what they've determined to be a real newsworthy item swirling about the Mac rumor network—the sub-$500 iMac—I guess it won't hurt anything to engage in some irresponsible speculation.

After all, it's not like this thing is a secret anymore. Apple is generally better at keeping things like this under wraps; Think Secret doesn't usually get "exclusive" scoops this big without getting C&D'd within a day. Methinks maybe Apple is just as happy to be getting the publicity this time, maybe enough so to have allowed a little "controlled leak". (Update: Then again...) Though it's stilll technically a rumor, and we should be careful not to get our hopes up too high. (Shyeah.)

The original article and most of the derivative press are making the leap that Apple is bringing out this machine in order to capitalize on iPod mania, to sell a Mac to geeks who like geek toys and have enough scratch to throw around that they'll drop half a grand on anything sufficiently cool (we're talking about a Mac that's cheaper than some iPods). As a second machine, for a tech-head to play around on after hearing all this brouhaha about the Mac experience and wondering what a whole OS that runs like iTunes could be like, they could well be prime candidates as buyers.

Yet this seemed a little incomplete to me, for a business case for the introduction of a whole new class of computer. Apple doesn't usually make a new product on such a shaky, speculative foundation. Sure, there will be plenty of geeks out there wanting to buy this Mac on a lark. But could there possibly be that many?

Kris, however, came up with a theory that I think is totally sound and explains the rest of the story. The theory centers on new or casual computer users, and goes like this:

Apple has traditionally avoided the "entry-entry-level" bottom tier of the consumer market, even though the Mac is supposed to be so great for novices. Sure, some new computer users are well-heeled and discriminating, and even though they may not be tech-heads, they'll want to buy a more upscale computer than powers the unwashed masses, and so they'll buy an iMac: Apple's lowest-end, most consumer-level computer, which is comfortable these days starting at $1000, and never dropped below about $800 even back in the candy-colored G3 days. This doesn't do it for those who just want something simple, something cheap, something that lets them do e-mail and surf the Web and not much else—not even show it off.

Apple hasn't really wanted to court the $500 consumer market; and why? Well, because when you sell to the entry-level market, you get entry-level customers, not to put too fine a point on it. And this is not meant pejoratively. Support is the problem. You end up having to do a lot more of it, and the unsatisfying kind: lots of hand-holding, lots of explaining basic concepts, and lots of frustration at both ends of the phone line as neither party can see what the other is trying to explain to them. Novices aren't great fans of phone support in general, and when it comes to trying to articulate the details of a mysterious technology that's got them mystified, it's a recipe for a bad experience on the customer side and a money-loser on Apple's side.

So what's changed Apple's mind all of a sudden? Well, the secret sauce right now is the Apple Stores. They've probably got a threshold somewhere that says something like "80% of the American public is now within driving distance of an Apple Store". And what that gets them is that they can now provide end-to-end user experience support. The customer can unplug this little box (with the footprint of an iBook and the height of an Xserve), tuck it under their arm, and walk right into a mall; no need to lug an unwieldy adjustable-neck iMac or a leaden G5 tower in from the car. The guys at the Genius Bar can plug it right in, using a stock monitor, and show the customer what they need to do. They can do on-the-spot training. They can even sell some accessories while they're at it. They can solve the customer's problem, and satisfyingly, and for free—and support is suddenly a profit center, not a money-sink.

This, to me, is a much more compelling justification for Apple getting into the $500 computer market than an abundance of geeks with credit cards: the Apple Stores are ready now to handle an influx of newbies, so... bring 'em on.

That's about the only thing that has significantly changed in the landscape of the industry. This isn't the first time Apple has tried something like this. Remember this thing?

The Cube was not nearly the success that Apple had hoped it would be. The consensus was that Apple had misjudged the market, making the Cube an expensive "luxury" computer instead of a cheaper monitor-less iMac. In december the low-end configuration received a price cut to $1499. In February 2001, The cube received a feature and price change. The low-end configuration was repriced at $1299. A "better" configuration was made available, with a CD-RW drive and 128 MB of RAM, for $1599. Finally, the high-end version got a 60 GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, a CD-RW drive and an 32 MB NVIDIA GeForce2 MX video card, and sold for $2199.

The PowerMac G4 Cube was never officially discontinued, but in July 2001 Apple suspended production of the Cube indefinitely. While leaving the door open for a possible reintroduction of the enclosure, Apple quickly and quietly let the world forget the disappointing failure of the G4 Cube.

The Cube was Apple's first modern attempt at a "crossover" machine, a headless Mac that could use your existing monitor, whether VGA or DVI, Apple or third-party, and could wow all comers at your hipness. The idea was that your business could fill its cubicles with Cubes and use their existing monitors, mitigating the cost of becoming a corporate Switcher story. And if you were a home user with a lavish den to show off, what better thing to adorn it with than a sleek and silent little computer that looked like nothing else on the market? However, the machine suffered from a number of intractable problems, the most staring of which was that Apple had chosen unwisely to aim the Cube at the top end of the market, not the bottom. It was just too expensive without the monitor, and people balked at its weird form factor: it was just too "design-y", and all but demanded that you buy an iSub, some H-K SoundSticks, and a genuine Apple monitor to go with it, otherwise it would look so dreadfully gauche. (Apple's introduction in this model of the all-in-one ADC video/power/USB connector did nothing but boost this impression.) Besides, in a high-end machine, users expected expandability; the Cube had none. In the end, nobody wanted to spend $1799 on a computer that they had to explain to people was a computer.

It's probably fair, then, to imagine that this new low-end Mac is the long-awaited reincarnation of the Cube, only done right this time: aimed at the opposite end of the user spectrum. Now, the fact that it doesn't come with a monitor is an essential part of its draw: if you already have a computer, this Mac will use its monitor, and the $500 sticker price is all you pay. (Well, it's unclear yet whether it will come with a keyboard and mouse; it had better, because I can't imagine Apple telling people to go buy a USB keyboard without Windows keys and a one-button mouse off the shelf at CompUSA—what? You mean such things don't even exist?) Or you pick up a 17" CRT for a hundred bucks. It's a crossover machine the way it was meant to be, with all the important stuff included and all the right stuff left out. With a 1.25 GHz G4, it's got the same horsepower as the current PowerBook lineup. In fact, it seems that Apple designed this machine by pulling up the spec sheet for the entry-level Dell Dimension, copying down all its numbers (in the past week, the Dell has gone from the monitor being a free add-on in the online-only store to a standard listed feature), and wrapping a Mac around them. And at the same time shrinking it down into a compact little box instead of a bulky generic AT case, making it a stand-on-end-able "computing device" in form factor, and giving the user all the video output options one might need. A machine this small and unassuming won't outshine your glamourless CRT monitor or demand that you buy a $799 Apple display. It'll fulfill its expectations, and it'll do it quietly. That's all the home user wants from his computer. That, and not having to worry about it becoming infested with viruses and spyware within six hours of being pulled out of its box.

One other possibility, noted by Damien Del Russo, is that because this machine is more a "device" than a "computer", it could easily be retasked into a number of different guises—such as, for example, a Media Center-like set-top box. It could be turned into a DVR, it could run iTunes, it could play DVDs and home movies alike—all through a VGA connection to your HDTV. With a price point this low, imagination starts becoming the limiting factor.

The tech press is probably right to be all excited about this; as they've noted for many years now, the four biggest problems with the Mac are price, price, software availability, and price. The home user doesn't care much about whether there are six different iMovie clones for the Mac—just that iMovie is there. And now that Apple has ably defused much of the criticism that dogged it for years about the anemic performance of its machines by developing and releasing the well-respected G5 line, Apple is free to concentrate on these last remaining vulnerabilities. If they can bring out a Mac to challenge the true bottom level of the market, without any extra weaknesses anyone cares about and with a few extra coolness points, the critics will end up looking like Michael Moore on November Third: all out of ideas.


13:18 - But who's counting?
http://www.techcentralstation.com/010405G.html

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Country-by-country breakdown of per-capita donations through Amazon.

Pretty devastating. I don't care, personally; it'd be nice if we could put aside such pettiness. But if people are still interested in saying Americans are stingy or greedy or selfish and it's all because of our low taxes and not having socialism, they can cram it.


09:21 - There's a wild Fandango loose in the theater

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Would someone care to explain to me exactly what Fandango thinks it's accomplishing with those ads they place in front of movies in theaters? Because I'll tell you what they have accomplished: they've ensured that I will never use Fandango to buy movie tickets, ever ever ever.

I mean, okay: there you are, sitting in the dark for as much as twenty or thirty minutes of previews and trailers. You're getting ready to watch some movie like Alexander or Titanic or The Passion of the Christ, and the trailers are all appropriate to the tone of the movie—great. A somber movie gets mostly somber or grand epic movie trailers. Lots of big booming rolling ocean-wave effects, lots of period costumes, lots of wide panoramic establishing shots, lots of string music. You're already swept up into another world. You're perfectly prepped for the feature presentation.

...And then, just before the movie's about to start, this Fandango ad splatters onto the screen: those horrible, horrible paper-bag puppets, with their high-pitched screeching voices and inexplicable patronizing Indian accents, performing bizarre little skits about going to the movies and using Fandango, or just chanting the word Fandango over and over. The characters are obviously intended to be as deliberately annoying as possible—and for what conceivable purpose? Especially when you've spent all that time getting all relaxed and comfortable, ready for a decidedly non-comedy movie. Is there anything that has been scientifically proven to grate away more nerves than the one guy's wife's supposedly "infectious laugh", or the woman trying to teach her dog to howl FANNNNN... DANNNNNN... GOOOOO!

It's even worse than those moronic old ones with the Ryan-Stiles-looking guy trying to sneak into the sold-out movie, trying to convince the usher to let him in by muttering the magic overheard word Fandango. I mean, that ad series was ingenious and restrained compared to this infuriating nonsense. Those were stupid; these are apparently engineered to be as caustic as possible. I mean, has anyone ever heard anyone laugh at one of these ads? They're aggressively unfunny, loud, and impossible to tune out. I guess they've done their job in that they've ground the word Fandango into my head, but not in a good way, dammit! There's no other way to explain it: the Fandango ad agency hates the moviegoing experience and wants to ruin it as actively as is in their power.

In fact, I have a problem with that whole aspect of the pre-movie experience, an aspect I find more irritating than people crumpling candy wrappers, talking, or even using cell phones: the obliviousness of movie theaters to the necessary tone of the pre-movie programming. Theaters fail to account for the tone of the movie they're showing, and break the mood with that ridiculous computer-generated THX logo with the flying maintenance robot, or some ad for the SpongeBob movie, or a dorky reminder from the moose characters from Brother Bear not to use cell phones (oh, and go see Brother Bear, eh?) The AMC theater chain, in fact, has a little "filmstrip" mascot character, and the whole chain identification bump they do before the feature presentation is comedic in tone. This is vaguely stupid and distracting even in front of a comedy movie... and for a drama or historical epic or romance, it's downright insulting to have the mood broken by that stupid filmstrip guy conducting musical notes that crash into a heap with cut-rate Warner Brothers sound effects, or stumbling into a heap of film canisters before pleading for quiet in the house. (This is why I always go to the Century theaters, and won't go to an AMC unless someone else is doing the organizing. Century's bump has spotlight lamps rotating and spelling out the chain's name: marvelous. Perfect. Restrained. Grand. Classic. Maintains tone under any type of movie. Don't frickin' change it.)

Please, movie theaters: put your moronic comedy bumps at the beginning of the trailer process, with the Will Rogers Institute guy and the actors asking you not to use KaZaA and the plug for the theater's frequent-viewer card. It'd make a much smoother segue from the Coca-Cola-sponsored ad slideshow in which the gathering crowds get to bet enthusiastically on whether Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, or Sprite will win the race to the end of the screen.

Oh yes: and if you've seen The Aviator, you might find this page fascinating. Holy hell, I guess that scene wasn't some kind of bizarre dream/hallucination sequence... and probably wasn't even exaggerated.

Monday, January 3, 2005
15:48 - Save us from Red-State Mac users
http://apple.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=134742&cid=11246218

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Ow! I can feel the sting from this one all the way over here. That'll give 'em what-for!

(Dang, that writing style looks familiar...)

Via Marcus.


11:40 - UNhelpful
http://diplomadic.blogspot.com/2005/01/almost-funnny.html

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Oil-For-Food, Congolese child porn, and now this? Why does anybody persist in thinking the UN needs—nay, deserves—any more of our money or valuable New York real estate?

More on "The UNcredibles": WFP (World Food Program) has "arrived" in the capital with an "assessment and coordination team." The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their "coordination and opcenter" at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about "The UN Sheraton." Meanwhile, our military and civilians, working with the super Aussies, continue to keep the C-130 air bridge of supplies flowing and the choppers flying, and keep on saving lives -- and without 24hr catering services from any five-star hotel . . . . The contrast grows more stark every minute.

And this after the UN's trying to take credit for relief efforts primarily undertaken by US and Australian outfits:

I provided this to some USAID colleagues working in Indonesia and their heads nearly exploded. The first paragraph is quite simply a lie. The UN is taking credit for things that hard-working, street savvy USAID folks have done. It was USAID working with their amazing network of local contacts who scrounged up trucks, drivers, and fuel; organized the convoy and sent it off to deliver critical supplies. A UN “air-freight handling centre” in Aceh? Bull! It's the Aussies and the Yanks who are running the air ops into Aceh. We have people working and sleeping on the tarmac in Aceh, surrounded by bugs, mud, stench and death, who every day bring in the US and Aussie C-130s and the US choppers; unload, load, send them off. We have no fancy aid workers' retreat -- notice the priorities of the UN? People are dying and what's the first thing the UN wants to do? Set up "a camp for relief workers" one that would be "fully self-contained, with kitchen, food, lodging, everything."

The UN is a sham.

When the chips are down, you can sure count on them to show their true colors, it seems. Even if it turns out we need an organization like the UN in the world today, the current one is beyond repair and ought to face the wrecking ball, even if just for punitive reasons. It'd improve the architecture of the 42nd Street area considerably.

Via Tim Blair, who I'm just going to link at the top level because his coverage of the tsunami aftermath is ongoing and probably the best around.


11:19 - Peace statues
http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=16513

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Iraqi voices seem to be the only ones I feel have a hope of getting across to some of my correspondents a defense of the war. Anyone else, especially American writers well-known for their views, gets dismissed out of hand. Of course, there's also the risk that Iraqis like Naseer Flayih Hassan (who wrote this article for FrontPage Magazine) will be dismissed equally quickly as "stooges" or "dupes"; but at least there are a lot of them, and they might wear people down after a while.

After those, and many other, experiences, we finally comprehended how little we had in common with these “peace activists” who constantly decried American crimes, and hated to listen to us talk about the terrible long nightmare that ended with the collapse of the regime.  We came to understand how these “humanitarians” experienced a sort of pleasure when terrorists or former remnants of the regime created destruction in Iraq—just so they could feel that they were right, and the Americans wrong! 

Worse, we realized it was hopeless to make them grasp our feelings.  We believed—and still believe--that America’s removal of the regime opened a new way for democracy.  At the same time, we have no illusions that the U.S. came to Iraq on a white horse to save our people.  We understand this war is all about national interests, and that America’s interests are mainly about defeating terrorism.  At this moment, though, U.S. interests are doing more to bring about democracy and freedom in Iraq than, say, the policies of France and Russia—countries which also care little for the Iraqi people and, worse, did their best to save Saddam from destruction until the last moment. 

It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger.  They were impossible to reason with.  This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed.  Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.

Also don't miss this one, from more than a year ago, which goes into much greater detail and is harder still to ignore. Not that some people won't try.

Via Power Line.

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© Brian Tiemann