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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Friday, March 18, 2005
18:22 - Over Steve's Dead Body
http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=951

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Is it really happening?

In other news, Hell has not frozen over yet, but it very well may.

According to sources who have so far filed accurate reports on Apple's future hardware plans, the company is feverishly working on a two-button wireless optical mouse that it intends to release.

Apple enthusiasts have longed for an Apple-branded two-button mouse for over a decade, but their requests have gone unanswered. So what has changed? According to sources, 'it's the company."

With Apple now profiting from low-priced consumer electronics as it makes a push to reclaim market share from Windows, a two-button mouse is 'almost an essential,' sources said.

. . .

"Jaws will drop," said one insider.

This must be happening in spite of Jobs, not because of him. Never forget:



All I hope is that the introduction of a two-button Apple mouse (which no doubt would solve every problem I have with optical mice) will not trigger a shift in Mac software design practices; essential commands must not be allowed to drift exclusively into contextual menus. The second button must be a shortcut, not a primary control mechanism.

And if it's to be wireless, please oh please let it be fast-updating. Nothing's more depressing than a mouse pointer that doesn't freaking move if I jiggle it faster than .003 KHz.


09:33 - Never underestimate the human capacity for genius in cheating
http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000267036571/

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Via several: looks like the iTMS has been cracked. At least temporarily.

Seems that our good friend discovered that when you buy something from the iTMS, the DRM is only added to the tracks after you’ve purchased and downloaded them, which sort of makes sense since they do need to be tagged to your account. You’ll still have to actually pay for the music, but PyMusique conveniently neglects to wrap the file with any copy protection, which means you’re free to do what you want with the unrestricted file, including copying it to multiple machines or sharing it over P2P. Hard to imagine how this could possibly be legal, since Apple specifically requires you to access the iTMS only through their software (Laurie Duncan actually read the ToS and checked), but you may as well enjoy the next six to twelve hours before Apple devises a way lock PyMusique users out.

Yeah. The key thing to note here is that it's still entirely withing Apple's capabilities to plug this hole, even through something as quick-and-dirty as changing the way in which it verifies that it's actually talking to iTunes. The longer-term solution would be to adjust how their tagging system works so that it doesn't start the download until a file's been tagged. But however they do it, the point is that they can. Whereas Napster is pretty much SOL in the model they've chosen.

The reality of the world is that these DRM systems will be cracked. Apple's model is to take that into account, making sure that even someone determinedly re-recording AACs into MP3s through an audio capture loop still has to buy the music in the first place, making the risk a linear one—$1 per breached song. (This crack still matches that same risk profile: people using PyMusique still have to buy the original download; they just don't have to re-record it afterwards. Apple's technically no worse off than they were before.) But the music stores that rely on client-side validation of downloaded music, where they can crack songs at their leisure after they've been essentially allowed to download them without limit or marginal cost... it works great on a planet with no crackers, but the instant someone starts seeing where the weaknesses are, the entire model breaks down, and the risk is geometric, even exponential.

So, nothing even particularly surprising here. But it just illustrates further what kind of model can survive in the digital world and what kinds can't.

Thursday, March 17, 2005
15:03 - Yet Another File Format
http://www.publish.com/article2/0,1759,1776862,00.asp

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Sheesh. There are getting to be so many encapsulations of encapsulations out there in the world of image file formats, they're starting to look like Matriochka dolls.

It might be worth it in this case, though:

Many photographers work in RAW-format files from their digital cameras and are frustrated by the many versions out there—varying not just from manufacturer to manufacturer but also from camera to camera. But Adobe is trying to solve that problem with its Digital Negative Specification.

Adobe Systems Inc. in September 2004 introduced DNG, a public format for RAW digital camera files, along with a free software tool, Adobe DNG Converter, which translates many of the RAW photo formats (images before any in-camera processing) used today into the new DNG file format.

Adobe is also letting any manufacturer that wants to use the format in its cameras, printers and software applications do that for free without any limitations in the hopes of encouraging them to accept it as the standard.

. . .

The Digital Negative Specification is being posted to the Adobe Web site, and is free of any legal restrictions or royalties, enabling integration of the DNG file format into digital cameras, printers and software products. DNG format is also supported in Adobe Photoshop CS as part of an updated Camera Raw Plug-in, also now available. Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 also supports DNG files.

"Our next steps will be to get a more formal software development kit from a software and hardware standpoint out there, hopefully later this year," Connor said. "And we'll continue our education efforts and talking to manufacturers."

Fraser thinks only time will tell if this will succeed. "Few are supporting it right now, and Nikon and Canon will be the most resistant. It's really up to the market."

Apple only just put RAW support into iPhoto; I have to imagine that part of their hesitation has been in waiting for the market to settle on a particular flavor, just as with DVD+/-RW and HD-DVD/Blu-Ray. But this could help a great deal as high-end prosumer digital photography takes off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005
17:31 - Google should sue itself
http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache:HaRYQqPANzcJ:labs.google.com/googlex/+%22labs.g

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Nice. Using Google's own cache to retrieve a copy of a brief and inadvertent appearance of "Google X", a Google Labs renovation of the Google main page that was to use a Mac OS X Dock-like navigator for its toolbar.

It only appeared online briefly, but Google's own caches picked it up. The images are broken, but if you mouse over them you can see how it would have worked.

I hope Google wasn't planning to try to roll this out with any great fanfare, because they've already leaked themselves...

Don't miss the little stinger at the bottom of the page—which I did at first...

UPDATE: Here's a full working mirror, pointed out by James A. And another one. Also GoogleXP!!~!1`` (thanks evariste!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005
14:48 - Veemer
http://www.newjetta.com

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Well, it's here:



Waiting for the shuttle to take me from the dealership to work this morning, I sat in the New Jetta they've got on the showroom floor. In fact I was sitting in it before I realized what exactly it was: apparently they weren't even supposed to be showing it to anybody before today, which explains all those teaser ads showing the car as nothing more than a blur which whisks by startled people.

I thought it was a Phaeton as I approached it... because the thing is vast. It's almost a luxo-boat. It's bound to eat into Passat sales, since I'm having a hard time convincing myself that it's any smaller—at all—than the Passat. The rear legroom has been increased by a serious amount; just look at how long that roofline is compared to the current car:



And when you sit in the driver's seat, the passenger door is so far away it's almost out of reach. And that's where the upscale-ness only begins.

There's an air conditioner vent in the glove compartment, to keep your sandwich cool, and another one in the armrest compartment. There are drink holders built into the doors. There's a standard CD/MP3 in-dash unit, and the top-level trim (no more GL/GLS/GLX designations) has satellite radio. The instrument cluster has a luxo-feeling schematic illuminated map of the car with all kinds of trip-computer readouts that looks like it'd be more at home on a Touareg, and the passenger front seat folds down all the way to allow you to pass 16-foot floor trim pieces through the trunk and out the window with ease on the way back from Home Depot. There are little swing-down hooks in the trunk to hang spillable grocery bags from. The radio can be operated keyless, and it starts up with a soft Mac-like "bong".

But that's where the luxury leaves us: a car that starts about five grand more expensive than the one it replaces, and that is considerably less powerful, considering its 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine which even the dealer admitted is gutless as hell compared to my six-year-old VR6. And that's where I have to wonder just what in hell Volkswagen is playing at. They've transformed the Jetta from a hip and sporty first-time-buyer's car, an econobox with real pep and zip and excellent styling, to a fairly generic-looking pseudo-luxury liner with no spice left in it. VW's bread and butter has been people like—well, me, who bought it for its distinctive, cheeky snub-nosed look, its low price, and its comparative zippiness (particularly in the VR6). And in their headlong rush upmarket, the company appears to have destroyed everything that the Jetta was. "They killed the car," as Ferris Bueller might put it.

They're going to have to develop a whole new demographic to buy this thing. Maybe it's intended this way—designed on purpose to alienate the American market, because in Germany the Jetta is an "old man's car", and the new version is surely better suited for that role. But until they come up with a punchier engine, there's no way I'm looking at another one of these now, and much less so if I were to picture myself as the uninvested recent college grad I was in 1999 when I got my current car. And even if they were to offer a better engine, this car's still too upmarket to be price-competitive with anything a first-time-buyer would consider. It'd be pretty close to what I currently would want, but not what I would have been interested six years ago.

It's kind of sick watching VW do this to itself. Reportedly its sales have been hitting the skids lately, largely as a result of this increasingly ill-conceived gentrifying kick they've been on, with the Touareg and the Phaeton both coming in way under the hoped-for numbers. But rather than abandon that effort as a costly failure and try to get back to its roots, VW has elected to bulldoze through on the same path—upscaling the cars that made its fortune at the end of the last decade, and in so doing setting themselves up for complete and utter sales starvation. They've got a pretty nice product there, yes... but smile as they might, I think the world will beat a path away from their door.

UPDATE: Some encouraging details from reader Kevin B.:

The 2.5L inline-5 cylinder is the base engine. It replaces the old 2.0L 4 cylinder, the 115hp "2.slow," as it was called. It's not a replacement for the VR6 (though, VW has actually stopped making the VR6 and as of 2004 hasn't been putting it in the Mark IV Jetta, either). The initial batch of Jetta Mark Vs are simplified in terms of options packages and engines and such. Here's what the full engine lineup will be within a few months:

2.5l I-5 - 150hp, 170 lbs./ft. torque.
1.9l I-4 TDI diesel - 100hp, 177 lbs./ft. torque.
2.0l I-4 turbocharged - 200hp, 207 lbs./ft. torque.

That 2.0T is a replacement both for the old 1.8T and the previous VR6. It's getting rave reviews in Germany in the new GTI. It'll be avaiable by June or July in the new GLI, which looks like this.

It'll also have the sportier interior, better steering, and better suspension that'll be on the new GTI already in Europe and in America next year. You'll be able to have it with either the 6-speed stick, or the 6-speed DSG dual-clutch sequential manumatic (my New Beetle has this, it's pretty wild).

Eventually, the Jetta V *may* get a VR6, of either 240hp or 280hp variety.

Nice; I hope so. I did kinda suspect that we'd be seeing better engines trailing the debut car with its base-only engine; you gotta have something to upsell the sophomore car with other than just 1.0 bug fixes, right?

It makes Euro-centric sense for VW to be edging toward the turbo engines rather than the higher-displacement sixes, but I still want that VR6 back. Especially if we're talking numbers in the high 200s. That'd be a nice consolation for this Jetta's being so much bigger than the one that 174 hp moves so well out from under me...

As for it encroaching into Passat sales, I agree - but there's a new Passat that will be in the US in the fall that's larger than the current one:


Oh my! Now that looks sharp...

Also, on the price of the Jetta V - the Jetta V starts at around $18,500, in the form of a Value Edition that'll be on sale shortly after the launch. It lacks the leatherette interior of the base "normal" Jetta in favor of some pretty nice cloth, lacks the multifunction display in the gauge cluster, and has a slightly different sound system.

Which means, the Jetta V starts at about the same price as the Jetta IV, with much more equipment, and goes up to the $26,000 level for the Package 2 car with leather and everything. So, with the Value Edition, it really doesn't start any higher than the old car. Just ends up higher. :)

Well, that's good news—I just hope the undeniably larger size and the "It's all grown up—sort of" marketing don't undercut the benefit of these figures.

It's an uphill trudge they've set themselves for. It's naturally easier to take a product upmarket than it is to defeature it, which is what VW going "back to its roots" would entail. To succeed, they'd need a marketing campaign as expertly engineered as the one for the iPod shuffle, which faced exactly the same difficulty—and seems to have succeeded quite lavishly.

Monday, March 14, 2005
15:35 - If you say so
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/349tpijp.asp?pg=1

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Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard:

"Pursue your happiness. We were the first country to do it. And we live for that, the fact that people have personal rights. Go where you want. Do what you want. The fact that I chose Canada is almost a bigger embodiment of the American dream. . . . I still love America."

"So you're saying being unpatriotic is an act of patriotism?" I counter, though my heart is no longer in it.

"I've had too many cocktails for that one," Wright says.

It stops looking like Canada-bashing after the first few paragraphs, I promise. After that it becomes good.

Seriously, for any who care: if I ever come across as being derisive or dismissive of Canada, that's almost certainly not my intent. There are things about the country's politics and social impulses that I don't agree with, and that I find interesting as illustrative measures in understanding how our own government works—a rather important thing, one would think, as we watch a whole part of the world on the brink of inventing new governments of its own after the models it sees in us and other modern democracies. But that doesn't mean I don't find the place fascinating, the people friendly (America-bashing aside), and the country itself a place I'm looking forward to visiting again this summer. Just because I'll be glad to get back home—unlike those profiled in this article—doesn't mean I never wanted to come in the first place.

Via Paul Denton.


12:13 - Yesteryear

(top)
I always enjoy Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons' updates on SomethingAwful.com; he's more serious and even-handed than the rest of the site's writers, he's a great storyteller, and he's well-read and incisive and deeply, deeply interested in his subject matter to boot. As an obsessive student of World War II, he shows a loving familiarity with the silliest and most awesome technology to come out of Nazi Germany, and with respectable apolitical figures like Rommel; but he never lets that cloud his vision of the larger issues, as with his republishing last week of Julius Streicher's Never Trust a Fox in His Green Meadow and Never Trust the Oath of a Jew—which may in fact be illegal to read if you live in some European countries. (I'm sure we all remember when France tried to sue Yahoo for allowing French citizens to stumble onto auctions where Nazi paraphernalia was being sold.)

Which is a shame, because nothing—nothing—is more important than making sure people are familiar with this sort of thing and what it looks like.



If it's kept under lock and key, we stop being able to recognize things like it—and more alarmingly, we start mistaking everything for it. I'd challenge any of our professional alarmists, the ones who insist that America is a racist state sowing fear and hatred against minorities in our midst and insinuations that every Muslim hides a bomb under his coat, to take a good look at what Parsons is shoving in our faces and forcing us to confront, and then to explain where in modern American society anything like this is allowed to exist. Seriously.

Ours is a world where our "Hitler" figure, rather than commissioning books like this from our "Streichers", gives speeches fawning over our "Jews". And yet, to many, the situations are indistinguishable.

On a related note, I've been re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia, just because it's been so long—and I am finding myself endlessly amused by all the subtext that C.S. Lewis apparently couldn't resist throwing in, increasingly as the books went on. I'm not just talking about the "Aslan is Jesus" stuff; we all know about that (glorifications of Bacchanalian orgies notwithstanding). I'm talking about Lewis' unapologetic disdain for democracy and romanticization of divine monarchy. Everywhere you turn there's more evidence of it. Nothing's ever as it should be except when a Human is king. Nothing made Caspian an inherently better ruler than Miraz except that he was the "rightful" king by birth. Miraz is scornfully referred to as having originally seized power under the title of "Lord Protector", a reference that must have been alarming to Lewis' original British readers—and all the more so today—in its derision obliquely directed toward Cromwell's republican revolution in British government. The tenor rises along these lines throughout Lewis' writing and reaches a head in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which Lewis gives himself thoroughly over to the conceit—embodying everything he loathed about modern utilitarian British society in Eustace, as well as in the bureaucratic Governor Gumpas, whom Caspian overthrows and replaces with a Duke ("I think we've had enough of Governors") seemingly for the crime of doggedly administering his province according to the people's expressed needs, though the overt reason (outlawing slavery) is honorable enough. In that same book, Lewis muses that the kids' earlier return to Narnia had been like King Arthur returning to Britain, "as some say he will. And I say the sooner the better."

But all this is just amusement. What I wonder is this: what chance would the Narnia books have of being published today, given Lewis' unflattering and unmistakable portrayal of Calormen, the all-but-undisguised stand-in for the Islamic world—which in its imperialism and militancy and social equivocation is responsible ultimately for the destruction of Aslan's whole universe? None, that's what chance.

And yet compared to Streicher's work, it's nothing.

Some days I think we have to invent these cartoons of old, defeated problems simply to avoid having to face the real problems we legitimately face in the modern world. At least we know we can defeat Naziism, so we'd rather spend our time running the last vestiges of racism and sexism and homophobia and lack of diversity to ground than turn and deal with Islamofascism. We haven't converted that particular storybook into a museum piece yet.


11:19 - Any sufficiently advanced fandom is indistinguishable from canon
http://newvoyages.com/

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Well, this is quite an interesting find. Star Trek: New Voyages, a fan production that picks up where the Original Series leaves off. And it's actually quite good.

"New Voyages" is our vision of Star Trek. A Star Trek set in the 23rd century and created in the 21st. It's a Star Trek with a familiar look, a familiar crew, but something new, and we think, something special.

There are other fan films - some want to imitate the 60's look and feel of the show - some are focused on other parts of Roddenberry's universe, and all are made with love and passion.

However, New Voyages is not the Trek of the 60's. It is the Trek of the future; a Trek that looks as modern and flows as fast as any action adventure show on TV today.

New Voyages was created in April of 2003 by James Cawley and Jack Marshall.  Our goal is to tell stories that fall within the 4th and 5th year of the five year mission.  These "short films", continue the original 5-year mission of the Enterprise and are produced at a rate of 2 per year.

Rather like MFT3K (but with a lot more CG budget), New Voyages has two episodes out so far (with the support and consultancy of Gene Roddenberry...y...y...yyyy's son), and a third—reportedly featuring Walter Koenig—in production right now. Only the second episode (which is quite a bit better than the first) is available for download from the site directly, but you can get Episode 1 from some of the mirror sites listed. WMV format, several pieces. And it's definitely worth the download.

Something that worried me appears to be true, though: I noticed that James Cawley, the co-creator and major motivating force, also plays Kirk. And my experience tells me that a person is seldom at once a good writer, director, producer, and actor. This case is no exception. While the guy does in fact look a good deal like the young Shatner (I'm not sure where that hairdo comes from, though), particularly in the first episode the most striking thing one takes from his performance is how good the actors from the original show actually were—and how hard it is to be a good actor. Now, there's a point in Episode 1 where the principals experience premonitions of key moments from later Trek outings, chiefly the memorable cruxes of all the TOS movies; and after this moment, Cawley seems imbued with a new sense of the character, and thenceforth—and throughout the second episode—he's got a lot of Shatner's more signature mannerisms and gestures and facial expressions down eerily pat. Even his bemused making-fun-of-Bones smile looks authentic. It's quite spooky.

The rest of the casting seems to follow the same tendencies; the guy who plays Spock is a pretty miserable stage presence, McCoy could stand to affect a bit more of a Southern demeanor if they're going to make reference to it in the script, Uhura is unremarkable, and Scotty and Chekhov (who looks sort of like Rather Dashing: "Vhere's my wottage?") get to hide under their thick accents such that they're as believable as the originals, which is to say that caricatures are easier to imitate anyway. But some of the secondary characters—the helmsman, various bridge crew, the guys on the other side of the viewscreen, the woman in charge of the Gateway station—are all quite excellent. It's almost as though the key roles were all snapped up by friends of Cawley's, regardless of acting ability; and as the roles cascaded down the food chain, they were able to reach further and further into the realm of people who knew what in fact they were doing.

All in all, a very impressive piece of work. The writing is indeed fast-paced, sometimes painfully so—precious little time is spent on establishing shots or reaction shots which would have helped clarify context a great deal; and the ships zoom around in space the way not even the modern CG versions do, and I'm not entirely sure in a good way. But the effects are everything that 2005 budget production software provides for us, which means that the overall effect is a good deal more impressive than the TOS episodes themselves, and the inevitable corniness is right in character with it (right down to the viewscreen that apparently has a line director, where if someone else on the remote ship's bridge starts talking, the camera cuts to them, then zooms in dramatically on their face, etc). They could stand a little more practice with editing, as some of the more convoluted space-time-wedgie storylines get really hard to follow, especially if you're not intimately familiar with all the episodes and later productions that they reference. One of this project's potential weaknesses is that it's perhaps a little too self-aware—perhaps it's not best to draw too much jocular attention to Scotty's inflated repair time estimates and how reverse time-travel always seems (by some remarkable coincidence) to take the crew back to the very year in which the show was filmed and other such well-chewed foibles, lest this turn into Galaxy Quest—but the payoff comes in some really spectacular allusions to the later Trek universe, which of course the original series couldn't have done, and one can hardly help but be impressed. Also there are some genuinely stirring moments, such as Decker's "final report" video, which are very well handled—the writers clearly have some talent to work with here.

Paramount might have something to say about this, but if the Roddenberry estate is backing this project, it might well attain the status of "canon" among the fans. I've never been more than a casual enjoyer of the various Trek series, but I can appreciate a labor of love when I see it, and these guys loooove what they're doing. It shows.


10:45 - Cutting Out the Middleman
http://tunertricks.com/blog/index.php?p=40

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So this is where we've all been going wrong all this time.

All those solutions for integrating your iPod into your car, whether using an FM transmtter, a tape adapter, a spliced-in wire, an integrated dock—why, they all make the presumption that the iPod is the best way to navigate your music on the road.

Well, now that there's a whole Mac that 's not all that much bigger than an iPod...



You know, this is a VW GTI it's being demonstrated on. Mine's a Jetta. Hmmmm....

...Naaahh.

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© Brian Tiemann